The movie version of “Rock of Ages” somehow managed to miss the point of the decade in which its story is set. The Broadway musical on which the movie is based does not, and is much more fun.
This slideshow, which I think is excerpted from a parodistic book about how to become a rock star in the 80s, makes my point quite well. Hair bands weren’t about “the music” so much as they were about being rock stars. That doesn’t mean none of the musicians were talented (many were), or even that the songs were lousy (some hold up well today, some don’t). Things were more innocent back then, and we didn’t live in an echo chamber of amateur and professional criticism (aka The Interwebs) the way we do now. “Don’t Need Nothin’ But a Good Time” was more than a song, it was a mantra. It was L.A. at its most L.A.-ness. It was trashed hotel rooms. Hell, for awhile it was even pre-AIDS. It was a time when people actually thought a group of semi-disparate major label artists coming together to record a song for charity was a big, big deal.
That’s why Hardcore and Punk were what I preferred to listen to back then. I was pissed off and so were the bands I liked (Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, mostly Black Flag). The metal I enjoyed was on the heavy side. Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” was and is one of the greatest albums ever, regardless of musical style. I think conventional wisdom holds that Metallica’s Black Album is better, but not for me. I also listened to rap; Public Enemy, Slick Rick, and of course Run DMC. For whatever reason those cassettes (and they were cassettes) fit naturally into my collection. And Frank Zappa. James Taylor. Paul Simon. I had a lot of tapes. But no hair metal. It was, and is, soulless music that preached the virtues of not having virtue, of seeking and finding good times everywhere.
80s Rock Stardom was often silly and as an angry kid I didn’t get it. I mocked it. I ignored it. Now that I’m older and the 80s are firmly established as nostalgia, I found the Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” to be nothing but a good time. There is a character named Sherrie, who is a small town girl on a midnight train. She’s a singer in a smoky room. And so on. The show makes for a very entertaining evening. It’s not deep, which makes sense because neither is the source material.
The movie somehow missed this, which is odd because (a) it’s obvious and (b) the musical gets it. By adding story lines for two stars, Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones, they attempt to add meat to a bone that can’t support its weight. Ms. Zeta-Jones is meant to be playing a version of Tipper Gore, crusading against the immorality of rock and roll. Except that she’s really playing Sarah Palin, who didn’t exist in the 80s. Cruise’s character, rock star Stacie Jaxx, is chastised by a Rolling Stone interviewer because he used to write great songs and now his life is no longer “about the music”, he’s just going through the motions of being a rock star. Except that being a rock star was at least as important as the music, sometimes more so. For some bands, stardom was all they had. The songs just weren’t that good.
This HuffPo blog post/slideshow promoting a new book, “Steel Rainbow: The Legendary Underground Guide to Becoming an ’80s Rock Star” by Jordan Hart, manages to make my point without meaning to. Thanks man. Rock on.