Taken from the Pilot: A Chat with Gorman Bechard – The Director’s Cut

The documentary Color Me Obsessed, which revolves around the, yes, obsessive fanbase of the Minneapolis band the Replacements, is a somewhat unique entity in its genre, given that it contains neither interviews with the members of the band nor music by the band…and if any of the preceding line sounds familiar, it’s because I think I used some approximation of the sentiment in my article about the film for The Virginian-Pilot. In pulling together that piece, I was fortunate enough to speak to the director of Color Me Obsessed, Gorman Bechard, but as I obviously couldn’t use all of our conversation within the article, I thought I’d offer up the unexpurgated version of our chat here for your reading enjoyment.

News Reviews Interviews: So when did you first discover the Replacements?

Gorman Bechard: Oh, my God. In ’83. They were opening for R.E.M. at Toad’s Place, a bar here in New Haven, and I was…even still to this day, I always try to lean right up against the stage, and they came out. Bob was in a pink dress, and…they were the worst band I’d ever seen in my life. We literally folded our arms and turned our backs on them. They were so bad. And then about…I dunno, about a few months later, I’m in my favorite record shop in Waterbury – Phoenix Records – and The Professor, who was the guy who ran the shop, handed me the stuff that he knew I would like that week, and the “I Will Dare” 12” was in there. And I just couldn’t make the connection between what I’m hearing on this and that band that I saw. And then Let It Be comes out a few months later, and it was just like…this album was everything that we were looking for.

At this point, punk really sort of saved rock. In 1975, rock ‘n’ roll was the fricking Eagles and Billy Joel and crap like that, so punk sort of saved that. But then, by 1980 or ’81, punk became new wave and it was hideous again. [Laughs.] So this was sort of, like, “Oh, my God!” Not only that, but unlike the older punk, where, y’know, you’d get a Ramones album and it was 10 versions of the same song, here you had seven different bands on this record. I mean, there’s no way the band that did “Gary’s Got A Boner” was the same band that did “Answering Machine.” And so forth and so on. And, I mean, they did a fricking KISS cover! So this album sort of, like, answered every prayer. And I know there are great records from that era. ’84, I think, is possibly the greatest year in the history of music, from that to Double Nickels on the Dime to Zen Arcade to The Minutemen 2 to fricking Purple Rain. I mean, it was just an amazing time in music. But that was the best of all of them.

NRI: This was your first documentary. What made you to switch gears to tackle this?

GB: Well, it sort of fell in my lap. Someone else had started it. I was in the original documentary, because I wrote about the Replacements as fictional characters in my first novel, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, and then Hansi (Oppenheimer), the woman who was making the documentary, she writes me in 2008, I think it was by this point, writes to me and says, “I can’t finish this movie, I lost my editing machine,” and so forth and so on. And I remember seeing the clips, and it was a typical…y’know, it was a lot of people talking about the Replacements, and there was music, there was an old clip of the band, and so forth. And I remember thinking, “Fine, well, let me think about it.” And I was literally lying in bed one night, and…I didn’t want to do a VH-1 Where Are They Now? doc. I hate those. They bore me to tears. And I was lying in bed, and I was, like, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the Replacements.” This was literally my thought process. “People believe in God, but they don’t see him or hear him. Can I make people believe in the Replacements the same way?” And I remember waking up my wife at two in the morning and saying, “I’m going to make a music documentary with no music and no band.” And she was, like, “You’re crazy.” [Laughs.] She thought I was crazy up until she saw the first cut of the film. And then she cried.

