Two weeks from tonight, on the eve of the national holiday to celebrate The Replacements (and their St. Paul gig)…we’re throwing a benefit for Slim Dunlap at the Parkway Theatre in Minneapolis, featuring a Scott D. Hudson podcast, two sets of Slim and Mats tunes from a bevy of amazing musicians moderated by Jon Clifford, and a completely different version of Color Me Obsessed, edited just for this night. (I’m calling it “The Editing Room Floor Edition,” and it doesn’t so much tell the story of the Mats but instead is a collection of many smile-inducing tales, many of which never made it into the film.”)
Plus we will be raffling away tons of cool items all night, including a signed copy of Amanda Petrusich amazing new book on record collecting, a gorgeous Erica Bruce Mats still photo, signed CDs from Lydia Loveless, Matthew Ryan, and others, a signed copy of Jim Walsh‘s photographic history, a few dozen DVD’s from my distributor MVD, and so so so so much more…(yes, even some of my crap.)
And all profits are going to help cover Slim’s medical expenses. If you’re in the Twin Cities area…well, you know what you have to do! There will be many great surprises. This is the Mats party everyone will be talking about.
First time I ever saw/heard The Replacement was when they opened for R.E.M. at a club in New Haven, Connecticut called Toad’s Place. It was July 17th, 1983. I was 24-years-old, a few months away from directing my first feature film, a horror thing called “Disconnected.” (Not a very good film. But I learned a lot.) My girlfriend at the time, Kathy, and I were leaning right up against the stage. We had already seen R.E.M. once before when they came around in support of their debut EP. Now they had an excellent first album. We were pretty psyched.
The opening band came out finally. And I so remember turning to Kathy as we both wondered “what the fuck is this?” They were so drunk, so blatantly obnoxious. And to top it off the guitar player was wearing a dress. (Not that I had anything against rockers in drag. David Bowie was very much responsible for my love of rock & roll. But this guy wasn’t David Bowie.) We turned our backs on the band and leaned back against the stage.
Needless to say, we made a mistake.
Needless to say, by the next year they were my favorite band.
I thank The Professor for that. Walking into his sprawling Phoenix Record shop in Waterbury, he handed me my weekly collection of vinyl that I was going to love, but I didn’t quite know it yet. And one week in that stack was the “I Will Dare” 12-inch.
It was hard to connect the band playing that song to the band I saw on stage. But they were somehow one in the same. And when “Let It Be” arrived shortly thereafter, well, pretty much everything changed.
Now we jump ahead thirty years. During that time the majority of the people I work with on my films would be born. I would have gotten married and stayed married for going on twenty-one years to a woman named Kristine who also called The Replacements her favorite band. (And Kathy would go on to be Kristine’s Maid-Of-Honor at our wedding.) The Replacements, of course would break up in 1991. I’d fall in deeply love with a few other bands, namely Archers of Loaf and Wilco. I write a bunch of books. Make a boatload of movies, including documentaries on two of those favorite bands, The Mats and Archers. Kristine and I would raise our family of dogs. I’d even get my first tattoo at the age of 51 so I could always remember one of those dogs, Mr. Kilgore Trout.
And whether is was getting together to record the “Songs For Slim” EP, or Paul and Tommy finally realizing the love for the band never faded. Or something else altogether, the time was right, the stars aligned, it didn’t matter.
Three RiotFest shows were announced. Kris and I spent hours talking about it. I already had a lot of traveling in my near future because of shooting for the A DOG NAMED GUCCI animal abuse film, and the premieres of both my drama BROKEN SIDE OF TIME and the Grant Hart documentary EVERY EVERYTHING. Plus Kris would just be coming off a long vacation. Would we? Should we?
How the fuck could we not!
Like so many hundreds (thousands?) of Mats fans around the country (world?), we made the necessary arrangements. Even stopping along the way for the night at Niagara Falls as a hoot. (Quite amazing to see in person, if I do say so.) Arriving in Toronto (one of my favorite cities in the world) the day before. We went for a lovely vegetarian dinner with friends, then met up with even more friends for beers at the Elephant & Castle on Yonge Street.
