Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rock Bottom: A Novel / by Michael Shilling

"We were the next big thing once." (p. 55). That about sums it up for Blood Orphans. Not so long ago, they were on top of the charts and on top of the world as one of the most talked about hard rock bands around. Back in the day in the midst of the always overcrowded LA music scene, the Orphans were the darlings, one group deemed by everyone to break it big. All of the necessary pieces were in place: Shane the edgy, charismatic and spiritually-attuned lead singer; Darlo the all-out libertine for a drummer; wonderboy guitar prodigy Adam; and a soulful bass player, Bobby, the unspoken glue holding together the foursome. And of course they had the all-important recording contract with a reputable label, a booking agent, the right A and R people and the backing of loyal fans.
Then everything went south. Their dreams turned to mush just like Bobby's hands which, in eerily corresponding fashion, succombed to a particularly virulent strain of eczema. Like anything else which falls apart, it wasn't just one thing which caused the burgeoning supergroup's crash back to oblivion. Through a series of ill-fated concert expeditions, bad management moves by drugged-out agents, multiple personal indiscretions as well as scandalous incidents both public and private, Blood Orphans took an irreversible nosedive. Now in Amsterdam, their last stop of a flamed-out Euro tour, the Orphans muster what they can from their rapidly fading rockstar ambitions, rehashing any verifiable good times of old while clinging to their last days of alcohol/sex/drugs/rebellion, all the time trying to pinpoint just what went wrong.
Where Spinal Tap (DVD THIS) lovingly parodied the the world of faux rock stardom through the farcical comeback tour of an aging, washed-up and thoroughly delusional heavy metal band, Rock Bottom pulls no punches in its more hard-edged pursuit of a tragic truth. It decries, derides and downright defames the built-in romanticism of Rock n' Roll riches, revealing a largely undignified world of despair, exploitation and self-destruction. Though at times humorous and witty, nothing seems very lighthearted about the story which is really a backstory of the band's rise and fall, retold in parts by each of the four members during one 24-hour period. It's an honest rendition by a quartet of tired, disappointed, angry and thoroughly disillusioned musicians on what they feel has been the anti-climactic pinnacle of their young lives. As a "recovering rock musician" himself, Shilling knows his subject matter. Having lived the Seattle grunge scene as a bit player for numerous bands, he tells a story worth hearing about a band which never quite made it. Simultaneously and to his credit, he manages to avoid any of the smarmy, over-the-top portrayals similar platforms (VH1's Behind The Music) have dispensed with in the past, instead delving into the very human, very visceral, thoroughly flawed but perhaps not totally irredeemable worlds of his characters. (FIC SHILLING)

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