A Masterpiece for a post-Hüsker Dü World

As a disclosure, let me state that I am director of the upcoming Grant Hart documentary EVERY EVERYTHING. But that said, if I didn’t truly love this record I would write nothing at all. As even my closest friends know, if they ask for an opinion from me, I will give it to them truthfully. I’m not one to sugar coat, or ever tell people what they want to hear.

Next, so you know where I stand, I believe these to be indisputable facts:

1. Hüsker Dü and The Replacements are the two most important rock bands of the past 32 years. That every single band that picked up a guitar and rocked post 1987 owes everything to these two bands. They saved rock and roll at a time when even punk had completely lost its edge and become new wave. So that is the regard in which I hold the members of these two bands.

2. Just as the Beatles had two great singer/songwriters in Lennon and McCarthey, Hüsker Dü had Mould and Hart. There is no Hüsker Dü without Grant Hart. He is as important to the band as Mould, and just as good a songwriter. As for their post-Hüsker Dü careers, Hart might not have been as prolific, but he delivered “2541” and “The Main,” which for me are the two best post-breakup songs.

Now, onto The Argument.

The Argument
This is a vast, impressive work. Hardly a collection of pop tunes that you can play on your car’s stereo system and listen to at leisure…at least not at first. In taking on a book most of us could not even get through the Cliff Notes on, Hart has given us a true rock opera, about good vs. evil, about heaven vs. hell, about lust and the snake in the garden. This is a post-punk rock bible, a “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” or “Tommy” for our day. But the first half dozen times through you need to listen. To absorb. To take in the grandeur of what he’s accomplished. And only then you will find the pop songs. The rock songs. The songs to break your heart. Then you will begin to see the scope of “The Argument.” Then you will begin to see the influences Hart wears proudly on his sleeves, from an almost polished version of the noise we came to love as Hüsker Dü fans to nods towards Dylan (“For Those Too High Aspiring” is probably my favorite track, sounding like a lost track Bob Dylan contributed to “Zen Arcade”), the Doors (“Golden Chain”), the Faces (“Shine, Shine, Shine”), Buddy Holly (“Letting Me Out”), doo wop (“So Far From Heaven”), anthem rock (“Glorious,” which would make for a perfect very tongue-in-cheek Christian rock anthem), even a Rudy Vallée ukulele ditty (“Underneath the Apple Tree”), and yes, old Bowie (the brilliant title track). Hart is a walking history-of-music encyclopedia, and that knowledge shines through on every track.

The production is masterful. (The use of the beep from Sputnik on “Is the Sky the Limit” is a stroke of genius.) Hart’s voice is powerful when it needs to be. Frail, almost cracked, when he wants to rip out your heart. The instrumentation is at times a cacophony of blessed noise pop and at other times brisk, clean, clear. There are moments when a track ends and you actually wish for a breather before what will assault you next.

To take on Milton’s “Paradise Lost” might have seemed a fool’s game for most musicians. But Grant Hart isn’t like most musicians. He’s probably one of the smartest men in rock & roll. And while this might have been a glorious gamble that ended badly, he’s hit the jackpot. But no more so than the fans who get to experience this work of art.

Should you buy it? Well, I’ll answer that question with a question: would you go see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” if it was in a gallery in your town? If the answer is yes. That you would have to see the genius in Van Gogh’s swirls in person and for yourself. Then, yes, buy “The Argument.”  Masterpieces only come around every so often.

My next music doc!

The other day I came up with what really should be my next music documentary. A companion piece, if you will, to Color Me Obsessed. Me and a crew of three other camera-people each assigned one member of the band Vampire Weekend. We stalk them. We harass them. He break into their homes. We are there when they eat, sleep, call their mommies. We make their lives miserable. And all we ever do is pose the question: “Why do you suck so much?” Over and over again. “WHY DO YOU SUCK SO MUCH?”

I would see it almost as my gift to the rock ‘n’ roll world as the confrontations would inevitably force the band members to get hopefully angry, turn to alcohol, or better yet, hard drugs, to finally take off the white V-neck sweaters grandma knitted, grow into angry punks, growing some actual balls in the process. It could only help their sound. They’d ditch the rinky-dink keyboards, opting instead for barely in-tune fenders, taking out their frustration on the unknowing strings. (I could almost hear the Fenders whispering to one another at night. “This was supposed to be an easy gig. Never a scratch. Fuck! We should have gone home with Taylor Swift instead.”)

It could be a transformation caught for everyone to see on camera, turning the wimpiest band in history into something raw and potentially brilliant. (Okay, brilliant might be pushing it for these guys, but at least something that wasn’t vomit inducing.) But just picture them breaking down, stealing old ladies purses, screaming at stranger in the street, urinating in public!

Or of course it could backfire. We could so distress their gentle egos that they’d instead shrivel up and wither away.

Either way, it would make for great film.

And their fans really would have nothing to worry about, as I’m sure there’d be many other set of silly silly hipsters waiting to take their place, with an iPod commercial song and a Honda commercial song already in the can.