One of those friends was Robert Voedisch, our bearded farm boy from CMO. He shared an amazing story about having the worst week of his life, losing his passport, etc., and so on, only to make it to the airport and run into The Replacements, who were on the same flight to Toronto as he was. His story was vivid and wonderful and Kris and I marveled as if we were watching some outtake from CMO that we had never seen.
Conversation turned of course to what we all expected in terms of a set list for Sunday evening. It’s a conversation that would be repeated the next day over lunch with yet more friends. We all expected the “hits” for lack of a better word, but the big disagreement was over opening song. Many thought “Talent Show,” others thought “I’ll Be You” because of its line about being from Canada, “Bastards of Young” turned up in the mix. I was the only person who insisted it would be “Takin’ A Ride.” Not because I had any inside information. But because I truly felt the band would not only have to remind the crowd who they really once were, but they would also have to remind themselves.
And what better way?
We arrived at Fort York a little after six PM. I really wasn’t interested in seeing any of the other bands. Not that a few didn’t hold interest. It was The Replacements day. I was nervous for them. I was nervous for us. I was nervous for the thousands in attendance. I was nervous for rock & roll.
(And yes, I was figuratively turning my back on those opening bands. Some habits die hard, though I’d learned my lesson the hard way.)
Kris at one point asked if I were okay. “Not really,” I replied. “I’m more anxious than at one of the premieres for my own films.” And Kris knows how I make myself sick at those.
So really by the time Iggy took the stage, I had no patience. Not ever a fan, I just truly found him annoying, like the mosquito that won’t go away, and that for some reason you can’t fucking squash. It could have been the performance of a lifetime. He could have done an encore with the reunited Beatles including both Lennon and Harrison having risen from the dead. I didn’t fucking care.
Get off the stage. Get off the stage. Please get off the fucking stage.
The Replacements were scheduled to start their set at 8:45 and play for 75 minutes. The festival had a hard out, and the “noise” had to end at 10 PM.
Once Iggy’s set and the half hour in-between were quite possibly the longest moments of my life. Like waiting for a doctor to tell you if you were going to live or die. And all the time thinking, this doctor is always late.
But quite possibly for the first time in their lives The Replacements were right on time.
They took the stage. (The Replacements were on stage in front of me. I cannot write enough variations of that sentence.) Paul Westerberg, as out-of-tune stylishly as ever, cracked wise, and then it started. And four measures into the breakneck throb of an open to “Takin’ A Ride” every bit of anxiety I felt beforehand melted away. Any worries that the audience felt, any doubts the band felt, had all been in vain. Paul Westerberg stepped to the mic, as cock-eyed and crooked as I had remembered, sang “Stay right there/Go no further,” and Goddamn we were transported back in time. Only this time I was not going to turn my back on the stage. I would never make that mistake again. And no worries, Paul. No one was going anywhere.
And while cohort Tommy Stinson might not have been leaping six feet into the air, he was a punk rock whirling dervish around the stage. Both he and Westerberg were having fun. That might have been the biggest surprise of all. The nicest surprise. And I don’t think I could have been happier for anyone. They were enjoying themselves. Joking, whispering in each others’ ears, playing the songs that meant so much to so many. When flubbing the lyrics of “I Will Dare,” Westerberg was as self-deprecating as ever. Cockyand sarcastic, yet loveable in a way few could ever achieve. He even came out in a Montreal Canadiens’ t-shirt (Toronto’s arch rivals) for the encore. It was a Replacements move. I’m tempted to say “vintage.” But it was happening in real time. It happened just the other night. It’s not vintage if it never went away. And for so many of us, this band has never gone away.
And doubters be damned, Bob Stinson was just as much on that stage as was Chris Mars and Slim Dunlap. They were channeling their energies into the replacement Replacements, guitarist David Minehan, who played all those blessed wrong notes the right way, and drummer Josh Freese who pounded like a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot on speed. They were tight. And even all the right notes were perfectly out of place.
The set list itself was a thing of beauty. Heavy on the early rockers: “I’m In Trouble,” “Favorite Thing,” “Color Me Impressed,” “Love You Till Friday” into a breakneck cover of “Mabeline.” The boys weren’t taking this reunion thing in stride. If they were going to do it, they were going to do it right. And they weren’t going to give us the band circa 1991. This was 1984/1985 vintage Replacements, firing on all cylinders.
