I finally watched Rock of Ages. I got the DVD on Netflix. The movie is set in Hollywood in 1987. Now it so happens that I lived in Hollywood about that time.
If you haven’t seen it, the movie is about a rock club on Sunset Boulevard called the Bourbon Club. Alec Baldwin plays the club owner. Russell Brand is his manager. And some young kid is a bar back who wants to be discovered and become rich and famous. Tom Cruise is Stacee Jaxx who is the big established rock star on the block.
It’s a fun movie. I enjoyed it, especially when Baldwin and Brand discover their gay relationship. Tom Cruise is a caricature.
Let me tell you how the movie gets it wrong.
In those days the hipsters were called the cool kids.
At that time there were rock clubs in Hollywood and on the Strip. Like the Whiskey and the Roxy. But that’s not really where it was happening. Where it was happening was downtown. On Sunset Strip the big-haired rock bands still ruled, like L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose. But by 1986 they were becoming passé to the cool kids. On the weekends where it was happening was at the Embassy Hotel. Punk-inspired bands were rising up to take over from the big-hair bands.
Scream was at the Embassy Hotel on the weekends. Scream was a couple of young L.A. deejays who took over the old hotel and made it into a club for a night. And the bands came to play who hadn’t been signed yet – like Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And touring bands like Gene Loves Jezabel and Tones on Tail played there. The cool kids heard about it through word of mouth. And they came.
I worked the door at Scream. I was a celebrity doorman and I stamped all the kids’ hands as they came in. I worked the stage downstairs to keep the people from storming it. I was a witness as Perry Ferrell turned the place into a sweat pit. And I saw Flea and the Chili Peppers own that stage.
In another part of the old hotel was a theater and a stage. The theater had been condemned because it wasn’t earthquake-proofed. So you couldn’t have shows in there, but that didn’t stop you from doing a music video shoot there.
Axel Rose had merged his band Hollywood Roses with Tracii Guns’ L.A. Guns to form Guns and Roses. Guns and Roses shot a music video in the Embassy’s theater about that same time. The video was a song called Sweet Child of Mine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oobDQ0vdm8M.
Riki Rachtman had a club going in Hollywood about this time too called the Cathouse. That’s where all the big-haired bands hung out – the glam rockers. Like Taime Downe and his band Faster Pussycat.
Guns and Roses got signed. And then Jane’s Addiction got signed and the Chili Peppers too. Then you started to see them all on MTV. Riki Rachtman got a show on MTV called Headbanger’s Ball.
That was really where Rock and Roll was at in 1987. There was this tension between the punk-inspired bands like Jane’s and the Chili Peppers and the big-haired bands like Guns and Roses. Scream was on the fence about it. Glam bands like Gene Loves Jezabel and Faster Pussycat were welcome there and called Scream home.
The world learned to love Guns and Roses and so the big-haired rock bands still ruled the mainstream. But something was changing.
Into the nineties, Jane’s Addiction and the Chili Peppers tore it up on tour. Jane’s toured opening for Iggy Pop and then they started headlining. Ian MacKaye at Dischord didn’t approve of them. Why? Because Jane’s continued to glorify the excesses of the druggy rock and roll lifestyle. The Punk Underground continued to agitate against the status quo. For them “Rock” wasn’t cool.
Perry Ferrell and his girlfriend Casey put out their movie “The Gift” about this time. It was about Perry finding Casey dead from a heroin overdose in Venice Beach. For Jane’s, heroin was tres chic. For Ian and Dischord this was sick.
One of the partners in Scream was telling me then that the future was in Hip Hop. He went on to open up an L.A. club called Helter Skelter. My heart told me NO. The future was still Rock. But a special kind of new rock called “Alternative” – a synthesis of the best of old rock and new punk.
Meanwhile something was stirring in Seattle.