Also, for me, I thought, “This is a band that showed a stereo speaker for its first music video,” y’know? One of the things I love about them is that I realized that almost everyone in my life has sort of loved the Replacements. I love the 1986 Mets because they were the Replacements of baseball. I love Kurt Vonnegut because he was the Replacements of literature. I mean, it’s obviously the other way around, but you know what I’m saying. I love people who spit the face of tradition and basically just do it for themselves. And if you fall on your face, you fall on your face, but at least you fall on your face trying something new. So I really loved that whole idea of doing a Replacements documentary, a music doc, without music. It just turned me on. It was, like, “I can do this!” So that’s sort of how it fell into my lap. I got all of Hansi’s footage, but I don’t think I ended up using any of it because, among other reasons, her questions weren’t what I wanted. I really wanted to tell a serious kind of story about the Replacements. I wanted it to be, like, the ultimate history from beginning to end. And I’d always wanted to do a doc, so it was sort of, like, I knew it had to be about something that I was passionate about, so this was…it was karma. It was perfect.

NRI: When you were accruing your interviews, as far as people’s passions for the band went, did you find anyone who found their passion for the Replacements via their later albums? They’re not as raw, obviously, but they certainly still have their fans.

GB: No.

NRI: Really?

GB: [Laughs.] Really. I didn’t. In fact, I remember someone said to me, “You don’t have one person saying that their favorite album is All Shook Down.” And I answered, “It’s because, in 145 interviews, I didn’t have one person saying that their favorite album is All Shook Down.” The majority of what I found was that people felt the band broke up after Bob (Stinson) left. That honestly is a feeling that runs through. The last two albums…I mean, there’s a huge section on Don’t Tell A Soul, because we got to interview Matt Wallace, the producer. That was great. And I mean, God, I probably could’ve put in…I think the original Don’t Tell A Soul was an hour long, because he just had all these stories. But he also really explains why the album sounds the way it does, which is what most of us have a problem with. And, y’know, that’s obviously in the movie. But, no, it’s funny: when we played Minneapolis, there was a party afterwards at 7th Street (Entry), and there was a band playing, and the kid onstage singing said, “The only reason I’m in the movie is because I’m the only person who said Don’t Tell A Soul was his favorite record.” And I went up to him afterwards and said, “You’re right.” [Laughs.]

So, no, I found that, hands down, the favorite album was either…well, no, I’d probably say that Let It Be was probably the one that came up the most. And favorite song, believe it or not, was “Can’t Hardly Wait.” That would’ve been the number-one song in terms of what people said.

NRI: Well, I can believe that pretty easily, actually: that was the first song I ever heard by them. But based on what you said a moment ago, I was just thinking that I was a bit of an oddball because I didn’t get into them until Pleased to Meet Me, where Bob was, I guess, on the demos but not on the actual album.

GB: Well, yeah, but Pleased to Meet Me, that’s still considered by many to be a Bob album, believe it or not, because a lot of people seem to feel that Bob’s spirit ran through the record.

NRI: What are your thoughts on the final gasp of the band, as it were?

GB: Do you mean…

NRI: All Shook Down.

GB: Well, All Shook Down I actually like, as the first Westerberg solo record. I think there are a couple of very good songs on All Shook Down. But Don’t Tell A Soul…as I’ve said before, if Don’t Tell A Soul had been the first album I heard, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. [Laughs.] I never would’ve listened to anything else. It would’ve been, like, one of those bands now if someone said, “Oh, you never heard the Replacements?” I’d say, like, “Nah, I heard a bad record and that was it.” But I do think that Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me are as good a three records as any by any band in history. It’s the Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s of punk.

NRI: As far as getting the various talking heads for the film, did you cast a wide net to see who might be interested in it, or did you have specific people that you went after?

GB: Both. We wanted to find regular fans, but we also had a list of, like, “This person worked with them, and this person worked with them,” so we would also through that list of people who knew and worked with the band, like producers and so forth.

NRI: Was there anyone you really wanted to get that you weren’t able to pull?

GB: On the funny side, believe it or not, Pat Sajak, who is a huge Replacements fan, I guess. That would’ve just been really funny, to see Pat Sajak come up there. [Laughs.] On the serious side, probably the number one would’ve been Bill Sullivan, their longtime roadie.

NRI: Presumably you’re still happy with the finished product as it is.

