Who hasn’t spent untold hours debating the finer points and weaker albums of favorite bands? In honor of The Replacements, the pastime gets 120 minutes of cinematic glory in “Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements.”
Novelist and filmmaker Gorman Bechard, an unabashed Replacements fan, collected interviews from over 100 writers, rockers, industry insiders, celebrities and everyday followers of the hard-drinking Minneapolis quartet that kept punk swagger alive in the indie rock scene of the ‘80s, including Tommy Ramone, members of Hüsker Dü, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and former “Cheers” star George Wendt (didn’t see that one coming). He forms them into an oral history tracing the band’s album output, fashion choices, changes in line-up and legendarily chaotic live shows with their words and simple title cards. But without any involvement from the former band members themselves, or their music.
His choice works much better than you might expect. The recollections and sometimes clashing opinions of his subjects, set to a minimal score of twangy guitar riffs, do more than map out a unique portrait of The Replacements. They celebrate the universal benchmarks of band fan love, from sharing accounts of being at an infamous gig to bitching about how much better they were before signing to a major label.
On his blog, Bechard offers extensive background on the making of “Color Me Obsessed,” which is now making its way steadily through the festival circuit. Rocker caught up with Bechard for a two-on-one (our trusty video-guy Andrew and me) a few hours before the film’s debut at the Independent Film Festival of Boston.
ROCKER: Everyone in the film has a Replacements story, how they first discovered the band. What’s yours?
GORMAN:1983. Me and my girlfriend are [in a club] right up against the stage, we’re going to see REM and this opening band comes out. They’re the most obnoxious, loud, horrible band I’d ever seen in my life. They were the Replacements. Six months later, they were my favorite band.
ROCKER: A big question that comes up is the decision to not have the band or its music involved, and whether that was conscious, if you sought the band’s involvement.
GORMAN:Never for a moment. This movie sort of fell into my lap (another filmmaker started the project but couldn’t finish), and I took it over thinking I’m going to make a different kind of documentary. I hate music documentaries where the band no longer exists. All it is is a bad VH1 special. I’m sorry, I’ve seen every one that’s made, I really believe that and I’ve yet to prove myself wrong. Even “End of the Century,” the Ramones one, which people ask me about. If it had been made earlier, when Joey was alive, it would’ve been great.
ROCKER: It is a pretty pat trajectory.
GORMAN:So I just didn’t want to do that. This band deserves more. And I also like challenges. Again, look at the people that I’m saying I love. So I said, let me try to do a music documentary where you never see the band, you never hear them, they have nothing to do with it, and that’s what excited me. Either I’m going to succeed or fall completely on my face, but again, with the Replacements, that’s what they deserve. I mean, their first music video is [a still of] a stereo speaker, in a day and age when MTV could’ve made them superstars. They certainly had the personality. So yeah, I never once contacted the band for music. Never once tried to get them involved. In fact, if the band had come to me and said, we would love to be involved, I would’ve said, this is not the movie I’m making.
ROCKER: How did you start getting together your wish list for interviews? It’s a diverse group.
GORMAN:I brought on a bunch of producers in different areas who knew the band, loved the band and had a lot of musical contacts. My one main co-producer, Jan [Radder], is out of Minneapolis. We just started, and the very first day of interviews was [“Big Takeover” publisher] Jack Rabid, who tells such wonderful stories. I remember walking out of that interview, turning to my DP and saying, “We have a movie.” The stories were so vivid and beautiful and funny. And he sort of started opening doors; said, “Hey, I know this person.”
We started posting on social media, saying, “Hey, we’re making this movie if you have great stories,” and then people would say, you have to try this person or this person. Even someone like George Wendt, he found out about the movie but we couldn’t get together. He wanted to be in it so bad that I think he had his nephew there with a Flip camera while I did a speakerphone interview.
The celebrity aspect of this is really interesting because of who you get in there. (Wendt, Tom Arnold, Dave Foley from The Kids in The Hall).
Funny joke: the one person I tried to get who’s a huge Replacements fan, because the minute his name and face came up on screen it would’ve gotten a big laugh, is Pat Sajak. We tried. He was in Vegas and we couldn’t arrange it. But I would’ve killed to have Pat Sajak, just because it’s Pat Sajak! It’d be like, what the fuck?
ROCKER: The musicians you got include the two current bands I think of first with respect to the legacy of the Replacements – the Hold Steady and Gaslight Anthem.
GORMAN:[Craig Finn] always said he was such a big fan. The Goo Goo Dolls, when they admit, “I can’t believe how bad we ripped them off,” what more could we have wanted from them? We definitely got a lot of great interviews. Most of the musicians, we reached out to them, and we got almost everyone we wanted.
ROCKER: The part of the story involving Bob Stinson (R.I.P.) being dropped from the band – did you have any concerns about approaching that, or things you wanted to include about how his relationship with the band eventually played out?
GORMAN:I don’t think there’s any clear story as to what happened in the end. You hear all sorts of rumors. Some are nasty; some are not. I didn’t really want to go there, because I don’t think there’s any person in the world who could get that story straight, other than if you could put Bob and Westerberg in a room, and you can’t. I believe that story is lost to history. There’s a book coming out next year – I don’t care what it claims. There’s no way that story in there is true, unless the writer talked to Bob. But to me – I think you see this in the movie – the band pretty much broke up after Bob was kicked out. The last two albums are almost afterthoughts.
ROCKER: Is there any awareness among the band members of your movie?
GORMAN:I know they’re aware of it, because we’ve talked to managers and stuff like that. It’d be kind of hard to not be aware of it because of the publicity we’re getting. And I can’t imagine them not liking it because it’s such a love letter to the band. I mean, we call them the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time. I don’t really see how they’re going to be offended by that.
ROCKER: Are you looking forward to that feedback, or does it not matter?
GORMAN:It doesn’t really matter. I don’t expect it.
ROCKER: Anything else you’d like to add?
GORMAN:I think that the movie also speaks to non-Replacements fans as well. Robert Voedisch, my bearded farm boy, who’s in there a lot, I think he represents any rock fan that fell in love with a band when they were 14-15 years old, as many of us did. As he said, he spent more time listening to this band than talking to any of my friends. And there are a lot of us that are very much in that boat. I don’t care if your band was Led Zeppelin or The Ramones, or The Sex Pistols, or The Replacements, or Nirvana – it makes no difference. If you had a band in your life that spoke to you in that way, I think this movie will speak to you, because it’s really about how music affects you and becomes part of your family as you’re growing up.
You don’t realize how common those touchstones are, especially if you found a band before the labels did.
Usually once the labels get them, they go downhill.
ROCKER: I like that you also include, through editing, some argument between the interview subjects.
GORMAN:There are people who love the later stuff that don’t listen to the first two or three records. But I think you had to put that in there. And this isn’t a band like Bon Jovi, which every song they put out is basically a slow song or a fast song. With The Replacements, they’re 11 different bands. Or maybe eight. The same band that would put out “I Will Dare” and put out “Androgynous,” and then the Kiss cover “Black Diamond,” and then “Gary’s Got a Boner.” This is not the same band, and yet it was, on the same album. And that’s what makes them, to me, the greatest rock n’ roll band.
They were the last rock ‘n’ roll band. Nirvana is fine, but it’s commercial. And rock ‘n’ roll today is practically non-existent, other than bands like The Hold Steady and Gaslight Anthem. Other bands that pass as rock ‘n’ roll today just make me want to gag. It’s like someone castrated rock ‘n’ roll.
For more info on “Color Me Obsessed,” including upcoming screenings, check out the film’s official website. at http://www.whatwerewethinkingfilms.com/colormeobsessed/