In a word, they sounded great. If you closed your eyes you could imagine you were at one of those shows way back when where they hadn’t gotten too drunk, but instead had decided they were in the mood to play the greatest rock show of all time.
Of course it ended much too soon. “Bastards of Young” closing the set, as raindrops started to lightly fall. Ilona, my fictional Daughter of God, whose favorite band was The Replacements, no longer able to hold back her tears of joy. They came back for a two song encore, “Everything Is Coming Up Roses” an old Broadway standard that only The Replacements could rock, and “I.O.U.” from “Pleased to Meet Me.” And the show was over. The impossible really had happened.
And it happened oh, so fucking well.
Was it a miracle? Well, in the 80s The Replacements took a few albums worth of songs and fed the rock-starved world. Those same songs have taught the world not how to fish, but how to rock & roll.
And I’m pretty sure I saw them walking on water as they left the stage.
Let me try to explain what that means to me. It would be like an extremely devout Catholic meeting the Pope. Like a Chicago Cubs fan not only seeing their team make it into the World Series, but sweeping the other team. Like a Jets fan seeing their team go undefeated. Like buying that Powerball ticket and being the lone winner of a few hundred million dollars. It’s a dream. It’s unreal. It could never happen.
But two weeks from now, on a Sunday evening in Toronto, they will take the stage. Will they play a perfect set of their most beloved songs? Will they be in cantankerous moods and play only parts of inconceivable cover songs? Will they rock? Roll? Will they have mellowed with age? Will they tear the non-existent roof off the fucking joint? It doesn’t matter. It’s a Replacements show. We’re not supposed to know what to expect. As long as they show up.
There are of course the naysayers. Those who say, “This isn’t The Replacements, it’s just Paul and Tommy.” To them I say, “shut the fuck up.” Bob is gone. Slim is ill. And Chris just doesn’t want to be a part of it. But still, this is Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson taking the stage and playing the songs that changed our lives, that in many cases defined our lives. If you have issue with it, don’t go. (Though I truly believe the naysayers are only naysayers because they can’t get to one of the three shows. Put a ticket in their hands and they’d be singing a different tune.)
I think about those I know who’ve never seen the band. Those who came late to the show (and coming late is a hell of a lot better than never showing up at all), or those who were too young to see the band during their day. The excitement they must be feeling as they think, I’m seeing The Replacements in two weeks.
I think of all the times one of their songs has figuratively saved by life. The blaring of “Here Comes A Regular,” and it somehow making me feel just a tad better, because I was not that guy in the song. The loud out-of-tune howling of “Unsatisfied,” knowing that I was not alone in the world. I’m seeing The Replacements in two weeks.
I think of the joy songs like “Color Me Impressed” or “Can’t Hardly Wait” or “If Only You Were Lonely” have brought me over the years. Always played a little too loud. Often played on endless repeat. Songs that still make me feel alive to this day. Songs that make me feel young, invincible, loud, brash, horny, crazy. The soundtrack to my personal life. I’m seeing The Replacements in two weeks.
I think of the inspiration the band has given me. Whether writing a book or working on a film, they were always there in the background. The soundtrack to my professional life. Stuck? Put on a Mats tune. Need to wake up? Put on a Mats tune. Done? Put on a Mats tune. They were even characters in my first novel. Not that this band needed to be fictionalized, they were always larger than life. But what other band would God’s daughter claim as her favorite? She is divine. She knows everything. She knows rock & roll. Ilona Ann Coggswater would be so happy for me. I’m seeing The Replacements in two weeks.
I think of the times I’ve seen them live. One of my favorite musical moments, Paul Westerberg coming back alone for the encore at the Beacon Theatre. A balloon in hand. Sucking in the helium. Singing “Hello Dolly” acapella, then leaving the stage, leaving us all wondering “what the fuck?” The audience cleared out, and when the last fan had left the building, the band burst back onto the stage, and ripped into a rollicking encore, leaving all of us to rush back in from the street. If was a moment I’ll never forget. I’m seeing The Replacements in two weeks.
