Rock 'n' roll fantasy camps are right up there with church and the stock market as America's favorite collective delusions. Like sports fantasy camps — with which, as we'll see in a curious way in the pilot of this third-rate reality show, they share a core audience — they're an indulgence of the wealthy. The people drawn to them have already made it big in some other field, which should be clue enough that they weren't meant for the rock 'n' roll lifestyle; but they're still carrying around their teenage dreams of hitting the stage and playing some god-awful butt rock classic. That's where VH-1 Classic comes in.
Produced by indefatigable reality-show martinet Mark Burnett, Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp would be tedious enough if it were merely what it purported to be (that is, a bunch of pasty middle-age dudes making guitar faces in front of their teenage idols). But it's also, as the incessant commercials make clear, an hour-long infomercial for actual rock 'n' roll fantasy camps, 'taught' by the same people that are in the show. Yes, starting at a mere $300 bucks, you can not only watch the show, but go on to live the rock 'n' roll fantasy, except without the drugs, sex, or, well, any of it. Adding to the crassness of the whole endeavor are frequent close-ups on the names of the big companies that provided all the expensive equipment for the show, just in case you weren't clear from the repeated mentions of same from the camp counselors. Given that the rest of the show is directed in typical VH-1 Classic style — in other words, so generic as to be almost invisible — this respectful hovering over Gibson and Peavey logos is the most visually interesting thing about it.
Still, complaining about commercial pandering on VH-1 Classic is akin to bitching about sand in the Sahara. And no amount of incompetence is going to discourage the folks who ponied up their vacation money to attend this fantasy camp (held, of course, at the Key Club on the Sunset Strip). These aren't just people who want to be in rock bands; they're people who want to be in really shitty rock bands. Most of them show up in their work clothes, and when hostess Carrie Keegan, phoning it in from the depths of her soul, asks them if they are ready to rock, they respond with an enthusiasm befitting an annual insurance physical.
The show isn't structured as a competition, or a psychological struggle, or even a chance to see five people play a song together: the whole thing only lasts a weekend, and each of the three bands perform in front of an audience hours after meeting for the first time, so how good are they possibly going to be? We're here for the same basic reason the campers are: to hang around with has-been rock stars. The commercials feature a no longer wild or shirtless Mark Farner, but he's not there; instead, we get three counselors who do most of the talking, and who it's hard to hold a grudge against for this ridiculous display, because they actually have to hang around these dolts one agonizing weekend after another. A few months of watching a balding, middle-aged accountant throwing the horns, and no one can tell you that you haven't paid your dues.
Let's meet the counselors and their bands, who have names that were clearly generated by a cached GeoCities website seconds before the show went on the air.
Kip Winger, the man primarily responsible for the name of late-'80s hair-hanger band Winger, describes coaching well-off doofuses to "play the coolest songs ever written" as "the greatest experience of my life." Winger, at the very least, seems to mildly care whether his band is good or not, and actually gives them practical musical advice about staying on the downbeat and the like. His band, Firecracker Institute, consists of:
- John (vocals), a trailer salesman who breaks the record for most number of times saying "rockin'" in an hour. John changes his name halfway through the show, but it's hard to remember what, because his singing is so terrible.
- Joe (guitar), a personal chef with a horrendous goatee that looks like someone has slapped a carpet sample on the bottom of his face.
- Ben (bass), a mousy realtor in a suit and tie who doesn't even look like he's heard rock music before, let alone performed it.
- Julie (keyboards), a bossy woman who runs a communications company. She yells at people a lot until they all start ignoring her. She's also the only keyboardist amongst the campers, and is significantly younger than most — she looks to be in her early 30s, while most of the campers are ten years or more past that.
- Cory (drums), a pro football player. Cory plays for the Dallas Cowboys, so in terms of living a fantasy lifestyle, it would seem like he's already hit the jackpot, but he's greedy and also wants to be a rock star. Save some for the rest of us, dude. Lucky for us, Cory is terrible. Naturally Kip puts him in charge. Hey, he paid his $300.
