April 24, 2021
by Carla Hay
“Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos”
Directed by Jonathan McHugh
Culture Representation: The documentary “Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos” features a predominantly white, mostly American group of people (with some African Americans and a few Asians and Latinos) who are musicians, fans and industry people discussing the impact of hard rock/heavy metal music in their lives and in other people’s lives.
Culture Clash: Hard rock/heavy metal often has a reputation for violence at concerts and in song lyrics, while musicians in the genre who aren’t white males face discrimination barriers.
Culture Audience: “Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a documentary that gives a broad but not-very-revealing overview of hard rock/heavy metal fandom in the United States.
There have been many documentaries that have tried to capture the essence of hard rock/heavy metal culture, but few have truly succeeded. “Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos” is like a rambling ad campaign for hard rock/heavy metal’s die-hard fandom. The documentary doesn’t reveal anything new, the editing is horribly unfocused, and the movie often comes across as a long infomercial for rock concert festivals.
And there are parts of the documentary where the sound mixing is so amateurish, it’s embarrassing. For example, the sound levels are sometimes mismatched and uneven in the same interview. You know it’s bad when a music documentary can’t even get the sound right.
Directed by Jonathan McHugh, “Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos” gives a lot of screen time to fans who are devoted to seeing their favorite artists in concert and meeting up with other fans at big rock festivals. There are entire segments of the movie about concert rituals such as crowd surfing, mosh pits and the wall of death. It’s mentioned that a wall of death can be security personnel’s biggest nightmare because it simulates a war battle with large numbers of people on one side charging into large groups of people on the other side.
But it begs the question: Why is a documentary that’s meant for hard rock/heavy metal fans spending so much time on basic things that they already know about these concerts? The segments on crowd surfing, mosh pits and the wall of death all look like they were filmed as instructional videos for people training to work in concert security, not for people who are in the audiences at these concerts. If you think it’s fascinating that some concert promoters hire college football players for audience security at rock concerts, then “Long Live Rock” is your kind of movie. The documentary has an entire segment on that too, with Urbana University head football coach Tyler Haines introducing his team members who do concert security, and showing how they interact with the crowds at concerts.
And there’s a lot of contradictory statements in the documentary. Although several people in the movie talk about friendly and welcoming communities at these concerts, they also acknowledge there’s disturbing violence at these shows. The general consensus is that people who choose to participate in a mosh pit and a wall of death should expect to get bloodied and some other type of physical injury. Crowd surfing can also be hazardous, especially for women, who are more at risk than men of being sexually groped and assaulted while crowd surfing.
But then in the documentary, concertgoers and artists pipe in with comments that even if people get physically hurt at these concerts, there are always other people who will help anyone who gets injured. Here’s an idea: How about just not hurting each other in the first place?
Although most people who go to hard rock/heavy metal concerts have a great time and don’t get physically injured, the movie has a bizarre and borderline irresponsible tone of glossing over the serious injuries that do occur. The violence is described as all in “good fun” and people just letting off steam when they go to these concerts. But maybe trying to justify and endorse this violence should be no surprise from a documentary whose subtitle is “Celebrate the Chaos.”
One of the best things about the documentary is the concert festival footage that effectively captures the positive aspects of the shows, such as the adrenaline and excitement of safely being in the audience of a big music festival. Some of the artists also talk about the rush that they get from being on stage, but it’s the type of commentary that artists have said countless times. This is not a movie about bands struggling in tiny clubs. The live concert experiences presented in the documentary are mostly about the spectacle of being at a festival that can attract at least 10,000 people per show.
As such, all of the artists interviewed in the documentary are those who are at the career level of performing at major festivals. The artists in the movie span a few generations, but most are artists who first hit it big in the 1980s, 1990s or early 2000s. They include Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich; Rob Zombie; Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello; Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell; Guns N’Roses bassist Duff McKagan, Body Count vocalist Ice-T; Zakk Wylde; Korn singer Jonathan Davis; Stone Temple Pilots members Robert DeLeo and Eric Kretz; Slipknot singer Corey Taylor; Avenged Sevenfold singer M. Shadows; Godsmack singer Sully Erna; Shinedown singer Brent Smith; Papa Roach singer Jacoby Shaddix; Myles Kennedy; Skillet spouses John Cooper and Korey Cooper; Live singer Ed Kowalczyk; Sevendust singer Lajon Witherspoon; Mastodon singer/drummer Brann Dailor; Steel Panther members Stix Zadinia and Michael Starr; and The Offspring members Dexter Holland and Noodles.
