This upcoming band that I’m about to discuss was a band that I initially didn’t think I’d touch with a ten-foot pole, nor did I even have a good preconception on how this band actually was. You know when you sit down to write about something (or in the case of my blogs over the last year or so, someones), you come to the table with assumptions of what you’re about to write about, things you’ve believed over time, things you’ve heard from other people, and once you go through the musical journey yourself and listen to the artist in its entirety through all their songs and start to see the music that they really make, that what they create and stand for is so much different than what you were even led to believe? Maybe these sentences just aforementioned mean nothing to you, and now you’re just thinking that I am some over-analysing person who likes to over-think things. And that’s ok if you think that. But I’ve been on a journey of late, a good one. My eyes have been open to the wonderful music of artists gone by, from Josh Groban, Bryan Adams, Sara Bareilles and Lady A, to Lecrae, Hanson, John Mayer and Colbie Caillat, to name a few, and in each of these cases, I came into it with a certain idea in my head of what I thought that particular artist was going to be, and that wasn’t what it was…in a very, very good way. As I enter into my 60th blog of this series, discussing rock band Goo Goo Dolls, I came into it in a similar way- assuming that the band was only influential and impactful for their chart-topping hit ‘Iris’ and nothing else. Boy was I mistaken, in a way that I can say now that I was glad that I was.
If I am to be honest in such a way, I’d have to say that I don’t think people right now know who the Goo Goo Dolls are. I mean they may know a song called ‘Iris’ that was big during the 1990s, but they may certainly not know the artist who was singing it, or the fact that the band that was certainly popular way back then, is definitely making music right now as well. Because…how could they know about the band, when there are so many more other ‘popular’ acts to choose from- Green Day, Paramore, Good Charlotte, Panic! at the Disco, Maroon 5, Mumford & Sons, Florence & The Machine, The Script, Twenty One Pilots, 5 Seconds of Summer, Florida Georgia Line and The Civil Wars; have all caught our eye as we channelled all our energy to these bands throughout the last 10 – 15 years, and so for the Goo Goo Dolls to ever get a mention or even a second-glance notice over the last little while…not really that possible. Nevertheless, what I’ve said in countless blogs before still stands and rings true, even in this situation. That popular and influential aren’t necessarily the same, nor should they be. Someone can be extremely popular amongst the charts but all they sing is vapid superlative stuff, but then you can have the other artist who people may not have heard of at all, but their music captures the essence of what it means to wrestle with the human condition, and touches your soul in ways unimaginable. Or you can have artists that fall along that spectrum somewhere- from being popular and saying nothing at all, to being a great storyteller, and no one knowing your name. It’s hard to find a right balance between these two extremes, and the Goo Goo Dolls seem to fit somewhere in there, but to the average commonfolk, they may just not know where. And that’s ok.
Music is very subjective territory, and because of its subjectiveness, people can get very defensive, feeling as if they need to defend their favourite artists as to why they believe them to be as influential (or popular) as they themselves claim these artists to be. And that’s ok, as I’ve said many times before in blogs gone past- this series is not some kind of ‘gospel’ objective list- far from it. Very subjective in its own nature, these 100 artists (and then 40 other ‘timeless’ ones that I firmly believe are much more ‘concrete’ in selection than these initial 100!) are artists that I firmly have realised their influence in music as a whole over the last X amount of years in modern music history, but in including these 100, I excluded maybe 100 more. I’m never going to get it perfectly ‘right’, and to the common man on the street, they’d probably get rid of all the ‘Christian’ and ‘religious’ artists from my 100 influential artists list in a heartbeat…and so lists are lists and are as fickle minded as the wind. And so as I embark on this musical journey this week which is the Goo Goo Dolls, I was blown away at how relatable and heartfelt that their music really was, and how this band is so much more than ‘Iris’, of which they are mostly famous for, if that’s the only thing they’re famous for. The Goo Goo Dolls, now comprising of lead singer Johnny Rzeznik and bassist Robby Takac (and a whole bunch of touring musicians), have crafted a career of powerful hits and underrated songs, for more than 30 years. Now entering 2020 with experience and respect under their belt (and 20 or so years since Dizzy Up the Girl, of which ‘Iris’ was a part of the track listing), this is a band that continues to remind us that you don’t always have to be the most popular to have the most to say- sometimes it’s in fact the opposite. The Goo Goo Dolls are far more than their one hit ‘Iris’, and listening to them in a way that is open-minded, is a reminder, not just for me but for everyone, not to just assume an artist is this particular one thing- they may alter your perceptions in a good way. And for much of this blog series, I came into these weeks not as prepared as I thought I would’ve been, and as I wrote from week to week, I realised this one thing- that sometimes the artists that no one assumes to be as big as they are, turn out to be the most impactful and influential in a certain person’s life. This was certainly the case with the Goo Goo Dolls and their underrated music!
