Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Monday, December 29, 2003

Failure of the Day: DVD

I got a couple of DVDs for xmas: Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, the They Might be Giants documentary and Come Feel Me Tremble, the Paul Westerberg tour documentary. We watched both this weekend.

Gigantic really surprised me quite a bit…it’s a good bit more overblown than I—or anyone, really, who’s ever heard TMBG, I think—would expect. Both of the Johns come across as pompous and self-important, and it stands out all the more when compared to the music itself, which is so joyous and funny and wonderful. It’s not like you can not notice when one scene cuts back and forth between the Johns modestly proclaiming that it’s the other John who’s the real genius and then those same Johns hopping up on down with a back up band of three 70 year old men. It’s my new age old question: How can pretentious New York art fucks be so horrible when they speak and so wonderful when they sing?

Come Feel Me Tremble is a treat if for no other reason than it is the first time any of us have ever been able to see Paul Westerberg move in the privacy of our living rooms. It’s the first moving picture of him ever commercially released. The footage on the DVD was shot entirely by the fans who went to see him play during the Spring of 2002. I was hoping I’d be in it since the tour of in-store concerts that they filmed started in Seattle and I was roughly 18 inches from his guitar at that show. No such luck—I saw almost no footage from the Seattle show on the DVD.

Here’s the thing about Paul Westerberg—you really gotta hand it to him. When he’s on stage, he knows as well as every single other person in the room that everything he’s ever going to do that matters, he did already. His mark on the world was the Replacements and none of his solo stuff, however good it is, will ever make a dent in the legendary status that the old stuff has. And yet, there he is on stage, sweating, trying his best, and as doomed to failure as a soufflé in a mine field. He can play 45 minutes of Grandpaboy or 14 songs or the Singles soundtrack and they are all yeoman efforts, but when the time comes for the audience to yell the songs they want to hear, they yell Unsatisfied, they yell Alex Chilton and Left of the Dial.

Dyslexic Heart is a pretty good song, but no one yells it. Eyes like Sparks is the best song on the second Grandpaboy CD but no one yells it. We don’t crave those songs and Paul knows it. And this is why he is one of my heroes: he is still writing songs and putting out records even though it’s a foregone conclusion that they will fail. They are failures before they are written. No one will crave the song Paul Westerberg is writing in his basement at this moment. But he’s writing it anyway. So go buy Come Feel Me Tremble. Paul needs your support. And we all need something that reminds us that failure is the success of not not trying.


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