Forward Thinking: It's the music that counts

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Alice Cooper. Photo / Supplied
Alice Cooper. Photo / Supplied

As Alice Cooper said to me earlier this week, it's hard to make a good rock 'n' roll film these days because no one in the bands is doing drugs - and there's not much sex either.

"Everybody thinks backstage is nothing but naked girls running round with drugs everywhere," said Alice. "That was kind of true in the late 60s and early 70s, when there was a certain bohemian thing going on. But now, for a real big rock band, there is probably more coffee backstage than alcohol. And if you're in a big band, there are no drugs. Like the Foo Fighters. If they're going to do a year on the road, they can't afford to have a guy loopy on drugs."

Now, if anyone apart from Iggy Pop and Keith Richards is allowed to sound off about illicit substances, it's Alice. Starting in the 60s, he loaded his body full of bad things, but lived to tell the tale and now he's a good Christian who plays golf when he's not on tour.

However, what the original shock rocker was trying to get at is that rock films don't need to focus on the old rock 'n' roll cliches.

He helped pioneer the art form in 1976 with Welcome to My Nightmare, a theatrical concert movie inspired by his 1975 album of the same name.

Instead of tales of sex, drugs and debauchery, it featured freakish horror, rattly old skeletons, and monsters. Thirty-five years on, he's about to release an album sequel, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and plans to also make a movie out of this one with a director wishlist of either film-making ghoul Tim Burton or human horror show Rob Zombie.

There is a groundswell of other rock celebrations this month too, including our own Flying Nun announcing big celebrations for its 30th birthday (not known for their sexy side) and Nirvana's super-duper 20th anniversary reissue of Nevermind out soon (yep, lots of drugs there, and I suppose Courtney Love provided the sex element).

And there are also three anniversary rock films - or more specifically, docos - around of note, and neither Pearl Jam Twenty, U2's From the Sky Down nor Upside Down: The Creation Records' Story have much sex in them, and only limited glorification of drugs and minimal debauchery.

Because while Eddie Vedder's constant on-stage companion is a bottle of red wine, Bono's good for a pint I'm sure, and Creation - home to the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis among others - peaked at a time of hazy, crazy, drug mania in the late 80s and early 90s, the three films are really all about the music.

Pearl Jam Twenty premiered last weekend at the Toronto Film Festival so I've only seen a trailer. But considering it's directed by long-time friend and fan of the band Cameron Crowe (the man behind rock journo groupie flick Almost Famous and grunge-era romance Singles), it looks like it is a touching tribute, with plenty of rare and unseen footage to keep fans happy.

And rightly so too, because while they may have spent 20 years making increasingly earnest rock, there is no denying Pearl Jam's devotion to their music, their fans, and each other. Hey, not many bands are still together after more than 20 years sharing a practice space.

Oh that's right, U2 still are. Although From The Sky Down, which also premiered at Toronto and is released in time for Achtung Baby's 20th birthday, reveals the tension and frayed relationships between Bono and the boys in the lead-up to recording the album.

I have, however, seen Upside Down and, as I say, though many of the musicians were addled on God-knows-what, it's their pathological and, for some, like Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, kind of religious devotion to music that comes through most.

No wonder many of the Creation bands came up with some of the most magical and important music around. Not that founder Alan McGee quite knew it at the time: "I had no idea it was going to be this influential music." And I bet the Scottish geezer didn't think they'd be making a documentary about his beloved bands 20 years on, either.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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