‘…It’s very important to me [to grow as a songwriter]. As time goes on, your worldview changes and your abilities change. You just change as a person. I find it really exciting to make a record that somebody still wants to listen to this far into our career. I love David Bowie. And it just amazes me how the music changed as time went on. He knew where to look, you know? He knew where to look for inspiration… I love the idea of creating something new. I collaborate now a lot on my writing which I never did before. And the reason that I started to collaborate is that I started to just be in an echo chamber. And I’m like, ‘Well, look… I know what I know but I need to learn from other people,’ So sitting down and working with those guys, you learn so much. I always want to find a new sound – even if it’s a sound that someone made popular 40 years ago. I still want to do something fresh. It excites me to hear something new, you know? …’
I guess the artist within the Christian music industry that you can liken the Goo Goo Dolls to and their sound and evolving of it, would be to that of Sanctus Real. Starting off with more of a grunge-rock feel, I feel like both bands, Goo Goo Dolls and Sanctus Real, transitioned to radio-pop/rock over time, and the natural progression from indie-rock/grunge to the radio-format pop we hear on the airwaves, has been in such a way that people have either respected their change in sound and have stuck by them through and through, or they’ve decided to call them out on the musical-genre change, and have lamented the times in which the band sounded like they should’ve….way back then, when ______ (fill in the gap, I guess). And I think I just described both Goo Goo Dolls and Sanctus Real in a way. And as I myself am more partial to the radio-format myself, and not into the heavy guitars and the indie sound as I thought I would’ve been, I don’t really see the fuss in the musical genre transition- I know others might, and I can understand the way that they can get upset (changing genres and being something that you weren’t necessarily at the beginning of your craft is a way of not knowing what your original sound was); but from where I’m standing, artists like the Goo Goo Dolls have a platform to bring a message of hope, encouragement, camaraderie, impact and influence to the world, even now in 2020, maybe even more so, than in the 1980s and 1990s. Because music right now is so much more accessible and me-centred, music itself has to change with the demand of it. And I guess the Goo Goo Dolls decided to alter their sound just a bit for a little bit more reach, while still holding to the enthusiasm and passion that they had a long time ago. And maybe that can alienate fans. And maybe that can bring in new ones. But all the back-and-forth that I see in the youtube comments aside (of any video of any artist that drastically changes their sound…like Jeremy Camp, for instance!); Goo Goo Dolls have given to us a career that I’m sure other people can only dream of.
Their career didn’t start off with ‘Iris’, even though they were miles more popular because if it. 5 studio albums came before Dizzy Up the Girl (arguably their most popular album, ever), and maybe it’s because everyone considered ‘Iris’ as their ‘introduction to mainstream music and the industry as a whole’ that not a whole lot of people, myself included, know much of their ‘pre-Iris’ days- aside from a few singles here and there. Whatever the case, Dizzy Up the Girl is an album that people would recommend to start off with if you haven’t heard much of Goo Goo Dolls and their music, and as I’ve listened to their songs over the last week or so, I’d have to state the same as well. Much of their music prior to their 1998 album is more guitar driven, indie and grunge, a lot less radio friendly, and I guess some indie-purists could say, has more heart than their more recent material. And on a surface level you can see that this band and their music has had a lot of transitioning over the whole 32 years (their first indie album unveiled to us in 1987). Sounds and musical genres came and went over the tenure of arguably one of the industry’s overlooked and underappreciated duos in quite some time. But one thing remained that the Goo Goo Dolls do very well- they are a band that makes you feel the emotion in each and every song. They sing their hearts out; and create melodies that may not necessarily be that crafted to be on radio, and that is ok. Maybe it’s because people are waiting for another form of ‘Iris’, that all of the band’s efforts don’t really measure up by industry standards. Nevertheless, as good as this band is (from what I’ve heard when listening to them on shuffle on my Spotify), Goo Goo Dolls aren’t as popular now, maybe because there are other bands that are capturing the attention of listeners now. But what I’ve known over the last year or so, is that artists don’t have to be new to be better, they don’t have to be popular to be influential, and they don’t have to only be just this one song…they can be so much more than what our assumptions are of them. Goo Goo Dolls are such a band that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the week. ‘Iris’ is definitely the standout song, but as I’ve come to know, there’s much more songs across the board that are just as impactful as ‘Iris’. ‘Iris’ is a good start if you want to listen to the band, and is a good reminder that rock bands can branch out into different music styles if they wanted to, and that a relatively ‘unknown’ band (at the time of ‘Iris’, the band was still trying to ‘break through’ the mainstream market) can still create a hit whose impact can last for years, upon years, upon years.
‘…That was the first time we’d ever been in the studio with strings I remember kneeling in front of the control room window, looking out at this 15-piece string ensemble, then looking at Robby [Takac, bassist] and saying: ‘I really think we’re turning a corner here, and I don’t know if I want to’. But it’s part of your personal evolution. When I was 18 I played three power chords and wanted to be Paul Westerberg. But as you grow up you change, you want different things, and your art has to stay in step with where you are emotionally. So I guess Iris is partly the sound of me growing up… It didn’t change us but people around us changed. We started getting more attention, made a bit of money… and it was actually really, really uncomfortable. It never made me wish I hadn’t written it, because now I’ll be able to send my kids to college, but obviously there are by-products of that kind of success that you have to avoid. The number of choices you have grows exponentially, like, I can have this, I can have that, I can date her, I can snort this – and I can afford it’… I’m proud of it. Because it gave me some confidence in myself at a time when that was lacking. Every night when we play it and I put the mic out to the audience and everybody sings it, that’s an amazing feeling. It’s, like, at least one of the songs I’ve written will be remembered…’
I have not seen the movie City of Angels. Released in 1998 and starring powerhouse actors Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage, the premise of the story goes like this- an angel on earth, presumably as a guardian angel to people, falls in love with a mortal woman, and throughout the movie, connects with her, all the while longing and wanting to be ‘free’ of his celestial duties and live a life- as mortal as she, with her by his side. Now such a movie can be seen as blasphemous to some, but the way I see it- the movie (and in extension the song ‘Iris’, because it’s written from the POV of the angel) is a question we all need to answer- can I choose my own destiny or is it written out for me? It’s the whole ‘predestination v free will’ question we humans have been plagued with for years; and will still be plagued with until the end of time. Because there’s answers for both schools of thought. And both answers can logistically be valid. But what this movie and song hopefully reminds us is to not be afraid to ask questions that seemingly seem impossible to answer, because in asking these questions, we are giving people an understanding that life isn’t as simple as we make it out to be- there are a lot of nuances and things we need to consider. City of Angels– begs the question- are we willing to give up everything we hold dear for a relationship? Whatever that thing that is the most certain to us is- in the movie’s case, the certain thing was the angel’s immortality, but it can be different for different people watching the movie. The first line in the song really hits home for me- ‘Iris’ starts off by saying ‘…and I’d give up forever to touch you, cause I know that you feel me somehow, you’re the closest to heaven that I’d ever be, and I don’t wanna go home right now…’ and is a challenge to us all to figure out- what do we hold so dear in our lives? Should that still be the case? If we want to start meaningful relationships, what are we willing to compromise in our own lives and what are the values that are non-negotiable? These are the things that we need to consider, and think about, and maybe, movies like City of Angels and the Goo Goo Dolls song ‘Iris’ don’t have the answer to, and that’s ok. Vulnerability comes through in ‘Iris’, and is a reminder that songs bear the windows to a soul, and that it is ok to put your own feelings into a song, for when you’re vulnerable as an artist, it encourages others, especially listeners, to be so as well. ‘Iris’ is as emotional as it is poignant, as challenging as it is comforting, as God-breathed as it is earthly inspired, as a song that really gets to the heart of feeling and emotion, is something that we all need to connect to, especially now in 2020 more than ever!
