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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Johnny Rzeznik’s band, Goo Goo Dolls, is in the midst of its 33rd year, and touring in support of a new album, “Miracle Pill,” that’s due out in mid-September.

But for Rzeznik, there’s a more important anniversary: his sobriety. This is his fifth booze-free year, and it’s had a pretty good impact on his life, he said in a call from a gig in Bangor, Maine, to talk a bit about the band’s co-headlining tour with Train, which stops at Blossom Music Center on Wednesday, Aug. 14.

“People actually like me again,” Rzeznik said, laughing. “I think it’s made me a better person. It certain has humbled me.

“I have a very powerful form of alcoholism,” he said. “I finally gave up and accepted the fact that if I even smell too much booze, I’m going to start drinking again. That’s just how I am.”

In a way, that’s something a lot of Cleveland can understand, considering he grew up in Buffalo.

“That’s just how I am,” said Rzeznik, who with bassist and fellow vocalist Robby Takac remain the sole original members of the band that launched in 1986. “It’s my family, my genes, growing up on the east side of Buffalo.

“Robby hasn’t had a drink in over 10 years and I’m coming up on five years,” he explained. “We were brought up in the working class neighborhoods of Buffalo, and that’s what you do, you go and get hammered after work.”

And it’s easy to do, because like Cleveland, it seems there’s a bar on every street corner in Buffalo, he agreed.

And even with that demon lurking, he remains tied to his hometown. As a matter of fact, even three decades into the band’s career, he’s still got a solid view of what originally would have qualified as a success in the beginning, and to heck with the rest of it.

“Headlining at the Continental on a Saturday night,” said Rzeznik, laughing. “That was the pinnacle of success. The Continental was the CBGB’s of Buffalo.

“The man who ran it (Bud Burke) was an incredible guy, and very much an iconoclast, very much a rebel,” Rzeznik said. “You know, when I went away for my first tour, he gave me a $100 bill and said, ‘Stick it in your shoe. If you get in trouble, use it. Your job will be waiting for you here.’ ”

The only person closer to him might be Takac, which is why they’re still together even though the band has been through a few personnel changes, as most bands do.

“I think we understand each other’s boundaries,” Rzeznik said. And even that has changed with sobriety.

“We understood each other’s boundaries before, we just didn’t respect them,” he said. “He’s like my brother. We know what buttons to push, we just choose not to push them.

“I still like the guy,” he said.

In just about every band, there are two people who connect on different levels. In one of my own weekend warrior bands, it was a guitarist. If he was smiling, I knew it was a good gig. So you’d have thought the relationship between Rzeznik and Takac might be the same. Though the brotherly love is there, it’s another relationship that lets Rzeznik know a show is going well.

“Connecting with the audience,” he said. “If I go up there and say a little something or tell a little story or the audience is singing all the lyrics to the songs, I feel like I did my job. All I want to do is connect.

“One of the things about live music that’s so incredibly important and can’t be replaced and automated is the common focus of a room full of people having that human contact and being immersed in the sensory overload of a rock concert,” Rzeznik said.

“The volume, the lights, the smells, the people bumping into you” make the experience, he said. “We live in an increasingly isolated world, so it’s important to get out and actually touch people and laugh and cry and do all those things.”

It’s a lot easier to do when you have a catalog that includes hits like “Iris” and “Slide” or “Name.” And he knows it.

“I’m incredibly grateful for those songs,” Rzeznik said. “I’ll gladly play those songs every single day for the rest of my life because they gave me a way out of the [bleeping] gutter.”

Hearing the crowd sing along to those hits is something few get to experience. But even so, it’s not an ego trip for him, perhaps especially not after all these years and what he’s been through.

“It’s not the adulation from the crowd that makes me grateful for these songs,” he said. “It’s the fact that those songs connect with people.”

And he’s not all that sympathetic with artists who have troubled relationships with the songs that “made” them.

“A rock star I know said, ‘I just can’t play that song anymore,’ and I said, ‘You’re an ungrateful bastard,’ ” Rzeznik recalled. “ ‘That song bought you a house in Northern California. That song put your kid through college. Stand up there for three-and-a-half minutes and sing the [bleeping] song!’ ”

And enjoy the human connection.

Preview


Goo Goo Dolls

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14.

Where: Blossom Music Center, 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls.

Co-headliner: Train.

Opener: Allen Stone.

Tickets: $19.50 to $115, plus fees, at the box office, ticketmaster.com and by phone at 1-800-745-3000.
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