“Color Me Obsessed”: The tumultuous history of the Replacements

By on May 11, 2016

The Replacements are a band that didn’t sell a ton of records, but those that love them are a dedicated bunch. In the documentary Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements (now streaming on Night Flight Plus), fans explain how the music and attitude of the group affected them.

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Color Me Obsessed is unusual, in that no Replacements footage is seen, nor is any of their music heard in the picture. Instead, director Gorman Bechard interviewed 140 fervent followers — both famous and otherwise — who tell the tale of the rock-n-roll misfits who altered their lives for the better.

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In 2011, when Color Me Obsessed was released and making the rounds on the film festival circuit, Bechard gave an interview explaining how he approached the project:

“I didn’t really want to do a typical rock doc, and I literally just came up with this thought that was just, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I believe in The Replacements.’ How could I make people believe in The Replacements the same way they believe in God? I became obsessed with this idea, that this was a band that deserved an untraditional film. They spat in the face of tradition every chance they got. So this was very much about spitting in the face of rock doc traditions. I never for a moment wanted to get music. I never wanted to talk to them. That was not the movie I set out to make.”

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The Replacements were initially formed in the late ‘70s by lead guitarist Bob Stinson, who recruited neighborhood drummer Chris Mars, and drafted his eleven-year-old brother, Tommy Stinson, to play bass. They were called Dogbreath.

An area janitor and guitar player by the name of Paul Westerberg was later invited into the fold, and eventually convinced the guys he should also be their singer and songwriter. After a couple of name changes, the Replacements were born.

Over the course of a decade-plus, the band released eight albums, with a handful of those now considered amongst the best of the 1980s. Their material could be substantial or silly, sometimes both. Westerberg was especially skilled at writing anthems of confusion and alienation that speak to outsiders unsure of modern life and how to live it.

As a unit, they took those songs to another level, bottling the elusive spirit of rock-n-roll and implanting it in the grooves of their records.

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Their live gigs were a sight to behold and are now a big part of Replacements lore. Some shows were drunken messes in which they struggled to complete covers they’d never performed before, but on other nights, when they were firing on all cylinders, they were the best rock act on the planet. They made a video that largely consists of a single, vibrating stereo speaker. They got banned from “Saturday Night Live.”

The mainstream was unimpressed, but these antics helped earn them a loyal following from those that got it.

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The Replacements’ tumultuous history forms the narrative of Color Me Obsessed. The story of the ‘Mats (a nickname they would be christened with by the faithful) is told by those who worked with the group, such as Tommy Ramone and Matt Wallace, each of whom produced a Replacements album, as well as critics and friends, many of whom witnessed dozens of live shows. Members of Hüsker Dü, Superchunk, the Hold Steady, and the Decemberists, among others, also appear. Everyone who appears onscreen is a fan.

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Sooooo many great stories. One famous face that’ll likely be a surprise to see is actor George Wendt, who thinks that his “Cheers” character “Norm” may have influenced Westerberg’s lyrics for “Here Comes A Regular.”

But it’s the average fan who is the soul of Color Me Obsessed. Amongst the most moving segments in the film are the interviews with those who explain how they felt like outsiders growing up, but that the music and attitude of the Replacements made them feel connected to something—and less alone.

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If you’re a Replacements lifer, you can’t help but relate to the fanatics interviewed in the documentary. Like the band members themselves, they’ll seem like old friends.

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Even without music or much in the way of group images, Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements is fundamental viewing for ardent supporters, as well as anyone interested in unwavering fandom or absorbing the colorful history of one of the finest rock-n-roll bands.

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Also available on Night Flight Plus is a companion piece, Color Me Obsessed: The Falling Down Drunk Edition.

This shorter, early edit, includes testimonials and stories not included in the final film. There are a bunch of excellent, exclusive quotes featured in this version, with a favorite coming via critic Ira Robbins, who says the ‘Mats “put the shamble and the chaos back in rock music.”

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About Bart Bealmear

Bart Bealmear is a librarian, archivist, bandleader, and freelance writer. He has contributed to a number of online media outlets, including All Music and Dangerous Minds. His rock band is a collective known as The Blind Doctors, featuring a cast of Detroit-area musicians.