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I Boycott Rock of Ages Sunday, June 17, 2012 09:06 AM
Well, this is a qualified critique because I admin I haven't seen either the stage play or film - even though as a long standing Tom Cruse fan, so I'm interested in hearing how he handled his vocals and role.  I can't think of any part he's ever done where he didn't give it everything he had, particularly on films like The Last Samurai or for that matter Tropic Thunder.

I've been a fan of his since Taps and All the Right Moves before his breakout films Risky Business and Top Gun.  I tolerated Cocktail and even his Top Gun on a racetrack movie Days of Thunder.

But I'm not going to see Rock of Ages, I'm boycotting it.

And the reason is that even though I'm a big Tom Cruse fan, I'm a bigger fan of Rock Music and what Rock of Ages does is precisely what had been what's wrong with rock and the music industry for a long, long time.
Now, I don't have a problem with the songs they use in the play or film.  Not specifically. I like most of those songs and I clearly realize this is deliberately created to showcase those songs and not be a story with any real depth or perspective that reflects what really did happen in the world of Rock during the 80's.

I understand that, I just don't like it.

I understand that this is about nostalgia, and for those people who want to hear those songs again that's fine, their not going to agree with me or care really. Most of them weren't there, on Sunset Strip in the 80s, playing the clubs, with friends who played Whiskey or the Roxy.  My wife played at Gazzarri's,whlie it was still standing multiple times in her own band years before we even met. I used to regularly go to shows at the Coconut Teaser, which used to be the Starwood where Van Halen was first discovered by Gene Simmons of KISS. I used to hang out regularly at the Rainbow - they had, and still have, great Italian food.  It's the only restaurant I know that has the walls lined with portraits of Rock Guitarists.

This wasn't a myth, or a fantasy to me - it was all real. And when you contrast this story with the reality of what happened, it's a complete and total failure.

Unlike the play, which features two German characters as the primary heavies - the film does at least touch on the backlash against Rock that occurred during that time from politicians and the Religious Right. Another plot line, which in the film and the play is that the young protagonist Drew working in a bar trying to get a break for his band, meets a young girl, Sharon, whose just arrived from the midwest after she's just been robbed and is looking to start a singing career.  Drew gets her a job at the bar and they begin a romance.

The bar Drew works in, the Bourbon Room, is running into financial troubles and they arrange to get a well known  band that got their start at their called Arsenal to do a farewell show before their charismatic and infamous lead singer Stacey Jaxx goes solo.

All of this is fine and good and from here the hi-jinks do ensue.  Basically you the plot the Blues Brothers - without the "Mission from God" and half the musicals that Mickey Rooney ever did.  "We need put on a BIG SHOW to save the Church".  Yeah, ok.  Eventually Drew does get his shot, and does get noticed and offered a record deal only to have to struggle with the record label that wants to turn him into a Boy Band Act like N*Sync or Backstreet Boys, and it's on sections like this that the film and the play just completely loses it for me.

That's not what happened.  That didn't happen to anyone, not really. Well, ok - I can think of one singular example.

There's swedish rocker Max Martin who never actually went anywhere as an artist himself, but as a composer and producer working with Bon Jovi, eventually became best known as the main musical engine behind Britney Spears. He's also worked with Celine Dion, Ace of Base, Backstreet, N*Sync and John Tesh. If you saw Max Martin on the street would you even know him? Doubt it. But you've definitely heard his work.

That's one. The only one. For most others though the story was different.

For example there's Michael Bolton, who was originally a Rock Artist with a band called Blackjack.  The guitar player in that band was Bruce Kulick, who ultimately played for KISS.

Michael Bolton

But he didn't get turned into Backstreet Boys, he got turned into a balladier. Another example of what Rock of Ages would suggests the labels would do to Drew is what really happened to Richard Marx.

Richard Marx

Richard was a promising middle-of-the-road Rock Artist whose first break out single "Don't Mean Nothin'" has a great Eagles vibe (since most of the Eagles had been in the studio with him recording it), but his big hits were songs like "Hold On to the Night".  Ballads.  He eventually did write Rock songs for other groups like Vixen, but his entire career from that point forward became all about the ballads not about the Rock Songs.

That's what they do to ya, they beat the Rock out of you to make Ballad juice.

But neither of these artists have songs in this show.  Instead they use songs by Styx, but not so ironically, that happens to be a band that went through exactly what Bolton and Marx went through. Again, they were a raucous Rock Band until their keyboardist Dennis DeYoung brought the song "Babe" to the band.

It was a Power Ballad, and it completely shifted their career in an entirely new direction.  Yes, they had a hit - but now the label wanted more of that and less of the Rock.  The fans they gained from Pop radio with "Babe" weren't fans of the rest of what they did. This conflict is what ultimately led to the breakup of the band..

The same thing happened with REO Speedwagon.  The same thing happened with Journey, who originally were a heavy, hard rocking progressive band - but then turned into a a group that largely churned out guess what?

Power Ballads.

Even Motley Crue eventually did a Power Ballad - "Home Sweet Home". One of biggest hits they ever had.

