Long Live Rock: Celebrate the Chaos is a headbanging, crowd surfing, air guitar-playing tribute to the die-hard fans, musicians, and lifestyle of the hard rock musical genre. The documentary, filmed before the pandemic, focuses initially on devotees of hard rock festival concerts. Then switches perspectives to the artists and promoters point of view. Long Live Rock is loaded with interviews from members of super groups such as Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, and Guns N’ Roses. Their insights are interesting, especially concerning addiction and mental health. But the film’s loose narrative and lack of structure relegates its approach as superficial.
Long Live Rock opens with a montage of headlines and articles about the downfall of rock. R&B, rap, and hip hop have supplanted rock and roll in popular culture. Director Jonathan McHugh disagrees with that notion. He introduces several midwesterners who started the Rock on the Range fan festival in Columbus, Ohio. They are nurses, doctors, prison guards, regular middle class Americans who toss off their suburban shackles to crowd surf and get dirty in the mosh pit. Hard rock and heavy metal is more than just music. It’s a way of life that gave them purpose, camaraderie, and needed outlet for release.
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The top tier musicians revel in the insane energy of performing to thousands of raucous festival fans. Rob Zombie, my favorite interview, laughs at the crowd sizes of various comic cons and other similar activities. Rock superstars see that amount of people every day on tour. There is a kindred relationship that fuels everyone from the stage to the crowd. These are the outcasts that have found a special place together. Every show is different, but the adulation and intensity never wanes.
Long Live Rock explores the darkness of hard rock culture. Drug addiction, alcoholism, and depression is pervasive and almost a right of passage. Jonathan McHugh has raw admissions from fans and rockers about their destructive behavior. Guns N’ Roses bassist, Duff McKagan, talks frankly of nearly dying after his “pancreas exploded” from drugs and alcohol. A recent parolee was stabbed in the chest over a heroin deal gone bad. From the streets to the limelight, rock and roll thrills are fleeting. The desire to keep that level of adrenaline leads to tragic downfalls. The suicides of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), and Scott Weiland’s fatal overdose (Stone Temple Pilots) are discussed by their friends and bandmates.
Long Live Rock goes south by biting off more than it can chew. The film has multiple tangents that become scattershot. There are segments on women in rock. Families who live a rock centered life, including a woman who crowd surfs in her wheelchair. Ice-T, Tom Morello, and other black hard rockers are interviewed at length about race in the industry. Then you have additional feedback from psychologists and therapists who treat people with rock inspired afflictions. There’s too much going on in the brief eighty minute runtime. Jonathan McHugh needed to stick with the festivals as his primary theme. The rapport between the artists and fans is fascinating, but gets lost as the film jumps around.
Long Live Rock did get me pumped for concerts again. I’ve been going to hard rock shows since middle school. The last year under lockdown has been a total bummer. The film stokes the fire of fandom and reminds us of what’s been missing. I’m sure everyone depicted is chomping at the bit to rock again. Long Live Rock: Celebrate the Chaos is a production of Abramorama and Crowd Surf Films. It will have a March 12th limited theatrical release and streaming via premium video on demand.
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