GB: Oh, yeah. [Laughs.] I mean, it got to the point where I stopped interviewing. We had even more stars lined up, and I finally just said, “I’ve gotta stop. I could be filming this for the rest of my life, with all the people who love the Replacements.” Yeah, I don’t think I would put something out if I didn’t… At this point in my life, I don’t answer to investors and things like that, so I really only put out something when I’m ready to put it out. Someone asked me once at a festival…at the very first screening, when people were kind of, like, shocked with what they were seeing, someone asked, “Who did you make this film for?” And I answered, “Me.” I am the person I make every film for. And if it makes me happy, then hopefully other people come along.

NRI: It sounds like there’s going to be considerable bonus material on the DVD when it finally comes out.

GB: Oh, my God, yeah. [Laughs.] Yeah, we’ve got about five hours worth. I think we’re going to put the entire Grant Hart interview on there, which will probably be a nice tease, because it’ll help you understand why we’re doing Grant Hart as a future documentary subject.

NRI: Kickstarter obviously helped you out on that front.

GB: Oh, yeah, Kickstarter’s been great for us. We did nine campaigns for Color Me Obsessed, because I was realizing that if you did it all at once, not everyone can find out about it, and the more and more we did, the more people were finding out about the movie, so they wanted to get onboard. So I would just break it up and say, “Okay, we’re filming in Minneapolis now, now we’re going to L.A., now we’re doing our sound mix.” And we did it that way.

NRI: I’ve never actually heard of anyone doing it that way, but it makes a lot of sense.

GB: Yeah, because…it’s sort of, like, if you go in asking for $35,000 or $40,000, you’re probably not going to get it, because how do you get the word out enough if you’re just this little entity by yourself? Especially when you’re talking about…it’s not like we’re talking about doing a movie on Justin Bieber, where we can go on a site and he’s got 25 million followers. Here, it’s people in their 40s and 50s who aren’t on the internet 24/7. [Laughs.] Do you know what I mean? So it takes longer to spread the word.

NRI: With the Grant Hart documentary, is that going to be following a similar format?

GB: No, no, the Grant Hart is going to be…do you know The Fog of War, the Errol Morris documentary about Robert McNamara? That’s what it’s going to be: a rock ‘n’ Fog of War. [Laughs.] It’s going to be Grant Hart talking, just him for an hour and a half, but with clips from everything. We’re going to show (Husker Du), we’re going to show his solo stuff, we’ve got photos that no one has ever seen before, and…literally, if you can picture Fog of War made into a roc doc, that’s what it’s going to be.

NRI: I can get behind that.

GB: Yeah, no one’s ever taken that stance for a rock ‘n’ roll documentary, and he’s the person to do it with, because he’s seen and done everything, when you think about it. And he’s just a great storyteller. And the Archers doc (What Did You Expect?), which opens tomorrow in Toronto, that one is…well, what I try to do in that one is…it’s funny, I sat my crew down and showed them all these famous concert documentaries, and I said, “I don’t want anything that looks like this.” [Laughs.] It’s, like, you know, Martin Scorsese, God bless him, he makes really pretty concert documentaries, but I’m asleep by the second song. I want people to feel like they’re about to get hit in the head with the bass head or something. Y’know what I mean? It’s, like, I want movement. And it’s really in your face. I love it. It’s probably…it’s the most fun I ever had making a movie, out of however many movies I’ve made at this point. It’s just a blast.

NRI: When you made the transition into doing documentaries, was it difficult, or did it come to you pretty easily?

GB: It came very easily, because it’s still storytelling, which is what I enjoy the most. I’m a really big believer in the whole three-act structure. Even in the Archers concert film, I still followed the three-act structure. I moved things around. [Laughs.] The editing is my favorite part of anything that I do. Sometimes when I’m taking a day off, how I go relax is, I literally go and lock myself in the editing room. That to me is the most relaxing thing, pretty much, I can do. Because as much as I enjoy writing and stuff, there’s just something about… You’re using just words. Here in editing, you’ve got words, you’ve got music, you’ve got images…it’s, like, you’ve got all these things to play with to put them together and tell a story. There’s just something very magical about it.

