Goo Goo Dolls interview

InterviewOctober, 1998Rolling Stone

Plenty of rock stars wear tattoos, but a few tattoos equal the creamy pastel vision on Johnny Rzeznik's right biceps. It's a copy of Picasso's "The Dream," a modernist Mona Lisa lounging on a red chair, and Rzeznik (the first z is silent) readily shares his interpretation. "She has her eyes closed and this great look on her face," says the Goo Goo Dolls' singer and guitarist. "She has six fingers, and she's obviously masturbating while dreaming about Picasso."

In a few hours, Rzeznik's band will play the Day in the Garden Festival, on the site of the original Woodstock, in upstate New York. Right now he's killing time at a nearby Catskills resort, a trapezoidal job with red-and-maroon-striped carpet zigzagging the walls, a red plastic bar and Lucite chandeliers that look like upside-down light sabres.

"Oh, this is so 'GoodFellas,'" Rzeznik cracks. He's a thirty-two-year-old punk kid turned rock star with a Number One song on the radio - "Iris," a swoony ballad from the "City of Angels" soundtrack that his manager says will be up from an MTV Video Music Award, an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe. Rzeznik is more than a little out of place in these surroundings. He's dressed in olive-green cutoffs, a black tank top, half a dozen earrings and square shades with purple lenses. It's an outfit he wears for breakfast.

Somewhere a rock star is enjoying a Swedish oil massage and demanding more sparkles in his sparkling water. But here in the hotel lobby, Rzeznik, along with bassist and singer Robby Takac and drummer Mike Malinin, is signing autographs and taking pictures with shy kids in braces and their not-so-shy moms, who say things like, "The bellhop told me the Goo Goo Dolls were here. I was, like, fuhgedaboudit. I love you guys." Pause. "What the heck is a Goo Goo Doll, anyway?"

Good Question. Formed in Buffalo, New York, in 1986, the Goo Goo Dolls are a post-punk trio that has cross-wired simple power pop with full-throttle guitar rock. They signed to Los Angeles' Metal Blade Records in 1988 and hit the road. "We were an underground band for years," says Rzeznik. "S*%#, we were on a heavy-metal label because nobody else would sign us." Warner Bros. picked them up once their songs matured into a Replacements-style roar, and by 1993's "Superstar Car Wash," the Goos were collaborating with ex-Replacement Paul Westerberg on a college-radio staple called "We Are the Normal."

In 1995 they released "A Boy Named Goo" soon after drummer George Tutuska had left the group. "It was painful," Rzeznik says of surviving the fall out. "It was the toughest thing I ever did in my life." These are strong words coming from a guy who lost both parents before he turned eighteen (his father died of alcoholism, and his mother passed away soon after), and they give a clue to Rzeznik's frustration at the time. "I was turned off to the music business and everything about it," he says. "It wasn't what I was dreaming about when I was jumping up and down on my bed air-guitaring." At this ebb, a Los Angeles radio-station program director started spinning "Name," a jangly ballad from "A Boy Named Goo" that wasn't even supposed to be a single. Suddenly the Goo Goo Dolls had a hit - by accident.

Now, with the undeniable success of "Iris," Johnny has nailed two big mainstream marks in a row. And he can handle the inevitable charge that he's sold out: "It's like, dude, writing a hit is not easy, you know?"

"When I got to be nineteen," Rzeznik says, "I realized it was cool to maintain the punk ethic, but I lacked the uniform. People ask me, 'Who's the greatest punk band ever?' Hands down, the Replacements. They embodied the entire attitude of saying 'F*@# you!' to everybody who ever tried to tell them to do anything."

"Dizzy Up the Girl," the Goo Goo Dolls' sixth album, is due out this month. It's not exactly a big "F*@# you!" to everybody who ever tried to tell the band what to do: "Iris" will be on board, and so will their next single, "Slide," a lushly produced blast of feel-good rock with lyrics like, "Do you wanna get married or run away?" On the album, organs and strings soar alongside guitar scrawls, creating a more airy, spacious sound than punk riffs usually allow. "We were terrified of open space when we started," Rzeznik admits. "I really didn't know how to play guitar. I was always terrified that people would go, 'Dude, you suck!'"

Later that afternoon, at the Day in the Garden gig in Bethel, not one person tells the Goo Goo Dolls they suck. The kids all sing along to "Iris," and the show goes off without a hitch, except for a few plastic water bottles thrown in the band's general direction. When one hits Johnny Rzeznik, he stops midsong and looks right at the thrower.

"A*#hole," he sneers. As if on cue, the kids all laugh and raise a great, big cheer.