Color Me Epiphany

Last night I watched a documentary, Color Me Obsessed, on a band from my home town of Minneapolis named The Replacements. Hence, the quote/post of song lyrics from their first album last night, a song that does have individual words in the intro, but the lead singer says so fast, ala George Carlin’s Seven Words, that they may as well be a single word.

First off, I was surprised that anyone did a documentary on The Replacements when I stumbled onto it while skimming through free-to-watch-with-ads on Vudu. I mean, The ‘Mats were locally popular within certain circles, and apparently loved by music critics, but they never did go very far. As one of the interviewees said, they may have been one of the catalysts for the college rock movement of the 80s found typically at the left hand of the radio dial (he suggested they might be THE catalyst), but everyone agrees that they never particularly caught on. The argument in the documentary was they were largely misunderstood. I don’t know if I agree. I think there was a lot of self-destruction, especially as they got more nationally known, whether willful or ignorant. My own opinion was that more of the former than the later happened. The band shot themselves in the foot far to often for it to be mere accident.

Second off, while I enjoyed getting the other perspectives, the documentary was in perfect alignment with the band. The documentary was absent any footage whatsoever of the band, nor was their music to speak of between segments, which implies the band was either not consulted, refused to participate, or would not give over rights to use footage/music from their catalog. It was decently done, but like the band, largely half-assed and missing images and music from the subject. The only other things missing was incoherent drunken ramblings, Bob in a tutu and half-finished WTF cover songs in their live shows (mentioned, but never shown).

I’m not selling The Replacements very well am I? Eh, fuck it. You can give them a gander or not; I don’t get kickbacks for being a fan or turning you on to them.

Yeah, that’s kinda how it always has been for us early fans. It’s always been hard to justify that The Replacements were one of the greatest bands of the 80s, but I’ll stick to that assessment.

As noted in the documentary, there are a ton of bands in the 90s that DID make it big that were uber-fans of The Replacements. Most of the Seattle scene not only borrowed some of the fuck-all attitude but, based on what I heard last night from several of the Seattle bands’ manager, the “grunge” clothing associated with the scene was imitation of what they saw The Replacements wear. Which, if you’ll recall an earlier post of mine, was probably based on buying clothes from a second-hand store before it became fashionable to do so because many of us in 80s Minneapolis were dirt poor thanks to Reaganomics. No one was more surprised than us Twin Cities folk when grunge clothing started trending. Nirvana and the Goo Goo Dolls listed the Replacements as influences if you want a few examples of bands (GGD sounded like a rip-off band for their first couple of albums, to be honest).

Anyway, hearing the oral history of the band from people who knew them made me realize something that may have lingered in the deeper recesses of my mind, but I never gave much heavy thought: A good chunk of who I am is heavily influenced by the Replacements. It was never a conscious decision, but I realized last night that it was largely true. That, or the boys and I were influenced by the same kinds of things and it appears that my personality is influenced by the band only because they are famous and I never was.

One of the big things I loved about 80s music was that you didn’t have to be technically good to be good. The ‘Mats (a nickname taken from a typo on a promotional flier, which announced upcoming performances by “The Placemats”) were an example of a band not having a clue about music (“I hate music/It’s got too many notes”) in a technical sense, but were able to muddle through and create some great hooks because they had a decent ear. Most of the time. Bob Stinson was described once as having the same attitude about playing guitar solos as he had about driving in rush hour traffic: Press the pedal to the floor and drive as fast as you can. Some notes worked. Others didn’t. The ones that didn’t still worked, because they were the wrong notes at the right time.

Much of my own early music forays had some of the same sense behind them. I didn’t give a rat’s ass if it was technically good (acceptable chord progressions, playing the full chord correctly, key? what keys?) as long as it sounded right to my ear. The band never said that’s how they wrote music. It was apparent to me later that it seemed the most likely method, after I got enough theory under my belt to realize that I was “doing it all wrong!”

My approach towards writing has largely been the same. It may not be technically correct (although I’ve tried to fix some of the more atrocious habits) but, if I like it and it feels right to me, I’ll share it all the same — flawed and ugly at times.

The ‘Mats were also known for a copious consumption of alcohol. Guilty in the past, though sober for 10 years or so.

Self-destructive habits when it comes to artistic endeavors? Well, the fact that I am admitting most of my flaws does kill off any façade I might try to construct later of some kind of godliness. I also do tend to self-destruct when anything starts to garner attention — bands, open mic nights, and blogs. And it is counter-intuitive to give away creative writing if I ever have hopes of being published. Consider it a design decision — I don’t really want to be published in a big way, which may be shocking to some people. Which is probably for the best, because most of what I write is mediocre at best.

Getting older, though, I’ve seen how some of these tendencies of mine have been tempered somewhat by “real life” and other influences (art bullies, for the most part; people I made the mistake of friending). Not necessarily for the better.

Watching the documentary made me realize what I’ve given up over time by trying to “be better”. One of the things I always want to do and never seem to succeed doing, is try to write something different. Something that can’t be put into an easy category. Sometimes you need to approach art with all abandon instead of trying to do it “right”. Sometimes you don’t follow the rules, don’t break the rules, but you need to forget the rules and then pick up the mess afterwards, hoping it gives you something more than a steamy hot turd in the end.

I think I’m going to endeavor to make beautiful, glorious messes and mistakes. If I take nothing else away from my time listening to The Replacements back in the 80s, I think it should be this idea.

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