I wish I could act really cool and tell you that I was totally into the Replacements growing up in the 80’s, and that when I was twelve years old I saw the remnants of the band, featuring only two of it’s original members by that point, playing at some shit hole dive in Syracuse New York. I wish this not because The Replacements were an amazing band, incredibly influential, a force to be reckoned with, known equally for their amazing live shows and their horrendously terrible live shows, for their prankster antics as well as their musicianship, their boozing as well as their working class candor, their sensitivity as well as their crudeness. No, I wish I could tell you I was keen to the Replacements early, while they were still alive and kicking in any kind of capacity because then I could count myself as part of their lore, their myth, their story in general. Perhaps no other band in recent memory has so many fans telling “where were you when” stories then people who were (or are) into the Replacements; whether it’s “when did you first discover them?” or “when did you first hear Let it Be?” or if you were really lucky “what was your first live show?”
Color me Obsessed doesn’t feature a single song from any of their albums and barely includes a single photograph of any members of the band. Whether this is intentional or not is besides the point (after tonight’s screening, director Gorman Bechard insisted that he didn’t want to include any ‘Mats songs, but my guess is that he simply couldn’t afford the rights). The movie is jarring at first because it’s essentially nothing but a well edited collection of oral histories about a band. Often, after one of the subjects would finish telling a story, I anticipated the obligatory cutaway to a picture of Paul Westerberg drinking on stage, or a screeching live version of Takin’ a Ride, only to continually be denied those rock doc staples. The lack of that kind of explicit documentation allows the stories of these fans to grow even larger in our imaginations, the importance of the music they’re drawn to even more compelling and important. One can understand why four different people would write a book about a guy named Jesus and mix up all the details after seeing a film like this; rather then the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Color me Obsessed could be the Gospels of everyone from Steve Albini and Grant Hart to George Wendt and Tom Arnold. Except their messiahs are four scrappy blue collar punks led by a brilliant songwriting janitor.
Everything in the movie is always rooted in love for this band, even when the love eventually fades. One thing I found incredibly interesting is the onion peel nature of the ‘Mats fans and what they consider the Replacements “sell out” album. Many think the popier Let It Be (largely considered their masterpiece) was when things got all out of wack (Albini once wrote about the album, “I used to love this band, now I hate this guy”). Still others dismiss Tim, or Please to Meet Me, or Don’t Tell A Soul, but dozens others defend those albums to their core, their defenses largely having to do with when they first discovered the band, or just plain emotional attachments to certain songs and listening experiences.
The movie doesn’t have to be about the Replacements, and that’s where it really touches an important emotional nerve. Hearing people deeply connect to music on a personal level, honestly talking about how they would make up conversations with the band members during lonely periods and how Tommy Stinson acted as the “voice in their head” might sound like crazy talk, but I totally understand. Because at one point, we’ve all been that kid who gets home from school feeling worthless with nobody to talk to. But we could always turn to our favorite album, crank it up and somehow cope, somehow convince ourselves that we were a part of what we were listening to. In the case of the Replacements, many of their fans were. In a small way, the story of this band is a story of their fans, which is why Color me Obsessed works so perfectly, even when occasionally dipping too much into fanzine worshiping love letter mode.