Independent rock music inspires the kind of fandom that defies simple logic, transcending the bounds of what’s meant to represent taking a “healthy interest” in an obscure cultural property. There’s a reason that Michael Azerrad’s book on American indie rock fandom, Our Band Could Be Your Life, features a segment on ramshackle Minnesotan rockers The Replacements – as the diverse lineup of talking heads in Gorman Bechard’s unusual rock-doc Color Me Obsessed attests, the Paul Westerberg-fronted quartet (then trio) bore its way into the emotional lives of its fans like few others.
Over a clearly excessive 123 minutes, Obsessed tracks the band – also featuring mercurial, preternaturally talented guitarist Bob Stinson, his barely-teenaged brother Tommy on bass and “nice-guy” drummer Chris Mars, who were actually the three founding members – from their scrappy beginnings as ’79 punks The Impediments all the way to their tired dissolution in 1991, following the release of the thinly veiled Westerberg solo album All Shook Down. In between, the band released a couple of fairly straight-ahead garage-punk records (particularly the endlessly fun Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash), then gradually opened up their sound enough to land a major-label deal, play SNL (then get banned), become critical darlings and cult favorites, and eventually lose their youthful vigor in the face of commercial sheen and general world-weariness.
The unusual aspect of Obsessed is its dogged refusal to have the band aurally or visually present for any portion of the film, save for a closing photograph. This is a band’s story told entirely by its fans – including The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart, NYT Media columnist David Carr (see also: Page One), and self-appointed “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau. The variety of interviewees leads to some surprising left-field moments (most memorably Tom Arnold’s SNL anecdote), and some unusually descriptive discussion of the band’s songwriting choices and instrumental quirks, but no real way in for anyone who’s not already intimately familiar with the band. At best, this approach might make some curious viewers sample their discography on iTunes, but the insular approach seems designed to keep a cult act just that – which might well have been Bechard’s intention.
- Simon Howell