Yeah these listicles pop up all over the web, RocknRoll Biopics that need to be made. Who would you choose the usual suspects? The Who, Mick Jagger, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Guns n Roses, Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Real surprise?, nope. A mix of bands, lived through excess, sex and drugs and rock and roll, where myth, mystery, and music, mix in heady swirl of coke, champagne and sex. One for the road, one for the roadie, and two for the singer. Really are these rock bands, stars, lives THAT interesting? Ok they gorged on success, devoured excess, they had moments of doubt and rage, they had consciousness, organised Concerts for Bangladesh, inspired Rock Against Racism, fed the world through Band Aid, and all the rest of worthy works, But the list(s), all too often it’s excess that seems to be key, sorta “rock and roll I gave you the best years of my life” meets “You gotta fight - - for your right to - - paaa- - tee – yyy .” Looks to me like people want to have a high class sex and drugs display, or a clean the reputation, or a homage to a treasured artist.
Many of those artists have been lauded, documented, purportedly misrepresented, seen excesses celebrated. Out there, YouTubed, iPlayed, steamed and beamed coast to coast. Do we really need a high gloss, PR presentation, of white Rock and Rollers? If we do then why these, strikes me, what’s desired is some sort of a ‘Spinal Tap’ for a real band. Sadly, reality is rarely as good as fiction in this rock and roll world.
Therein lies BioPic’s problem, it’s been done, with a fake band, and real life is UNLIKELY to imitate art, so why the obsession with another remake of what’s out there. It’s better in the pages of biographies, no matter how trashy, or half baked, or half true, there’s the imagination of life. Isn’t the beauty of music stars, bands, performers’ lives real or imagined? The myths, did Keith Moon drive a Rolls Royce into a Pool, did Alice Cooper really bite the head off a live chicken, or did Robert Johnston deal with the Devil at a Louisiana crossroads? Who cares, truth, lies - great stories all. Do we really want to see these and other rock myths, denied, exposed as fakes, or revealed a vile excess.
The stories of sex abuse, as the stories of bands and female groupies, can only be seen as, spread across a screen in a weird, wired, wild, wrap around CGI cinematic fantasy, aren’t these best lest to the imagination. The only benefit can be a warning that sexual exploitation has been and maybe continues to be part of Rock, and musics dark nasty secret that will not be part of a biopic, too much risk of legal action from victims. When will rock’s me too movement be given its due or is in the UK at least catching a few radio DJs at it, going to be the sum of it?
But more than this there’s couple of things that bother me about the select few that are considered worthy of a biopic, it’s the grounds for selection, is it artistic value, raucous life, rancorous relationships, great music, struggles to get the top, life and love when bands ascend the Rock and Roll pinnacle? The road to the top strikes me as all too familiar… Different schools, cities, bars and hotels, but the same road. Reminds me of reality TV, those documentaries that spawn like Japanese knotweed across Freeview. Someone delivers something from one small place to another in a huge lorry that’s hard to manoeuvre, someone runs a business badly, an expert provides advice, there are rows, acceptance and success. After a while you just don’t care about any of them.
Rock biographies generally read like ledgers. The plot is so often the same. The band forms, plays dingy pubs (gritty vhs transferred to digital), sign rip off contract, tour hard, play hard, develop drug habit, develop hard drug habit, split, sack members, hire new ones and put them in the costume, sell out stadia, platinum albums, smash hotel rooms, demand strange riders, fast cars, fast women, fast living, generally behave like spoilt brats, and treat poorly paid, poor desperate for work souls like something on the soles of their shoes. Then big tours, big country piles and big divorce settlements, bloated out compliancy, loose insight into song writing, loose desire to write great music, and then either collapse into the venues they played 30 years ago, or stadium rock their way through their greatest hits, almost what Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin described as “becoming his own tribute act” . Although to be fair to Robert Plant, playing with his mates at the local leisure centre as he does now in the Black Country is not the denouement to a typical rock biography then he was a typical rock god anyway.
I suppose the Biopic is the final step in that long and winding road that leads from Liverpool Docks to the Hollywood Bowl, all the ups and downs, all the failures and people lost along the way. The highlights and the Low Lights, the success, and excess, would the pictures show us members real passions, Rod Stewart’s fantastic looking model railways, Jack White - Taxidermy, Roger Daltry – Trout breeding, I doubt it, but that’s them as humans, not Rock stars. But is that a BoiPic in the making nah, no way, most want success, excess, and confirmation of known staging posts.
But I’d be more interested in the stories of the surviving, or not. Bands struggling to be a success, you may know, or can imagine who I mean, released a couple of albums in the 70’s had a successful tour, then part-time music, homes in small towns, middle England. Discovered in Eastern Europe in the mid 80s, tours, then back to small town, home town, make a living playing in sessions, backing bands. Revival for a couple of years in the 2000’s, and now part of a 70’s six band tour, how do they cope with ups and downs, the reigniting of hope and then dashed again, as fashion and taste move on.
I’d want to see them age with dignity, respect and appreciation of how lucky they are, one lucky revival in the 80s missed, and it’d be jobs in a warehouse, as a gravedigger, handyman at a in old people’s home, you get the idea (both of these are true live rock and roll tales). The beauty here would be the almost normality of the travels, trials and survivals. I know there are 70’s bands still at it now, Some, I am fairly certain never ever stopped believing, Nazareth, come to mind, others I’ve seen in the 70’s lost track off, never bothered to keep track off and just seen tour posters, Camel come to mind. What have FIVE decades been like, how have their families survived and what do their grand-children think about grand-dad as a rock star?
I’m sure we’ve all read and smiled at the stories of the men and women who left a band before fame and fortune struck, and reflected on their rashness. But perhaps it’s more interesting, and insightful to hear their stories, and counterpoise with the excess, the mental health issue avoided. A rejoicing in normality, occasional hash smokes, a few lines of coke in a lifetime, their celebration of a normal life and perhaps the balance between contentment and emptiness. it’s all too easy to envy the supposed delights of rock and roll wealth, and not hear the people who turned down that life. After all their lives are in many ways our lives, and perhaps we all need to celebrate our own lives, and remember the grass is NOT always greener.
So let’s have a biopic of the unsung, those who have made an average living for their art, of those who’ve flown high, fallen, stumbled in dirt and mud and survived. PAYE’d, mortgaged in small houses, small towned, small royalties, normal lives, possibly over the street from, or in the flat beneath you and your family. It’s the struggles and tribulations and human memories, more than rock star fantasies, that matter. After all, do we want to see dead stars portrayed badly, or overlooked bad boy lives, or even bleached out cleanliness? I think not. Let’s have a story, albeit fictional, that’s a reflection of success and failure in the Rock and Roll Circus of life. I think we need to see these stories as more life in Bearwood, not Hollywood, see them as rock and roll and dole, not “a new car, caviar, four star daydream,” and definitely not as “think I’ll buy me a football team”
These stories would be far better a story of struggle and survival, facing adversity, and fashion prejudice, rock and roll, it’s not all happy families and Lear jets, but these stories? A parable of our times.