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Danko Jones Headshot

Rock 'n' Roll Movies Never Turn Out Quite Right

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Have you seen the film Rock Of Ages starring Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Juliana Hough?

It's the hackneyed story of a singer from the country trying to make it in the big city against a backdrop of the '80s Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. It might've been a smash on Broadway, but cinematically it's a miserable failure. The fact there wasn't more of a stink when it was released says a lot about how we as a culture have come to mechanically accept total shit. And when I describe this film as total shit, I mean it's such a bowel movement of a movie that even copious amounts of Imodium and Pepto Bismol would be ineffective combating it.

Watching Tom Cruise, who's probably more into soft rock, try to bluff his way through his misguided idea of how a guy in a hard rock band behaves was hysterical and cringe-worthy. It was another reminder that when Hollywood tries to take on rock 'n' roll the results are so off-the-mark that no matter how earnest the intent it usually ends up in the category of farce.

Aside from 1983's true-to-life dramedy, This Is Spinal Tap and the impeccable WKRP episode "Hoodlum Rock" that featured the band moonlighting as "Scum Of The Earth," complete with singer Michael Des Barres as Sir Charles "Dog" Weatherbee, Hollywood's fascination with rock 'n' roll has resulted in a ticker tape parade of delusional, buffoonish caricature: Donny Most as Moloch from an episode of Chips called "Rock Devil Rock," Matt Dillon as Cliff Poucier of Citizen Dick in Singles, Lea Thompson as Beverly Switzler of Cherry Bomb in Howard The Duck, John Stamos as Jesse Katsopolis of Jesse & The Rippers in Full House and, of course, Paul Rudd as Pete, a failed record label executive in This Is 40.

Then there's off-screen, real-life Hollywood. Rock 'n' roll in the hands of self-indulgent celebrity nitwits is so wondrously deluded it's yielded such comedy as Billy Bob Thornton's odd decision to sing, Tina Yothers' band Jaded and the Motown record "The Return Of Bruno" by Bruce Willis. Personally, I enjoy these sad attempts the way I enjoy a (late period) George Carlin record or when someone accidentally farts in public.

Not everyone gets it wrong, though.

The most accurate Hollywood portrayal of a rock band happened only once back in 1985 on a short-lived NBC sitcom called "It's Your Move" starring Jason Bateman as the proto-Ferris Bueller, wise-cracking, scheming Matthew Burton. To my utter dismay, the show only lasted one season but the two-part episode titled "Dregs Of Humanity" made it the most talked about show for a month amongst my chums and I.

As school dance organizer, Burton is entrusted to hire rock band Morning Breath, but his friend Eli loses the school money set aside. In a desperate attempt to save face, Burton (Bateman) hatches a plan to dress up their science class skeletons in robes and call them The Dregs Of Humanity getting Eli to act as puppeteer in an elaborate hoax on the school body while blaring music through the sound system. His ruse works and soon The Dregs are the hottest ticket in the country with a looming Palladium show and Rolling Stone cover.

How many times, from behind the curtain, have I seen this scenario played out in real life, where glorified marionettes with guitars are directed, steered and maneuvered to their puppeteer's preference (i.e. managers, producers, record execs) like some G.I. Joe dolls? How many times have I been privy to a desperate band selling everything in a 360 record deal just to get a brief taste of fame like a sock puppet with a hand wedged completely up their collective ass? How many times have I been acquainted with the non-conformist troubadour, entrusted role-model, steadfast in their ideals only to find out they brown-nosed their way to the middle and moonlight as creepy unsolicited phone sexters?

Knowing what I know now, I might not have never have been so easily taken by the schmaltzy fanfare that is rock 'n' roll. After all, these were dreams hatched when I was 11 years old clutching my Van Halen albums. And sometimes I do feel David Lee Roth, like some boozy pied piper, led me down a rock 'n' roll river made of tinsel every time he said "jump."

Perhaps if I had only taken a step back I would've seen the forest from the trees. Perhaps this would've allowed for a bit more rumination instead of "jumping" head first into the rock 'n' roll deep end. Perhaps I would've discovered a love for the softer seats and smooth jazz rather than being slavishly devoted to the invisible sounds of kick, snare and guitar fuzz.

Perhaps. But most likely not. Despite my witness to the rampant backstage sleight-of-hands, shortcuts and swindling, it's too late to look back. Against my better judgement and simply by default, I'm a Dreg for life, too.