I’ve been writing about rock music pretty much my whole life. Let’s say 40 years and leave it at that. The best movie ever about the rock life, and certainly the most honest and accurate? Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous.” There isn’t a false note in it.
The worst? Even worse than that Russell Brand movie, “Get Me to the Greek”? Denis Leary’s new FX show “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” There’s barely a real note in it, starting with the show not using the original, real punk rock song it’s based on as a theme– Ian Dury’s classic and memorable “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” This is where the title comes from for the TV show. But I guess it was more important for Leary and co. to write their own song, and collect the royalties.
So strike one.
Leary plays a washed up rock singer called Johnny Rock who insists he’s 50 (he’s 58 in real life). He had a band called the Heathens. It’s unclear if they ever had a hit or not, or whether the band was briefly successful at all. It’s also unclear what Johnny’s been doing for years and years. Has he been walking around dressed like a 70s rocker for 40 years? Or working at Bleecker Bob’s Record Store in the Village?
His former Heathens bandmate, “Flash” (think Slash) is played by John Corbett. They’re supposed to be a Steven Tyler-Joe Perry combination estranged for some time. Flash is now playing in Lady Gaga’s band and considered a great success. (Haha. Can you name in anyone in Gaga’s real life band? No. But on this show, Flash is consequently a “star.” Ok, why not?)
Unlike Leary, Corbett is actually a musician in real life. That helps since it’s a music show. But music is not the strong suit of this show. It’s kind of generic rock, circa 1985, and not often heard on the show. You almost don’t want to hear it, because you know that the standard here is somewhere between Quarterflash and Poison. (You may wince here.)
Into Johnny Rock’s sort of miserable life comes a 25 year old illegitimate daughter named Gigi, the product of an old fling. She wants to be a rocker and has a salty lexicon– she curses like a sailor. But she can’t write songs, so she’s moved to New York from Peoria to get Johnny and Flash to write her hits– even though they haven’t had hits. (It’s amazing they never had one–even REO Speedwagon had hits.)
If this show were set in 1985, you might believe it. But I can’t think of a young female singer in 2015 who would come to New York in search of wrinkled, pickled ne’er do well rockers to help her make it in the business. It makes no sense. And Gigi is also arriving in a music business that has no black people. Because Leary’s idea of rock is totally circa 1985– hair bands. It makes no concession to the massive changes in the business. Where are the rappers, samplers, hip hoppers, producers etc? Gigi aspires to be Pat Benatar or the Wilson sisters, not Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. The show should been set in 1990.
Meanwhile Johnny Rock sports a Linda McCartney haircut from the 70s. I am not sure what they were going for here. If Johnny Rock really existed, he’d have long given up the music business because it gave him up. He’s sort of like the “Encino Man” of rock music.
I watched five episodes. I have no idea why Gigi is considered a rock star. Like Johnny, she talks and talks and talks. Her singing is average and she looks ok, but nothing special. At 25, she’s also a little long in the tooth to be just starting out, also a little old to be now looking for her father. If she were 18, you might buy it. The one concession to 2015 is that Gigi is constantly on her phone discussing her “followers” and things that have gone “viral.” (She sounds like a grandmother when she talks like this, too.)
Denis Leary knew a lot, I guess, about firemen. That’s why “Rescue Me” worked. He doesn’t know much about rock or the life around it. The show’s consultant is Greg Dulli, of the Afghan Whigs. Who? Exactly. Johnny keeps going on and on about the Afghan Whigs. This was a very obscure group (1986-2001) that never had a hit, just a small cult following. Really small. I actually burst out laughing every time their name was invoked as a measure of success. ( On the imdb, Episode 1 is described “While watching a sold out Afghan Whigs reunion show leads Johnny to try and get his old band back together.” A sold out Afghan Whigs show? In your dreams.)
Mostly, “Sex and Drugs”– as it drags on and on– wraps itself in a very shmaltzy father-daughter blanket. Gigi doesn’t know Johnny and he didn’t know she existed, but she’s immediately calling him “Dad.” The episodes start to take on a Father Knows Best feel. I thought he was almost going to call her “kitten” or “princess.” The point is supposed to be rock bands are like a family, and with Johnny’s new daughter, it’s all covered in a warm family fuzzy glow. But really? Yikes.
And there are logistical things you start to wonder about: Gigi’s mother gave her $200,000 to come to New York and find her bliss? WTF? And also, Gigi’s mom never told Johnny she’d had a kid? This was born in 1990, not 1950. So the mother was rich? So rich that she didn’t want her kid to know her father?
No, I really didn’t like “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” and I don’t want to hear about it again. I am hopeful that the Mick Jagger produced HBO show written by Terry Winter, set in the 70s, is great. I still have high hopes for Cameron Crowe’s “Roadies.” But really, this was not very convincing and sort of painful.