For anybody who was around the Los Angeles rock scene in the '80s, "Rock of Ages" is full of howlers — and we're not talking about the monkey
The creators of "Rock of Ages" talk a lot about authenticity and attention to detail in the press notes for the Tom Cruise rock musical, which re-creates the world of the Sunset Strip circa 1987.
To which I have to say: They may have paid attention to the details, but they sure got a lot of those details wrong.
I wrote almost exclusively about music in the '80s, and for most of the decade spent a minimum of two or three nights a week in the places depicted in the film, or the places that inspired the places depicted in the film: the Roxy, the Whisky, Tower Records …
Now, I realize that complaining about facts being wrong in "Rock of Ages" — which opens Friday — is sort of like griping that the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" gets the Pythagorean Theorem wrong. It's true, but who cares?
After all, this movie takes place in a world in which a busload of people spontaneously break into Night Ranger's "Sister Christian," and not one person on the bus points out that the song sucks. If you can accept that — and if you can't, there's no point in even watching the movie — then why make a big deal out of little matters of fact and accuracy?
So let's stipulate that I know I'm just nitpicking, OK?
But, man, these things annoyed me:
1. The Los Angeles mayor has no jurisdiction over the Sunset Strip.
A key subplot in the movie involves the newly elected mayor of L.A. (Bryan Cranston) trying to clean up and shut down rock clubs on the Strip with the help of his crusading, rock 'n' roll-hating wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
But the area of Sunset depicted in the movie is in West Hollywood, which has never been part of Los Angeles. Until 1984, it was an unincorporated section of Los Angeles County; after that, it was incorporated as its own city, controlled by its own city government. The mayor of Los Angeles can't do a thing about it and never could.
2. Tower Records didn’t sell used albums.
This is another key plot point, with the characters played by Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta hanging out at the fabled Sunset Strip record mecca, browsing through bin after bin of used LPs.
Sorry, but Tower was where you went for the newest releases and the biggest selection. If you wanted a used record, you went to Aron's down on Melrose.
3. Tower didn't sell guitars, either.
It's convenient how when Boneta wants to break into song while shopping at Tower, all he has to do is grab a guitar from the wall of instruments on sale. Sorry … convenient, but wrong.
The movie version of Tower has way too much space in the aisles, too.
4. Malin Akerman is nothing like any Rolling Stone reporter. Ever.
First she comes on like a timid schoolmarm; then she berates Tom Cruise's rock god, Stacee Jaxx; then she has torrid (albeit PG-13) sex with him. I wrote for Rolling Stone both on staff and off during the entire 1980s; it was serious about its music journalism, and nobody who acted like that would ever have gotten an assignment.
(And accepting a five-minute interview for a cover story? In those days, a couple of hours was the minimum.)
Another note of silliness: Akerman waltzes backstage at the Bourbon Room, a club clearly patterned after the Whisky, with a laminated press pass hanging around her neck. But small clubs like the Roxy and Whisky didn't use passes — and the bigger shows that did used stick-on passes specific to that show. Nobody ever hung a RS press pass around his or her neck, because it wouldn't have worked.
Strangely, the pass that Akerman carries is an exact replica of the real Rolling Stone press pass from that era. (A picture of mine is on the previous page.) So I'll give them credit for getting one little detail right.
5. The geography is all off.
Hough's character gets off the bus from Oklahoma on the west side of Vine Street, just down from the Capitol Records building. She walks south, heads east on Sunset, and in short order ends up on the strip … which is three-and-a-half miles west of Vine.
6. The Strip is hilly.
The film "re-created" the Sunset Strip in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, turning a couple of blocks into the Strip's greatest hits. But the one element that in every shot screams "this is not the Strip!" is the topography, with nary a hill to be seen.
A defining element of the Strip was the uphill walk from Tower to the Whisky and Roxy – and more than that, the streets that rose steeply north of the clubs, and contained apartments that sometimes seemed to house half the musicians in town.
7. Angry moms didn't protest the kind of music Tom Cruise's character sings.
Alonso Duralde mentioned this in his review at TheWrap: While the Parents Music Resource Center was actively campaigning against the evils of rock and rap music in the 1980s, it's silly to think that they would have gone after Stacee Jaxx, whose signature songs are power ballads like "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "I Want to Know What Love Is."
Politicians' wives were much too busy going after Prince, Madonna, rappers — and "Satanic" hard-rockers like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Venom — to worry about guys like Stacee Jaxx.
8. Centerfold isn't on the Strip.
I don't mind jumbling the Strip to put all the hotspots in one two-block stretch, with Book Soup (south side of the street, 8800 block) next to Tiny Naylor's (north side, 8500 block). But Centerfold, the newsstand famous for being Slash's day job when Guns 'N Roses was starting out, was (and still is) on Fairfax near Melrose, down the hill and two miles away.
9. You can’t get to the Hollywood sign by bike or taxi.
A couple of crucial scenes take place at a curiously accessible Hollywood sign. Boneta rides his bike there, while Hough takes a cab and leaves the driver waiting for her in a turnout a few yards away from the sign.
In truth, you can't drive near the sign. There are various ways to get close, but they all entail hiking on dirt roads and hills — and to reach the sign itself, all involve ignoring the "DO NOT ENTER" signs and the sensors. It's also illegal, something that might have deterred good-girl Sherrie.
10. Oh, and the songs are no good.
While I will concede that some of the songs have aged better than I expected, the fact remains that I count five good songs among the 32 in the film.
For the record, and I'm feeling generous when I make this list, the five are "Paradise City," "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Rock You Like a Hurricane" and "I Want to Know What Love Is," which is pretty much ruined by being used as the basis for a jokey sex scene.
Making it worse, the movie's music is more or less exemplified by Tom Cruise's big, self-defining number. Asked to sum up his life, he offers a grandiose version of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," a colossal load of bogus, self-mythologizing horse pucky that remains one of the stupidest songs Bon Jovi ever recorded.
By the way, Cruise's voice is way too thin and reedy to do justice to most of the songs he's been given; he has a bit of Axl Rose's flexible middle range, but none of the wonderfully screechy top or growly bottom that made Rose a great rock vocalist. (It should be noted that the entire soundtrack album is, well, terrible.)
As a movie, "Rock of Ages" is cheesy and idiotic, though it also has moments that reminded me of the occasionally undeniable power of a bad song. And it's probably a better movie than "Mamma Mia," for what that's worth.
But when I read sentences like, "We wanted the world of the movie to be real" in the press notes, I have to start nitpicking. Because it may be fun if you're in the right mood, but it certainly isn't real.