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.
The mix works like this: big dark room, the film projected on what I’d imagine to be a 12-foot screen. There are a few chairs right down in front of the screen, but I never use them, unless I’m pacing, wandering, restless.
Matt sits one step up, behind the mixing consol. He’s surrounded by levers and knobs, and of course a computer keyboard, and I haven’t much of a clue as to what any of them does. I watch the monitor at times. It looks a little like a Final Cut timeline, but different. Because I trust in Matt, I believe in his abilities, I know it’s nothing I need to know. He’s in control.
I sit behind a large desk of sorts one step up from and behind Matt. I have my laptop open to keep track of and check other film business while Matt does his thing. I’ll read emails, look up film festivals, things like that.
And we begin. I arrive on the 9th floor of DuArt at 9 AM on that Tuesday morning. Hot coffee in hand for me. I give Matt a present. A gift from the last film, Friends (With Benefits). It’s a Willoughby’s “Serious Coffee Drinker” t-shirt like Alex Brown and Rooney Mara wore in the film. When he realizes what it is, he smiles and tells me that since I sent him some Willoughby’s beans after the last mix he’s been addicted to the coffee, and orders it via their mail order site. Not only is the guy a brilliant mixer…he knows his coffee!
I’m on a plane to Chicago, for the third festival screening of CMO, but I want to take everyone back a few months.
We had been holding bi-weekly screening of the film at my house. Usually just me, my wife Kristine, Sarah Hajtol (who has more credits on this film than I do, but in this case was certainly acting as my assistant editor), and production manager/researcher Katie Dickey in attendance. And of course my dogs, Phoebe and Springsteen. (Springsteen finally stopped asking why there was no music in the film, which I thought was a good sign.) Jan Radder, my supervising producer would also watch, but from a DVD at his home in Minneapolis. The last of these was on Monday, January 31, 2011. It would be the last chance to have a number of eyes on the film before locking it down, and doing the sound mix.
Notes were blessedly few and far between. A missing period at the end of one title, a B-camera close-up a little out of focus, a missing name in the end titles, a photo that needed to move from right to left, instead of visa-versa, things like that. I would then spend the next week tweaking. We received a handful of last minute graphics/images, which Sarah would insert into the film, while I double checked everything, and added only two things.
Two things no one knew about.
The first: the pause. (Infamous in my small circle of participants on this film.) Bil MacLeslie was the band’s soundman for a few tours. He was the person who confiscated the tape which would go on to become When The Shit Hits The Fans. His stories are eloquent and plentiful in the film. But one on my favorite things he says is nothing at all.
I asked everyone we interviewed what their favorite Mats song was. Most people listed off many, or gave an answer, then quickly changed their mind. Bill was different. He gave his one word answer, then paused. It was as if it were the thing in his life of which he was most sure.
When doing the first cut of the film, I left that pause in, in all its six second glory. I loved it. It was a breath, a break, it was certainty and passion, it was exactly what the film needed at that point. But everyone on my crew hated it. That it stopped the flow. That it was almost uncomfortable. So I chopped away at it, until it barely existed, mainly because I was tired of hearing about it after screening every cut.
Well, when Sarah was through with the graphics, and when I knew the next person who’d me seeing the film was my mixer, Matt Gundy, at DuArt, I popped that pause back in, as I knew I would, as I had planned to, all along. And watching it with festival audiences, counting off the second in my head, I know it belongs in the film. I love that damn pause.
The second: a dedication. It comes right at the end of the end credits, as Matthew Ryan speaks. It’s heartfelt, and deserved, as I would have never made this film without her. You can read it when you see the film. I mean every word.
P.S. These past few posts, and the next few that follow were all written on that plane ride. Needed a break from new script.
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.)
Adrian and I ended the day in Boston back at Q Division Studios, first with an interview with the guys from AM Stereo, who have an amazing Replacements inspired number call “Bob Stinson” then with Bill Janovitz, the lead singer of Buffalo Tom.
The one thing that was becoming very apparent, was that in the grand tradition of the Velvet Underground, The Replacements inspired people to pick up guitars and play. The punk tradition that anyone could do it. But you didn’t even need the uniform. Look I love The Clash. I think they’re one of the five greatest bands of all time. (Live, the second greatest band of all time.) But let’s be real, they wore a uniform. The Mats on the other hand looked as if they’d just rolled out of bed. As if they’d perhaps slept in their clothes. They looked like the guys working the mini-mart or pop in any clichéd job description you want. And they were hardly the greatest musicians when they started. Hell, they were hardly ever in tune. But they inspired such hope and confidence.
They made it look easy. Real talent does that. Makes you believe it’s a cinch. Of course, then you try and write a song like “Unsatisfied” or “Color Me Impressed” or “If Only You Were Lonely,” and you suddenly realize their brilliance. Not only is it harder than it looks. A lot harder. It’s impossible. The proof is that no one would ever do it again quite like The Replacements.
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.