I think of my wife beautiful Kristine, by my side for thirteen of the fifteen times I’ve seen them. Married for twenty years now. Often times people would ask our secret. I would ask Kris, “What’s your favorite band?” She’d answer “The Replacements. What’s yours?” And I’d answer “The Replacements.” And that would be the answer to the question. We’re seeing The Replacements in two weeks.
And of course, I think of being able to direct “Color Me Obsessed, a film about The Replacements.” Meeting and interviewing so many like-minded fans, some famous, many not, people who knew them, worked with them, produced their albums, wrote about them, were influenced by them, spent more time with them than any of their teenaged friends. An honor. I was humbled by the love, the devotion. I never felt more connected to people in my life. I was not alone. And I’m seeing The Replacements in two weeks.
To me, the Archers of Loaf were the single greatest band of the 90s. They saved my love of music after The Replacement broke up, and I truly felt no band would ever fill those dirty Converse All Stars.
I will always remember the first time I saw the Archers live at a CMJ showcase at Tramps in NYC. Within 30 seconds I knew I had discovered my new favorite band. And that’s never changed. I do honestly believe WEB IN FRONT is the greatest song ever written. Ever. It makes me happy. The band makes me happy.
But of course all good things must come to an end as they did in 1998. A true story: I knew the band, and knew WHITE TRASH HEROES would be their last album. The day it was released I drove some 45 minutes to pick it up, and listened to it blissfully for the first time on the ride home, having to pull over as the last song came on, because knowing it was the last new song I’d ever hear from them I began to cry. I sat in a bank parking lot the tears flowing uncontrollably as the final refrains of that amazing title track played on my car’s speakers.
Jump forward to 2011. My first rock documentary, COLOR ME OBSESSED, A FILM ABOUT THE REPLACEMENTS, was doing quite well on the festival circuit. I knew I wanted to make a second rock doc. And one afternoon my wife informed me that the Archers were reuniting for a tour, and I knew I had my next subject. I won’t go into the details of talking the camera-sky band into the project, but after seeing their two LA performances I knew I had to do everything in my power to forever preserve this energy for future generations. Especially in a time when going to a rock show usually means seeing a wimpy band who looks even more bored than the texting crowd members who are more interested in talking or being seen.
Cat’s Cradle was the obvious venue. So I got together some of my favorite crew members I’d worked with in recent years. Jan Radder and Sarah Hajtol, who were my right and left hands in making COLOR ME. Adrian Correia who did such an amazing job shooting my FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) — the original FWB movie. As well as Cory Maffucci and Andrew Ross. We had seven cameras in all, with me on Eric Johnson’s side of the stage, Sarah on Matt Gentling’s, Jan with two cameras behind drummer Mark Price, Adrian roaming the audience, Cory watching over the Red One capturing our wide shot, and Andrew on the catwalk covering the crowd.
I shot the interviews myself a few months later in their hometown of Asheville, then I went home and cut together the truly mind-blowing footage to Brian Paulson’s astounding mix.
I’ve made a number of films, written a bunch of books, but never in 30 years did I have more fun doing anything. This is my proudest moment as a filmmaker, because not only do I feel I have made a great film, I know I have helped preserve an important part of rock history, proof that rock once had balls, and at times, still can.
I love this band, and have never found a replacement for them. I doubt I ever will.
And FYI: the set list from the film can be seen as the background to the poster. The DVD 12 contains 6 additional songs from the two Cradle shows, and 4 extra interviews with the band members.
Just want you to know how proud we are of this DVD release. On it you’ll find 6 hours of extras including 19 deleted scenes, the complete interviews with Grant Hart of Husker Du, famed rock critic Robert Christgau, and Sound Opinions hosts Greg Kot & Jim DeRogatis, a behind the scenes interview with me, and another with Hansi Oppenheimer who originated the project years ago. Plus there are two commentaries, one from me, and the other from our Minneapolis producer Jan Radder. Throw in 4 trailers, and you have one hell of a DVD!!!
Color Me Obsessed was a blast to make. And for anyone wondering why there’s no band or music, that was the concept from the start. We never even asked to speak with the band, never asked to use the music. Never. From the get-go I wanted to turn the rock doc genre on its ear. And for a band who shot a stereo speaker for 4 minutes for its first music video, I think this approach is appropriate and more than fitting.
