my favorite US rocknroll rebels, pt. III

Thanks again for tuning in, and while it’s short of an obsession, I’m still thinking about Color Me Obsessed. It has plenty of moments for Mat-fanatics and, with a more judicious edit, might have had the capacity to convert a few more nonbelievers. (The bespectacled guy on the couch (80-85 min.) who spoke with his hands: whoa.) Still, there’s nothing else like it, and the origin myth (truth?) was quite good. The Stinsons and Mars bang out a joyful noise in the former’s basement, and Paul-the-janitor eavesdrops, endears himself to the band, and chaos and beauty and pain and joy soon follow. It’s stories like this one and that of The Minutemen (We Jam Econo is awesome–check NetFlix streaming, too) that should inspire someone to recast the theory of intelligent design around the history of rocknroll. Could it really all be happenstance?

Obsessed provides a capable back-drop of music history, indicating which LPs, in terms of sales figures, served as the benchmarks during that era — Thriller and Slippery When Wet, among them. As you may know, Replacements ouevre includes  seven albums, The Shit Hits the Fans (a limited edition concert cassette), and the Stink EP, whose first pressings included LP jackets were decorated with hand-carved potato stamps. DIY, indeed. As I noted in the previous post about which efforts still rate:  Sorry Ma … has a smattering of fine moments, and Let It Be and after represents a remarkable run by a remarkable band. In those seven years (The Mick-Jones Clash lasted that long), they released four brilliant albums and another with brilliant moments, including their one “hit” single, “I’ll Be You.” This video opens with Westerberg talking about “the goop” poured into the mix of Don’t Tell a Soul, which proved much too slick for Mats-fanatics, then and now, as many interview subjects attested to. (Just for Mats’ fanatics: a Soul press kit for $20 shipped! Only one in stock, of course.)

One of the finest moments in Obsessed is the camera time of Matt Wallace, who produced Don’t Tell a Soul (1989), their penultimate LP, and his explanation of what happened to that album. Sire/Warner provided the tapes produced by Wallace and the Mats to Chris Lord-Alge, whose Midas touch had graced LPs by Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Carly Simon and Springsteen’s slickest tracks from Born in the USA (“Dancing,” “Cover Me,” and the title track). The key treatment employed here is called “chorusing,” in which a given track–e.g., Westerberg’s slighty-out-of-tune guitar–is duplicated, pitched slightly up, down, or both, and multi-tracked to produce that “shimmering sound” that is scarce to non-existent on the early LPs. The self-identified authentic Mats’ fans decry this development on film, and some indicate proudly how they opted out after Tim (hardly a sell-out album). I wager the directors sniffed out such (largely-white-male) nonsense in advance, and luckily found fans able to praise Soul, including a woman who testifies that if the shimmering sound got The Mats on the radio (verdict: yes), it was an ultimately good thing.

Westerberg knew all-too-well the politics of the authenticity police, and spoke eloquently circa 1988 about the risks of refusing to grow dynamically: you ran the risk of becoming a self-parody. Now Westerberg didn’t name names–and it pains me to write this, for I still love them dearly (okay maybe Johnny less so)–but I can’t help but wonder if he had The Ramones in mind. (Between 1982 and 1987, I have reason to believe The Ramones played the same set list hundreds of times.)

The finest bit in the film comes at the 85th minute, when Elaine Pan, “fan,” who looks to be in her early 30s, nearly goes to tears recalling the impact of the songs on her adolescence. The memories, still raw, arrest the words, but they pour forth haltingly in her testimony on the lessons in the gospel according to Paul: “It’s okay to not be perfect, it’s okay to be the loser, and it’s okay just to be yourself.” It’s a rich, chilling moment, and anyone still harboring resentment against Paul, Tommy, and Chris for carrying on without Bob in “Bob’s band” will be hard-pressed not to let it go, forever, once they see this clip.

So check out Color Me Obsessed, or get a copy for your Mats-devoted comrades.

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