There’s something missing from Color Me Obsessed, director Gorman Bechard’s new documentary about Minneapolis music legends The Replacements: the band itself. Bechard purposefully avoided putting Paul Westerberg or his bandmates in the film directly—no interviews, no music, no concert footage, no album covers. But what seems at first to be a self-defeating approach is perhaps uniquely suited to The Replacements, a band so infamously disinterested in its own fame that its members once tried to steal their master tapes and throw them in a river, and flipped the bird to the whole idea of MTV by making a music video consisting entirely of a speaker playing “Bastards Of Young” for three and a half minutes. As its title implies, Color Me Obsessed is about the band’s fans as much as it is about the band itself. By not directly including The Replacements in the film, its subject broadens beyond simple biography into an exploration of what it means to be a fan, and to have your life changed by a song. Obsessed tells The Replacements’ story, from formation to early ’90s flameout, through the words of fans, critics, and contemporaries from the Minnesota music scene, including Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart and Greg Norton, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Kids In The Hall’s Dave Foley, and Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy. The A.V. Club talked with Bechard in advance of Color Me Obsessed’s Minneapolis debut, 7 p.m. May 4 at the Woman’s Club, as part of Sound Unseen.
The A.V. Club: So, the main subject of your film isn’t in your film.
Gorman Bechard: I really feel like rock docs that are made after the band broke up play like a VH1 “where are they now” special. So I didn’t want to go that route. I’d never made a documentary before, but I’ve made seven other features, and I love telling stories. I really wanted to come up with a different way to tell this band’s story. Here’s a band that bucked tradition and spit in the face of success every single chance they got. They’d either fall flat on their face or be the most brilliant thing in the world. And I think this sort of follows in that tradition. [Laughs.] ... I wanted to tell every single big myth. I wanted to address everything about the band, so you’d walk away from this knowing about as much as you could know about the band.
AVC: Why avoid using their music?
GB: If you’re going to sell something like this to a newer audience, especially people who haven’t heard The Replacements, that’s almost a better way to do it, because if all these people [being interviewed] have such passion about the band, there’s got to be something to them. If I had put music in this, I would have put my taste in the music, and that maybe might not necessarily turn new fans on. Here, instead, I arm the potential listener with all the information they could possibly need to make a decision on what to listen to. “Well, so many people say ‘Can’t Hardly Wait,’ let me start there,” or “That guy who said ‘Go,’ and was so sure about it,”—there’s tons of places to start. And for people who know the band and the music, you’re hearing the music as they’re talking about it. You don’t need to actually hear it. It’s already playing in your head. ... And also, by not using the music, it allows this to represent almost any band that meant something to you when you were growing up.
AVC: Though they’re not in it, the band members were aware you were making the film, since you talked with people who are still close to them. Were any of them involved offscreen, perhaps just as information sources?
GB: No. The only person who was involved as a source of information, [who is] not in the film, was [longtime band manager Peter] Jesperson. He helped us out with things like sales figures of the records, stuff like that.
AVC: Have you ever talked to any of The Replacements?
GB: No. Sometimes it’s better not to meet your heroes. Also, I’m not a big fan of behind-the-scenes stories. I don’t care about the gossip end. I really feel for actors or musicians or writers whose work is on the screen, on the record, on the pages, and that’s what they’re willing to share with me. Part of me thinks that’s enough. I can be a huge fan and be more than happy with just that. Paul Westerberg has given me more than most people I know in those records, and also his solo records—Stereo/Mono, I literally named it the best album of the decade. Also, not that I have this ideal by any stretch of Westerberg being a saint or anything, but I don’t want to tarnish it in any bad ways. I can’t imagine the band not liking the movie. It’s a movie that basically says they were one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll bands in the history of the world.
AVC: Although it’s certainly true that they made some questionable decisions.
GB: Let’s face it, it’s common knowledge. They decided to make the “Bastards Of Young” video. I look at it now, and I think most people look at it now, as being brilliant. But was it a slightly dumb move at the time? It probably was. It probably stopped them from selling a lot of records, so it’s walking a fine line. I think that Jim McGuinn [program director at The Current] said it beautifully, which is why we sort of use it as a bumper sticker: “Kinda brilliant. Kinda dumb. Kinda The Replacements.”
AVC: How did you become a Replacements fan yourself?
GB: The first time I saw The Replacements, I saw them open for R.E.M. at Toad’s Place in 1983. I was literally right up against the stage. I was there to see R.E.M. This band comes out, and very honestly I thought they were the worst band I’d ever seen. I hated them! [Laughs.] I really hated them. We turned our backs on them. That’s how loud and obnoxious and horrible they were, or seemingly so. Six months later, I hear the 12-inch single for “I Will Dare,” and all of a sudden I was like, “Whoa, who’s this? No way—it’s that band?” Pretty much, the rest is history. I just fell in love with them.
AVC: Was there anyone you were hoping to interview that you couldn’t connect with?
GB: The two at the top of the list would be [400 Bar owner and former Replacements roadie] Bill Sullivan and [producer] Steve Fjelstad. I would have loved to have gotten a hold of them. Believe it or not, we found out that Pat Sajak is a huge Replacements fan. I would have loved that, because when you saw Pat Sajak on the screen it would have been really funny. Probably would have loved to have Dave Pirner, if nothing else just to confirm or deny the [story about Pirner shouting] “fuck you” at the beginning of Kids Don’t Follow. But that would be pretty much about it. We asked Jim Walsh [author of Replacements oral history All Over But The Shouting] to be in the movie, and he said he’d already said everything he wanted to say on the band. ... Bill Sullivan, we tried every which way but Sunday to get him. Finally Steve McClellan, the old manager at First Avenue, literally called him on the phone right in front of us, and held up the phone as Bill said, “Nah, not interested.”
AVC: Your novel, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, features The Replacements as a major element.
GB: It’s about God sending his teenage daughter to save the planet. She’s your typical teenage girl. She drinks, she smokes, she has sex, and she likes rock ’n’ roll. And she goes on a Tom Brokaw interview, and [she’s asked] what her favorite band is, and she says The Replacements. Within a week they’re playing giant stadiums, and the entire Billboard chart is Replacements albums and a Hüsker Dü album, the kind of stuff you would dream would be on the Billboard charts, but of course never is. It’s a comic aside, but you write what you know—and so, obviously, if I’m writing about the daughter of God coming, her favorite band’s going to be the same as mine.
Color Me Obsessed trailer: