Rock Of Ages is and isn’t what it seems.
It’s of a time, so it isn’t ageless.
It’s of a place, so it isn’t transcendent.
Yet it is filled with songs that, 40 years later, are still well-loved and remembered; therefore ageless.
Rock Of Ages is both a film and a theatrical musical. As theatre, it is being mounted by Renegade Productions at Vancouver’s Metro Theatre, June 27-July 6. Neither the film, which has Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones ,or the play were a hit seven years ago, but with the phenomenal success of Bohemian Rhapsody and, now, Rocketman, maybe Rock Of Ages will live up to its title and be reappraised.
That’s not why Jim Buckshon is revisiting it, however. Timeliness aside, Rock Of Ages is consistent with all Renegade Productions’ various pursuits as an independent label that has compiled Vancouver bar bands of the 70s-80s to Buckshon’s own group, Renegade, for which Buckshon is the main writer and producer and which is rooted in 80s mainstream rock, to musicals such as Hair , Tommy and Rent. Rock Of Ages is rooted in an era Buckshon knows well and which profoundly influences his own music.
“I like to produce theatre that is based around music, and music that typifies an era”‘ he says. “I’m finding I’m most knowledgeable about the various eras in my life -Hair from the 60’s, Tommy from the 70’s, Rent from the 90’s.We were looking for a show from the 80’s and came across Rock of Ages.”
The 2012 film has serious flaws. It is set in a Los Angeles club, the Bourbon Room, on a Sunset Strip that was awash in drugs, notably cocaine. By the end of the film, an aspiring star is a successful rapper in a boy band. The movie doesn’t even allude to drug use – the culprit is booze. Somehow Rock Of Ages skips over grunge, which wiped the slate of the film’s many hair farmers and made lycra a bad name and, by making a white rapper an idol, jumps10 years out of time. The sex scenes are tame veering to silly and Cruise ‘s rock god, Stacee Jaxx, is laughably over-the-top, which might be the point.
Still, it’s entertaining. Zeta-Jones probably is patterned after Tipper Gore in her crusade to close the Bourbon and purge the wolrd of people like Stacee Jaxx. It’s apparent, though, that the real star is the music.
” I had initially imagined Rock of Ages to be more serious, reflecting the seriousness of that time,” Bukshon remembers. Well he should. He came up through glam and punk and was in a series of bands that played the hits of the time as well as country. “Bands were trying hard to make it, layering more instruments upon instruments and vocals upon vocals. The clubs were full of these dreamers, fueling this voyage with cocaine and alcohol and augmenting it with some pretty manipulative actions towards women. The play doesn’t really portray the drug use and ridicules the would be rock stars, but it has the music and that is our focus and how we are trying to interpret it.,
” The songs of the 80’s were by and large serious expressions of the musicians and appreciated as such by the club goers and radio listeners of the times. The writers of Rock of Ages make fun of the characters through the songs; as a parody. But that’s fine, we still have the songs and the look and the messages of the 80’s, and this comes through regardless.
In various forms are hits by Def Leppard, Journey, Quarterflash, Poison, Foreigner, Guns N’ Roses, Pat Benatar, Whitesnake and many other stars of the era.
“The songs in Rock of Ages remain the huge rock songs and ballads they always were. The arrangement of the songs in the musical score has many male vocals switched for females, some of the arrangements are very short and some modulate. But the songs are the songs.”
And that is an indictment of the music industry, its fickleness and lemming-like behaviour
The industry never will be lauded for its vision. It reacts; it doesn’t create. It survives, though it’s almost unrecognizable.
After the escapism of the era depicted by Rock Of Ages, there was the anti-style seriousness of Seattle-based grunge, which enabled many bands, few of whom actually were from Seattle, to get record deals. Then, a few years later, Canada’s Maritimes stole attention.
With each move, the fan of the rock that fills Rock Of Ages was left further and further behind, wondering huh, what happened, where’s my music? Yet those fans still want it.
Def Leppard is filling arenas just as it did at one time. Journey has toured with Loverboy and Night Ranger, drawing 10,000 supporters to Vancouver’s Rogers Place.
In the popular media, Journey is deader than a cold mackerel. To those who grew up listening to them, it is the rock of ages.