Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Down the Rabbit Hole

"One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small." Last night on Rock Star, contestant Phil Ritchie sang the lyrics to that Jefferson Airplane classic. The song references Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland" but is quite blatantly about tripping. Tripping is one of the quickest ways to radically change your perspective.

I wouldn't say that Rock Star: Supernova has radically changed my perspective. But it has brought things into a sharper focus and cast a cold, bright, harsh light on the state of things. Dosing is a bit of a commitment, because once you slip that tab on your tongue, kiss your ass goodbye, cuz there is no turning back. You're either going to let go and enjoy the stomach-flipping, pupil-dilating, hallucinogenic intensity of the ride, or you're going to grit your teeth and clench your fists and keep trying to clear your addled head and hate the whole thing. And sometimes, it's more of an in-and-out thing, riding waves of manic, giddy, enlightened high and wonderment and then suddenly bottoming out and crashing down the bunny hole of utter confused panic. But the name of "trip" is so correct, because whatever happens, it's usually unexpected, and it takes you somewhere new -- be it long-sought journey to inner paradise or a harsh and ugly face-plant in the pavement with a gaggle of onlookers laughing and pointing.

And that's pretty much how people now haughtily endure, or happily head-bang to the state of rock-n-roll. Some of them paint on the eyeliner, poof their hair, toss up the devil-sign and rock on out. Others sit back and incessantly spin their Stones collection while snarling at the incompetent, image-driven assholes who couldn't hold a creative candle to Ray Manzarek, man. But life isn't that rock solid or clear cut. It's more fluid, much more like the stumbling, trippy highs of an acid dose -- unexpected twists and surprising delights waiting beyond the shadowy gloom. And some people can find a way to slip in and out -- seeing the cutthroat marketing havoc that's ingested and regurgitated rock-and-roll back to us in the form of Supernova, but enjoying the reminiscent, throbbing bass lines anyhow. It might not be authentic, but you can't fucking stop it now, so you might as well kick back and try to enjoy some of it, even if it is all an illusion.

I don't know yet how I'm going to end up reacting to this whole show. Right now, I'm tuning in, but I'm not riding a wave of high or crashing into full-out desperation. It's more flatlined, perhaps because I've become anesthetized to the horrors of marketing. Or perhaps because I accept the yin-yang of creativity and believe that lightning can strike in expected places. I find it hard to believe that the CBS execs will know how to bottle said genuine lightning if it strikes, but that's another matter.

But I haven't seen any lightning yet anyhow. Part of what compelled me to blog about American Idol was the unlikely situation of last season. Unlike Rock Star, which has no grasp of its own ironic foolishness or manufactured cheeziness, AI is a veritable treasure trove of pop culture horrors. So is Rock Star. Believe me, if anything, Rock Star is more insidious in its pre-fab, pre-packaged allure where Mystic Tans mingle with skull tattoos, because RS is the apocalyptic benchmark for rock death, with Dave Navarro as the ferryman of the river Styx, strangling the lost souls into submission as he collects his fare from CBS suits while sitting on his baroque throne of lies and ushering in a new wave of coached, groomed, teeth-whitened, boob enhanced, and impeccably coiffed ritualized head-bangers with affected "intensity, dude."

What gave me passion this year for Idol was Elliott, Elliott Yamin. Because buried under the seven layers of cheeze was that one little pill that could shift perspective -- something real. Something unaffected, untainted, and highly unusual -- someone with talent. That provided the yin to the yang, and gave my bitter old soul something to write about passionately to even out the nasty edge so that I didn't sound like a hypocritical harpy.

I'm still waiting to see that on Rock Star, that passion and inspiration. Maybe it's there and I haven't recognized it. But I'll tell you who it's not, at least not yet.

It's not Storm Large. (Who the fuck is naming these people? Manufactured stage names are one thing, but Storm Large is entirely too goofy to take seriously for even one second. I feel like an asshole just typing it out.) Storm is a diva with a Kim Catrall face and Pussycat Doll fashion sensibility. She was not "Just What I Needed" to elevate this freak show of suburban wannabes to a level of authenticity. What I do like about Storm is that when she stares really hard at the camera with her blue eyes, she looks like she's tripping because there's a strange off-focus appearance to her pupils. So I'll give her that. She's got interesting pupils.

Tommy flirted with her. Tommy flirts with all the ladies. That's nice that Tommy's charming. It's also part of the reason why Supernova will sell a million records but will never be anything remotely authentic. Tommy used to be dangerous. Certainly, Motley Crue was a band that embraced theatrics, and though I'm not about to write a missive about their musical prowess, there was a certain honest intensity to Tommy Lee. Back then, I have a feeling he devoured the groupies. But age and circumstance mellow a person. That's not a bad thing. And it doesn't mean he still can't bang the shit out of the drums.

