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'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll' And A Love Letter To Denis Leary and Another Time

By Lord Castleton | TV | August 6, 2015 | Comments ()

By Lord Castleton | TV | August 6, 2015 |


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The other day Dustin posted a clip of one of the greatest rock and roll things I’ve ever seen: a thousand non-native English speakers learning a Foo Fighters song and playing in unison. You know how hard it is to get just like, six musicians to do anything? What happened in Italy was something only rock and roll can do, and it made me realize that I probably don’t have enough old school rock and roll in my life. I mean, yes, my ring tone is D’yer Maker..

…but the only time I get to hear it the whole way through is when I ignore a caller. But I’ve watched that Cesena video on a loop. I’m not a huge Foo Fighters guy, but that statement was electric. It was like a flash mob without, you know, all that awful flash mob stuff. And it was just a straight up love letter to Dave Grohl. How would he respond? In Italian. BECAUSE THEY HAD THE COURTESY TO SING IN HIS LANGUAGE AND NOT ALL OF US ARE ‘MURICA.

Ciao Cesena, sono Davide, ciao! (Hi Cesena, I’m David, hello!)
Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano, solo un po’, un po’ (I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian, just a little, a little)
Questo video! ma che bello, che bellissimo! (this video, how beautiful, how very beautiful!)
Grazie mille (thank you very much)
Stiamo arrivando, prometto (we’re coming to you, I promise)
Ci vediamo presto (We’ll see each other soon)
Grazie mille, ti amo, ciao! (thank you very much, I love you, bye!)

They’ll see each other soon. Of course they will. Because that’s Dave Motherfucking Grohl. And he’s one of the good guys and he gets it. Goddamn I hope there’s never a scandal involving Dave Grohl in any way because I need an American Gen X’er I can believe in. It feels so good. Especially as I’m bracing for the Ted Cruz and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio of it all. Now, I’m going to spend a lot of time lauding music and music people, so let me take a second to rip musicians quickly, with some oldy-but-goody musician jokes.

What does a flautist use for birth control?
His personality.

What do you call a bass player without a girlfriend?
Homeless.

What did the drummer get on his SAT’s?
Saliva

What’s the definition of perfect pitch?
When you toss a banjo into the garbage and it hits an accordion.

What’s the difference between a drummer and a vacuum cleaner?
You have to plug one of them in before it sucks.

Okay, one more:

What’s the difference between a dead chicken in the road, and a dead trombonist in the road?
There’s a remote chance the chicken was on its way to a gig.

I don’t self-identify as a music person, though I play music constantly. Like, always. I play it in the shower and the car and while I cook dinner for the fam and while I take out the trash. Unless I’m squeezing in a podcast, I have some kind of music playing. I have a fairly tin ear but I’ve always somehow known what’s good or what works. I can’t hum a bar on key. Wish I could, but I can’t. I always seem to be way ahead on a band or way behind, but rarely on the right band at the right time. But I have enough friends in the music industry that I kind of understand band dynamics and the woeful state of the music industry. And as a member of Generation X I had the benefit of growing up without the digital safety blanket of the internet or cell phone connectivity that gave everyone more of a natural wild side. When I was a kid, I played in the woods with a stick. A fuckin’ stick. It was rock and roll as fuck. I’m sure Dave Grohl did, too.

Which is why it’s fitting that he appears in the very first minute of Denis Leary’s new show Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll on FX, saying that without Leary’s fictitious band, ‘The Heathens’, there would have been no Nirvana. The pilot started out a bit slow, but since then, every week it sucks me in harder. I can’t say what I really dig about it other than the fact that it captures sort of a rock and roll vibe I haven’t seen in a while. Or rather, haven’t felt in a while.

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Let me preface this by accepting my bias. I really like Denis Leary. I know he’s not everyone’s taste and he looks like an old lady that’s been strapped to the front of a tugboat for half a century. I know he can be grating and abrasive and might come off as a thing of the past. I get all that. But Denis Leary grew up like thirty minutes from me in a city that I often refer to as the “asshole of the universe.” He talks the way he talks because every single person in that region of a certain socio-economic class in a ten year span around Denis Leary’s age talks exactly like that. And his edge is something that I have every day. Every single snapperhead that cuts me off on the road. Every single fuckin asshole that makes me wait in line gets a mumbled insult from me that could come directly out of Denis Leary’s early smoke-filled stand up. This is not a “good” part of my personality, or his, frankly, but it’s real and it’s honest and it’s a regional thing. He is someone I admire because only actual honest-to-god talent gets you out of Worcester, Massachusetts and on to television. Only actual talent gets you seven seasons of Rescue Me. And only actual talent gets the son of a maid and a mechanic out of that tax bracket and into the financial stratosphere. Denis Leary can come off as a loudmouth and a rabble rouser but Denis Leary has a position and Denis Leary, like him or not, is rock and roll as fuck.

Also, in general, The Ref is woefully underappreciated.

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Do you know any 58 year olds? That’s not exactly pine box old but it’s bad Cialis commercial old. How many of the fifty-eight year olds you know are trying new things? How many are putting their reputation on the line? How many spend their time consistently being the brunt of jokes? Denis Leary does all of that on Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. By the way, that’s the last time I’m typing that. I’ve already quadrupled my monthly ampersand allowance. It’s SDRR from now on, and it’s a show where Denis Leary reminds us that he knows the cadence of a joke as well or better than anyone else on TV. Yes, he looks like an elderly witch who traded the water in her skin for meth, but he can turn a joke. And it’s refreshing, because there’s a lot of great comedy on right now, and it all has different comic sensibilities.

