Rock veterans Def Leppard performing Saturday


The easiest thing to lampoon is overseriousness.

It feels warranted, almost necessary, in fact, to make light of those things that attribute themselves too much weight.

This is why, in part, the '80s Aquanet-abetted glam metal scene has long been the spandex-suffocated butt of so many jokes.

On the surface, it seems like a sense of humor would be mandatory in a realm where dudes played four-necked guitars, teased their hair up to aircraft imperiling heights and spent more time at the makeup counter than the chicks who lusted after them.

But there's long been a palpable defensiveness among some of the artists of that day, who feel like too much attention gets paid to their visual ostentation at the expense of their music, which, often times, was predicated on a high level of musical proficiency.

Goof on the comically horndog videos of Whitesnake all you want, but those dudes could play.

As such, plenty of '80s rockers are very wary of how that era is portrayed.

This makes a film revolving around those times a tricky proposition.

"Rock of Ages" is one such flick, an amps-to-11 musical set at the height of the Sunset Strip rock scene.

It takes its name from a Def Leppard tune, and that band was admittedly wary about the project initially.

"I was a bit apprehensive," says guitarist Phil Collen, speaking from the back of a cab in New York City on a recent Wednesday afternoon. "You never know what it's going to be, whether it's going to be kind of corny or something."

Once the band saw the movie, though, those fears dissipated.

"We loved it," Collen says. "It's a modern musical comedy, but it doesn't make fun of the genre, it just happens to be set in '80s America, where rock music was ruling the airwaves. It's wonderful."

One of the film's big moments is when randy rock star antagonist Stacee Jaxx (played by a chiseled Tom Cruise) belts out a bare-chested "Pour Some Sugar On Me," one of Def Leppard's signature hits.

The band actually got to be on the set the day the scene was shot.

"It was really surreal," Collen says. "We were on tour in Florida, and (Cruise) invited us down. He said, 'Do you want to come and check it out and give us your blessings - or not.' He was absolutely amazing. He said that the song is so iconic, that he really wanted to give it all the respect it deserves. He was no joke."

The film is an adaptation of the Broadway hit of the same name, though that production did not feature any Def Leppard songs.

Collen says that could change.

"I was kind of bummed that our music wasn't in it, but it was just legal things initially," he explains. "I'm sure they're going to revisit that, because I'd love that music to be in there. We saw it on Broadway and we thought it was fantastic. It was everything a musical should be. It was fun and campy and kitsch. Hopefully, we'll get some stuff in there eventually."

A sit-down version of the Broadway show will be debuting at The Venetian in December, and Collen says he'd like the band's tunes to be a part of it.

Until then, Def Leppard is hitting the road for its annual summer trek, which Collen prepares for with an intense training routine with a former European kickboxing champion.

He normally trains for three months in advance of a tour, preparing like a fighter for a championship bout with an intense sparring regimen.

"We usually do twelve three-minute rounds with pads," says Collen, who's no stranger to throwing fists.

He grew up in a rough and tumble East London neighborhood and credits his discovery of the guitar as a teenager for helping to get his life in order.

"It really got me out of trouble," Collen says. "All my buddies at school ended up in jail and all that stuff. It just kept everything flowing. It was a release valve. I realized later on that it's absolutely essential for me. I think it's great for kids especially. When you can't actually communicate properly, you have something that you can control yourself."

Collen jokes that, these days, he plays his instrument so much, he takes it the bathroom with him.

He's an enthusiastic guy, a rock veteran who's been on the road for much of the past 30 years and sounds like he'd be up for another 30.

Every year around this time, his band fills arenas and amphitheaters where they play one classic rock jukebox staple after the next.

The only thing that's clearly aged when it comes to "Rock of Ages," then, is the haircuts.

"It's pretty amazing that you write a song, go in the studio and record it and then you look out and there's 10,000 people singing all the words," he says. "It never gets old. I can't see how that would ever get tiring."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.