Airheads – Desiring Fame

Airheads_film_posterDirector: Michael Lehman
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler, Steve Buschemi
Release: 5 August 1994
IMDB Rating: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 50%

When I was much younger I remember seeing a website called ‘Hollywood Jesus’ (and I won’t provide a link to it because you can basically Google it, and it really isn’t what it used to be) that proved that you could literally get anything out of basically any movie whatsoever. Okay, that was a Christian website pretty much pulling Christian content out of pretty much all of the movies out there (with, maybe, the exception of Debbie Does Dallas). What that made me realise that even with the most mindnumbing of movies there is something in it that we can take away.

Mind you, this isn’t a mind-numbing movie, but it is one of those films that simply does not seem to have received the credit that it is due. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have even attained the status of being a cult movie, despite the fact that it is literally one of my favourite movies ever. In fact, it is also one of those films in which the soundtrack rocks, and that is saying something because there are very, very few films that have a decent soundtrack, decent in the sense that I would go out to a record store, buy it, and listen to it over and over again – yet with this film I did.

Honestly, it is a real shame that it isn’t as well know as it was because honestly when I first saw the trailer, I knew that I was going to love this film, and when I saw it I did, and when I watched it again the other day, that love affair with Airheads simply hasn’t come to an end, and it has been over 25 years since it was released.

Anyway, here is the trailer that I fell in love with:


Yeah, let’s talk about the plot, not that there is all that much to say. Basically, we have these three guys that want to make it big in the music industry, namely by starting a band. Unfortunately they can’t seem to get the big break that they are looking for, and they have tried everything, including sneaking into the record company to attempt to get one of the executives to listen to their record. That is when they hit upon the idea of breaking into a radio station, one that plays their type of music, and get the song played on the radio.

Well, things don’t go quite as planned, but one of the guys happens to work at a toy store, and he picked up a bunch of water pistols that were discarded namely because they looked too much like real guns. Since the radio station decides not to play their song, they pull out the guns and demand that the song is played. It’s pretty simple, though things just seem to continually go wrong, such as the reel to reel recorder breaking down just as the song is starting, and also the hunt for the other demo tape, namely because Chaz’s girlfriend kicked him out, and proceeded to throw the tape out of the window of the car.

You can probably guess what happens in the end, and that is that people love their song, and they end up becoming famous rockers, but that isn’t what makes the movie so good, but rather the events that lead up to it. Of course, they do have to do time because, well, they held a bunch of people hostage, but honestly, they’re rockers – the laws don’t apply to them in the same way that they apply to us.

Breaking in

I have to admit that this film is pretty biting, while all the time being really amusing and light-hearted. Yeah, while you are laughing at the stupidity going on around you, you are confronted at how harsh and vicious the music industry actually is, especially in Los Angeles, which in one sense is the centre of the American Music Industry (namely because a lot of the record labels are based there, though a quick check of Wikipedia indicates that these days there are only three, and Warner Music, the largest, is based in California).

Mind you, luck does play a huge role in making it big, and from what I have found on my brief research there is an essence of talent. Many of the bands came to prominence through playing in the Los Angeles club scene, particularly Whiskey A Gogo, which has been the launching pad for quite a lot of bands. However, connections also play a huge role in people making it big, particularly in Hollywood. However, from what it seems luck plays a key role. Getting gigs in places like Whiskey A Go Go is key, and no doubt if one is invited back also plays a role (namely because bands that the punters like tend to get invited back again and again).

Of course, being in the right place helps a lot, meaning that if you are just playing gigs in backwater pubs then the chances of getting noticed are going to be much slimmer, which is why getting into the big cities are key. Of course, the catch is that one needs to survive in the big city, so without money, and without work, being able make it big is going to be quite difficult. I do remember back in the 90s one of the Australian radio stations would have yearly competitions to find unknown bands, and they would actually travel around the smaller towns and cities to see what was out there. Quite a few bands made it big in Australia through this.

Executive Decisions

Yet the key to who becomes successful and who doesn’t really does come down to the executives. Things are somewhat different these days, especially with the internet where unknown bands can hawk their stuff, particularly on Facebook and Youtube (and I believe Spotify now allows bands to place demos on their site as well). However, in the end, it really comes down to the decision of the record executives as to whether a band is going to make it or not, and what songs they are going to release. Honestly, it is really only when a band makes it that they get some say, but even then it is pretty up in the air because the final decision comes down to the executive.