So the argument that Drew would get twisted by the industry into Max Martin isn't likely. The irony and the total failure of Rock of Ages is that in reality Drew would get pushed by the industry into writing and performing EXACTLY THE SONGS THAT ARE IN THIS SHOW!

Such as Nightranger's "Sister Christian", Foreigner's "Waiting for Girl Like You", Extreme's "More Than Words", Mr ig's "To Be With You", Poison's "Every Rose has a Thorn", REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight this Feeling", Warrant's "Heaven" and probably the ultimate 80's Rock Power Ballad Bon Jovi's "Wanted, Dead or Alive".

As a fan of all those bands, this pisses me off.  "Heaven"? Really? "HEAVEN"? Not "I Saw Red"? Not "Uncle Tom's Cabin"?  Not "Machine Gun"? It's like they went out of their way like a wild pinball machine ball to miss each and  every really great powerful song that Warrant, or frankly most of those bands ever did to go straight for Power Ballad Smarm, that in many cases they didn't even write themselves.

Do people even realize how badly "More Than Words' fucked up Extreme, or "To Be with you" messed up Mr. Big?

I mean, I'm not knocking these songs and clearly there are a lots more tunes in the show like "Juke Box Hero", 'I Wanna Rock" and "Paradise City" that are more upbeat and rock harder.  I just think it shows a lack of understanding by the people that put together this project that they had a the biggest conflict of the time for rock artists staring them in the face and they didn't even recognize it.

They had to make Pop Bands like Backstreet, who didn't even show up until the 90's, into the bad guys when the real bad guys - who diluted the music and broke up most of those bands with pressure to put another yet another watered down, smarmy ballad just like the last one - are right in front of you.

And the truth is that once you got to the later 80's and early 90's, the thing that the record labels were trying to turn those bands into wasn't Backstreet anymore - it was Nirvana and Candlebox. I know, I saw it first hand, but making the idea of fighting back against your label trying to turn you into Grunge to pad their profits would create a entirely different kind of response from the audience.

Even with the addition of the PMRC-ish angle to the film version the only artist who was actually threatened with being shut down by them who has songs featured in Rock of Ages is Twisted Sister.  And in their case the issue wasn't really the song so much, it was for their Roadrunner Cartoon Style Videos, which the PMRC called "Violent'

Yeah, ok, we really are going to drop his anvil on your head. Now smile. BONK!.

Only one song by Twisted Sister "We're not gonna take it"  was included in the PMRC's "Filthy Fifteen". and is used by Rock of Ages in confrontation with the Evanglicals. They get half-a-point me on that, at least it's appropriate.

But that's all. In this show there's no Ozzy.  There's no W,A,S,P. No Merciful Fate. No AC/DC. No Venom. No Motley Crue. No Black Sabbath. No Judas Priest. All of these bands who were on the Filthy Fifteen, but reflect the true Sunset Strip far more than Styx who are from Chicago, or Journey who were from the Bay Area.  Ozzy discovered Randy Rhodes while he was at the Starwood playing with Quiet Riot.

There's actually a lot of depth and truth's that could have been explored in the conflict between free speech and what's appropriate for the Government to help parents protect their kids.  But not in this project, it's just an excuse for a trip down nostalgia lane without a map, compass or GPS.

I understand that no one expects Shakespear or Milton or Tarantino or Scorcese level work in a "Feel Good" Broadway Musical.  I understand that most people who don't really recognize the difference between what Pat Benatar was saying with "Hit me with your Best Shot" and what she went through as a woman pioneering her way through Rock on the power of her opera trained voice and Quarterflash's 'Harden My Heart" - are not gonna get it.  People who don't realize how gender bias coupled with body image issues and yet again, the voracious maw screaming for MORE Power Ballads effectively ended Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart's career in the 80's and even threatened their health.  People who don't remember Randy Rhodes died in a plane crash after just one record with Ozzy.  That Def Leppard's drummer lost his arm in a car accident and still kept playing in the band.  That don't remember Vince Neil going to jail for the accident that killed Razzle from Hanoi Rocks.  All the times that Tommy Lee was in and out of jail, and eventually lost his kids to Kid Rock.

But 80's Rock deserves that treatment.  It deserves better.  Those people, some of them are still friends of mine, deserve better.

It didn't deserve what they did in the movie Rock Star, where they turned Rob Halford into the Riverdance Guy simply because he came out as gay finally. I mean really, how cluelessly fucked up is that?

People who go to this film and play and think they're getting anything more than a middle-of the road  American-Idolized Karoake Theater show are deeply deluded.

I want to hear what Tom Cruse sounds like, but I know damn well he's not as good as Jon Bon Jovi.  I heard and saw Jon Bon Jovi at Irvine Meadows in 1986.  And he damn sure isn't Axl Rose either. Constantine from American Idol might be a fine pop singer, but he's not as good as the late Jani Lane. Sorry, he's not there. Some of these guys like Julliana Hough are good, and in the film they have Mary J. Blige for good measure, but their missing the real story in my opinion   They're missing the real heart of what drove that period, and drove that music.  It's just a dress up show to them.

Someone needs to tell that story.  In fact, I've already started trying.  I'm serializing it first on a blog called the SandTiger Chronicles. Not Tarantino, not Scorcese yet.  But I'm gonna try.




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