Younger musicians (those who released their first albums in the mid-to-late 2000s and 2010s) are also interviewed in the documentary. They include Machine Gun Kelly; Greta Van Fleet twins Josh Kiszka and Jake Kiszka; Halestorm members Lzzy Hale and Arejay Hale; Dorothy singer Dorothy Martin; Radkey; Beartooth singer Caleb Shomo; In This Moment singer Maria Brink; Fever 333 guitarist Stephen Harrison; The Pretty Reckless singer Taylor Momsen; Fire From the Gods singer AJ Channer; and Black Veil Brides singer Andy Biersack.
In addition, other people from the music industry weigh in with their comments. They include concert promoter Gary Spivack (one of the documentary’s producers), Spotify global head of rock Allison Hagendorf, record company executive Jason Flom, manager/producer Andy Gould, Halestorm manager Bill McGathy, artist manager Rick Sales, concert security staffer Seyth Boardman, artist manager/addiction counselor Jeff Jampol and MusiCares senior director Harold Owens. Media people who are interviewed include radio personalities Eddie Trunk, Matt Pinfield, Bob Lefsetz, Dr. Drew Pinsky and Jose Mangin.
Republican politician John Kasich, the former Ohio governor and congressman who was a candidate in the 2000 and 2016 U.S. presidential elections, is one of the people interviewed. However, his time on screen is reduced to one soundbite. He comments, “Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, a liberal, or a conservative, when the music catches you, we’re all one.”
The documentary has no explanation for what Kasich is doing in this movie. Is he really a hard rock/heavy metal fan? And if so, who are his favorite artists? How does he feel about laws that affect the music industry? The documentary never bothers to ask and answer these questions. It’s an example of how this movie has substandard filmmaking. “Long Live Rock” helmer McHugh makes his feature-film directorial debut with this movie. Maybe a more experienced feature-film director would have done a better job.
There’s even an interview with a psychotherapist named Kevin Stolper, whose specialty is in treating adolescents. Stolper explains how hard rock/heavy metal appeals to people who want to have a youthful, party mentality. Hard rock/heavy metal fans, who often describe themselves as misfits when they were in school, find the fandom appealing because it’s a community where they feel like they belong.
Metallica drummer Ulrich describes heavy metal fandom this way: “All the disenfranchised feel like they belong to something that’s much bigger than themselves.” In fact, many of the comments in “Long Live Rock” are about how hard rock/heavy metal fandom is about this strong sense of community. The words “tribe,” “tribalism,” “community” and “finding your people” come up a lot when people in the documentary describe the main reasons why they love the music and going to concerts.
And many of the interviewees mention that even though hard rock/heavy metal isn’t as popular as it was in the 1980s, there’s an adoring appreciation for the music that gets handed down through generations. The die-hard fans admirably don’t care if the music is trendy or not. “I don’t listen to reviews. Anyone who says rock is dead is ‘out’ for me,” Guns N’Roses bassist McKagan comments, as he flicks his hand in a “tossing out” motion.
The stereotypical image of a hard rock/heavy metal fan is of a white male stoner, but the fandom is a lot more diverse than people might think. SiriusXM host Trunk comments: “I never liked the clichés and stereotypes that came with this music. People think you can pick out who is or isn’t into this music by how they look. Doctors, lawyers, brain surgeons love this music. The music is way wider-reaching than people give it credit for.”
The documentary includes segments about gender and racial diversity in hard rock/heavy metal. The general consensus is that although a male majority still exists in hard rock/heavy metal, the numbers of females who are musicians and fans have increased over the years, compared to how it was in the 20th century. New Year’s Day lead singer Ash Costello comments on female participation in the hard rock/heavy metal scene: “Females have always been there. Now, it’s more of an equality than a separation.”
However, the documentary completely ignores any #MeToo stories in hard rock/heavy metal. It’s as if the filmmakers don’t want to acknowledge hard rock/heavy metal’s reputation for glorifying toxic masculinity. If you were to believe this documentary, sexual abuse and sexual harassment don’t exist in hard rock/heavy metal. The closest that someone comes to describing gender discrimination is when Halestorm lead singer Lzzy Hale mentions that sometimes she meets people while on tour who assume that she’s a band member’s girlfriend instead of a member of the band.
Black people and other people of color are still very much a minority in hard rock/heavy metal. And although no one denies that racism exists, black artists such as Ice-T believe that most hard rock/metal fans don’t care what color an artist is if that artist has talent. However, he adds that there are still misconceptions some people might have about his heavy metal band Body Count, because the band members are black.
