It took a few months but I finally saw the film Rock Of Ages.
Rock Of Ages is a rock musical starring Tom Cruise as a decadent rock star and features covers of songs by Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar. The place is Hollywood, the time is 1987, but this could be any place or time since the incursion of rock and roll in the 1950s – a conservative group led by Catherine Zeta-Jones wants to shut down a barely surviving club (run by Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin) because it’s a rallying point for morally destitute youth in the thrall of the Cruise character. Remarkably, drugs aren’t even mentioned, which makes L.A. 1987 a kind of Neverland. All the twists and turns get straightened out; villains exposed, wrongs righted, and rock prevails. As a plot, it’s one long cliche but does speak to the power of rock and roll, the rock of ages.
It’s a weird speech, though.
I wish I’d seen the film before reviewing a Journey, Loverboy and Night Ranger concert in early December. There were 9500 people at Rogers, which is impressive for bands whose best years were 25 years ago, or the time of Rock Of Ages. Most of the people I talked to before the show couldn’t tell me much about the bands,. The most they knew about Night Ranger, for example, was that it recorded Sister Christian, which, significantly, is the first song covered in the film. A woman volunteered that she didn’t care who was in Journey now; she was there for the songs.
Ah, the songs.
This was a reminder that most of these bands were dismissed by the media as faceless. Interchangeable examples of corporate rock. Yet those bands were enormously popular, people bought the records and nostalgically still attend the concerts. They might not be familiar with who is in the bands but they know the songs. Even I knew the songs, and didn’t like them originally, dismissing them as peurile but evidently not understanding the truth the fans saw in the lyrics. The media underestimated their lasting power and impact.
There is a moment in the film that anticipates the future – rap and pop- and declares that rock is dead. Again? The trend to hip hop is some years away so the movie has jumped the gun there. What actually buried this rock was another kind of rock – grunge – led by Nirvana and Pearl Jam – but the point is that the industry moved on to what it perceived as the next thing and ignored the wants and needs of the public that evidently still craved rock. Still wanted those songs, even if the people who made them were faceless.
Rock Of Ages captures a transcendent time. It alludes to Tipper Gore with her Parents Music Resource Centre and the decadent, self-absorbed lifestyle of Motley Crue and especially Guns N’Roses’ Axl Rose. Chain record stores are still in business. Cassettes still exist. Mobile phones are big. As is hair.
If I’d seen the movie first, I would have gone to the Journey, Loverboy, Night Ranger concert with a different appreciation. It wasn’t really about the bands. It was about their songs. It was the rock of the age. And it still is.