P.S. Before all the VW fans get their panties in a bunch, let me point out that it isn’t just about this band. But they are the poster child for hipster lame, for hipster wimp. This could just as easily be about dozens (hundreds!) of other bands, many from Brooklyn. They’re all so easily interchangeable you’d think someone would be embarrassed. Though I’m not sure that’s anything they teach you at hipster school.

The Making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 16

The third day of filming for CMO brought us back to NYC. A really cold day, February 2, 2010. Just me and Adrian making the drive.

We began with someone who’d become one of CMO’s patron saints, Jesse Malin. He was our first official rock star. We shot the interview at his bar Niagra, on Avenue A and 7th Street.

Jesse was great! He told stories that seemed to connect with Jack Rabid’s, of seeing them on their East Coast Whirl back in 1983, of jamming with Paul Westerberg after their set at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. He spoke of how the band seemed like a real gang, nothing phony about them. And when asked what he would tell a younger rock fan to turn them onto The Replacements, he said:

“It’s real. It’s real rock n’ roll. It encompasses everything that rock n’ roll and punk rock should have. Great songs. Great energy. Rebel music. A fuck you. A comradery of the people. A great sense of humor. And a unique style. A unique sound. Fearless. Timeless in a way.”

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 15

Before we continue with the interview process, I want to stress to any people making films out there, or thinking of making a film:

1. You’re out of your freaking mind!

2. You need a poster and a website NOW.

It’s one of the first things I do. Even if nothing has been filmed. Because when you speak about the movie you are planning to make, people will inevitably want to check it (something) out online. Thus, Sarah Hajtol initially set up a simple site for Color Me Obsessed, which was the poster you see below, and a bunch of simple HTML links on the side: what’s new, director’s site, pages for my last film, and the one before it, facebook, twitter, etc., and so on. SOMETHING.

But how exactly did we arrive at the poster? Well, I basically drove Sarah crazy (as I always do), telling her to forget everything she learned in school and go nuts. Now, enjoy this poster while you can, because a new one is in the works (see the plaid one at the bottom of this post).

But in the meantime, let me show you a few of the designs that never made it past their embryonic stage…

Before we went plaid, we were aiming for something based upon the old Let It Be house…

…or a speaker, as in the Bastards Of Young video.

…or a volume knob…

Until one day I thought…plaid pants…and sent Sarah every plaid background I could find…and voila, she made magic:

(P.S. We are missing names from the credits above…but that will be corrected on the new version.)

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 13

Next up on that long day in Boston, Mike Gent of the Figgs, another big fan, who of course also backed Tommy Stinson on one of his solo tours. This was the first day interview where we realized we’d have a very pet friendly film on our hands, as I had to make the decision to allow pets (dogs mainly) to roam free, sit on sofas, etc. Or not. Well, anyone who knows me knows my decision.

Mike has this great old black pooch that kept jumping up onto the couch, chewing its Kong, coming over to the camera. Basically being a dog. He would be the first of many such canine cameos in CMO. And I truly believe they add a more human dimension to the film.

Mike told this great story about always searching for a copy of ALL SHOOK DOWN on vinyl. (It was never originally released on vinyl in the states.) Well, when in England on tour he found a copy. He was so excited he actually opened the album on the plane ride home, just to look at the record and insert. He found it a little strange that while there were grooves for six tunes on side one, there were only grooves for five tunes on side two. And ASD had thirteen tracks in all. When he got home he quickly discovered why. While side one was the first six songs of The Replacements’ last album, side two was inside a Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton album. A mistake from the factory where the vinyl was pressed.

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 11

Over the holidays last year, two old friends joined the production team: Dean Falcone, whom I’ve known for about three decades, and who co-wrote the score for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS), and Ed Valauskas, whom I first met when he played bass so many eons ago in amazing band Gravel Pit. Both have countless connections in the music industry. They would get us to many of the rockers who would so make this film work.

Our second day of filming interviews for COLOR ME OBSESSED was actually set up by Ed. Wednesday, January 27, 2010. Heading north this time, up to Boston. Five interviews in all, three of them taking place at the Q Division Studios. (Thank you very much!)

Only Adrian and I would make trip up. It being a weekday, Jim needed to work. It would actually be just Adrian and myself for a while, or at least until Sarah said, “I want to learn about video.”

The first interview would take place at 11 AM…so we hit the road at 7:30, just in case there was traffic or construction in and around Boston. (Like that could ever happen.)

First up: George Skaubitis, who worked radio promotions for Warner Brothers. George was very quiet and subdued, but he gave me one amazing quote, part of which you can see in the second trailer right here, calling the band a “glorious mess.” It was a short interview, but I’ll always take quality over quantity.