Even though ‘Iris’ is by far one of the band’s most accomplishing hits in their whole career, there are still other songs, to the left and right of ‘Iris’, that are just as emotive and compelling. ‘Slide’, also from 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl, is a song about the touchy subject of abortion, and goes into the thought processes of two teenage kids- boyfriend and girlfriend, and their own thought processes regarding this whole procedure of abortion and what to do from this point of whether to have the kid, abort or adopt out- such a topic is very polarising and contentious, and this song ‘Slide’ approaches this subject with a lot of humbleness and grace, which is something that doesn’t often happen in a music industry like this. ‘Dizzy’ is a real honest portrayal of a relationship- the persona in the track describes all the ways that this person they love, infuriates them but at the same time, loves and adores them. ‘Dizzy’ is a weird song, because at first glance, it seems like the persona in the track is trying to ‘bash’ the qualities of this other person, but as I’ve realised upon hearing the song repeatedly, it reminds us all that all of the person- all their qualities, the good and bad, need to be encompassed in a relationship. ‘Dizzy’ is just a reminder that when you love someone, it overlooks and covers a multitude of misgivings and shortcomings. ‘Name’, from their 1995 album A Boy Named Goo, has a lot of indie-Lifehouse vibes (a la circa 2000’s No Name Face) as Goo Goo Dolls delve into personal life and history for such an honest track- lead singer Johnny Rzeznik and his family grew up without any parents- their parents died when they were young, and so they were kids raising each other. Such a song called ‘Name’ arose from such a hard and difficult life and childhood; and is a reminder that sometimes in terms of privacy, telling someone their ‘name’ is considered a big deal. ‘Name’ is a reminder that in all of their own difficulties that they had growing up with limited adult influence, at least they still had their names that they knew were their own- the song is an identity statement, and a way of saying what is important to them, in the light of difficult and unsettling situations. ‘Broadway’ is a powerful rock anthem about the cyclical patterns of humanity, as when John was observing his own hometown of Buffalo NY, he observed what happened to his own generation, and generations before, on Broadway in Buffalo. Around that time, there was a culture of drinking away problems, and as this song depicts, there is a trend that happens when people do a certain thing because everyone has done it generations before. The song alludes to the nonsensical nature of patterns that only occur because of previous generations; and is by far one of the standout songs not just on Dizzy Up the Girl, but in all of the career of the Goo Goo Dolls, ever.
‘Naked’, from A Boy Named Goo, is one of the band’s most confronting hits in an anthemic rock setting, as the song is presented as showcasing a persona who feels alone, vulnerable and ‘naked’ in their fear and hopelessness, something we can all attest and testify to at some point in our lives, be it when we were younger, or even now in 2020 because of COVID-19. The way that the band has created songs that mean things to people at different points in life, is something that the band has to take credit for. ‘Naked’ is by far one of the ‘heaviest’ songs the band has delved into, but it at least paves the way for honesty and realness to come through in a lot of their music, even to this day. ‘Here is Gone’, from the band’s 2002 album Gutterflower, speaks of the thoughts that people often have when they are committing one-sidedly to a relationship that seems to be going to the depths of breakup, but the one committed still wants to give us a relationship a chance, but all the while knowing in their hearts that the other in the relationship isn’t really committing to it anymore- it’s a song of loss tied up in a rock anthem, but still one that means very much to people going through breakups- it’s raw, real, honest and not necessarily hopeful, but still paints a picture that many can relate to. ‘Sympathy’, also on Gutterflower, speaks of a quiet hope that comes from realising that someone can still feel sympathy towards you, even if you know that by the things that you have done to yourself and others over the years, that sympathy isn’t really deserved in your case. This is exactly what the song reminds us all of- that the undeserved nature of sympathy is given, regardless of how much the person has screwed up; while ‘Big Machine’, a song that is coated in a joyous sheen of happiness, is a song full of unrequited love as the band present a situation where someone is trying to navigate love in a big city- something that we all have to deal with in our lives at one point or another. The song itself is a challenge for us all to be in touch with your own feelings, especially in big cities- because everything that the glitz and glamour that a big city can offer- the hustle and bustle and busyness, can drown out feelings and make us numb to any feeling- good or bad. ‘Black Balloon’, also from Dizzy Up the Girl, and a standout songs from the 1980s/1990s era, continues along the same vein as heartfelt and emotive themes- the song speaks about the feelings that someone has when looking at another with a heroin addiction, and all the connotations and implications that come with an overdose of heroin, of which the song suggests. Confronting and emotive, heartfelt and poignant, Goo Goo Dolls have never shied away from themes that challenge our own psyche, and a lot of the songs pre-and-post ‘Iris’ (by about a few years) have done exactly that, giving us all a way of being impacted and challenged in the 1990s, a season in life where vulnerability and songs that mean something are much more respected and championed then, as opposed to now!
