In 2002, long time L.A. rocker Cheri Lovedog found critical acclaim for her stage play Prey for Rock & Roll which had a successful run at New York’s famed rock club CBGBs. This caught the attention of film producer and music consultant Alex Steyermark (Hedwig and the Angry Itch), who was searching for a film to break him as a first time director. Lovedog’s self-professed “rock n’ roll love letter” to the L.A. club scene stars Gina Gershon (who got her start in Girls Just Want To Have Fun with Helen Hunt, found acclaim in Bound, and while great in it, deserves better than Showgirls) as a 40-year-old tattoo artist and rocker deep in a mid-life crisis, wondering how much longer she can deal with the struggles of keeping her band together.
Starring as the Clam Dandies (since it’s an all-girl band, read into it) are Drea Dematteo (HBO’s The Sapranos) as terminally-stoned bassist Tracy, Laura Petty (Tank Girl) as Faith, and (the awesome; yeah he’s from Pittsburgh, baby) Marc Blucas (TV’s Buffy) as “Animal” the roadie. Shelly Cole (Madeline Lynn from TV’s Gilmore Girls) impresses with her drum skills; she hits all the right notes as one of the best “film” drummers out there. Petty fakes it well, while Dematteo knows her way around the neck and Gershon, who didn’t play a note before the film, blows the doors off with her power chords. The soundtrack composed by Cheri Lovedog — and sung by Gina Gershon — features an alternative-rock super group of the Lunachick’s guitarist Gina Volpe, bassist Sara Lee of Gang of Four, and later of the B-52s, and Hole drummer Samantha Maloney.
To promote the picture on the festival circuit, Gina took to the road with the Washington D.C. punk outfit Girls vs. Boys (aka GvsB, they provided “Kill the Sex Player” to Kevin’s Smith’s Clerks) as her backing band, which was chronicled in the IFC Cable Series Gina Gerhson: Rocked. Cheri Lovedog compiled the feature documentary Hollywood Trash & Tinsel on the making of the film. Musician Stephen Trask, who also worked on Hedwig and the Angry Itch alongside Alex Steyermark, produced the soundtrack.
Astute viewers will notice the footage of X in the film’s opening refrains originates from The Decline of Western Civilization. Fans of the Lunachick’s can watch Gina Volpe’s bandmate Theo Kagan in Live Freaky, Die Freaky (a seriously f’d up animated puppet movie where, in a distant future, a cult forms around the Manson Family and Charles Manson is mistaken as a Jesus-messiah; the film also stars the voices of the members of Green Day and the Go-Gos). Lovedog’s other films include 2010’s All American Gender Outlaw and Go Hard or Go Home, a 2012 document on the indie band Devil Dolls MC. Alex Steyermark made another rock n’ roll flick, the indie ’80s rock tale, Losers Take All, which, despite Kevin Smith’s involvement, failed at the box office and VHS shelves.
During the film’s initial stages, Joan Jett was involved in the soundtrack’s production, but left early on due to the usual “artistic differences”; Linda Perry of Pink and 4 Non Blondes (“What Going On?”; their cover of Van Halen’s “I’m the One” appears in Airheads) stepped in (it is also said Jett was to star in the Gershone role, but had issues with the script). However, as you can see from Gina Gershon’s look and tone, Joan definitely left her mark on the film — in many ways Gershon’s Jacki harkens Jett’s own Patti Rasnick in 1987’s Light of Day.
As with any rock flick that isn’t a splashy, A-List bioflick of the Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, or Ray Charles variety, the critical — both professional and general movie goer — response was, as with Light of Day, lukewarm. Many reviews, while praising the costuming and set design, and calling out Gershon’s dead-on portrayal of a failed, disillusioned rocker, dropped the word “soap opera” in their reviews in regards to the endless stream of bad luck befallen the band (e.g., a band member’s rape; another’s death by car accident; a recording deal falling through because Jacki didn’t “put out” for the record executive) that came across as “phony.”
As someone who experienced this life as radio jock dealing with local bands, as a roadie for said bands, and bassist myself, I can attest that Alex Steyermark’s directorial debut is a commendable first effort that ranks up there with Paul Schrader’s Light of Day as one of the most accurate portrayals of a struggling rock band; Steyermark pulls back the curtain on a musician’s love of rock ‘n’ roll clashing with their family and relationship obligations. Yes, most struggling musician’s lives are a hot mess — just like in this movie.
The film’s soundtrack has also taken its share of critical hits; many critiqued the music as “awful.” Personally, I enjoyed Lovedog’s music for the film, which serves as a sort of “greatest hits/best of” compilation of her life’s work. Not to say that the music was purposefully composed as “bad” for dramatic effect or that Lovedog can’t write — but isn’t that the point? It is one thing to love music: it’s another thing to be able to write it . . . and yet another to write it successfully. So, if you’re watching the film for the first time, and you think the music “sucks,” it should only lend to your appreciation of the film as a whole and in your understanding of why many, many local bands — no matter how hard they try — never make it.
This film is a must watch. The soundtrack is a must listen. Do it. And stick around for the band flyer-inspired end credits. The film — as well as the soundtrack — is readily and easily available in the online marketplace with VOD streams on a wide variety of platforms. Vignettes from the film and its music abound on You Tube to enjoy.