Sunday, March 23, 2014

Who wants to be the corporate rock bad guy?

I've been trying to find a clip from Color Me Obsessed, the sweet, fan-made documentary about the Replacements and their fans from 2011. The band doesn't appear in the movie at all, nor does a note of their music, but we get some great stories about the Replacements from artists, critics and music industry folks--favorite memories, life-changing songs and more from a select few who know what a special band they are.

Easily the biggest star in the movie is John Rzeznik, the famously hot lead singer and songwriter of adult contemporary pop-rockers the Goo Goo Dolls. It's a bit of a surprise to see him there between interviews with Steve Albini, Craig Finn and the Sound Opinions critics, even for those of us who know that the Goo Goo Dolls used to be on Metal Blade, back when they sounded more like the Replacements (and even wrote a song with one of them) than the neo-Bryan Adams band they are today. Like most of the other fans, Rzeznik has a heady and heartfelt love for the Replacements, but the scene that stuck with me the most was when he derided them.

"I bought Don't Tell a Soul the day it came out, and I remember taking it home and putting it on, and just a few songs in I took it out and I threw it away right there," says Rzeznik*. "I was so mad that the band I loved had gone commercial."

Since seeing the movie, I have told this story to two of my friends, and both of them laughed. Maybe you will too, if you have even a passing familiarity with the Replacements and the Goo Goo Dolls. The City of Angels soundtrack prom king is calling the beloved Left of the Dial underdogs commercial? Hasn't he heard "Bastards of Young?" Didn't he write "Slide?" Is he so unaware of his own awfulness that he thinks he can judge the Replacements? His eyelashes aren't even as great as all those girls think they are.

Maybe the filmmakers are laughing at him too, but I don't think they are. Rzeznik is completely serious, talking about a band that broke his heart as honestly as any of those metalheads who are still mad that Cryptopsy released The Unspoken King. Of course he likes the Replacements--who couldn't? There's nothing unreasonable about being disappointed by Don't Tell a Soul, especially on the heels of Pleased to Meet Me and with Matt Wallace's gloppy production. If it had been the hit it was intended to be, more of us Replacements fans would probably sympathize with Rzeznik.

The fact is that no popular songwriter, even the ones that sell millions of albums and have perfect cheekbones, is trying to be the big commercial bad guy. Famous, sure--even the Replacements signed to a major label. But nobody considers their own band to be corporate rock. John Rzeznik writes from the heart and has values about his music, just as Paul Westerberg does. Maybe one comes out sounding more produced and writes lyrics like "Could you whisper in my ear the things you wanna feel", but to Rzeznik and his fans it's no more polished and emotional than it should be. He didn't set out to be a cornball, but he just is, and he happened to connect with millions of middle schoolers and soccer moms. If it makes you feel more enlightened to enjoy a band that never had a gold record, go ahead, but don't forget that multi-platinum bands on Warner Brothers can be just as concerned about art and integrity. One fan's "Iris" is another fan's "I Will Dare."

*Quoted to the best of my memory.

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