Damn near the top of my list of favorite damaged heroes rests The Replacements. I stumbled upon the band in the pages of Spin Magazine sometime around 1987 as I was entering high school. It was a revelation; here was a truly obsession worthy American band, a group of beautiful losers unafraid to rock, but juxtaposed with this swagger was a raw, near-confessional vulnerability in their material that still shakes me to this day. Critics far and wide declared Paul Westerberg the best songwriter of the 80s; it's something I swallowed wholesale and still believe to be true. All it takes is a little over 30 minutes time spent listening to their Let It Be or Hootenanny LPs and that conviction rises up anew.
Now, some 20 years after the disintegration of the band, there's a documentary film about them making the rounds. But, instead of going the all too familiar, paint-by number rock doc route, Color Me Obsessed purposefully eschews the usual collage of band interviews, archival photos and live clips set to a series of the band's greatest hits. Director Gorman Bechard rejects that formula, putting the focus directly on those affected by the band: the fans, other musicians from the period, and members of the industry who dealt directly with the group.
Don't worry. This isn't one of those lackluster Classic Albums or Under Review-style documentaries, where the proceedings feel like a cheap cash-in on a great band's legacy. Bechard's working some fairly conceptual territory here, digging into the myth of the band without demystifying it. If anything, hearing how the fans still feel about this ragtag group of musical misfits only solidifies their importance within the canon of the 80s underground.
Bechard was gracious enough to answer a few questions in advance of tomorrow night's screening at the Hollywood Theatre. Here's what we spoke about:
NICK: You decided somewhere along the line to make a documentary where the subject is absent. But, even with no music, (few) pictures or any video of the band, they’re sort of up front and center, held firmly in the thoughts and memories of the people that you speak to during the film.
At what point during your creative process did you decide to move more traditional depictions of your subject beyond the periphery? And, having made that decision, how long did it take you to come up with the strategy that you ended up employing?
GORMAN: Right from the very start. There was never a point in time when I wanted to use the band’s music, or video clips, or to interview the surviving members. I’m not a fan of the traditional VH1 “where are they now” format. Doing a rock doc without the band or music, the first ever, was what turned me on about the project. And I also felt that The Replacements were a band that shot a stereo speaker for 4 minutes for their first music video. This was the perfect concept for them.
NICK: There was a lot of ink spilled about the band during the mid-to-late 80s; they ended up being press darlings rather than the commercial success that so many thought they might become. Even with that knowledge, I was shocked when the film details album by album just how few records the band sold. Did you begin the project with the impression that the band was more successful than what their sales figures betray?
GORMAN: Actually I thought they had sold even less records. I always knew they weren’t commercially successful. Most of the band I love aren’t. And I do believe they were probably too good for the music buying public on the 80s. That the average listener’s head would explode trying to comprehend the qualities of “Let It Be,” But as someone in the films says, “If Bob Dylan had only sold 100,000 albums, he’d still be Bob Dylan.”
NICK: Obsession, as denoted by the title of your film, plays a large part in the relationship between The Replacements and the people who appear in your film. Some, like the writer Robert Voedisch, share these really emotionally touching stories about their connections with the band, despite never having forged an actual person-to-person connection with them. Can you share what it was like to stumble upon these moments during production?
What was the process of finding individuals who weren’t necessarily connected to the group but willing to talk about their relationships to the band’s work? And could you speak a bit about your own attachment to The Replacements (the myth, the music, etc.)?
GORMAN: Voedisch was the true find. He actually wrote to us and said he had a weird story about the Mats, and how as a 14 year old he used to imagine they were his friends on his farm in northern Minnesota. He’d have conversations with them. His interview was amazing. He laid himself emotionally naked. He compared the band to oxygen. That’s how important they are to his life. I remember walking out of the interview and turning to my crew and saying that was the most important interview we’ve done.
As for me, it really became about how they saved rock n roll. It was 1984. Punk had come and gone, and had turned to new wave. Rock was dying again as it was in 1975. And here come these two bands from Minneapolis, the Mats and Husker Du. And they redefined what a rock band should be. Everything from attitude to what was on record. They just spoke to me in ways I almost can’t explain. Sort of like when you walk into a party and you see a girl across the room, and you know in your heart you’re going to spend the rest of your life with her. That’s what listening to Let It Be for the first time was like for me.
NICK: Over the past several years, there have been a few films (We Jam Econo and Not a Photograph, for instance) documenting the unsung heroes of the 80s independent rock scene. Michael Azerrad’s book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, seems to have paved the way for these reassessments, or at least redirected attention back to the bands highlighted in his book.
One of your upcoming projects is a film about Husker Dü drummer/songwriter Grant Hart, whose band, like The Replacements, was also profiled in Azerrad’s book.
Did Our Band Could Be Your Life’s success prefigure at all in your decision to work on these projects? Or were they fueled by other influences?
GORMAN: No, it had nothing to do with the book. I don’t really take on projects ever thinking about whether or not I can sell them. I don’t make films with anyone else in mind other than myself. I make these films for myself. I need to be feel proud of them. I need to feel comfortable signing my name to them. Hopefully other people like them. But if not, it’s okay. So no outside influence. It really comes from what would I like to spend a few years of my life doing. It has to come from an internal passion. All art does. Just as you can never create art with an audience in mind. That’s “product,” not “art.” It’s why most movies are so damn bad. And it’s nothing I’m interested in.
NICK: Are there any other projects you have up your sleeve? A dream project, perhaps?
GORMAN: Well…other than the Grant Hart doc, I’m working on Pizza, A Love Story, about the three famous pizza joints in New Haven (the only real pizza places in the world…yes, I do believe that!), as well as parts two and three to my ALONE trilogy: a horror film called One Night Stand and a dark drama called Broken Side of Time.
But I guess the dream project which is planned for next year hopefully will be in the animal rights arena. I am an extreme animal rights fanatic, especially dogs. I personally would love to see Michael Vick put in a cage and ripped apart by Pit Bulls. That is his crime. Seems only just and fair. Instead of the ridiculous slap on the wrist he received. It’s pathetic. But I plan to shake up a lot of people with this one. Much like Vick’s fighting dogs, I’ll be going for the throat!
Color Me Obsessed plays at the Hollywood Theatre on Tues., May 15th at 6pm. The School of Rock will be offering up a selection of Replacements covers at the screening. More info on the program available here. Additional info about the film and Gorman Bechard's other projects can be found at What Were We Thinking Films.
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