‘…I like to believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t always, but you know… I’m not a religious person but somebody said to me that “coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.” I was really struck by that, the amount of faith that he had in that. I always admire people who have unwavering faith. I’m not one of them. But I do admire people who have a lot of faith… That’s the most gratifying part about it [the music]; when I think about it. Just getting letters from people and knowing that maybe a song that I wrote helped them with a particular moment in their lives. I get a lot of letters from people going through divorces, going through cancer treatments, and children being sick and dying. When somebody says that your music helped get them through that; and helps them. That takes that whole rock star thing and throws it right out the window because it doesn’t matter…’
‘Better Days’ was actually the first song from Goo Goo Dolls that I heard in its entirety on the radio back in the day. No, it wasn’t ‘Iris’- in fact, the first version of ‘Iris’ that I did hear was the recording by Irish singer-songwriter Ronan Keating on his own 2006 album Bring You Home. It was from there that I listened to ‘Iris’ in preparation for my very own blog about Ronan Keating and his influence, way back last year, not knowing that ‘Iris’ wasn’t his song, but rather the Goo Goo Dolls’. Nevertheless, upon this discovery and further research, I discovered this one thing- that yes, I did hear the Goo Goo Dolls way back in the 2000s, and it was ‘Better Days’ on the radio that I listened to and enjoyed. It was a song that had a lot of emotion and poignancy, and as I delved into the lyrics of the song, and the understanding that even though lead singer Johnny Rzeznik isn’t religious, but respects people that are; I am amazed at how God-breathed this song, and a lot of the band’s other tracks, really, really are. With a song called ‘better days’ we are reminded that that is what we ought to be longing for- that when we wish for things during Christmastime, it ought not to be the latest things and material possessions, but rather, a chance of hope and to start again, a time where we can be respected and celebrated for what we all can bring to this table of life, rather than expected to what we believe society wants of us. ‘Better Days’ is a longing for a better tomorrow, it is a yearning in the spirit for what we know to be true- a time where everything is made new, and crying, hurt, pain and everything that comes with the messiness of life, ceases to exist. When we’re in the presence of our Creator and can be in awe of the sacrifice He has made- in the form of Jesus’s death and resurrection, for us to come back into communion with Him. When we’re in heaven. And that is what ‘Better Days’ is about (IMHO), and while that may be what Johnny himself was going for (or not), I am still impacted by such a song as this. God was (and still is) moving through this track- and just the very fact that the Goo Goo Dolls are writing this song (amongst others) that speaks about this never-ending longing and yearning, is always a step in the right direction. The song itself was unveiled in 2005- following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as well as during a time where the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were still happening- and thus, such a song of hope was needed for the community and society to hold onto, and so I firmly believe that such a song is needed now in 2020- with COVID-19, the American election, the Australian bushfires and everything else that is going on, ‘Better Days’ gives people hope. And for that, and that thought and impact alone, Goo Goo Dolls needed to be commended for such a song as this, a song that I can boldly state, is quite possibly the second-most impactful song I’ve heard from the band after ‘Iris’!
Though songs like ‘Iris’ and ‘Better Days’ stand tall above the rest for Goo Goo Dolls; there are many, many other powerful songs that remind us all to think about the deeper issues and things that only songs, especially theirs, delve into. ‘Let Love In’ is a cry and a plead for people to let go of grudges and bitterness, setting aside our anger in place of love that covers all of our shortcomings and things that we fall and stumble into- letting love in can be difficult and sometimes the difficult decision to undertake at that moment, but when we stand back and look at the grand scheme of things- love is indeed the way to go- and according to the song itself, ‘…the only way to feel again is let love in…’ For without love in our lives, we are nothing but just noise, people sprouting ideas without any motivation, meaning and substance behind it all. For love conquers all of what eats us up, when we acknowledge and understand that true love for our fellow man is unconditional- to never keep a record of wrongs, just like how Jesus didn’t keep a record of wrongs for us when He died and rose again, nailing all of our sin on the cross with Him on that day. ‘Long Way Down’ speaks about a high-dependence situation- be it with another person in a dysfunctional relationship, or even an addiction not drugs, or another unhealthy habit that you can’t get rid of, as this song acknowledges that there’s a point in our lives where we can often feel like we’re a long way down, in the depths of reliance on this thing that consumes our life, and while the song doesn’t offer any solution to this predicament, it does nevertheless remind us all that we need to look at ourselves and see if we are too ‘long way down’ in our journeys or not. ‘Eyes Wide Open’, from 1995’s A Boy Called Goo, is a massive dig at people who are ‘spoon-fed’- born with a lot of money, inherited fame in some way, and are handed everything on a plate when they were young. Their eyes are open, but only for people like them and no one else. They mingle with the rich, relate only to people of the same status as them, and react in a condescending way to people who are of a different socio-economic class, and the Goo Goo Dolls have created a song about them, that challenges why these people can’t open their eyes to see that everything isn’t as ‘rich’ as they believe the world to be; while ‘What Do You Need?’ is a song that breaks down this issue of unspoken expectations, and that often married couples fall into this pattern that one person in the relationship expects the other to know exactly the needs of themselves (and vice versa), and such a song as this reminds us all that often, the other person in said relationship doesn’t know, and we need to speak our minds in a respectful way so that the other can see where we’re coming from.