But there's a certain desperation to the intensity that's lost once all the world is aware that you're packing enough ammunition in your pants to level the entire student body, staff, faculty, and administration at Wellesley -- even the ones who would only be using you to experiment. Tommy is catnip for the ladies now. And he plays to his strength and lasciviously, but with a practiced rakish charm, flirts with them all, like a "horns up", head-banging George fucking Clooney for the more metal minded, showing off his tats with all the grace of a peacock. (Which, incidentally, "peacock" is one word he never has to fear anyone will use like a weapon of a bad pun against him. And speaking of puns, has anyone else noticed T. Lee's affinity for them? He uses a pun in like, EVERY critique.)

But although there's a certain casual and ingestible elan to these weekly Tommy innuendoes, it just doesn't hold the spark to create true lust, or passion.

There's certainly no intensity from the David Blaine-looking motherfucker Ryan Starr. Not only does he look like the whacked-out illusionist-cum-stuntman, he's about as exciting to watch as Blaine attempting one of his asinine "tricks" where he inserts a Foley, dons a blindfold and then sits underwater for a month. In fact, watching Blaine's skin slowly prune is probably more exciting than watching or listening to Ryan.

Also boring in very wholesome ways are the twin sets of Dana and Jenny. Nice girls with milquetoast good looks. Dana can belt, and she shouted her way through an atrocious version of Bon Jovi, which of course pisses me off. Jenny, on the other hand, is just too quiet every week to ever get my attention.

Dilana's got a little somethingsomething going on, but it's getting old already. She's like a two-trick pony: She can either stand still and growl or stomp around barefoot like a trussed-up turkey, complete with strange shit hanging from her chin just like any self respecting gobbler.

Zayra? Bitch, please. I don't know why they didn't tear this performance down with their comments, because she did another indulgent number, singing off-key to "Everybody Hurts." Dwight Shrute did a better, more affecting performance of this song from his car in the parking lot this year on "The Office." I'd expect Zayra to get mad props if it was Mike Myers sitting on the couch, dressed in his clingy black catsuit and snapping out his Deiter-speak while hosting SPROCKETS. But praise from Gilby Clarke? Fuck off, Gilby. Just fuck off. I could see keeping her around because her haughty, misguided arrogance makes her interesting to mock, but that just sucked hardcore.

Toby let me down this week. He's still hot. He's got a good voice. But his boring song of "Runaway Train" is nothing to showcase his sex appeal. And while I can still picture him fronting the band, and I like the fact that he's not as over-accessorized and as perfectly manicured as the rest of the lot, he's still probably just too good-looking of a bloke for me to ever accept him. But since this isn't really about true music as it is combining all the perfect parts to market most successfully to the widest segment, I guess Toby could be of use, except that Supernova already has the sex base covered with Tommy.

Magni came out and rocked the Dolce & Gabbana shades in what wasn't so much an homage to Bono as a blatant rip-off. But those shades looked good. When lacking in any substance, go to the Italian designers and make sure the label is blazed in giant sequins and people will eat it up cause D&G is cool and looks good, man. (HORNS UP!) Cause all the kids want to be wearing D&G someday, so this guy just MUST be cool cuz he already is wearing the shit! Coveting -- the new gold standard of sin in rock today, and what an easy, profitable, cross-marketing goldmine it is!

Then there's Lukas. What the fuck is it with this guy? The audience loves him. Supernova loves him. I loathe the little turd. He looks like a scientifically engineered crossbreeding of an Oompa Loompa and a succubus. He's clearly sober when he takes the stage, but then he affects a slur that'd make Billy Joe Armstrong blush while he spins and stumbles around, looking more drunken than Taylor Hicks ever had the balls to.

This guy, he loves to do the Broadway Jesus pose, and takes it seriously. Navarro was right -- he does come off as arrogant when he performs. And I also agree with Navarro that a good rock front man should come off that way. But Lukas is nothing more than a hybrid of Morrison and Jagger, with much better makeup and not even a whisper of sex appeal. Neutered. He is the very definition of neutered, regurgitated, stumbling horseshit. He's not a trip. There's no lightning in a bottle with him -- it's all canned, completely expected, and not the least bit dangerous. He's the proverbial face-plant in the pavement, folks. And I'm here to point and laugh at all of us for embracing him for it.

And then there's Phil. He of the jelly-bones dancing and smart-alecky wiggle. Phil got a huge break last night because Jason joined him onstage to do "White Rabbit." Now. Look. It wasn't mind-bending, or soul-shaking. It wasn't a long-sought journey of enlightenment. But really, it wasn't all that bad, especially when compared to all this other wholly average shit. They turned the bass way up for Newsted, and that put a different stink on the song. It changed from the well-worn, lilty, marching build-up of the original that had an inexorable crescendo to a heavier, more aggressively thrusting, groovy drive to it.

