John Joseph Theodore Rzeznik was born on December 5, 1965 in Buffalo, New York, to Edith and Joe Rzeznik. They lived in a Polish working-class neighborhood on the East side of Buffalo called "Polonia." John describes his neighborhood by saying "there was a church and a bar on every corner." They lived eight houses away from the corner of Clark and Kent streets, which they always called "Superman Corner."
His father was a postal clerk and local bowling champion. His mother taught at his Catholic grade school, Corpus Christi School. She was also an excellent musician, and dreamed of moving to New York to play the flute. John was the youngest, with four older sisters, Phyllis, Glad, Fran and Kate. About his sisters, John has commented, "You have no idea what it's like to get your ass kicked by four girls."
John was a "good little Polish boy," and was an altar boy at St. Ann's church. He inherited his mother's love for music, and he took up the accordian. It didn't make him the coolest kid around, and he said he got beat up for it. John was an introverted child, due to his troubled home life. His father was an alcoholic, who went into an abusive phase.One day when his father was hitting his Mom, John came in and hit his Dad so hard that he hit the floor. Then his Mom started hitting him for not showing his father any respect. John says that he didn't understand it then, but he thinks his dad was upset because he had inherited a bar, and Edith sold it when he was in the navy because she couldn't run it. "If you owned a tavern, you were like royalty," he says. His parents divorced, but instead of kicking Joe out, Edith let him live in an upstairs apartment.
John then took up the drums, but his mom got sick of hearing them so she bought him a guitar. John used music to get his feelings out, and he was in punk bands with other kids that could relate to him since they weren't good at sports. They performed concerts in their living rooms. At age 14, John got his first job, working at Lincoln Playground in Buffalo for $2 an hour. He then had his worst working experience. He has said about it, "some neighborhood thugs paid some kids to take a crap in the pool, and I had to clean it up. I can't really complain, though, since I used the money to buy my first amp."
Also at age 14, John began to act out against his father, as his alcoholism became worse. In 1980, Joe Rzeznik's alcoholism forced him into a diabetic coma, and he died months later. John speculates that after his father's death, his mother "needed someone to hang onto, and unfortunately, it wasn't going to be any of us." At age 16, John awoke on the living room couch after school to find his mother suffering from a massive heart attack. He and his sisters called an ambulance, but Edith Rzeznik was pronounced dead on arrival. John's oldest sister became his legal guardian.
John moved into an apartment and lived on his own, and got a job washing dishes to pay for it. He became depressed, and started drinking heavily, which only added to his depression. He slept with the TV on. "I didn't want to be alone," he says.
He went to McKinley high school, a vocational school, where he learned how to be a plumber. He was the only "punk" there, complete with a mohawk. John graduated on June 24, 1983. He became an apprentice to a plumber, and after a day of digging ditches,he said, "Screw this...I'm going to College". He enrolled at Buffalo State College, planning to be a social worker, "of all things."
John was playing in a band called the Beaumonts when he met Robby Takac, the cousin of one of his bandmates. The two hit it off and became very close, like brothers. "We always joke about it," he says. "You're the brother I never wanted." John and Robby teamed up with drummer George Tutuska (another Buffalonian) to form the Sex Maggots. However, when they were asked to perform at a major venue in Buffalo, the owner told them to change their name. John and George found an ad in the back of a "True Detective" magazine for a Goo Goo Doll, a doll whose expression could be changed by inserting a finger into the back of its head. From then on, they called themselves the Goo Goo Dolls. John now says he deeply regrets choosing that name because he thinks it was a hindrance to selling records.
When they first started, John did not sing lead vocals like he does now. He was very shy, and had trouble talking to people, let alone singing in front of them. Bassist Robby Takac did all the lead singing on their first album, "Goo Goo Dolls," which was released in 1989. Robby convinced John that he could sing, and on their next album, "Jed," he sang two songs. John was still really shy, though, and made everyone turn off all the lights in the studio when he sang. Gradually he sang more, and on their third album, "Hold Me Up," he sang plenty.
In 1993 they released their third album, "Superstar Car Wash" and were sent on their first national tour. However, they hadn't sold many records and weren't making much money on the tour, so they were sent back to Buffalo. Throughout this whole time, John had many different jobs, since they weren't making much with their music. He was a bartender, hot dog vendor, you name it.
John and drummer George Tutuska began to have some disagreements over royalties and other issues. By the time recording sessions for their fifth album were under way, they were barely speaking. John left the band, but Robby convinced him to rejoin. However, he wouldn't go on with George, so they made the call and kicked George out of the band. They replaced him with Texan Mike Malinin.
The Goo Goo Dolls' big break came in 1996, when a ballad off their fifth album "A Boy Named Goo" started getting major airplay. It was called "Name," and it catapulted them into the spotlight. They had never been able to sell more than 100,000 copies of any album, but "A Boy Named Goo" was reaching the 2,000,000 mark. However, instead of getting support from loyal Goo Goo Dolls fans, John was labeled a sell-out for writing a mainstream song. "I knew I was gonna get shit for it, and I did," he says. He began to doubt himself as a songwriter.
Soon an even bigger catastrophe happened. After their "A Boy Named Goo" tour, they recieved their royalty statement from Metal Blade records, telling them that they did not make lots of money as they had hoped, but owed the record company $115,000 for exspenses incurred on their behalf. "We saved out nickels," John says. They toured nonstop, even playing "the pig races." Afterwards, John took an indefinte leave of absence from the band.
John and Robby moved to New York City to try to write for their sixth album. However, John developed a bad case of writers' block. Robby tried to motivate him, but was unsuccessful. "The funny thing about writers' block, see," John explains, "is that you write the whole time. You just think everything sucks." And John did just that. He had brought "Slide," "Black Balloon," and "Broadway," to Robby, telling him that they indeed sucked, when they ended up becoming the heart of the next album. "We had our record," says Robby. "But John wasn't convinced."
In January 1998, John recieved a phone call from his manager. He was asked to write a song for the movie "City of Angels." After seeing the movie, he wrote the ballad "Iris" in one hour. It immediately became a hit, rising to #1 on the Billboard charts. About its name, John says that he saw the name Iris Dement (a country singer) in a magazine and thought it was a beautiful name. He doesn't know her, but named the song after her because he just liked the name. The song "Iris" put a stop to the doubts he had about himself and silenced the critics that called him a sell-out for writing "Name." It also put an end to his writers' block. John had completed a thought, finally, and was really happy about that. Recently, "Iris" has been named the most-played song in the history of recorded music.
On September 22, 1998, the Goo Goo Dolls released their sixth album, "Dizzy Up the Girl." "Iris" was included on it since it fit in with the other songs. It propelled the album to double-platinum status, and it has now been certified triple-platinum. The album's first single, "Slide," also became a #1 hit and stayed on the Billboard charts for the best part of a year. It has only been uphill since then with singles "Dizzy" and "Black Balloon." All together, all the spins from "Dizzy Up the Girl" add up to over 1 million spins and over 7 years of songs.