Next up was Dave Minehan of The Neighborhoods…

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 10

(It’s been a week…sorry about that, besides being on the road, I had to create an M&E for Friends With Benefits. That’s a music and effects track for foreign sales, which will allow for dubbing. But since most all of our sound was recorded live, all of the effects are surrounded by dialog. It basically meant I had to go in and pull or re-create every sound in the film, i.e. when Shirley puts a glass down on the bar, we need to hear the glass touching the bar, and not whatever Shirley might be saying. Tedious, so say the least. It was sort of like having your away-at-college kid show up unexpectedly for a weekend visit, and damn if you hadn’t turned their room into a music room, or screening room, or whatever your pleasure. Unexpected, but still you realized it was nice to see the brat.)

Ok…time to get sidetracked, as I was just in Cleveland for a few last minute cmo interviews and I finally had the opportunity to visit the rock n roll hall of fame, and ok, look, the Springsteen section was amazing, to see his old Tele (the one from the cover of Born To Run) was like seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night for the first time. Goddamn, did I want to touch it. The blacken neck gave me goosebumps. Every crack in the body’s finish seemed to bleed rock and roll. In my opinion it’s the most important guitar of all time. And I feel honored to have stood in its presence.

And look, sure it’s a gorgeous building, right on the lake, etc., and so forth…but we’ve all seen museums before. This one is supposed to be special! But aside from the Springsteen exhibit, which was inspiring (and the Bowie and Les Paul’s original electric displays as well), I was left wanting more. A LOT MORE. And y’know why? The punk section was closed because of remodeling, so no Clash, no Costello, no Sex Pistols, NO REPLACEMENTS, and yet I would still see shit like Steven Tyler’s or Stevie Nicks’ stage costumes, and countless FM radio crap, that all fell into the same genre. I’m sure that whomever creamed over the Lynyrd Skynyrd display likewise gushed over the ZZ Top. They were covered. But to put the most important movement in rock on the back burner because of remodeling. Fuck! Kill the goddamn Doors display. Or does anyone really care about Pink Floyd’s The Wall? Obviously, the powers that be at the Hall of Fame are as biased as the reporters on Fox News. And as always, the smart minority gets fucked. (Really now, you couldn’t have found room for even a hint of punk? Shame on you!)

Supposedly the remodeling will be complete in 2012, so anyone thinking of visiting should wait.

Ultimately was as the Hall of Fame disappointing? Yes. But would I go back? Sure, I’d give it one more chance to get it right.

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 8

Now I had tried indiegogo.com before for another project. It’s a place where you put your project online, and seek backers. NOT investors. Backers. People who donate money to your film in return for a dvd, a poster, an associate producer credit, a day on set, a role as an extra, anything you can think of really. But unlike investors, they do not own any part of your finished film. They own no part of the profits. They will never be paid back. And likewise you do not have to register with state banking commissions, you do not need a securities lawyer. (Filmmakers, if you’re looking for investors, be careful and check with the laws of individual state. Fines are not fun.) If you can find people who believe in your project this is very much the way to go. But to be honest, I had no luck with indiegogo, and I think most people who tried them at the start were in the same boat. Checking their site now, they seem to have completely changed format, basically copying the much more successful KickStarter.com.

When I first put up COLOR ME OBSESSED on KickStarter back in October 2009, it was mostly an exclusive club. You needed either an invite from one of the people who had projects on the site, or from one of the site’s founders. So I sent said founders an email, explaining who I was, and what I was making, and within a few days received an invite to make CMO a KickStarter project.

You can see the original CMO KickStarter page here, including the listing of what I was offering backers at what price. As you can see it proved tremendously successful. And I knew that when time came to find Mats fans outside of the tri-state area in which I resided, I be able to pack up my crew and go.

As an aside, I can’t say enough great things about KickStater. Everything about it is professional, well thought out, and easy to use. They truly have some amazing projects, and have helped many artists like myself achieve goals which might have otherwise been out of reach. KickStarter rocks!

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 7

Somehow almost a year went by, as I needed to finish up the tax credit paperwork (don’t get me started) for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS), complete the film, do the sound mix, begin submitting to film festivals, then actually hit the road on the festival circuit. (I could blog about that, but instead watch the amazing indie film OFFICIAL REJECTION, and you’ll learn more than you will ever need to know about film festivals.)

But in August 2009 I posted an ad on Craigslist stating that I was looking for a co-producer. I got one worthwhile response from Jim Leftwich, who not only wanted to learn about production but was a huge fan of The Replacements. We sat down over pizza at Pepe’s and hashed it out. Jim would work the East Coast interview schedule.

I believe Adrian Correia, my cinematographer on FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) had always been on board. I had been turning Adrian on to new bands since hiring him to shoot that last film. Despite no up-front pay, Adrian jumped at the chance to work on CMO.

Sarah, Jan, Jim, Adrian…that was my crew at the start. It would change as we moved along…but for now, everything clicked.

And…yes, no up-front pay. Everyone including myself would own a chunk of the back end. If the film did well, we all did well. I did not want to spent months (or more) looking for investors. I didn’t want to do all this work on another film, and then when it finally sold not see a dime. And luckily a new web startup would help me achieve that goal.