Rock’n’roll suicide: is TV’s bromance with rock nostalgia finally over?

TV viewers have made their point rock fantasy turned TV series are not worth watching and its time for delusional show creators to sober up

Rocknroll has traditionally been the medium of rebellion. Television, on the other hand, has traditionally been the medium of acquiescence: there is, after all, nothing less rebellious than kowtowing to network notes.

The recent past is littered with failed attempts at transforming rock fantasy into a glamorized yet gritty televised reality. Showtimes Roadies, mercifully, was delivered its last rites last week; HBOs Vinyl was inexplicably greenlit for a second season then smartly had said greenlight switched off; and FXs Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll the only series in the trifecta allowed to trudge onward to a second season presumably because its original songs and lack of montages utilizing the sounds of baby boomer-approved classic rock tunes cost considerably less to produce than its contemporaries. At least it looked that way.

Critically, they were not well received: ratings-wise, reruns of Cheers would have performed better in their time slots. These shows seemingly existed as little more than conduits to taint the legacies of their creators: Cameron Crowe, Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Denis Leary (although the argument could be made that Leary has no legacy to taint, unless you consider his continued existence a tainting of Bill Hickss legacy).

They existed, however, because their creators had legacies to taint. Being once-respected is the gift that keeps on giving: it gives you carte blanche to become as unwatchably self-indulgent as one desires because one knows there will always be someone eagerly awaiting the opportunity to watch you do the televisual equivalent of a self-indulgent prog-rock guitar solo.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Who you calling delusional?: Vinyl. Photograph: HBO

But the more time that transpires, the smaller the audience becomes, until only the diehards remain; but oh, how they remain. This fact is most evident in the worlds of filmed entertainment and music. In much the same way someone, somewhere, will watch anything Cameron Crowe produces, someone, somewhere, is eagerly gripping their tickets to watch Chicago perform at the LA County fair later this week. It is fitting, then, that these cinematic dinosaurs were given the opportunity to flail the horse that is rock nostalgia in spite of a majority lack of interest.

Nostalgia, either ham-fistedly apparent or presumed, <a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>propelled each show. All were riddled with flashbacks or, in the case of Vinyl, were one long one. (There are flashbacks within flashbacks in Vinyl.) Remember when rock meant something? They beg. Remember when I meant something? We do, of course. Thats why were watching in the first place.

Regardless of their fundamental differences, all the series had one thing in common: they created false narratives wherein actual rock icons (Dave Grohl in Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll; Lindsey Buckingham in Roadies; and the New York Dolls in Vinyl) inhabited the same universe as the shows fictional characters. In the instances of Roadies and Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, these legends were used to extol the importance of the non-existent bands the shows followed, an impotent use of star power to try to make us care about the one-dimensional ciphers their creators willed into existence as examples of their dogged refusal to stop lionizing the glory days. The idea that the fictional legends of mediocrity that inhabited these shows universes could instill such rapt respect from musicians people actually revere is as delusional as the idea that these shows are commercially viable.

Delusion, however, propels the machine. Delusion is what makes Cameron Crowe get up in the morning and make the doughnuts that eventually become the blog entry in which he, post-Roadies cancellation, expounds on how creatively fulfilling he found his not-long-for-this world series to be. Delusion is what made the producers of these shows pay more money than I will ever see in my natural life to license Bob Dylan songs on programs that ultimately received 0.10 ratings in the coveted 18-49-year-old demographic. Delusion. Propels. The machine. And weve been raging against said machine, casting votes via our lack of interest in its output, the machine, in spite of it all, putters on. When will it stop? Recent failings would imply soon. But delusion and nostalgia have always made good bedfellows.

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