NRI: I can appreciate that, actually. I never would’ve thought I’d enjoy laying out a piece on a website, but being able to make things look like I want them to look is surprisingly fun.

GB: Right! So when I got to the editing room, it really was just…I treated it just like I would a piece of narrative fiction. It’s, like, I know I have a story to tell, let’s pick sections. I think the first thing I edited for Color Me Impressed, because I knew it would be fun…I always try to start with something light, so I had all these people talking about the strangest things they’d ever seen Bob wear. And it’s only three minutes in the movie, but it must be…there’s gotta be 35 people in there. [Laughs.] It moves fast. So that’s how I started it, and then I moved into a few other things.

Like, there’s one guy who’s in the movie a lot, his name is Robert Voedisch, and when you see the movie, you’ll understand that he is sort of like the uber-fan. He wrote us from a Facebook post. He was, like, “I don’t know if you want to talk to me, but I have sort of some weird stories.” And I was, like, “Oooooookay, let’s hear what they are.” And the thing was, when he was a 14-year-old in really northern Minnesota, he used to imagine that Tommy Stinson was his brother, and he’d have imaginary conversations with him. So I’m thinking, “Well, let’s see. It could be a complete waste of time, but…” We were doing eight interviews a day in Minneapolis, though, so we figured, “What the hell.” We walked out of there telling everyone, “This was our best interview.” I mean, I think we ended up using 50% of his interview. The guy was just…he was the ultimate fan, because he described what being a fan was better than anyone. That is, when you’re that age and a band becomes a part of your life, they really do become a part of your life. They become like family. So no matter what they do, you will always have them with you. Some years they suck, they’re the drunken uncle at a Christmas party, other years they’re your favorite person, bringing you the video game that you wanted. But he literally describes the band at one point as his oxygen, and you can tell that he really means it. In a way, they probably saved his life. And that’s my favorite section. That’s actually right after the Pleased to Meet Me section of the film. He, to me, speaks volumes on what a fan is.

NRI: So have you gotten reception from the actual members of the Replacements, or are they scared to watch it?

GB: Only off the record. Tommy’s the one I haven’t heard anything about or from, but I keep hearing he probably doesn’t want to revisit it because of Bob. But Bob is treated very respectfully. And I mean very respectfully. You watch the movie, and you walk away, I think, feeling that the Replacements were just as much Bob as they were Paul.

NRI: What did you think of Jim Walsh’s The ReplacementsAll Over But the Shouting: An Oral History?

GB: I hated it. I got through the first chapter. Because even in the first chapter, there was nothing linear about the book. It was just random quotes pulled from other sources and things, and that was driving me nuts. I mean, I wanted to like it, but… [Trails off.] But then you’ve got (Michael) Azerrad’s This Could Be Your Life, which is the complete opposite. That’s brilliant. I mean, that’s a great book. That’s the best Replacements writing, I think. And it’s only something like 25 pages. The funny thing is, though, have you read the Bob Mould book?

NRI: I have.

GB: Y’see, maybe it’s because…I don’t know how much Azerrad had to do with it, but it was just, like, part of me…I’m reading it, and I’m going, “My God, your publisher…” He comes across as just so unlikeable in the book, and I’m thinking, “No one said to you that you probably shouldn’t be criticizing the rescuees from Katrina as you’re driving by?” [Laughs.] “That you shouldn’t be complaining about all these people in the road who are blocking your way when they just lost everything?” Things like that were just…I was, like, “Bob, really, you want to say this?”

NRI: Have you ever interviewed him?

GB: No. I’ve heard he’s not the easiest person to interview.

NRI: He is not. [Laughs.] The tone of his words strike me as particularly accurate. My recollection of him is of him being pretty forthright and abrupt.  If nothing else, Azerrad captured that aspect of his personality well.

GB: Which is sad. But it also really explains a lot of stuff. He gets on his rants, and it’s pretty…well, he just gets going. [Laughs.] Let’s just put it that way.

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