Ice-T says in the documentary: “When we got in trouble for [Body Count’s 1992 song] ‘Cop Killer,’ they called it a rap record, That was a racist way of saying it because they didn’t want to call it rock. Maybe [‘Cop Killer’] was a protest record.”
Fever 333 guitarist Harrison mentions that it isn’t just the subset of white racists who have a problem with black people being hard rock/heavy metal fans. He says that some black people have a hard time understanding why any black person would be a fan of hard rock/heavy metal. But on the plus side, Harrison thinks that most music fans have this belief about hard rock/heavy metal: “It isn’t a white thing. It’s for everyone.”
That belief might be true for most music fans. But, for whatever reason, the filmmakers of “Long Live Rock” only chose to feature white American fans in the documentary’s interview segments on people who love to go to hard rock/heavy metal concerts. The main diversity that they have is in their jobs. The documentary gives no mention of the loyal hard rock/heavy metal fandom that exists outside of North America, particularly in Europe, Japan and South America, where certain hard rock/heavy metal artists can headline shows at arenas and stadiums.
The interviewed fans include medical billing manager Andrea Rickord, a married mother of two children who were about 7 to 9 years old when she was interviewed for this documentary. Rickord (who’s from Springfield, Ohio) describes what going to concerts means to her: “It’s definitely like therapy.” And when she goes to a big festival, she calls it her “mom trip” that she enjoys for herself, because her kids and husband don’t have the same passion for hard rock/heavy metal that she does.
Ex-con Josh Guikey, his nurse wife Jami Guikey, and corrections officer Scott Prince (who met and befriended former burglar Josh Guikey when Josh was sent to prison) also talk about the therapeutic benefits of hard rock/heavy metal. Dental technician Sarah J. Kazan and dentist Dr. Gytis R. Udrys, who are a couple and co-workers, say that part of their initial attraction to each other was their mutual love of the same music. Dr. Udrys says he also likes going to hard rock/heavy metal concerts because he can let loose and not have the straight-laced image that’s required for his dentist job.
Justin “G” Griffin (an architect) and his wife Tiffany Griffin (an elementary school teacher) discuss his passion for building an online community for hard rock/heavy metal fans, going all the way back to the days when MySpace was the top social media platform. Tiffany says that she knew that she and Justin would be a good match for each other when he said that he had to listen to Metallica’s 1991 self-titled album (also known as “The Black Album”) every night before he went to sleep. One of their first dates was a Shinedown concert.
“Long Live Rock” gives a lot of screen time to the fans who consider themselves to be expert crowd surfers. They include crowd-surfing married couple Etienne Sabate and Michelle Sabate, who are shown going into a festival crowd while encased in giant plastic bubbles. Abby McCormick, a mother of two who lives in Georgia, is probably the most memorable fan in the documentary because she likes to crowd surf in her wheelchair. The documentary has plenty of clips showing her doing that.
McCormick lost her one of her legs in a motorcycle accident that killed her fiancé. She has a prosthetic leg, and she also likes to be in mosh pits at concerts. McCormick has a lively personality and she’s hilarious when she tells some of her stories, such has an experience she had when her prosthetic leg got ripped off while she was crowd surfing at a concert. The leg was eventually returned to her, with an unopened bottle of beer placed inside the leg. She also proudly says of crowd surfing in a wheelchair: “I’ve never been dropped.”
Although these fan anecdotes can be entertaining, “Long Live Rock” has such atrocious editing, that the fan segments sometimes abruptly appear in random moments throughout the film, resulting in clumsy tonal shifts. For example, toward the end of the documentary, the tone gets dark and depressing when it covers the topic of rock stars with alcoholism and drug addiction. The documentary then segues into discussing mental-health issues and the untimely, tragic deaths of Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Chris Cornell and Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, who died just two months apart in 2017. (Both of their deaths were ruled as suicides.) But then, after all this talk of addiction and death, the documentary cheerfully goes back to the crowd-surfing married couple to show them in their plastic bubbles. It’s an awkward editing transition, to say the least.
And the fan segments sometimes have unnecessary footage that shouldn’t have been in the documentary. For example, the documentary shows a fan named Jessie Shrewsburry, who is a rehab trauma nurse, going fishing in a creek because she says fishing, just like going to concerts, helps her reduce stress. Dr. Udrys is shown piloting a small plane in another scene. It’s meant to show that these fans have additional hobbies, but it’s an example of how the documentary has a tendency to lose focus by going in these off-topic tangents.
