Rock stars are typically larger than life figures. Even the ones who never get out of that basement dive bar still take up the entire stage with their presence. That’s why something like the rock-mockumentary or music comedy is such a rich subject matter for parody. The world constructed around these giants is usually so absurd that real life is often stranger than fiction.
The new FX series Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll occupies a strange place. It takes place in 2015, and still acts as if the world goes ’round on rock n’ roll, when that isn’t entirely true. It yearns for the times of G’n’R and The Stones and The ‘Mats. Instead of lampooning a lot of the ridiculous things about the loud and fast rock lifestyle, the show tends to cling to them as if they’re more important than the music.
With that in mind, here are 11 rock clichés perpetrated by the greatest rock band that never was, Johnny Rock and The Heathens, from the premiere of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.
1) The show cold opens on Johnny Rock (Denis Leary) snorting cocaine, so we think.
This was actually a promising intro to the episode (and series, really). We have these old rockers, times way gone by, trying to chase that long since gone high, but instead of blow, it turns out to be a cleaning supply. No, that was not meant to rhyme.
2) Song lyrics about hard living.
For all of the different types of rock bands that are name dropped in the show, SDRR has a very specific view of what real rock n’ roll is… excess. It’s not even about sex because it’s fun, or drugs as a means to escape, elevate, or lead a lifestyle on the edge. It feels like they mention them simply as rock buzzwords. It’s worth mentioning the namesake of the show, Ian Dury’s “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” is a cheeky English funky glam rock tune, something much more in on the joke than what takes place here.
3) The Heathens were the most influential band of all-time.
The first segment of the episode was a rock doc introducing the members of the band and how great they were. Dave Grohl says they were a huge influence on Nirvana, and Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs can’t praise them enough, either. They ruled at CBGB and played alongside the greats, but never got their true shot at fame. Oddly enough, you can’t really place how they were ever popular or relevant to the references they’re making. They make rock music that would fit in the 1970s and idolize the 1960s, but were popular in the 1980s?
4) Lead Vocalist Syndrome tearing the band apart.
Just like any great Behind the Music episode will show, even the greatest band will fall to pieces because of an egomaniacal frontman. Johnny Rock is no different, and he does so not with his excessive drug use or musical fortitude, but by sleeping with all his bandmates’ girlfriends. Who could resist Denis Leary in leather pants? It checks out.
5) Technology is empty and stupid.
Of course, to quickly make things contemporary, YouTube is prominently featured (it’s where the rock doc is being watched). Also, Johnny’s estranged songwriting partner and lead guitarist Flash (which sounds nothing like Slash) is very happy to mention how many Twitter followers he has. This is rebuffed immediately because it’s not about the music, man.
6) He’s still got it.
Despite everything to the contrary being suggested, Johnny thinks he can still pick up any woman in a bar. So, when he approaches a comely, seemingly flirting young woman and tries to make out with her, he’s immediately kneed in the groin for his corny attempt, and it’s fairly satisfying. Until we find out that the woman he kissed was his daughter, that is.
7) New music, naturally, sucks.
Of course, a lot of this show is nostalgia-based, which is fair. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll pines for a time when rock n’ roll was the biggest thing on the planet, but they make a real point to lambaste the current rock torchbearers, calling them weak and bad. Johnny rebuffs a gig with a circus act he initially thinks is an indie band whom he calls “pretentious assholes.” Yet, he’s good friends with the singer from Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers; they don’t exactly sound like The Rolling Stones. What happened to the music (and the drugs)?
8) Fame is super important, but only when it’s properly earned.
When we properly meet Johnny’s daughter Gigi, she’s ravenously obsessed with getting famous. So much so that she’s willing to use her body to sexually manipulate The Heathens into getting back together. Johnny is of course disgusted with her methods, but wants nothing more than to return to the limelight himself, so he goes along with it. While reaching his breaking point in a skirmish with paparazzi, he goes on a rant about Kim Kardashian and how she doesn’t deserve any fame (while he does, naturally), topped off with a poorly-timed Caitlyn Jenner joke. It’s moments like this where his old thinking should be lampooned, but it’s instead held up as a monument to how things should be.
9) Girls, Girls, Girls.
Gigi knows that in the male-driven world of rock music, and frankly just “world,” that she can use her sexuality to ultimately get what she wants. She uses a sext to get the band back together, but that’s not all we see. Flash is now Lady Gaga’s touring guitarist and has access to all the women he wants, and he takes no qualms in being a 54-year-old man autographing a 19-year-old’s breasts in front of her mother. (She wants to be famous, too. Everyone has a hustle.) There’s also a scene when the band is back together and talks about Gigi’s breasts and vagina for three minutes, and she listens on gleefully? It’s as if the band exists in a vacuum where their awful thoughts on women aren’t ever rebuffed. Instead, they’re adored. It would work as a joke if they were shut down, made fun of, anything. But it’s just seen as “these rock stars can have any chick they want.” The initial concept of “The Heathens’ time has passed them by” is lost here.
10) Bass players never get any respect.
Finally, when Gigi busts in and wants to record with the band and Johnny wants desperately for her to not sleep with any band members (despite wanting to sleep with her just 24 hours before), she lays it out simply. She won’t sleep with the drummer because he’s bald; she would sleep with Flash because he’s hot and has “an elder statesman of rock” thing going and works with Gaga; and she wouldn’t sleep with the bassist because bass players suck. Those dudes never get the respect they deserve. Have you ever listened to Rush?! Or The Who?! Or Black Sabbath?! Or all of funk music?! I rest my case.
11) An unknown blows everyone away.
The band hits their four count and gears up to play the classic Heathens track “Animal,” which oddly sounds it was written for a woman, but that’s me nitpicking. As everyone is doubting her talent, Gigi is absolutely amazing. All the band members seem to be thrilled, except for Johnny, who clearly covets her talent and fame potential. When the spotlight hits an unknown talent, of course they’re gonna bring the f*cking house down. That’s rock n’ roll 101.