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By: Marni Halasa

“We wanted to put the fun back into this genre of music . . . We get up on stage and act ourselves, running around barefoot and looking like idiots.” - Goo Goo Dolls

The interesting thing achieved by these barefoot Buffalo boys, The Goo Goo Dolls, is that their carefree reckless spirit in music gives only half the picture. On the surface, their music is childish naïveté and unlimited bludgeoning rock set to a sort of philosophical hedonism. Hidden within is the part that encompasses a very real introspective insight into themselves and each other, and the business they’ve chosen.

Booted into the middle of controversy, the Goo Goo Dolls are unclassifiable. Termed as “early Replacements” to crossover punk, the Dolls are glad they don’t fall into the old metal category because “so much of it is garbage”. Their own preference is simply to be rock, Goo Goo-core, or whatever is comfortable at the moment. “It’s really hard to say,” explains guitarist Johnny, “Every person judges and thinks different. People can think what they want to think we are. We had no intentions on being a certain kind of music.”

It is not surprising that a band, who previously called themselves Sex Maggot, sees “fun” as a sacred part of their nature and wholly relevant to their credo. Vocalist Robbie, joining Johnny comments, “We wanted to put the fun back into this genre of music. When we go to shows and see everybody hanging out in black wearing these tough, bad-ass attitudes, it makes me disgusted.” Johnny again, “Either we see bands glorifying death and being really serious about themselves with these glum faces, or we go out to a bar and it’s us against a typhoon of clove cigarettes. That whole thing is so false and ridiculous. We get up on stage and act ourselves, running around barefoot and looking like idiots. We like that. It’s fun and at the same time keeps us humble.”

This modest, unassuming attitude makes the Dolls so refreshing. Growing up in Buffalo, the Dolls say, is a primitive experience. “Buffalo is a place where people have simple lives and don’t know very much,” says Johnny, “People are really isolated. So the city has the tendency to keep one down to earth and in tune with their roots.”

Whether intentional or not, the Goo Goo Dolls inevitably appear to promote real-life, everyday issues, including the working class ethic. From the cover of their new LP, JED, a voyeuristic painting showing a truck driver in his littered cab to songs about habitating the local bar, personal experiences mean a lot. “Inspiration for writing songs comes from basic things that affect you,” claims Johnny, “Writing a song just happens. You can’t put yourself in a particular mode. Things that make me angry or things going on around me every day that catch my eye inspire me. Things don’t necessarily have to be political. I mean I’m interested in what’s happening in South Africa and know it to be immoral, but I don’t write about it. Something you experience first-hand is something you know better, so you can write about it.”

The Goo Goo Doll’s brand of social consciousness is filtered through a distinctive awareness of the world, one that is much more complex than would be expected from a band running around barefoot. Furthermore, their search for themselves as individuals and their role in society has led them into the contemplative realm of the psyche. Johnny explains, “As much as we think about things, we also take a look at ourselves. This is where the music comes from. Because I have learned to sit back and observe people and situations, I find that everyone needs to find their own group to identify with. For myself, being in a band is a group I associate myself with because of my interest in music and my membership in the band. Yet I also like the camaraderie I have with the other guys. It’s a kind of ritualized male-bonding.”

The idea of security is inexorably mixed with sacred ceremony, an important element in Johnny’s perception of contemporary America. “There’s a real absence of rituals in this country, which is causing a lot of confusion in people. People who don’t have familiar rituals, whether it is going to church on Sunday, or to a gig, or to a football game, don’t know their place in society, and because of that they don’t feel secure with themselves and the world. I think that’s why so many kids are attracted to music. It’s a specific role they can identify with, and it gives them something to believe in.” Another of Johnny’s problems with the world is the tendency of people to focus on trivial matters. Johnny’s acoustic tribute to James Dean mocks people’s narrow-minded attitudes towards Dean’s bi-sexuality.

“People can’t rise above the fact that James Dean was gay, when he was such an artist. He was a genius who was the epitome of rebellion! They forgot his qualities as an individual after they’ve heard he’s gay, which is so unimportant to begin with. People stick to details because it’s exciting, but they then sacrifice the larger concerns.”

Unlike the majority, sacrifice does not exist in the Goo Goo Dolls mind-set. Their go at success is altogether tied in with their desire to spread sincere song and a humble word in frenzied rock. Hopefully, their good fortune will not satisfy their hunger for introspection. This is what white American rock ‘n’ roll needs—bright, music-minded children who are not afraid of re-evaluating themselves and the world around them.
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