“Long Live Rock” should have had more behind-the-scenes stories from the musicians instead of mostly fluffy soundbites from them. Most of the artist interviews are reduced to short quips that don’t say anything new that they haven’t already talked about in other interviews over the years. For a documentary about hard rock/heavy metal fandom, it’s lacking in unique fan interaction stories from the artists’ perspectives.
For example, Rob Zombie says in the documentary, “I’ll be at something like Comic-Con. And the actors will be like, ‘Oh my God, this is insane with all these fans and having so much interaction!’ And I’m like, ‘This is every fucking day on the tour.”’
Zombie has said this before many times in other interviews, so this documentary should have had more insight into how Zombie interacts with fans or how he prepares for a show, to explain why the interaction is so “insane” on tour. Several people in the documentary praise how he blends horror movie concepts with his music. But that’s not news to anyone who knows anything about Zombie.
The closest that “Long Live Rock” comes to showing what it’s like to be a rock band on tour is when Skillet spouses John Cooper and Korey Cooper show the inside of their tour bus and talk about how their son and daughter go on tour with them. There’s also a brief segment with Halestorm doing a meet-and-greet session with fans at a music store, where Halestorm superfans Dave Rumohr and Lizzy Gravelle gush about how much they love the band and how lead singer Lzzy Hale inspires them.
Although “Long Live Rock” has interviews with some of the biggest stars in hard rock and heavy metal, there’s a shortage of perspectives from artists who are not from U.S.-based bands. How could there be a documentary about heavy metal without anything from the bands of the highly influential New Wave of British Heavy Metal? (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Def Leppard, for example.) It’s a glaring omission.
X Japan lead singer Yoshiki is the only musician interviewed in the documentary who’s from a band that’s not based in the United States. Five Finger Death Punch co-founder Zoltan Bathory, who is originally from Hungary, is also interviewed, but Five Finger Death Punch is primarily an American band, based in Las Vegas. Metallica drummer Ulrich is originally from Denmark, but he’s also in a U.S.-based band consisting primarily of Americans.
And this movie almost completely ignores the impact that non-American musicians have had on hard rock/heavy metal. A few people mention Black Sabbath’s influence, but that’s about it. No one mentions Led Zeppelin, the first superstar hard rock band to sell out arenas around the world. No one mentions AC/DC, Rush or Scorpions, who were breakthrough hard rock bands for Australia, Canada and Germany, respectively.
Maybe this documentary’s American bias is because “Long Live Rock” producer Spivack works for American concert promotion company Danny Wimmer Presents, which produces U.S. hard rock/heavy metal festivals that include Louder Than Life, Epicenter and Sonic Temple. But the simple fact is that you can’t do a credible documentary about hard rock/heavy metal fandom by not including fans and more musicians from other countries.
As the popularity of hard rock/metal declined after its peak in the 1980s, many bands were able to sustain themselves because of their fandom outside of the United States. The band joke “We’re big in Japan” is rooted in hard rock/heavy metal bands’ real-life experiences of making a huge chunk of their income outside the United States. And whenever hard rock/heavy metal artists talk about which places in the world are their favorites to perform, there will be mention of places in and outside the U.S.
Although well-intentioned, “Long Live Rock” missed an opportunity to be a revealing documentary that shows how artists’ interactions with fans are the necessary fuel that keeps the fire of hard rock/heavy metal burning at a time when this genre of music has been declared “dead” but is still very much alive. And by “artist interactions,” that doesn’t just mean showing the artists saying a few words on stage to the audience. People can see concert footage for free on the Internet.
There’s a whole other level of promotion and marketing that a lot of these artists have to do, especially when they’re not played on mainstream commercial radio. The Internet and social media are barely mentioned in this movie. “Long Live Rock” had a documentary concept that needed to go beyond what’s seen on stage and give more personal and interesting stories about artist experiences with fans while on tour, not just in the U.S. but also in other parts of the world.
The filmmakers had the right idea to include the perspectives of fans, but this idea was executed sloppily. There’s tailgate concert footage in other films that’s more interesting than a lot of the fan footage that’s in “Long Live Rock.” (See the 1986 documentary “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”) Unfortunately, what viewers get in “Long Live Rock” is a jumbled mishmash of an electronic press kit for concert festivals, rehashed comments from artists, and fan interviews that talk more about crowd surfing and moshing than what they saw on stage.
Abramorama released “Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos” in U.S. virtual cinemas on March 12, 2021. Amazon Prime Video’s Coda Collection (a spinoff subscription available to Amazon Prime members at an additional cost) will premiere the movie on May 1, 2021. The movie’s VOD premiere date is June 1, 2021.