Firecracker Institute plays (yes, they all play in front of a live audience, likely consisting of friends and family of the camera crew) "School's Out", and they are the least awful of the three bands. Kip Winger tells them they "really got their sound on".
Rudy Sarzo is most famous as the bass player for Quiet Riot. That's right: that's what he's most famous as. He has a thick Cuban accent and his face looks severely Botoxed, but he's relentlessly enthusiastic and seems to be the only one of the counselors who's actually having a good time. He says the rock 'n' roll fantasy camps have "changed my life". Getting a job will do that. Rudy's band is called the Proton Saints, consisting of:
- Keiron (vocals), a Scottish voice-over artist. He seems like a decent enough person, but he's a horrendous singer, and he dresses like he ought to be in Blueshammer.
- Anup (lead guitar), a photographer and the only non-white guy on the whole show. He does a bad Eddie Van Halen imitation.
- Heather (rhythm guitar), a realtor who's had some work done. She describes herself as an "underdog", but her status as a hot blonde more than compensates for the fact that she is a really shitty guitar player. She said she "prayed that Rudy Sarzo would pick me", which is probably one of the things that sucks about being God.
- A guy playing the bass whose name I didn't catch, but who claims to have once washed out of Warrant. Now that's one to tell your grandkids.
- Joe (drums), a skeezy-looking "hot rod mechanic" who, in fairness, was about the only guy who actually cared whether or not his band sounded like crap or not.
The Proton Saints did "Kum On Feel the Noize", and were okay except for the fact that Keiron's voice blew out about ten seconds into the first note and never came back. But if you've ever wanted to hear a mediocre instrumental cover of "Kum On Feel the Noize", you might want to catch this in reruns.
Mark Hudson, record producer and co-author of some of Aerosmith's shittiest songs, will become, as soon as you encounter him, one of the most annoying people you have ever met. He thinks he's funny (he claims to be a "genius in my own pants"), he wants to be on stage all the time, and physically, he resembles a misbegotten cross between Willie Wonka and Gallagher. Mark's band, Tugboat Circus, is made up of:
- Janelle (vocals), allegedly a professional back-up singer, but she can't seem to wander within fifty yards of the right key. Mark puts her in charge, which is too bad, because she is awful.
- Josh (lead guitar), who joins Joe as one of the only people who seems to be a pretty good musician. For some reason, this infuriates Mark, who rides his ass all day.
- Michael (rhythm guitar), who claims to be a lawyer but looks more like a really dickish Microsoft executive. He, too, never changes out of his suit and tie, and seems to hope that Josh will storm off so he can seize the coveted title of lead guitarist for Tugboat Circus.
- Adam (bass), a financial analyst sporting an obviously brand-new Mohawk. Mark is as inexplicably fond of him as he is inexplicably furious with Josh, and keeps calling him "Curious George" for no reason anyone can fathom.
- Rocky (drums), a complete non-entity who owns an advertising agency. Learning skills he honed at his day job, he calls Mark "the greatest songwriter in the world".
Tugboat Circus performed "I Want You to Want Me". They might have done a decent job if Mark Hudson weren't such an overbearing dick; he not only insists on rearranging the song so that everyone has to re-learn it, but bizarrely, he refuses to let Josh tune his guitar, thus taking his best musician out of the game. "The sound doesn't matter," 'explains' Mark. "Only the song matters."
Next week, the bands get another whole day of rehearsal, interrupted by the arrival of "rock 'n' roll legend" Michael Anthony (a.k.a. the other guy in Van Halen) and Bret Michaels, who is apparently contractually obligated to appear in everything that VH-1 does. Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp was probably never going to be a very good show; as noted, it's essentially an infomercial, and the campers aren't around long enough to develop any real sense of their personalities or generate any real drama. Add to that they're largely below-average musicians performing songs that are beyond tired, and there's just no compelling reason to tune in. Rock 'n' roll fantasy camps may not be the world's noblest form of entertainment, but they've got to be more fun to do than they are to watch.