Now there is the question as to what is unsolicited material. Right at the beginning of the film, when Chaz sneaks into Palantine Records to get them to listen to his record they back off and say that the product is unsolicited and they can’t touch it. A really good answer as to what is unsolicited material is on Quora. Basically, it is material that wasn’t asked for, and the reason they can’t touch it is because lawyers (the product of a litigious society). If they accept unsolicited material, and then they produce something that looks like what you sent them, then you can sue them for breach of copyright. As such, unsolicited material is generally binned without being opened because it is just too much effort otherwise.

Mind you, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get published – I remember when I played Dungeons and Dragons, their magazines would actually accept unsolicited material, though the problem was actually getting it accepted and published. No doubt because they had so many article suggestions that they would be swamped, but at least they looked at the idea and provided you with feedback.

Faking the performance

I remember back in the 80s there was a band named Milli Vanilli. They were pretty popular until it came out that they were lip-syncing and that somebody else was actually performing the song. However, once again, after a little research, it appears that this is done quite often, not so much in the Milli Vanilli style, but rather due to the fact that what you hear on tape, and what you hear during a performance, happens to be two completely different things. Then again, if you have ever been to a concert and compared what was sung on stage, and what was sung in the studio, you will realise that the output does happen to be completely different.

One of the things that I discovered after watching the Freddy Mercury Biopic was that what you hear on a recorded production (I was about to say record, but while vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, these days we really only listen to music over the internet and rarely, if ever, actually purchase it anymore) has been intricately crafted together. It is not a situation where all of the band members pile into a room and play their song over and over again until it is perfect, rather each of the musicians will play their piece individually and the results will be mixed together to form the finished song (which is probably why it is called a mix, though ironically the word mix has multiple definitions in the world of rock music).

This also applies to concerts, which is why the Lone Rangers, when they make the statement that they won’t be lip-syncing, demonstrates that they don’t know all that much about how live music is performed. In reality, since this is a snap performance and the fact that they haven’t had any time to practice, it is probably more than reasonable that they wouldn’t actually be performing live. However, the way that it is put, in the same way that the rest of the movie has been constructed, suggests that the music industry is little more than a con.

Mind you, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t, as the Milli Vanilli episode points out. However, it is also entertainment, and in many cases, especially when we are talking about stadium rock as opposed to simply playing in a pub, or even in a church band, then there are an awful lot of logistics that go into putting the show together, and of course those who pay for their tickets certainly want to get their money’s worth. It is interesting that there have been lots of stories about how bad aging rockers actually were – I have heard that said about Alice Cooper, and Jimmy Barnes. This is interesting that despite the claims of lip syncing, we also get people complaining that some musicians really should just retire.

Law of the Rockers

The final thing I wish to discuss is this idea that comes up in the film is that rockers tend not to be punished in the same way that normal people are punished, and they point to the incident of Vince Neil as an example. Mind you, they were slightly wrong in the film because they said that Neil did 30 days when in reality he only did 15 days, but he still killed somebody, was driving under the influence of alcohol, and has caused the death. However, one might point out that this did occur in 1984, and at the time (and still even now), traffic crimes tend to attract less of a sentence than other crimes, and some instances suggest that the sentence at the time was particularly harsh because the judge wanted to make an example of him.

For other examples of singers who have landed up in gaol, and the time they served, you can find it here.

The thing is that this is an image that the rock industry portrays, and that is that celebrities tend to be able to get away with murder, and they point to OJ Simpson as an example. However, we need to remember that after the trial (and it was a jury trial), his career was literally ruined. In fact, he did eventually end up in gaol after an armed robbery Las Vegas.

I suspect the reason that it seems that celebrities are able to get off much more lightly as opposed to normal people really comes down to the flaws with our legal system, and that has everything to do with money. Sure, a trial can be career-ending, but the thing is that celebrities have money to burn, and they can afford good lawyers, whereas us plebs have to put up with what we can afford, and we generally can’t afford all that much. In fact, the middle-income people tend to be the most disadvantaged since poor people get lawyers for free, and rich people can afford good lawyers.

Anyway, I’ll finish it off here, but I must say that this is a pretty awesome film, and even after all this time, I still delight in watching it, even if it might to somewhat overboard, and wrong in a lot of places.

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