His voice had dwindled to a quiet rasp, but you could hear the spark in Bob "Slim" Dunlap when he returned to his south Minneapolis house last week after spending most of 2012 in hospitals and care centers.
"It's so wonderful to be here," said the Twin Cities music hero, 61, who suffered a severe stroke and head injury in February. "Home is a magic place."
Last weekend, however, the former Replacements guitarist had to re-enter a hospital to fight pneumonia. At press time, it appeared he might still be there when Friday's tribute to his old band goes down at First Avenue, where the VIP tables are up for auction and proceeds from the door will go toward his medical needs. The show will kick off at 7 p.m. in the Entry with a Mad Ripple Hootenanny dedicated to Slim's songs.
His wife, Chrissie Dunlap, made it clear that the fundraising efforts are deeply appreciated -- and, unfortunately, very necessary. The Dunlaps had what Chrissie said was "actually a good insurance plan," but not enough for the long-term care he needs. That includes daily visits from a small army of nurses, aides and physical therapists, plus expensive medication. He suffers from paralysis in his left side and gets nearly all of his nourishment through a feeding tube.
"When he first had his stroke, I was resistant to accept everybody's help because we had insurance," Chrissie said, but that changed "as I became more aware of the many holes in the medical system, and we realized just how much care he's going to need.
"He wants nothing more than to take his guitar out and start playing it again," Chrissie added. It's likely that will never happen, "but we haven't given up hope."
At least he has been listening to a lot of music, including frequent bedside serenading by his many talented friends. Chrissie said he's also excited to hear the series of tribute recordings coming via New West Records.
Foremost is the Replacements reunion EP his former bandmates put together. Only 250 vinyl copies will be issued via an online auction next month (with a digital release a possibility months later). That will be followed by a series of 7-inch singles featuring Slim's songs covered by the likes of Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Joe Henry, John Doe, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck (with Curtiss A on vocals) and the Hold Steady's Craig Finn (who plans to record his contribution in Minneapolis this weekend).
Chrissie said that during some of Slim's most down moments, she reminds him, "Just wait till you hear Ramblin' Jack Elliott do one of your songs."