This week, Warner Bros. Records and the Goo Goo Dolls celebrated the 20th anniversary of the release of “A Boy Named Goo” with a deluxe edition. It was the Buffalo band’s fifth album and its first to break through into the upper echelons of the pop mainstream .
In 1995, the group still felt like a local concern, although one that most members of the area music scene viewed as destined for some sort of breakthrough. That breakthrough came in the form of “A Boy Named Goo’s” mostly acoustic ballad “Name.” The tune, penned by singer/guitarist John Rzeznik, would become the band’s first Top 10 single, and launch a run that numbers an impressive 14 “Hot AC” Top 10 hits.
We know what became of Rzeznik, Robby Takac,and former drummer George Tutuska, who left the band shortly after the recording of “A Boy Named Goo.” But what about the Buffalo music scene of 1995? What became of the countless other musicians on the scene and the venues those hopefuls performed at on a regular basis?
In 1995, the illusion that many deserving local bands and artists were clinging to – that the success of the Goos and the independent-minded Ani DiFranco would shine a light on Buffalo and encourage A&R men and women from major labels and hip indies to descend on our city with checkbooks in hand – was revealing itself to be a bit of a pipe dream.
No one showed up. No one got signed. The only band to really bust out of that milieu was Moe., and they did it by touring, not through album sales. Still, alternative music, nascent jam-band stylingsand various permutations of R&B remained incredibly healthy in local clubs, reflecting the tail-end of the broader alt-rock explosion happening around the world.
All of this was in the air, and found itself reflected in the almost absurdly diverse local music scene, which revolved around clubs such as the Continental, the Cabaret, Nietzsche’s, Mr. Goodbar, the Ogden Street Concert Hall, Mohawk Place, the Tralf and Club Utica.
You might hear a local band being interviewed on 97 Rock on a Sunday evening. You’d most definitely hear local bands in steady rotation on SUNY Buffalo State’s WBNY 91.3 FM. Art-rock maverick Mark Freeland was still with us,. They’re all gone now, these bands and artists, as are the majority of the venues they played.
In ’95, Buffalo still felt like an outpost, a forgotten town, its population largely having fled for the suburbs, or for cities where failure wasn’t at least partially accepted as the logical outcome of every artistic enterprise. (A blog dedicated in part to the Buffalo music scene of that era is known as Willfully Obscure, and boasts as its tag line the sardonic epithet “We could have been heroes, but failure’s more fun.” This says a lot about the mindset of the time, and predates hipster ennui by at least a decade.)
Young musicians working in town today would find the scene of ’95 alien. No one back then was tossing around descriptives like “The New Buffalo.” Worrying about gentrification was not a luxury any of us could afford. Anxiety over generating enough cash to pay for beer, guitar strings, Ramen noodles and bus fare was where it was at. We had no fear of relatively wealthy suburban dwellers moving downtown and seeking to remake the city in the image of the suburbs.
No one complained that the bars were open until 4 a.m. because the majority of people populating those bars were part of the music scene. They were also the only folks brave enough to live in dingy apartments in Allentown. Condos and ritzy loft spaces for upwardly mobile young professionals? You’re kidding, right?
Most of us would agree that many improvements have been made to the urban experience over the past 20 years. The music scene, however, remains relatively unchanged. There are still great bands toiling in relative obscurity, playing their hearts out for the same money bands around here made in 1995, and in some instances, less.
There are fewer record stores, but more places to play. There are more bands, but less of a feeling of connection between them. No one really bothers to make CDs any more, though some brave souls are now pressing their original music onto vinyl records. Economic rejuvenation giveth, but it also taketh away.
What remains the same? That spirit of irreverence and rampant creativity that connects the late Mark Freeland to the next artistic maverick with a cheap guitar and a head full of ideas, or the pre-“A Boy Named Goo” Goo Goo Dolls to the next grimy garage band hoping to make the leap from Mohawk Place to the big time. That spirit doesn’t die, no matter what time the bars close.