‘Stay With You’ harkens to a moment where you value a relationship- friendship or romantic, that you stay with a person out of respect and love, even if other people don’t- be it through a physical ailment, or something more mental/emotional, and is a standout on their 2006 album Let Love In; while ‘Feel the Silence’, also from their 2006 album, speaks of people coming alongside others as friends, and asking them to ‘feel the silence’- a metaphor to embrace the period of the unknown, to be ok with not knowing the answers in life. Because silence between two moments of noise and familiarity can be a heavy moment to live in, and such a song as this, encourages us to not run away from this uncomfortableness called silence, and to acknowledge that it is ok to not be ok. ‘Give A Little Bit’ is a great cover song by Goo Goo Dolls, a track originally by Supertramp from the 1970s (and I song that I heard a lot of during my own growing-up time in the 1990s), and reminds us all that we need to give a bit of our love, time, care and attention to people who may not be as well-to-do as ourselves; while ‘Can’t Let It Go’ is a song dedicated to the memory of both Johnny Rzeznik’s mother and father, who both passed away in Johnny’s life when he was a teenager– this song is him reconciling with such a tragic event and placing all his thoughts in a song, reminding us all that even if people long for him to move on from such tragic deaths, he can’t let it go, for reasons that I’m sure anyone who may have suffered tragedy can understand.
‘…I think the secret to good songwriting, at this point, is sticking with it and working at it until you get exactly where you want to be, until you are absolutely sure that you can’t do any better. And that’s all you can hope for. And I think you have to really speak your mind and your heart, as cliché as that sounds. A good song always wins, no matter what’s going on. Whatever musical trend is out there, a good song is still going to show itself through…’
Goo Goo Dolls and their discography over the years has moved from the grunge-rock era to the more pop-rock-radio friendly accessibility that has been becoming of a lot of music artists over the years. And while people think that these artists are jumping on the bandwagon of profitability (and in some cases, I’m sure they are), that doesn’t mean that certain albums aren’t good just because they sound very ‘radio-friendly’ or ‘over-produced’. Sometimes it is those songs that do sound ‘generic’ that often have a lot to say, because they are appealing to a wider audience. For example- the band’s 2010 album Something For the Rest of Us. According to the band themselves, ‘…making it was so miserable. I had a really s***ty time making that record. There was a lot of bad s*** going on at the time. We kept getting hassled by the record company. They didn’t like it. And after a certain point I was drinking too much, so I just ended up throwing my hands up in the air and said, “F*** it, do whatever you want with it. I don’t care anymore.” And looking back at it, the album is incredibly depressing, as far as the subject matter goes. So that’s my least favorite, but I recently sat down with Robby and we listened to it and thought there are some real good songs on there. But that whole situation was a black cloud…’; and it is in this quote that I have realised, that even if a band may not like a body of work, for whatever reason, the album can still be good and have good songs on it- listeners’ I’m sure, like myself, have enjoyed this album, and yes, this album can get often overlooked in favour of the band’s 2006 album Let Love In, the 2013 Magnetic or the 2016 Boxes. But regardless of all of that, their 2010 album is still underappreciated. ‘As I Am’ really wrestles with the idea of unconditional love, and ironically speaks to the very heart of what God’s love for us really is- He takes us as we are, without condition or expectation. The lyrics of the song are especially poignant, in fact, these lyrics, maybe even without Johnny himself knowing it, are probably the most emotive since ‘Better Days’, and song that is calling out to God, even if the Goo Goo Dolls themselves weren’t even aware of it yet:
Yeah I tried so hard to make it and then I watched it slip away
And the hardest thing to face is the silence and the space
At times I feel so empty through the day
Can we make it through the darkness and will we make it through the day
Calling out for you again, you always guide my way
Calling out for you, you know you heal these empty days
And it’s all because you take me as I am, and it’s all because you take me as I am
You know I run to find the answers, what I need to find is you
And I don’t need anything, no, I don’t need anything
Because I know you always take me as I am
You know you get me through the darkness, you know you get me through the day
Calling out for you again, You always find my way
Calling out for you, you know you heal these empty days
And it’s all because you take me as I am, and it’s all because you take me as I am
Lyrics of ‘As I Am’, from their 2010 album Something For the Rest Of Us
In is in these lyrics that I’ve come to have a new-found appreciation for the band and all that they stand for. Even though Johnny himself isn’t a professed Christian, he’s still writing lyrics that I’m sure can be used by the Lord to showcase His character and attributes- with this song ‘As I Am’ as a great example. And there are many more. ‘Home’ on the surface is about a long distance relationship, most likely due to touring life, and the persona (a person on the road in the music business) is longing to reconnect with their loved ones, longing for them to ‘take me home’, while the song can be seen deeper as a person longing for someone to connect to more on a soul-to-soul level, longing for ‘home’- a setting where you can be who you are without any judgement or condemnation, where you can love and be loved, and just be- in the presence of our family, close friends, and even in the presence of God Himself, is where having a sense of home can occur. ‘Notbroken’ is a track of spiritual significance- even though the song itself was written in response to people coming home from the military and second-guessing themselves about whether they really feel ‘worthy’ enough to come back home because they feel ‘broken’ from the war they fought in; the song can be also seen in a healing way- that God sees us as not-broken, in a way that to be broken means that we cannot be fixed. But God knows that whatever experience we have will be used by Him (not necessarily caused by Him) to shape us into better humans, than we can possibly even imagine, that what we may consider about ourselves are the unfixable parts, are indeed viewed by our Heavenly Father as the parts about ourselves that He will use to bring people closer to Himself, and to remind ourselves of His providence in our lives, both in the good times and the difficult ones. ‘Still Your Song’ is about reconciliation and acknowledging that in any relationship that has gone sour- romantic or friendship, there is always someone at fault, even if you believe that you were always in the right. This is a song of being humble to the point of admitting your own part in a breakdown of communication and relationship, and doing your very best to try and mend what can be mended from whatever has occurred- it may or may not result in the friendship going back to what it once was, but this song at least challenges us to see in our own lives, which relationships we need to fix before the very nature of our very part in the relationship’s demise, starts to eat away at us from the inside out. ‘Nothing is Real’, quite possibly the most existential song within the whole discography from the band, speaks of this notion of belief, and what is real and what we really believe when everything is stripped away. While the band aren’t that really ‘religious’ in a way that the world describes as ‘religion’, the band nevertheless are searching for hope and meaning in this crazy world, and ‘Nothing is Real’ is an Ecclesiastics-style track about the musings of life and what has been learnt up unto the point of 2010 (when this song was written)- to state that nothing is real and that is all about belief isn’t necessarily grounded in what I know the Bible says, but nevertheless, an honest portrayal of the lyrics states where the band is at about belief, in that particular moment. And ‘Nothing is Real’ is an encouragement to us all, to be honest with what we believe as well, as the only way to live life is authentically, knowing that once we are honest and transparent, God will in fact use us, in ways that we can’t fathom, to be open and vulnerable too. The album ender to this album (standard version) ‘Soldier’, is a heartfelt melody, and a track that gives us all comfort to know that people are generally in the same boat- acting like soldiers, always on high alert and always worried about this and that, especially when they try to assimilate back into normal life. It is a reminder that it is ok to feel worried about things from time to time, but here’s where the motivation comes in- we ought to not lose our faith in these situations- in ourselves, in other people, in God Himself. To have maturity is to hopefully understand that whatever comes our way, can and does get used by God to bring about His glory and our good, and ‘Soldier’ is a reminder of this very overlooked fact!