A number of critics seem to agree. Rolling Stone called it one of “the seven best new music documentaries of the year.” The Village Voice called it “the rock version of Rashomon.” David Carr, the NY Times columnist tweeted “You can feel The Replacements in every single frame.” And the raves go on and on (even check the IMDb user comments).
For fans, you will be reaching for your Mats albums the moment the end credits roll. (NOTE: the film doesn’t end with the end credits. There’s more!)
And for music lovers not familiar with The Replacements, you will be armed with everything you need to discover them and fall in love with them as we did so many years back.
As CHARTattack said, “the film is a shockingly refreshing and invigorating experience for anyone who ever care about any kind of music at all.”
A perfectly over-rated example of the rock doc genre is the Ramones flick END OF THE CENTURY. Yes, it’s better that the average VH1 special. But not by that much. In every frame you know that Joey is already passed onto the other side. Had the filmmaker begun the project two years earlier, I wouldn’t be making this criticism. But the film feels wrong to me. As do most rock docs made after a band is longer with us (for whatever reason). Whether that band be X, the Beatles, or anyone in between. Something is missing.
Which is why I never (“NEVER!” I screamed) wanted for a moment to give my favorite band of all time such treatment. I truly believe that any “traditional” doc on The Replacements will play like one of these VH1 specials. So, when the opportunity to make this film fell into my lap, I knew I had to come up with something as daring, as unique as my subject. That fuck-you to tradition that The Replacements so deserved.
I knew some would have issue with my approach. That, like the band at so many junctures in their career, I risked falling flat on my face. But, and anyone who knows my career knows this to be true, is was a risk I was more than willing to take.
What probably surprises me most is that some people insist I’m lying. That I couldn’t afford the rights to the Mats music. I have to think those people just can’t comprehend risk taking, or doing something different. They’re so caught up in tradition, they see the world through blinders and are unable to accept originality. How they ever became Mats fans is beyond me. Perhaps they grew jaded and crusty as they got old. Or perhaps they’re just jealous that it worked. As I know it does. As the dozens of IMDB reviews from people who’s seen the film at festivals have confirmed. Many of whom who entered with their arms folded against my no-music nuttiness, only to leave with a satisfied grin plastered to their face. Originality can do that. It can make you feel alive again. (If you give it a chance.) Sort of like The Replacements did the first time we all heard them.
When CMO took on a life of its own, and honestly pushed every other project (ONE NIGHT STAND, and my new novel NOT SO PRETTY especially) aside, I started over-dosing on rock documentaries, or rockumentaries, if you will. There were many that I love:
I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART, A FILM ABOUT WILCO is amazing because filmmaker Sam Jones is the luckiest sonofabitch on the planet. Not only did he get to make a doc on Wilco, he witnessed them recording one of their most acclaimed albums, the firing of one of their founding members, them being dropped by their label, then being resigned by another label (and payed three times the advance) owned by the same parent company. Seriously, there’s so much amazing conflict that you half expect Jeff Tweedy to discover a cure for cancer during the recording of Heavy Metal Drummer. Shot in glorious black and white, the film is perfect in almost every aspect. I love this movie.
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON is another masterpiece. And why? Because filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig had access to Johnston’s life in such extreme detail, nothing was missing. How could it be, Johnston recorded seemingly his every thought. This is of course more than a rock doc, it’s about mental illness and the power of art. It is a brilliant piece of filmmaking.
ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL is yet another. It’s the real life SPINAL TAP, a true story of never letting go of the rock dream…no matter what. And it even has sort of a happy ending.
I bring up these three films for a reason: the access the filmmakers had to the band/musicians in question. They were all present, offering almost disturbing insight into their creative prosesses. These to me are the only sort of rock docs that work. Otherwise, the films play like a VH1 Where-Are-They-Now? Special. And not that there’s anything wrong with those specials. They’re fine for what they are: a fun look back at a band/musician we loved. But that’s all they are. They are NOT, nor will they ever be, FILMS.