Onstage, Newsted challenged Phil, shoulder-bumping into him and then shadowing him across the stage for a few moments. Phil definitely got jostled when Jason pushed him, but as Navarro noted, he didn't crumble, and it kind of worked in a '70s kind of retro skinny-punk warble-fest way. Look, this kid is never going to be Henry Rollins. And there was something vaguely reminiscent to Sid Vicious in his face last night, not to mention his heroin-inflected movements. It's pretty obvious that Phil's neither strung-out or riding the horse. (Skull tats, spiky hair, and plastic tits are all now mass-audience acceptable. But fresh tracks on a TV contestant? Still probably a no-no.)

But Phil has pipes, and he did lay it down with that trippy tune. And for a brief moment, even if it wasn't hitting the core of reality or drastically shifting perspectives, Phil's "differentness" dredged a little bit of life out of the murk of the Styx. It wasn't lightning in a bottle, but it was a wave of enjoyment, and for Phil, it had to be pretty cool to get a taste of what it could be like to "ride the lightning" in the future.

And, it was enough to make me stick my head further down the bunny hole, willing to tune in again next week and tolerate the imbecile ramblings of plastic Brooke Burke. Who knows? Right now, there's plenty of bad, but perhaps some giddy highs are yet to come. Maybe, if we're lucky, it'll be a little bit of an unexpected trip -- be it a lie or an illusion/hallucination or even possibly something real. And if not, I'll just go back to sitting in my room, bitter and old, lamenting the state of the now while carrying a torch for Dave Grohl.


meep said...

Yep. Authenticity and humility are what we loved in our Elliott, and why I lost all enthusiasm for that other show when he was no longer part of it.

So, does edgy mean unlikable now? Do assholes have more fans or -- since it’s all about makin’ mo money – sell more records? Can’t a little vulnerability show through anymore, or is that look just all wrong with multiple facial piercings?

Last season I loved Rock Star because there were people on the show that I actually liked. I swore I wouldn’t take the comparison route, but I can’t help it when it’s true: in contrast, this season so far is Crock Sham: PseudoPoseur.

I guess I’ll stick it out just for the ROCK the House Band brings....AND for what I feel might be the unexpected stirrings of a girl hard-on for Jason Newsted. Could it be? Someone REAL?

Anonymous said...

Hope Elliott doesn't get buried under the cheeze that is AI. Kellie? K.E.L.L.I.E. has been signed on by 19E & Elliott doesn't have a contract? Yes, PseudoStars triumph because of the business of talent. If you're not packaged, America has indigestion & regurgitates you turning desperately for candyfloss & it's 0 nutrition value but instant gratification.

SusanD said...

Hey Meep! You know what? Last night was actually a good show in the regards of "real" people becoming likable. Dilana was super-cool with Dana to help her out. And Dana was gracious about it, and it worked! That's a pretty interesting twist. And I have to say, Toby's humility and discontent with himself was a pleasant surprise, too. No one got on their high horse and lashed out in the safety of the house. Of course, they could've been biting their tongue, realizing it'd come back to put them on the spot during the broadcast, but Dana and Toby both seemed genuine. And Newsted is cracking me up. He's so fucking NORMAL looking and acting and out of everyone, I have the most respect for him as a musician. He doesn't need all the glam because he just brings it.

Anon -- Kellie. I know, man. I freaking know. I still have a suspicion that Elliott doesn't really want to be signed with 19E though and that as soon as his contract lapses, he'll have a good deal.

meep said...

True! Dilana is growing on me by showing some heart.

We had some nasty weather in NOLA last night, so the show was interrupted several times. Tivo got mostly maps and announcers. Poop.

I'm wishing they'd given Dana her well deserved praise for trying so hard, and then mercifully let her go out on a high note. She's a sweet girl and it's painful to watch her trying to be what she's just not. Can she be it by doing this, this and this? Well no, and that's my whole gripe this season.

Cam said...

As usual, another excellent commentary on RS. Coincidentally, for the past few days, I was thinking of why in the world I like AI better than RS because I seem pretty much alone in that regard. I think some parts of your posts explain that.

It's sooo cheesy, but what I always look for is heart. Some sort of authenticity in performances, even if it's just in that one performance. There was Elliott last year. There was Kelly in the first season of AI. Even in the third season, Fantasia wowed me with some of her performances and I don't even like her that much. But with RS, I don't know, still (really) not enough to push me over the edge of obssession.

SusanD said...

meep -- agreed about Dana. She's never going to be what they want, exactly. But she might be more interesting to watch develop than some of the boring ones like Ryan.

Cam -- agreed. I have a feeling this show is just going to keep getting better, though. As people get eliminated and we get to spend a little more time with the others, that'll help a lot. (hopefully) But like you said, you can't predict "heart" and until that shows up, it's just not at that higher level.

Anonymous said...

Dilana is 33. Storm 37. fyi