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Every Hair Band Sings the Same Sad Song; Every Rose Has Its Korn

music critique by Matthew Webber

Author's note: The following critique gives away the ending of the discussed film.

In the recent film, VH1's Behind the Music, Marky Mark starred as "John Corabi," the fictional lead singer of a fictional '80s metal band named "Scream," whom "Motley Crue" bassist and songwriter "Nikki Sixx" invited into his band to replace "Vince Neil" for their Motley Crue album.

Well, Marky Mark ingested a pharmacopoeia, "made love" to "nice, church-going girls," dumped and forgot about "Rachel from Friends," was replaced by Vince Neil for the band's Generation Swine album, sliced his coiffure (like Samson or Bon Jovi), donned a grungy sweater and performed original un-grungy songs at "Starbucks," much like the living member of Milli Vanilli.

Supposedly, the film is based on the true story of Sammy Hagar, who was pulled onstage by David Lee Roth during a 1984 Van Halen arena tour stop, only to pull former Extreme lead singer, Gary Cherone, onstage during a 1998 backyard performance at little Benjamin Stern's bar mitzvah.

Actually, I'm lying. It was really about that dude from Dokken.

As a film, Rock Star failed to paint in more than two dimensions. Jennifer Aniston's small town girlfriend/manager character was a stereotyped hybrid of every small town girlfriend/manager character and Rachel from Friends. We'd all already seen Marky Mark's character's meteoric rise to superstardom on every Behind the Music from Vanilla Ice to Chris Gaines.

A montage sequence of newspaper and magazine clippings and television appearances that was supposed to encapsulate months of the fictional band's touring and recording served only to remind us viewers that we had no idea how the fans reacted to the former "Good Vibrations" rapper's fronting their favorite hair band.

Which partially explains why I loved this movie (aside from its Aqua Net kitsch): As popular culture commentary, this film radiated brilliance! [1]

In this film, all it took was one bloody fall down a flight of steel stairs during a concert for Marky Mark to convert the new Steel Dragon haters into fans. However, in the non-film world, whenever a rock band changes lead singers, the blacklighted posters of hell on the walls of teenage boys' bedrooms freeze over.

Case studies:

A) John Corabi? The first, last, and only lead singer of Motley Crue anybody remembers is Vince Neil.

The band's greatest hits CD conspicuously contains no Corabi material.

B) Sammy Hagar or David Lee Roth? The debate continues today. (You have to believe me. I was just debating this last month.) While all Van Halen fans are fans of Van Halen, some prefer the band's eruptive riffage during Diamond Dave's early years, or even the Las Vegas glitz of much of the Diver Down and 1984 albums; while others prefer the love balladry of the Sammy Hagar era. Nobody, save for Gary Cherone, prefers the Gary Cherone epoch.

But regardless of with whom a fan's allegiances lie, everyone (including Van Haters) can hear two distinct bands: the Van Halen the First says that they "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," while the Second wonders "Why Can't This Be Love?"

C) Classic rock radio stations still spin Ozzy Osbourne-sung Black Sabbath songs such as "Iron Man," "Paranoid," and "War Pigs."

I have never in my 22 years of sabbaths heard a Ronnie James Dio-sung Black Sabbath song. Anywhere.

Try to imagine the Doors' continuing with a new lead singer after Jim Morrison died. (Ah, but they did! The keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, sang lead. [At least, this is what I think I read somewhere. Of course, I've never heard any of Doors' songs from this period.]) Or Nirvana's returning to the studio with Courtney Love as its mouthpiece. Or the Rolling Stones' replacing Mick Jagger with somebody with smaller lips.

It's as hard to imagine as the end of eternity.

These are things that bring fist-pumpers to tears.

Or, at least they should be. If you are able to hear the songs of your favorite band filtered through another lead singer's voice and not weep, then your band was mass produced on an assembly line, and your new lead singer is merely a replacement cog. [2]

It is possible (though rare), for a band to pinch hit and not lose any fans - or more importantly, any musicality. Any band's music might change after such a switch, and really, that's because it should. While not always the most creative band member, the lead singer is usually the most charismatic, familiar, and focal. When he leaves, he takes with him the fans' expectations of how his old band should sound. He takes away The Voice: the melody, the words, the wail (not to mention the inevitable lost chemistry).

Not even the most accurate cover, karaoke, and tribute singers should be able to replicate the Voice. They can practice vocal exercises for hours. They can memorize every nuance from recordings and live performances. They can take vocal lessons and learn to sing better than their hero.

But they shouldn't be able to assume The Voice's personality.

That Marky Mark's Steel Dragon tribute singer character was able to become The Voice, and that he was able to find yet a third Voice at the end of the film to replace him, articulates the interchangeability of the bands of his filmed genre. If the lead singer of the band in your movie walks like the lead singer of Cinderella and talks like the lead singer of Cinderella, then, by golly, he just might be the lead singer of Winger.

If I had watched more MTV in 1989, or read more (or any) copies of Circus or Kerrang, I might be able to list the members of Warrant like I can list the starting lineup of this year's St. Louis Cardinals. However, since I was more interested in marrying Debbie Gibson that year than in wanting to be Jani Lane (or is that the name of the girl in the "Cherry Pie" video?), the other band members might as well be those of Saigon Kick.

Some record label mogul or record producer could have orchestrated some kind of multi-player trade, sending the bassist and guitar player of Europe to Ugly Kid Joe, who then sent their drummer to Poison, who then sent their groupies to Ratt, and I could still listen to "Seventeen" in blissful ignorance of who's singing it.

If hindsight is 20/20, the hair band generic formula is the E at the top of the eye chart. [3]

Considering the aforementioned failures of Rock Star, especially its lack of any insight into Steel Dragon's fans or even into Marky Mark's character for the middle third of the film, the moral of this story may have been unintended.[4] But that doesn't mean it wasn't there. When most of a band's song titles include the word "rock" (as did Steel Dragon's), the lead singer's probably more mineral than animal. And the "rock" song genre is one big tossed salad.

Whether or not the moral was intentional, it doesn't mean we can't have fun applying it to other genres. Could 'N Sync sound more like Backstreet if they traded Kirkpatrick for Carter? Would Limp Bizkit be less annoying if they released Fred Durst and signed Shifty Shellshock on waivers? (Actually, they probably would.) Wasn't Michelle Branch even more pixie-ish back when she was calling herself Natalie Imbruglia? Does 3 Doors Down - 9 Days = Matchbox 20?

…And can a music critic admit loving bad glam metal songs and the movies that chronicle their singers?

I demand to be traded to MTV.

Author's note: My band is covering "Every Rose Has It's Thorn." I'm singing it. I have no credibility as a critic.

And I thoroughly enjoyed Rock Star. I give it two thumbs up.

Issue 8, January 2002 | next article

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