2013’s Magnetic, 2016’s Boxes and 2019’s Miracle Pill are the last three albums by Goo Goo Dolls, and all three more lean towards the pop/rock/radio-friendly arena, and while a lot of Goo Goo Dolls purists may boycott these last three albums, I certainly have found a connection to them that I hadn’t really found in albums previous. Mind you I love a lot of radio-friendly pop stuff, considering that I have heard a lot of my own CCM in the past, so listening to these last three albums from this underappreciated band, was a great thing for me to do- a reminder that radio friendly inspirational music can still live outside of CCM, and within the confines of these three albums, is where the inspirational music from the Goo Goo Dolls is the most. ‘Rebel Beat’, the first radio single from Magnetic, is a joyous rousing anthem that celebrates the rebel spirit that challenges the system and status quo- done in a radio-friendly way. It is a song about the frailness of humanity, the finiteness of time, the need to make a difference in the world we live in, and to stand up for things that may be considered as the ‘rebel’ way, all encased in a 3 minute pop song- which is very clever btw. The band also continue to bring to us heartfelt and emotive songs across these next few albums- ‘Over and Over Again’, from their 2016 album Boxes, speaks of the notion of doing things over and over again- in a new beginnings way, as we realise that to start again anew each day means to forget the troubles and worries of the previous day- cancelling them away and starting each day on a blank page. That is in fact what I know Jesus does in relationship with us each day- He forgives our sins, on a daily basis, as we try with all our might, to live for Him out of a place of love and gratitude for His sacrifice- the song being a great reminder for me personally, of this. ‘Come to Me’, also from 2013’s Magnetic, is an acoustically driven heartfelt ballad about the notion of coming into a relationship, all things forgiven and starting anew with the hope that comes from loving without reservation the other person, so much so that we are willing to forgive just out of love, the way that God forgave us. ‘Come to Me’ is poignant and emotive, and it is in the lyrical moments of the second verse that I can see these words being said by God over us in various circumstances- ‘…I don’t care about where you’ve been, don’t be sad and don’t explain, this is where we start again…’ ‘So Alive’ (not a single from 2016’s Boxes but was still a song heavily on rotation on the Spotify Goo Goo Dolls playlist, and a standout for me personally) speaks of this very message of being alive and wanting to be alive in the midst of life’s troubles, with the song being an anthem for many suffering difficult personal situations (as evidenced through the youtube comments for the song’s lyric video), while ‘Boxes’, is a great love song that can possibly be performed at weddings in the future- it is a reminder that the love that people share in the sense of a marriage and life-partners, is just a glimpse into the never-ending love that God feels for us. Just as the song states, that ‘…your love’s the one love that I need to know…’, I’m reminded that this is exactly what we say to the Lord, when we encounter God’s love truthfully on a soul-level and realise the depth and height and width of God’s never-ending love for us.
‘Prayer In My Pocket’ is a song not sung by Johnny Rzeznik but rather sung by Robby Takac- the song itself is one of hope and longing, of praying for someone in need, and hoping that whatever outcome happens for the other person will be one where growth and maturity can occur from said situations; while ‘Long Way Home’, the final song on Boxes, is a similar theme to that of ‘Long Way Home’, the song of the same name from CCM legend Steven Curtis Chapman- a reminder, written in a way that I believe can be read and seen from God’s POV. That whenever our hope is feeling dashed and we feel like we can’t get to where we’re going, we have to have the comfort in knowing that we will be brought back home (either by our families but definitely by God Himself), but oftentimes it won’t be the easy route. It’ll be long sometimes, it’ll be gruelling and taxing on our souls and spirit, but as I’m reminded, through this song and countless others, that nothing is wasted in the sight of the Lord, including long ways home. We don’t always understand, we don’t have to. The beauty with a lot of Goo Goo Dolls’ songs is finding the peace in the unknown, and the ‘being ok’ with not being ok. ‘Long Way Home’ is a beautiful way to live in a tension, and a great song to define the post-post-Iris era (post-the-2010-album!). One of the most surprising (in a good way) collaborations in modern mainstream music history is that of between Goo Goo Dolls and Echosmith frontwoman Sydney Sierota in the song ‘Flood’, and a collaboration welcomed immensely as both vocalists trade the lead in a song that speaks of a love so immense, intense, heartfelt, pure and genuine that allows the persona to declare from the outset that ‘…You’re the flood that opened my heart…’, a way of declaring that this person (a friend, family member, or in some weird way, God Himself) plays a very significant part in their life- to the point where this declaration is even made in the first place.
