Gorman Bechard on Color Me Obsessed
Gorman Bechard’s Color Me Obsessed is the rare music documentary that lavishes admiration not only onto its subject, rowdy Minneapolis cult rock band The Replacements, but on the band’s fans as well. The doc doesn’t feature a single song by The Replacements, nor does it feature interviews with any of the three surviving members. Instead, Bechard lets the fans tell the story. Over the course of the film, he interviews dozens of subjects: the musicians, misfits, and devotees whose formative years were sound-tracked by The Replacements. We hear conflicting opinions about nearly everything – favorite songs, band dynamics, the point at which things turned sour. And we hear story after story about how the band changed (and in some cases saved) people’s lives.
Formed in 1979 by drummer Chris Mars and brothers Bob and Tommy Stinson, The Replacements were soon joined by Paul Westerberg, a local janitor who overheard the group practicing and convinced them to let him enlist as lead singer. Over the next decade, The Replacements rose from bratty teen punks to Minneapolis cult icons, then signed to a major label, sabotaged their own careers every chance they got, and gradually disbanded. What they left behind was a catalog of passionate, timeless anthems (if you’ve never heard “Unsatisfied”, “Answering Machine”, or “Can’t Hardly Wait”, get thee to iTunes) and a legacy that Bechard attempts to reassemble piece by piece.
Color Me Obsessed has been playing film festivals for the better part of the year, and will be hitting DVD and VOD this March. Until then, Bechard is taking the film on the road, pairing screenings with live tribute concerts. The film premiered in New York last Wednesday with a screening and concert at the Bowery Electric that featured performances by Craig Finn, Tommy Ramone, Jesse Malin, and many more.
FILMMAKER: I noticed in the credits that the film is based on someone else’s idea. How did you get involved with this project?
BECHARD: It sort of fell into my lap. She (Hansi Oppenheimer) had started to make a movie about the band, but it was a completely different kind of film. She had even interviewed me, because I had The Replacements as fictional characters in my book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told. And then she wrote to me in 2008 and said, “I don’t know how to finish this movie, but I think maybe you can.” And so I started thinking about it. And then I came up with this idea; I started thinking, “What can I do to make this interesting for me?” Because I had never done a doc before, but also because I’m not a fan of rock docs that are made after a band breaks up, especially if one of the guys is dead. So I didn’t really want to do a typical rock doc, and I literally just came up with this thought that was just, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in The Replacements”. How could I make people believe in The Replacements the same way they believe in God? I became obsessed with this idea, that this was a band that deserved an untraditional film. In their first music video they shot a stereo speaker for four minutes. They spat in the face of tradition every chance they got. So this was very much about spitting in the face of rock doc traditions. I never for a moment wanted to get music. I never wanted to talk to them. That was not the movie I set out to make.
FILMMAKER: The film reminds me of Stop Making Sense with the limitations you set for yourself. In that film, you get the Talking Heads entirely through their music. In this film, you’re limiting yourself in the opposite way.
BECHARD: I think it makes the viewer work harder. It’s that whole thing of why Hollywood movies are so bad. When there’s a problem, they just throw money at it. But throwing money is not the same as throwing creativity. And in a low-budget film, things happens, and we have absolutely no money to throw at it, so we have to come up with something interesting, a different way to do it. And sometimes I think that’s the way the best art is made.
FILMMAKER: That sentiment of “I Don’t Believe in God but I believe in The Replacements.” What is it about this band that inspires such fanaticism?
BECHARD: The first question I asked in interviews, 140 times, was, “Why The Replacements?” And what I finally came to was… okay yes, they were arguably the best rock and roll band of all time. Their story, how they defied conventions, their songs, the fact that they have three literally perfect albums… there’s no band in history that has any more than three. I mean, The Beatles had three. The Rolling Stones had three. Dylan had three. And The Replacements had three perfect albums. Let it Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me, in case you were wondering. But that all almost goes without saying. I think the thing about The Replacements is – and I think Robert Voedisch, in the film – this farm boy from Minnesota, he speaks it beautifully when he compares them to oxygen. It’s almost like you can’t live without them. For me, I almost can’t put my finger on it. It’s almost like when you see a woman for the first time, and you just know, “I’m going to fall in love with you and we’re going to get married and we’re going to be together for the rest of our life.” That’s something that you can’t explain. And that’s what it is with The Replacements. There’s this passion that you just can’t put your finger on. It’s something that you feel more than you verbalize.
FILMMAKER: What’s it like to listen to this band after dedicating three years to making a film about them?
BECHARD: It made me like them more, if that’s imaginable. My wife was actually worried about the same thing. Like, what if at the end of all this I actually hate The Replacements, I’m so sick of them. But it was actually the opposite effect. It made me go back and find the songs I didn’t give enough of a chance to initially. It really made me fall in love with their first album (Sorry Ma, I Forgot to Take Out the Trash), where I was never completely in love with it before. After making the film I realized it wasn’t just this obnoxious punk record. That it was the seeds of everything great that would come. There were these great melodies and this amazing humor, on Stink too (their follow-up EP). I just completely fell in love with those two records.
FILMMAKER: How did you determine the types of people you interviewed for the film?