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Obviously, there’s Broad City and The Amy Schumer Show, which are — in different ways — helping to revitalize and redefine women’s place in the comedy pantheon. Ditto for Another Period which is a period piece with a reality TV format that looked horrible in promos but has made me laugh uproariously more than once.

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You have the experiential comedy of Louie and the observational brilliance of Last Week Tonight, which is funny and captivating and weirdly life affirming all at once.

And what about Drunk History? I don’t know what makes me tick on a daily basis but I think if you mixed some unholy combination of Drunk History, Map Porn, Cheesecake, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Titus Pullo in Rome and the Frightened Rabbit lyric “lift your dress enough to show me those shins” that may be all there is.

Drunk History. Who thought this was a good idea? Because it’s a fantastic idea and it works for me on every level.

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Anyway, there’s a lot of comedy out there worth watching. (And if I didn’t list your favorite comedy off the top of my head, I’m sure it’s great, too.) So why have we really not heard much about SDRR? How is it that we’re about to get to episode four of season one and Pajiba has barely said word one about it? Because it had the same fuck up as The Brink: namely, the pilot wasn’t as good as the rest of the show. But like The Brink, it’s rewarded those of us who have stuck around past the initial episode.

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Side note: The Brink may not be for everyone, but there was this moment where ‘Secretary of State Walter Larson’, played like a stradivarius by Tim Robbins, walks in on his wife, played by an always smoldering Carla Gugino, having sex. It’s fine because they have an understanding. “Don’t mind me” he says. But as the bartender tucks his dong back into his pants, Larson gets a peek and it’s just huge. Just gargantuan. As thick as a can of Glade air freshener and long as a sleeping ferret. And watching Robbins absorb that? Damn that moment is beautiful. Despite a rough start, The Brink has been well worth it.

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And that’s how SDRR is. The premise, in brief, is that Leary plays the role of Johnny Rock, talented but disastrous asshole who had all the skill to be one of the greats, but his personality got in the way. Broke, jobless and well out of the music world, he looks to be on his last leg when a gorgeous girl shows up and offers him a second chance. It’s an actual daughter he never knew he had, Gigi (played by Elizabeth Gillies). She grew up in Ohio, but decided to use a recent inheritance to go to NYC, find her dad, put everyone up in a swanky studio and have him write music for her. She pays all the bills, he gets the band back together with her in his spot as lead singer.

Okay fine. The premise is kind of a whatever and the pilot was pretty meh until the last few minutes when Gigi takes the mic and her voice is a game changer. That’s when I decided I’d be back for episode two. Liz Gillies is no joke.

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And episode two was waaaaaaay better. The premise of episode two is an intervention. Get Johnny Rock off of blow long enough to get him to write three songs. This is where you start to see the draw of the show and Leary’s skill. The argument Johnny Rock makes against getting clean is compelling, citing musician after musician who sobered up and started to suck. He cites, for example, how all David Bowie’s best work was before 1978 when he was fucked up. After that? Let’s Dance.

“Let’s not, David.” Leary says.

But really, his daughter and bandmates say, you can be good and sober. Look at Radiohead and Morrissey! That leads to this:

That’s just magical. That’s spot on. Asking a fatty for a cigarette? Come on, people! Yes, it’s irreverent, but it’s on the money. I grew up in a world where people were obsessed with The Smiths and I caught myself humming ‘Cemetery Gates’ just the other day thinking about whether Nic Pizzolatto was bumming material off of others.

You say: “ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own
But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
A hundred times, maybe less, maybe more

If you must write prose and poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loans”
There’s always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who’ll trip you up and laugh
When you fall

Ah. Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose because Wilde is on mine. SHUH! And apparently he’s also on Leary’s, who has magically reinvented himself on SDRR. God, that hair is painful.

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Dustin recently mentioned that Leary feels like he’s stuck in 1991. Seen one way, that’s a dig, but in creating this show, Leary capitalizes on that, and makes it work in context. All the jokes make fun of him. Yes, he looks like a golf bag with prosthetic teeth that’s been left in a jerky sauna for a decade. But he owns that, and that’s pretty great. Recently, on Jimmy Fallon, Leary admitted that some people in New York thought he was Jane Lynch. That’s fantastic. And there are these wonderful beats. Tight, sharp and biting. Like when his drummer, BAM, is trying to get him to embrace a drug-free existence.

BAM: Have you ever heard of the Art of Now?

JR: Is it an Art Tatum record?

BAM: No, it’s a life movement. Breathe. Flow. Engage.

JR: So it’s a Sting record.

That’s what SDRR does best. Conversational music talk that feels like it hits on things we all know but rarely articulate. I feel like it’s a show I didn’t know I wanted, talking about music in a way I didn’t know I missed. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the supporting cast. I’m a Northern Exposure die hard, so any version of John Corbett is always welcome on my dial. John Ales as the droopy bassist, Elaine Hendrix as the long-suffering rock wife, Robert Kelly as the progressive drummer. They’re all good. And notably, Josh Pais as the band’s manager cements the whole thing together.

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And did I mention Leary writes all the music? And it’s good? And Joan Jett is in episode three?

Dave Grohl may be the person fanning our collective hearthfires in the real world of music, but Johnny Rock may be his asshole alter ego, sent to our TV screens to remind us of a time when we didn’t take ourselves so seriously. You can check out the first three episodes on SD for free and $1.99 each for HD. I’d tell you to just grab the FXNOW app but it’s malware that fucked my laptop three times.

SDRR on FX at 10pm on Thusdays. Treat yourself. It’s rock and roll as fuck.

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