‘Caught in this Storm’ from Magnetic is also an unexpected highlight from the discography of the Goo Goo Dolls– not a single from the album, but still a standout, as Johnny Rzeznik presents a persona who’s longing for love- to be loved and to love abundantly, and this song is the result of all the musings of every kind of love that Johnny himself may want in his own life. There’s a notion of longing for connection and to not be lonely from hearing the song- this song can hopefully connect with people who may feel socially awkward for whatever reason in life- but whatever part of life we’re on and however we behave in our life, we are all longing for this one thing- to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and to believe that we matter and are on someone’s mind…somewhere in life. ‘Caught in This Storm’ touches on all these themes, and in another life, could’ve been a standout radio single if other things fell into place. The last remaining standout songs within the Magnetic / Boxes era (IMHO) is ‘Souls in the Machine’, and while on the surface the song can seem like a metaphysical ‘we’re all connected to everything’ kinda song, the lyrics as I read them again are nevertheless on point- that when everything comes down to it, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We don’t live for ourselves, and what we undertake and do in this life, affects our relationships on a soul-to-soul level, making our interactions have far greater weight and gravity than maybe we even realise. God designed us all to have special unique purposes, and as for those who belong to Christ, we are to be reminded that as many bones, ligaments, organs and muscles make up one body, surely do people and their gifts, expertise, talents and special way of dealing with other people, make up the community which we call those who belong to the Christendom. We live in a world that longs for community, and thus a song like ‘Souls in the Machine’ is maybe a way for people to make sense of the world, not wanting people to spend their days alone. As God Himself is a community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so too when we were created, were we longing to be in fellowship with fellow man- it’s in our DNA. And so ‘Souls in the Machine’ is the result I’m sure, of a lot of introspection by the band, and realisations that can hopefully catalyse use all into recognising this one truth- that what we do in our lives matter, that if we truly believe that we are a part of something bigger, more fulfilling that just our little individual lives, than what we do or say, carries with it the potential to make someone’s life better or worse- there is no neutral ground!
‘…I got done doing the Dizzy Up the Girl 20th anniversary tour. By the end, that tour really informed me a lot about where I need to be as a writer, as an artist and as a performer. Because every night it took me back to that time. We were playing all those songs and then the second half of the show was playing later songs, more obscure songs, and the evolution of who I am became really obvious. And it kind of emboldened me to get off that tour, get right to work and get a new album out…’
‘…I think that our country for the last almost 20 years, we’ve been living in a state of this chronic, low-grade anxiety. And I think it’s really starting to wear people down. I know there’s times it wears me down. And we’re living in an incredibly unfair society. Incredibly unfair. And I’m not talking about politics, I’m just making a social commentary. The album [Miracle Pill] is about connection, loss of connection, the hope of making a connection. Look, we’re turning into a very, very lonely, disconnected society. And it’s starting to rear its head in very ugly, nasty ways. If there’s no hope, there’s going to be trouble… I went out this last summer and I was standing on stage and there were about 15,000 people there. So I’m standing on the stage and I’m playing these songs. And I’m thinking, ‘So almost half this audience, politically, disagrees with the other half of the audience…’ Statistically, theoretically, half this room disagrees. But both sides of the room are singing the songs, right? Live music especially is what’s gonna keep people together. Because you can’t experience that on the internet. You have to get off your ass, drive twenty miles, buy a ticket, stand in line, talk to strangers, deal with people – it’s a beautiful thing. Everybody is there for one thing that they all agree on: They all agree that they want to be there. And that’s a good thing…’
‘…It’s just the way things are [to tour and release music constantly]. But I kind of dig it. It’s like, ‘Well, I’ve got a really cool idea. Let me call this guy and book the studio, get in and let’s have it done next week.’ It’s kind of cool. I’m planning on doing that again. Miracle Pill is a piece of work – it’s a collection of songs. But if I come up with a really cool idea, I’m just gonna put it out there. It’s a matter of sink or swim… I see people from every walk of life in what I do. And I talk to people every single day, every city I go to. I talk to people about everything. I just talk to people every single day. And it informs me and it kind of influences my songwriting. I want to connect, man…’
Miracle Pill was unveiled to us in September 2019, and for me personally, feels like one of the most cohesive albums (from start to finish) that they have recorded in their whole career. Mind you, both Johnny and Robbie are in their mid-50s, and so a transition from grunge-rock (where your vocals are powerful and you’re screaming out the words out a lot), to melodic pop-radio friendly A/C music was always going to happen when the band maybe even realised that reaching some of the powerful rock anthemic-notes was always going to be difficult to reach as time went on. But if you take Miracle Pill for what it is- a pop album, it’s pretty good. With the standard edition being 11 tracks long, and the deluxe, 14; this is a set of songs that reflect the current mood of society right now, and what the band reckon the listeners need to hear and listen to in such a political climate as this. The powerful anthems are more bunched-up towards the beginning of the album- ‘Indestructible’ speaks of the transformation time that Johnny himself had from being in a time where he was rock-bottom, to now with a wife and child and feeling indestructible because of that; while ‘Fearless’ is a declaratory anthem that can be sung during COVID-19, and speaks of how we as a collective community and society have the impetus and the courage to run down our fears, demons and worries, becoming fearless and using the things that shake us as a catalyst to fuel our faith- in people, and in God to bring the situation around for our good. Title track ‘Miracle Pill’ longs for a proverbial metaphorical pill that can be taken, providing an instant miracle to curb all the ups and downs, the darkness, fear and doubts that often haunt a person on a daily basis, while many other songs present heartfelt and emotive themes, from stating that the connection and relationship of another is the metaphorical money, fame and fortune needed to make life complete (‘Money, Fame and Fortune’) and moving forward in life in a straight line, saying goodbye to pain and confronting the loss that needs to be resolved for full healing to take place (‘Step in Line’), to lamenting a loss of a relationship and admitting maybe even selfishly that you can’t get over the person, because of the hold they still have on your heart, for whatever reason (‘Over You’). ‘Lights’ is a soulful and hopeful melody about wanting to know when someone is coming back home after a long stint away- maybe it’s a literal ‘this person has gone away for some reason and you’re sitting by the porch, waiting for their return’, but often when I hear this song, I cast my mind back to the Bible story of the prodigal son, and how when the son went away and blew all his inheritance, the father was still waiting for his return, no matter how slim and improbable it was. ‘Lost’ encourages us all as individuals to own the fact that we often get lost sometimes, and it’s ok if that happens to us- it doesn’t make us any less of a man/woman if we feel like we can’t find our way sometimes; while the deluxe edition of the 2019 album, boasts songs like ‘The Right Track’ and ‘Just a Man’: ‘The Right Track’ is a great piece of work that is just an encouragement to those fighting the good fight, that we’re on the right track when it comes to helping those in society who may feel like they can’t help themselves for whatever reason, while ‘Just a Man’ is an identity building song, singing to all the naysayers and the doubters, that the band, and more specifically, Johnny and Robbie, have the final say about who they want to be, both individually and as Goo Goo Dolls. A song that asserts authority in a confident way, Miracle Pill as a whole is a great album to listen to if you’re feeling down and want an album to lift your spirits.
