Lessons from a Rock n Roll Flop

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After a long stint of liking Kiss almost exclusively, I went through a rapid succession of favorite genres between about 12 and 14. First, it was Top 40, recording Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 on TDK D-120 tapes on Saturdays for a year or so. Hearing Def Leppard on the Top 40 started my shift toward harder rock and metal, spending about a year with a steady diet of Motley Crue, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden before being finally (and somewhat erroneously) convinced by friends that metal sucked and moving on to punk by the Spring of 8th grade. But something else happened to me during that 8th grade year: I wrote a term paper on the history of rock n roll and for the first time, I started to listen to and appreciate the music that came before my time.

As I gained at least a shallow understanding of how rock music had evolved, it became more magical and mysterious to me and likewise, more fascinating. Oddly, one movie held particular sway over how I began to view rock n roll: Allan Arkush’s 1983 flop, Get Crazy! The movie splits the difference between Arkush’s early rock n roll silliness, Rock n Roll High School, and Rob Reiner’s loving send up of rock bands, This is Spinal Tap. In its own way, it functioned as an unofficial history of rock music. The movie revolves around an all-star lineup set for New Year’s Eve 1982. It starts with the blues with Bill Henderson’s King Blues (almost played by Muddy Waters according to Arkush), whose “Hoochie Coochie Man” is covered by everyone else who plays in various styles. The Turtles’ Howard Kaylan plays hippie Captain Cloud who shows up with his band, the Rainbow Telegraph, to ring in 1969 rather than 1983. “Time’s a trip” as the Captain says. Punk/new wave band Nada features Fear frontman Lee Ving. Malcolm McDowell plays the aptly named Reggie Wanker, a Mick Jagger-esque superstar who’s lost touch with his audience until an acid-induced conversation with his own penis. Lou Reed, portraying a Dylan-like recluse, arrives too late and ends up playing one of his finest songs, “Little Sister,” to the one person remaining in the concert hall.

And all of this is set against the backdrop of a struggling Saturn Theater, a thinly veiled Fillmore East where Arkush worked in his younger days. Saturn owner Max Wolfe, who puts on shows where kids can “see the bands, hear the music and afford the tickets,” is fighting off a hostile takeover by mega-promoter Colin Beverly (played by Ed Begley, Jr.). In a way, Get Crazy! is a last cry out against the takeover of rock music by the suits (who, like the Colin Beverly character, we can always imagine saying, “Fuck you and fuck rock n roll!”)

Admittedly, at 14, I was taken in by the portrayal of drugs and sex, but within a few years, I would vehemently reject that part of rock n roll. What really stayed with me and still resonates when I watch it today more than just the music is the character of Max Wolfe. For Max, it wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about rock stars. To him, the music mattered. And it matters to me too.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

2 thoughts on “Lessons from a Rock n Roll Flop

  1. Chuck

    I vaguely remember this movie. I don’t know if I ever saw it, but if I did, I missed the subtext that was influential and meaningful to you. It’s interesting reading about this now, at an age where I understand the history of rock much differently than I did in 1983. I understand that people like Captain Parker and Bill Graham were not these binary characters who were either “good” or “bad.” Instead, they embodied the independent freedom of rock and roll while simultaneously screwing over the artists and musicians. They were both the beacons of what made early rock great and what destroyed it.

    It’s funny how “The Social Network” is the Millennial version of “Get Crazy” and “This Is Spinal Tap”. People like Mark Zuckerberg are both the independent heroes who did things their way and the the antiheroes who have led us to an arguably worse place. Sadly, in a lot of ways, it also comes down to money: kids look at the wealth and independence and excesses of rock stars (then) and entrepreneurs (now) and think, “I want that!”

    1. bobvinyl Post author

      Maybe that is why Max Wolfe appealed to me so much. He was the good part without the bad. Fiction can be like that.


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