BECHARD: It started with Jack Rabid (editor, The Big Takeover). He was our first interview in New York, and it sort of rolled from there. He suggested people, and then we started placing ads. I had a producer in New York, a producer in Boston, and a producer in LA. And then my main producer was Jan Radder and he was based out of Minneapolis. He found me so many people. But a lot of it was just through making contacts or literally posting on people’s Facebook pages. That’s how we got Colin Meloy (lead singer of The Decemberists). We were having so much trouble getting through his management people, and my wife ended up finding his wife on Facebook. And that’s how we got Colin Meloy – through his wife.
FILMAMKER: You interviewed some very high profile talent for the film. But you also spend a lot of time just talking to regular fans. How did you find these fans?
BECHARD: Robert Voedisch, who is essentially the star of the movie, he wrote to us. We posted on all these Facebook pages; placed all these Craigslist ads that said, “We’re doing a doc about The Replacements. If you have some interesting stories, send us an email.” And he wrote to us and said, “This sounds a little weird, but I used to have imaginary conversations with Paul and Tommy on my parent’s farm when I was a fourteen year old.” And it was one of those things where we were in Minneapolis, so we decided. “Let’s spend 20 minutes with him. If it sucks we won’t use it. You never know, it might be funny.” I never expected to be walking out of there, turning to the crew, and saying, “that was our best interview.” Because he just laid everything out. And what he says… he epitomizes what it means to feel passionate about a band.
FILMMAKER: The fans are all so off-guard. You had people weeping on camera, just talking about this band.
BECHARD: Not to pat myself on the back, but I think that had a lot to do with the way we were filming it. If someone was the least bit nervous, I would try to say, “Okay it’s just me and you. We’re sitting around, we’re having a coffee, having a beer, and just talking about The Replacements.” And I’m a pretty good listener. I always knew what my first question was. But I would let their answers dictate how the conversation would flow. It always felt like a conversation between two fans.
FILMMAKER: The movie is just as much about the fans as it is about the band.
BECHARD: Absolutely. That was something I loved about how it came out. And also, it’s not even just how does this music affect you. I’ve had people come up to me at screenings and say, “I don’t know who The Replacements are, but this is the way I feel about R.E.M.” or, “This is the way I feel about Nirvana.” We all had that band when we were young that really became a part of our family.
FILMMAKER: Do you think the movie will play well to people who’ve never heard The Replacements?
BECHARD: At the Q&A last night I said, “For those of you in the audience who know The Replacements, you don’t need to hear the music. Because as soon as someone mentions “Hootenanny”, “If Only You Were Lonely”, whatever song, you’re hearing it in your head. So you don’t even need it to be playing. And for those of you who don’t know The Replacements, basically this gives you all the ammunition you need to go and discover them on your own terms.” I’m not playing you Can’t Hardly Wait and telling you that this is what’s going to turn you on. You now know this band exists, you’ve heard about all these crazy records. You can maybe relate to one or two of the people in the film and say, “Well that person really loved the song Go, so I’m going to start there.” It’s the perfect ammunition to go and listen, to just learn everything about this band; about what a cast of characters they were; about how influential they were. You know, I had one guy who said, “I’ve never liked The Replacements. I still don’t like The Replacements. However, the film made me go and see bands live again for the first time in years. I saw the film and I had to go to a bar and see a band play live rock and roll. Because I missed that. This film made me miss that.”
FILMMAKER: Are there bands now that you see channeling the spirit of The Replacements?
BECHARD: I thought Archers of Loaf were the best band of the ’90s. Really to me they captured the spirit of The Replacements, especially in their live shows… And I think there are some really good bands out there now. Deer Tick is a band that falls into that category. And several of the bands we interview in the movie – The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus, Gaslight Anthem, there are definitely some bands out there carrying on that rock and roll tradition.
FILMMAKER: People in the film talk about discovering The Replacements through an article in a magazine, or through blind-buying a tape. But that era’s kind of gone now, where a band could be a mystery like that.
BECHARD: You know what? I think it hurts the bands. At the very end of the movie, Jim DeRogatis (of Sound Opinions) says that if you really wanted to make the true homage to The Replacements, you would go and visit basements around the US and find 50 bands that are doing the exact same thing The Replacements were. Well, believe it or not, I tried that. I thought that was a brilliant idea, so my assistant and I started looking into it, and we found no one. Because those bands don’t exist anymore. Now a band has their Facebook page up before they even have a song recorded. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are honestly detrimental; we’ll never see another Replacements because of those sites. Bands are too image conscious nowadays to play no-holds-barred rock and roll. Which is kind of sad.
FILMMAKER: Pairing the film with a tribute show on Wednesday night was perfect.
BECHARD: Wednesday was amazing. Jesus Christ. If seeing Craig Finn didn’t make you want to go see The Hold Steady, than, as Peter Jesperson says in that press release we show early in the film, “you’re either dead or you don’t love rock and roll.” And Patrick (Stickles) from Titus Andronicus, the way he sang “Sixteen Blue”. I mean, my god.
FILMMAKER: The performer that struck me most was Matthew Ryan. He was reading off a lyric sheet the whole time, and seemed really nervous. And at the end, he said, “The only reason I’m reading off this sheet is because I’ve been making up my own words to these songs for years.”
BECHARD: It’s funny, I just recently filmed an Archers of Loaf concert, and it was a running joke. We were talking about the song “Web in Front”, and all six people in the crew had different lyrics to that song. And we spoke to Eric (Bachmann, the lead singer), and there’s this one line, and he tells us what it is, and we were just like, “Oh, okay.” None of us knew what the actual line was. We had written six different versions of it in our heads. Which is funny, but it doesn’t stop you from loving the song, you know?