After watching the film through, Matt and I compare notes…
I should point out first that he began the day telling me he found three albums from The Replacements that I’d given him at the end of the FWB mix. “Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased To Meet Me?” I venture. He replies in the affirmative. And that he began playing them non-stop since working on the film. I promise him that I’ll complete his collection once we’re done.
Back to mix notes: they’re pretty much the same. A few spots are driving us crazy. And honestly I won’t mention them because I think that Matt and the HM3K did such and amazing job of smoothing them out, that Matt and I (and the HM3K) are really the only two people (and machine) in the world who would ever know what they were.
Volumes are adjusted in a few spots. One word playing just a little too loud. A few a little too soft. The background feedback and noise (from Dean Falcone) likewise a little too loud in spots, too quiet in others, and let’s swap out a few of the non-tunings with better choices from the tracks I brought with me.
By around 2 PM the tweaking is over. There’s nothing more left to do, except output the film, which is done in real time. So, I get to watch it again. Proud at what we’ve done. Hell, what Matt and the HM3K have done. My sound no longer requires apologies.
The mix is transferred to the drives I brought with me. Two drives, so I have two separate copies. Yeah, I’m anal that way. (And yes, I hear people who know me quoting Woody Allen, “Anal is a nice word for what you are.”)
And we’re done. I thank Matt and Carmen and tell them about the next projects, PIZZA, A LOVE STORY, my doc on the history of Sally’s, Pepe’s, and Modern, the three greatest pizza (appiza!) joints in the galaxy, and parts two and three of my Alone Trilogy: the horror film ONE NIGHT STAND and the dark road drama BROKEN SIDE OF TIME. Which will see the darkness of DuArt’s mixing suite and the genius of Matt Gundy next is anyone’s guess.
We have four days for the mix. Nothing by comparison to Hollywood comparisons. But then our entire film budget is probably the food budget for two weeks on your average Hollywood film. And from what Matt and Carmen tell me, so many micro-budget films nowadays are bypassing the mix altogether, because they just can’t afford it. So, our four days are a luxury by what should be our standards. But I firmly believe bad sound can kill a film, just as easily as boring cinematography, amateuristic acting, bad writing, etc and so on. It’s an essential part.
We’ll break the four days down as such…30 to 35 minutes or so on the first day, as Matt gets the rhythm of the film, and begins to better understand the horrors of my sound recording. Also, as he gets a perfect setting for an interview, say Husker Du drummer Grant Hart in the basement of 7th Street Entry, he can reuse the setting every time Grant pops back up on the screen.
The rest of the film, we’ll split between days two and three. And yes, we hit the 80 minute mark by the end of Wednesday, leaving us 43 minutes for Thursday, which is a breeze. Except for Dave Foley. (I begin to think he’s just fucking with us.)
Day four begins as it has every time we’ve mixed. We watch the film from start to finish, to see what needs work, or polish, or a slight tweak. It’s also the first time I get to see the film projected on a screen from start to finish. So, notebook in hand, I wander down to the front, take a seat, and watch…
(Another flight, another bunch of blogs ready to post.)
It’s probably only an hour or so into the first day of mixing when some of my bad sound, in this case the AC units behind Husker Du bassist Greg Norton and Twin/Tone co-founder Paul Stark, both recorded upstairs at First Avenue, proves too much for the board and its collection of filters and knobs. Time (already) to roll in the big guns. Matt says he’ll be right back, returning with what honestly looks like an old fashioned computer from the early 80s, sitting on a metal cart with wheels. He calls it the Cambridge something or other. That its main use is to remove the pops and hiss from the optical soundtracks of old films which the folks at DuArt are restoring. I immediately know anything with such a name will be no match for a bunch of Mats fanatics, so I re-christen the machine the HissMaster3000 (herein HM3K). And we’re ready to rock and roll.
The HM3K is an awesome little contraption. As we move through all 123 minutes of the film, Matt uses it, and the aforementioned knobs and filters to level everything out beautifully, yet allow each location, and there are about 125 different locations in the film, to have its own unique sound. It’s really not until we get to comedian Dave Foley that we really run into issues. The street sounds, in this case downtown Los Angeles, are ferocious. The struggle monumental. It’s like an ultimate fighting match. And as Matt so bluntly put it, “Dave Foley crashed the HM3K.”