But in an overall sense, the band has come a long way since the start in the 1980s and 1990s. And while I’ll never truly know how it’s like to enjoy this band from its inception, what I have known about them is nevertheless impressing me more and more, and reminding me that there are still bands out there that are willing to speak directly to the heart of the person, never compromising message, and never forsaking heartfelt poignancy and truth, for the sake of a ‘good’ popular song. This is a powerful band if ever you were to see one- and the accolades show as well. With Johnny Rzeznik being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, alongside the song ‘Iris’ charting #1 on Billboard’s Top Pop Songs for the 1992 – 2012 20 year period (‘Slide’ comes in at #9 and ‘Name’ at #24 on the same list!), and ‘Iris’ also being nominated for Song of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards (but ultimately lost to the Celine Dion hit ‘My Heart Will Go On’), the band continues to remind us all that one song is all it takes to change not only the lives of the artist but also the lives of the listeners of their music as well. With the band also having a hand in various philanthropy efforts, from starting an organisation USA Harvest: who helps the distribution of millions of meals to people who need them, by getting fans to hand out non-perishable foods during concerts, over a 10 year period; to being involved with Food Bank and lending a hand for Autism research; Robbie and Johnny have crafted a career, both in music and outside of it, to be proud of. Johnny himself personally is an ambassador for the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, while Robby is the founder of the Music is Art Foundation- things that mean a lot more, I reckon, than any #1 radio hit across their career. I dunno, maybe the accolades do boost confidence, but in a holistic sense, their impact on fans (maybe even myself, included) and people less fortunate, goes far beyond the musicians’ usual scope of what it means to be successful, in general. The band have made a name for themselves, both musically and behind the scenes, and for a duo after 34 years, their message still going strong, and a fanbase still active and vibrant- it’s all a miracle, if you ask me. And I know that all good things end, and all things end period. I guess sometimes when you’re in a business of giving oneself to the masses, either in the form of music or philanthropy or otherwise, there is never really a moment where you do ‘retire’ per se- you never have an ‘ending’ to your career- you just move on and your career can look a little different, but your message of connection, emotion, relationship, and themes like hope, asking the questions ‘why’, those things will still be the same. It is a reminder that even as Christians in this life, we must never look at life like as something that we need to finish- we’re always learning and growing, always admitting when we get things wrong, and exploring the things that we believe God has imprinted on our hearts to undertake. Goo Goo Dolls and their career, and attitude to life has rubbed off on me in a good way. It has re-evaluated my love and appreciation of 1990s and 2000s music, and for that and that alone, songs like ‘Iris’ and ‘Better Days’ have shaped and influenced my own array and direction of music of late…which is a very, very good thing indeed!
‘…It’s too dangerous to be explicitly political. I’m not enamoured with either political party in this country, and it’s become glaringly obvious that the system is broken on both sides. The whole thing’s for sale. If you’re a congressman, you’re constantly begging for money to get reelected. So who you gonna go to? Are you gonna keep going to your constituents or are you gonna get some big donors? I believe that corporate interests are the only thing that’s represented in Washington anymore. I think Jeff Bezos is gonna be the first trillionaire and there’s something wrong with that, man. There’s dignity in work. It gives a lot of people’s lives purpose, because it allows you to raise a family and have a bit of security. And that security is missing in greater and greater numbers in this society. When the president of the United States says, ‘I don’t pay taxes because I’m smart’ It’s like, ‘Well, no. Taxes are the dues you have to pay for being able to become a billionaire.’ But the tax code was written by a bunch of people who are getting paid off, so forget it. Anyway, we’re not supposed to talk about politics… I was looking at the audience a couple weeks ago, and I’m like, theoretically, in a vacuum, half of this audience voted for Trump and half of this audience voted for Hillary Clinton. Roughly. But we’re having a good time together. And then, you step outside that room and the divide becomes huge. It’s a chasm. I truly believe we all have to start trying to find similarities. Look for the similarities instead of the differences between us because there’s days where I’m like, ‘Oh my god, there’s gonna be a civil war.’ [And I look for hope] in my kid. In my music. In the conversations I have with people every single day and the letters people give me every day when I’m on tour. I find hope and meaning and I feel like I want my mission to be connection. Even if that connection is nothing more than a distraction for that four minutes that the song is playing. If that four minutes can change someone’s mood or attitude or help them get through something, that helps add to the purpose…’
Does the Goo Goo Dolls make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Better Days’ or ‘Iris’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!