Is the rock dead?
The question, apparently a starting point for the new documentary “Long Live Rock … Celebrate the Chaos”, only works rhetorically.
Of course, it’s not dead. No establishment, curators, parents, nightclub, New Wave, Tipper Gore, Satan, flammable hair, electronics, file sharing, and so on. The Rolling Stones are 130 years old and were still selling stadiums, the last person verified. So who are these people, and why do they always behave this way?
That’s the question director Jonathan McHugh finally addresses in this low-maintenance, non-demanding film, which debuts on March 12 as a Watch Now @ Home Cinema version, via distributor Abramorama. It’s simply a love letter to the hard rock festival circuit and its role of connecting bands and their fans, a point that materializes long after a few false starts.
You won’t go away learning anything new. But you might remember that feeling of cramming too many people into one vehicle and heading to a music festival too early because nothing in the world seemed so important.
McHugh, a television and film producer in the director’s chair for the first time, seems to be pulled in four or five different directions before finding his rhythm. “Long Live Rock” isn’t as fun as the “Decline of Western Civilization” documentaries, which isn’t really a fair comparison, anyway.
No, it’s not entirely clear why we really need to hear Eddie Trunk explain why we shouldn’t trust the first impressions of rock fans. I know the world probably doesn’t need Dr. Drew Pinsky’s squeaky conclusion that hard rock is similar to tribal music, having more than a fleeting resemblance to the patronizing and somewhat racist clichés of parents for years. 1950.
But speedbumps aside, “Long Live Rock” makes it clear that not only is rock music not dying, it’s massive and mainstream … and has been for decades. It’s healthy and brings people together, even families, forming the McHugh hypothesis.
The film has two strong factors: seriousness and topicality. There’s nothing new about hot musicians and superfans who love them. It’s like the oldest boy meets the story of a girl in the world. But it still works because we want it to. Most of these people, with day jobs, mortgages, and kids, really thinks.
Even though there’s a strangely disproportionate amount of screen time spent surfing crowds, who can’t hope to watch a wheelchair fan get carefully picked up and passed onto the stage by otherwise wild and drunk metal fans. ?
Of course, we see the veterans of big name festivals, like Metallica and Guns N ‘Roses. But McHugh also brings us plenty of lesser-known acts featuring women (and families), like Halestorm and Skillet. They’ve always been a woefully under-represented demographic in hard rock, and McHugh does a pretty good job with it that one wonders why that wasn’t the goal of the whole movie. Especially when precious time was spent on old snaps (the kids in the backseat holding their fingers in their ears because rock mom was playing loud music was straight out of a Twisted Sister video). The lack of storytelling may have contributed to the wandering, but it likely worked in the long run to give fans the biggest voice in the movie (although the brief segment devoted to frontline security guards is fascinating).
Sometimes “Long Live Rock” wanders and works a little too much. Sometimes it feels like a documentary that should have been made 35 years ago when we didn’t know much about hard rock festivals. One can appreciate the film’s before and after efforts to make real people with real jobs look extraordinary when it comes to their love of music. But watching middle-aged people being very camera conscious, using words conveying their own sense of freedom and insanity while buying more beer sometimes feels a bit forced. The juxtaposition of a trauma nurse doing this is just weird. It is not clear whether these are ordinary or extraordinary people.
But “Long Live Rock” works, if only for another reason that the timing is perfect for a deep love letter to the concerts and the communities that love them. Hopefully they can get to know each other again as soon as possible.
Follow music critic Tony Hicks on Twitter.com/TonyBaloney1967.