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The Goo Goo Dolls, the last of the great American songwriters

John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls

John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls

In todays hard nosed, fast paced world of music, artists are born to perform. Quite literally in some instances. Artists get younger and younger each year, culminating in this years Song of the Year Grammy Award winner Lorde. The 17 year old from Auckland, New Zealand set the music world ablaze and helped to demonstrate the youth movement in pop music.

Rewind 19 years to 1995. John Rzeznik and Robby Takac were 30 and 31 respectively and were about to find their second wind. After a tough split with one of the bands original members, the band saw their first mainstream success with 1995’s A Boy Named Goo which featured five singles. It was in the third single that the band finally hit it big. That song was “Name.” They were much closer to the hill than many artists that achieve mainstream success, but that was a different time, and the Goo Goo Dolls were carrying a very different looking weapon.

What has always struck me about the Goo Goo Dolls is their ability to sustain a brilliant career without a huge amount of visible talent. Rzeznik is not a guitar phoneme or powerful vocalist and Takac’s voice can sound like he’s a carton deep at times. What the band does, better than almost any band in the modern era is write music. The Goo Goo Dolls are songwriters at the highest level and while they won’t blow you away with obvious talent, their ability to write, a lost art, is ever-present.

Rzeznik is now 48 years old. As he sits on stage at the Ridgefield Playhouse, he seems comfortable. The venue is filled to the brim. Tickets on the secondary market had been sold for hundreds of dollars and the audience would find out why. John talked about how production is great. It can make great songs stand out from the crowd. But he continued, “every song starts with an acoustic guitar.” As the statement comes to an end, he begins the familiar opening to “Iris.”

The Goo Goo Dolls

The Goo Goo Dolls

The intimate setting and acoustic surroundings are the perfect way to take in the Goo Goo Dolls. The 20 song setlist includes former singles like “Better Days” and “Black Balloon” alongside current ones like “Rebel Beat” and “Come To Me.” For the crowd, an interesting suburban subset of thirty to sixty somethings, different songs resonate in wildly different ways. In fact, the new songs, written nearly 20 years after the debut of A Boy Named Goo, seemed nearly as popular as the classics.

Many will say that songwriting is a lost art. I don’t believe that to be entirely true. There are still some amazing songwriters in the pop world today. But what the Goo Goo Dolls have achieved, writing songs that flow off the tongue and stick in your head, is special. If the band can stick around for two more years, they will celebrate 30 years together and the spread of songs continues to grow. Nearing 50, the band is still writing perfectly crafted songs and releasing music.

No one would blame the Goo Goo Dolls if they decided to rest on their laurels and enter the legacy stage of their careers. They’ve earned that right with decades in music. But that’s just not their style. Watching Rzeznik and Takac on stage makes you believe that they will continue writing new material right up until the day they hang it up for good. Let’s just hope that isn’t any time soon.

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