Rock musicians certainly didn’t invent sex. They didn’t invent illegal drugs either. They didn’t even really invent rock ’n’ roll – country musicians and R&B musicians did (until they saw their income skyrocket with this new generic name and decided they were fine, just fine, being called rock and rollers).
It was a rock musician – specifically Ian Dury in 1977 – who first put those six words together in a perverse and handy vision of the good life: Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.
So here’s a self-styled comedian bad boy – Denis Leary – who’s coming at us at 10 p.m. Thursday with “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll,” his newest comedy/drama about a 50-year old guy who calls himself Johnny Rock, making a middle-aged run for the Big Time he would have made 25 years before if he hadn’t ruined everything by sleeping with the wife of his songwriting partner (among others).
Let me quote you the FX network’s unusually merry publicity for “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” which seems to have Leary’s fingerprints all over it.
Rock was “the lead singer of a legendary early ’90s New York band called The Heathens. Known for living up to their name, the band partied so long and so hard that even Keith Richards thought they ought to slow down. … The band became legendary for all the wrong reasons – like self-destructing sooner than any group in rock and roll history. Twenty-five years later, the only thing bigger than Johnny’s ego is his prostate. The drugs he really needs now aren’t cocaine and marijuana, they’re Crestor, Cymbalta and Cialis. He’s out of work, out of show business options.”
Enter a long-lost daughter he never even knew he had with trust fund money from her mother, his former backup singer. She also has a real singing talent and an urge to unite with her biological father to, well, make it in rock and roll.
It was her mother’s judgment that Johnny was “a lazy, selfish, pothead alcoholic with a death wish.”
In other words, Leary has a new FX comedy and a new reprobate to play in prime time.
Anyone expecting rock authenticity to this probably expected unimpeachable accuracy about the life of firefighters in Leary’s last booze-soaked series, “Rescue Me.”
“Rescue Me” had one thing going for it big time – it was, in a weekly comedy drama, an anthology of hilarious barroom tales of the sort told by men who think their God-given ability to be stupider than everyone else is one of the funniest subjects the human race has yet invented.
Which it sometimes is, no matter how little authenticity “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” may have, despite appearances by Joan Jett and the Afghan Whigs.
Johnny and his newfound daughter get the Heathens back together (the drummer has a heart condition) so one continual basic joke is going to be the rise of decrepiptude in this particular branch of the aging rock-performing population.
Which, in a city where 50,000 people just watched what Mick Jagger is still doing at the age of 71 (72 in 12 days), is a massive joke on Leary that he probably didn’t expect.
(For the record, my favorite Facebook post during Stones weekend was this: “We need to be very careful about the world the rest of us leave for Keef.”)
But then Rolling Stones weekend in Buffalo was a revisionist portrait of what rock and roll is really all about for some septuagenarians who couldn’t give a fig that complete idiots, in the ’60s, once seriously believed two of the stupidest ideas ever propounded in the history of civilization: 1) No one older than 30 should be trusted and 2) “Hope I die before I get old.” That last, from the Who’s Peter Townshend, another septuagenarian, seems to have become rubbish for him at the same time as those guitars he used to like to trash.
None of those idiocies had anything to do with the actual performance of music. Blues, rhythm and blues, country, jazz and pop musicians could have told them that – and some, no doubt, did.
As long as you love what you’re doing and are still well enough to do it for an interested audience, why wouldn’t you keep on doing it until you’ve got nine toes in the grave?
Why would anyone ever have told Bo Diddley to stop? Or Chuck Berry? Or Willie Nelson? Or Jerry Lee Lewis? (His last record was, indeed, killer.)
It’s an even more ridiculous question than this one: Why did someone ever tell Justin Bieber to start? (That seems to have been his early mentor Usher.)
I loved what the Stones did in their spare time in Buffalo – particularly Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts taking a tour of the Darwin Martin House.
There, unfettered and unabashed, is a peek into the true aesthetic heart of the Rolling Stones, who began when old schoolmates Mick and Keith were, respectively, in the London School of Economics and Sidcup Art College. Drummer Charlie Watts, too, is from art school.
The blues-loving Stones were always aesthetes to the core and why wouldn’t they still be in their 70s?
In John McMillen’s book “Beatles Vs. Stones,” he is happy to point out that at the beginning the Beatles were the scruffy, dirty, socially objectionable working-class bad boys getting their start in bars that were virtually continental sewers. The Stones were suburbanites and aesthetes from art and economic schools given a smart rough-and-tumble makeover by Andew Loog Oldham.
Until they showed up on our doorstep in their 70s and continued to be their utterly amazing selves.
Why on earth wouldn’t they keep on doing it as long as their bodies and audiences let them?
They’re not a show on the FX network. They’re for real – always have been, always will be.