“Mile After Mile” – Dan Israel
Dan Israel – guitar and vocals
John Schjolberg – pedal steel guitar
James Tyler O’Neill – keyboards
Rich Mattson – percussion
Recorded and mixed by Rich Mattson at Sparta Sound, Sparta, MN.
(c) 2013 Dan Israel, from the album Live On.
Like a lot of people, before I ever met Slim Dunlap in person, I saw him from afar. To me, he was always “Big Star Big” – he was a rock star, the guitarist for the Replacements. I read about him in magazines, I saw him in videos, and, when I lived in Chicago while attending college there, I saw him in person with the Replacements both at the Aragon Theater and at their fateful final show at Grant Park in 1991.
The Replacements broke up, and so did me and my girlfriend at the time, so I moved down to Austin, Texas to play music. The closest I got to Slim in those years was standing outside the Hole in the Wall in Austin during South by Southwest, where I caught a little of Slim’s Medium Cool Records showcase (Marlee Macleod and Duane Jarvis were on the bill as well) from the sidewalk outside the club. Sounded pretty damn good, even through a window.
Flash forward a few years, and Slim is a regular at St. Paul’s Turf Club, and I get the honor of having my band open for him there for one of his many (rightfully) celebrated performances at the Turf. It was 2005 or so, and I had just won a Minnesota Music Award for “Song of the Year” and Slim was letting me have it (nicely, and hilariously, as was always his custom) about the award from the stage. “I wanna write the song of the year,” he said, lightly jabbing at me and busting my chops – but, truth be told, making me freak out with excitement inside. Slim Dunlap was talking about me! He worked my name into “Big Star Big” and I was blushing on the outside but beaming on the inside. That’s what Slim could do to you. Make a joke about you that, instead of feeling like ridicule, made you feel ridiculously good about yourself.
Over the succeeding years, I crossed paths with Slim many times. I felt like I was a nobody compared to him, but that’s never how he made me feel. He was always complimenting my songwriting, telling funny stories, putting me at ease….I was in awe of him, but his truly genuine “aw, shucks” demeanor always seemed to make my nervousness around him evaporate in an instant. A couple months before his stroke, we hung out backstage at a Mad Ripple Hootenanny at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio. As usual, he was telling stories and jokes and cracking everybody up. The last time I saw him before his stroke was at a Rock for the Rules (benefit for Leah and Rob Rule) show at the Amsterdam. We talked a little that night, but I could tell he wasn’t feeling 100%.
The next thing I knew, it was February 19, 2012, and we all got that terrible news about his stroke. I went to visit him at HCMC and it seemed pretty dire. That’s when I was inspired to write “Mile After Mile” for him. That summer, he was moved over for rehab to Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, which sits about 2 blocks from my workplace. Many days that summer, I went over on my lunch break and hung out with Slim and his incredibly loving family: his wife Chrissie and their son Louie and daughters Delia and Emily (“Bee”). There aren’t words for how wonderful his family has been, throughout this crisis. Not to mention his vast circle of caring and supportive friends and fans. On my visits to him at Bethesda, I lost track of how many great stories he told me that made me laugh (and sometimes cry). Even through his own darkest time, the stories and jokes kept coming. Often in the past year or so, I’ve gotten the chance to tell Slim Dunlap, in no uncertain terms, that I love him. In this, I know I am not alone. And I’ve got news for everyone. He loves us all back.