Backstage… it’s not what you think
Ever see that scene in the movie Rock Of Ages where we first meet the character Stacee Jaxx, lying in bed, draped in half naked women somewhere in a room backstage that’s been converted to look like a jungle, complete with a swimming oasis? In the scene, our jukebox hero is summoned by his fast talking, confident manager who requests him to take the stage. At this point, Mr. Jaxx arises, speaking incoherently and falls face first into the swimming oasis mentioned earlier.
Having spent the better part of almost 15 years backstage at rock shows, I have yet to bear witness to such an event or anything remotely close to such excess. Yes, of course movies embellish a little one might say, but it makes you wonder where the idea of such excess even comes from.
These days going backstage is pretty uneventful on most occasions. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some pretty cool, unannounced happenings, like the time Bono and The Edge showed up at the Riviera in Chicago after The Killers set, to hang for a bit. Aside from that sporadic burst of energy, things remain business as usual. Honestly, most people backstage are there to work, not enjoy the rock n’ roll lifestyle and all that goes with it. Spoiler alert: It’s hardly ever like the movies. Of course there was a time when this type of excess did prevail, perhaps when KISS played the Kingdome or maybe during a Led Zeppelin stint at the Fillmore. I can imagine it was like a scene from the movie Almost Famous, and we all pined for the chance to get backstage and party like a rock star… with real living rock stars.
Okay, so there was this one time where I was a witness to the rock star excess… Spinal Tap in Anaheim, CA circa 2001 at the NAMM Show. Shure sponsored the evening and it was the hottest ticket in town. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a fictitious rock band take the stage and melt faces for an hour and a half! The moment the three members of Spinal Tap, Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) , walked into the green room, they were in character. There were other celebrities backstage as well, namely Meredith Brooks, Skunk Baxter, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell. VH1 was there to conduct interviews. There were little people backstage getting ready to take part in the famous Stonehenge bit. We got lost on the way to the stage (just like in the movie). We drove a car through the ballroom to the stage with the band inside. This was all supposed to be excessive, it’s all based on a movie about a fake rock band. As anyone who has seen this fake rockumentary will tell you, it’s all a comedic nod to the excessive rock star lifestyle, both the ups and the downs.
Well, no one can pinpoint when things started to become more business than pleasure, but the fact is, this is another thing that the industry as a whole has changed. The backstage wants and needs are definitely more controlled when it comes to most rock bands out there trying to make a living. The entourages have been cut down in size as well. People and things cost money, and most bands are not making money off of album sales like Led Zeppelin and the Stones once did. Playing shows, selling merch and running with a streamlined crew is the way bands today make money. Spending any of that money on the “wants” instead of the “needs” is just not how most bands function… well the smart, successful ones at least. Most of the time before soundcheck is spent doing radio and TV promo to help sell tickets to the show that night and push sales of the latest album. While the band is away, the production crew tirelessly gets everything in its right place, ready for the band’s brief soundcheck. Band shows up, runs through a few songs and heads back to the bus or hotel. No party, no girls, no celebrities, no other enhancements. About the only thing you can count on these days backstage is catering. Everyone gets excited about catering, whether its good or bad.
Again, these are just my experiences and observations. Maybe I missed the room where they had the swimming pool or omelet station? Perhaps I didn’t go to the heavily sponsored boy band show? Do you guys have any backstage experiences you’d like to share with the group?