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Timothy White

"There are people of incredible conviction- they will not budge," says Buffalo, New York-born guitarist-singer Johnny Rzeznik of the Polish heritage that underlies the gallant roar of his band, the Goo Goo Dolls. "My ancestors were peasants from around Krakow who came to the East Side of Buffalo in 1913, right before the outbreak of World War I. From what I understand about Polish history, tanks would roll over these people, and they'd still live on, stubbornly praying the rosary. I admire that level of guts."
And it shows, grittily and gloriously, in every concussive facet of the Goo Goo's chronicles, as exemplified by the megapop bond's incomparable fifth album, A Boy Named Goo (Metal Blade/Warner Bros.), due March 14. Maser of the hard-spanking melody line and other grand, aggressive gestures, this passionate power trio (chief songwriter Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac, departing drummer George Tutuska, and tour replacement Mike Malinin) hails from the western extremity of the Niagara frontier, and the members' creative isolation feeds a combative tunefulness at the might end of the modern rock spectrum.
Slackerdom only occasionally is accused of generating anthemic uplift, yet at least half of A Boy Named Goo has the tense invigoration of the headiest video twitch game, plus enough thumping human tenacity to urge the alienated back onto the streets. Fight songs like the bond-composed "Eyes Wide Open" or the Rzeznik-penned first single "Only One" - and his "Ain't That Unusual," "Long Way Down", and "Flat Top" (with its somber quip that "conscience keeps us quiet while the crooked love speak") - are each exceptional in their undogmatic demands for restoration of a common dignity.
"What makes rock'n'roll worthwhile for me these days," says the affable Rzeznik, "is the real feeling that there's a musical movement right now that's part of an organic social movement. I notice all the kids have their bullshit detectors turned on, and that's a positive sign. Let's just hope the f**ing marketing people leave us all alone."
In the case of the Goo Goo Dolls, they have so far been spared any commercial conditioning beyond a gradual upgrade in the sonic level of their releases. Their primitive Goo Goo Dolls debut on the Mercenary label was picked up in 1987 by Celluloid Records. Next came the Jed album on Death/Enigma (1989), which led to major-label visibility with Hold Me Up (1990) for Metal Blade/Warner Bros., a move coinciding with the stylistic enrichment of their punishing pop vision.
"Our influences are the Sex Pistols, the Damned, Devo, and the Plasmatics," says Rzeznik (the first z is silent), "and we wanted to do something with the same energy, but just a little more melodic."
By 1993's Superstar Car Wash record for Metal Blade/Warner Bros., the band's gleeful wall-of-gall approach to high-volume mellifluousness had attained a drenching new dither on tracks like "Fallin' Down" and "Already There." Here was a beautiful noise capable of resounding beyond the confines of the Great Lakes region.
But the Goo Goos still scrambled for rent money. Rzeznik was fresh off the road grind and "fooling with open tunings" in his East Side apartment a year ago, when he began plinking what would prove the apex of A Boy Named Goo. A distressed acoustic rocker called "Name" is "about the difference between being fifteen and twenty-eight" in a youth culture that sacrificed its sense of purpose: "You grew up way too fast/And now there's nothing to believe/And reruns all become our history."
Like so much of A Boy Named Goo, "Name" describes a generation suspended between the Old World and the Lost World "I was fifteen years old and majoring in plumbing at McKinley Vocational High School in Buffalo, when I started writing songs with titles like 'I'm Not Gonna Run,' " Rzeznik recalls with a soft laugh. "I didn't want to do dog work for the rest of my life, but I lived in an ethnic, working-class place that was a real throwback. Still, my grandfather was the kinda guy who had actually helped arrange - not entirely legally - for people to get their passports to America. So the challenge is to find a way to dig deeper inside yourself for new direction."
Born December 5, 1965, to postal clerk Joseph Rzeznik and the former Edith Pomeroy, Rzeznik grew up with four older sisters on Clark Street near the corner of Kent Street. ("We called it the Superman corner.")
"My family opened a bar on the East Side when they first got here," says Rzeznik, "so I was used to being around self-employed merchants, which is how I decided to be a plumber. The year I turned fifteen was rough because that's also when both my parents died, my father was a bad alcoholic who died from drinking, and my mom was gone six months later 'cause she was so lonely. If it hadn't been for my sisters, I wouldn't have made it." And if it hadn't been for rock'n'roll, Rzeznik wouldn't have had a reason to try.
New York state's second-largest city (pop. 357,900), Buffalo began as a key Erie Canal port whose post-Civil War trade boom attracted hordes of immigrants and industrialists. The tough, frequently snowbound blue-collar outpost was plagued in recent decades by unemployment, but lately has regained its former boom status due to a tariff-lifting 1989 trade pact with Canada; Buffalo remains a sports- and tavern-loving party town whose 4 a.m. bar closings often prompt 5 a.m. traffic jams on the bridges bact to Ontario.
"Frankly," says Rzeznik, "I was nineteen and drunk the night we started the Goo Goo Dolls. I'd worked as an assistant plumber for only one day, when I quit and enrolled at Buffalo State U.; I was playing in the Beaumonts, a hardcore group named for [actor] Hugh Beaumont [the father in TV's Leave it To Beaver] when I met Robby [Takac], who was in my cousin's metal band. We jammed and drank and named our new group after this spooky toy we saw in the True Detective magazine, a baby's rubber head you moved with your fingers."
And A Boy Named Goo shows how far such game impulses can take gutsy young citizens of the Blizzard City.
"No matter where you're from, you've still gotta learn to keep your perspective," says Rzeznik. "When I wrote 'Only One,' some people thought it was about Kurt Cobain's death, but it was inspired by a Buffalo rock star who got into bad stuff. Fact is, that kinda thing happens to anybody who gets high on their own fumes."  "Our music is saying that it's best to keep yourself more process oriented then outcome oriented," he adds with unbudgeable surety. "If you can somehow do things from the bottom of your soul, but not get hung up dwelling on them, then that's a good, unselfish feeling."
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Getting Past the Goo