Whether they want to admit it or not, most rock stars (and indeed, most anybody actively seeking any modicum of fame) are actively concerned with their legacies. Some are more up front about it than others: In a conversation with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo last year, he told me how he perceives his band in the context of other great rock bands, and made a case for why Weezer belongs alongside the greats. The same goes for Dave Grohl, who used to openly talk about how much he didn’t want to be known only as the guy who stood behind Kurt Cobain at photo shoots. (Two decades of Foo Fighters has taken care of that.) Other stars try to play it cool and shrug off conversations about what sort of impression they will leave behind once they shuffle off this mortal coil, but deep down, they do what they do in order to establish some sort of longevity and, dare they dream, immortality.
Johnny Rock falls into the former category: He desperately wants to be remembered as a great rock star, and he is deeply disappointed to find out not that there was a rumor that he was dead, but rather that Rolling Stone hasn’t given his death any coverage. “Peaches Geldof got a whole page, and she’s not even a goddamn musician!” he complains after finding out that the only news hit his chicken-bone-assisted exit got was from Slicing Up Eyeballs. That may seem like Rock’s very particular brand of vanity, but really, he’s merely indulging in a basic bit of human nature. After all, wouldn’t you want to know how people were reacting to your eternal rest?
But because Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is hilariously cynical, the time for mourning is short, and gives way to a scheme that sets the whole episode in motion. News of Rock’s quietus has spiked iTunes sales of old Heathens songs, and with the band on the tip of certain tongues in the media, it presents a perfect opportunity for Gigi and the remaining members of the band to perform as a reconfigured combo (and to pay tribute to its sorta-patriarch). It’s just another way that SDRR gets the music business really, really right: Stars are rarely as lucrative as when they have just passed away, and plenty of actual legends have seen their expirations turned quickly into business transactions (just look at how much commerce got done in the wake of Michael Jackson’s death in 2009). Thus the plan is set in motion: The rumor will be that Rock was shot by one of his bandmates, and the Gigi-led band will emerge as the Assassins.
Johnny gets to watch his career retrospective play out online to hilarious effect (Rolling Stone finally pays tribute to him in a very small way), but as planned, the focus shifts toward Gig and her Twitter follower-attracting hotness. Unscrupulous Ira books the band a show at Glasslands that will act as Gigi’s coming out party, and she appropriately freaks out just before the show. Only the calming effect of a heart-to-heart with Johnny and an encouraging word from guest star Joan Jett can get her on stage, where she kicks an impressive amount of butt.
Now is as good a time as any to talk about the greatness of Liz Gillies. I have to admit that I was skeptical of the former Nickelodeon star’s ability to hang with Denis Leary and his crew of veterans, but consider those words eaten. Gillies is funny, sexy, and sensitive, and she lends Gigi a quiet strength that shines through even as she’s freaking out about the long distance abuse she’s getting from her mother. The two scenes between Gigi and Rock that bookend this episode of SDRR are particularly remarkable. In the first, she’s channeling pent up negativity and masking her wounded vulnerability in latent anger. When she asks Rock if he really loves her, the resulting argument over his hesitation is a wonderful microcosm of her struggle. In just a few minutes, she manages to encapsulate all the years of doubt that led her to New York to pursue her dream of rock stardom (and, ultimately, to figure out who she really is).
Later, when she’s panicking before the Glasslands show, she reveals the other side of Gigi, the side that gets hurt and has doubt. But that’s also the side that clearly writes songs, and clearly Gigi’s arc in this first season has to be resolving the tough girl persona that she uses for survival with the internal muse that will allow her to be as good as she can be on stage. It’s a tall order for any actress, but Gillies is so good that I cannot possibly picture anybody else playing the role now.
In the end, the Glasslands show goes off without a hitch. Gillies delivers a killer version of the song that she and Johnny were working on in the beginning of the episode, and Joan Jett declares that she is going to be huge. And Johnny? He’s allowed back into the land of the living, just in time to be completely shattered by how great Gigi is. In that moment, he realizes she’s the only legacy he needs to worry about.
- Everybody is eager to comfort Eva after hearing about Johnny’s death, including Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora and Rehab. “This is a grief bouquet,” he explains after being caught bringing Eva flowers.
- According to guest star Matt Pinfield, Johnny Rock has been in several other bands, all of which self-destructed: The Johnny Rock Show (ended because of violent vomiting), the Johnny Rock Affair (Johnny put his bassist in a coma), and Skinny Bitch (Johnny hurt himself at the band’s first show).
- Though it turns out they didn’t actually have sex (he fell asleep before anything could happen), Rock and Joan Jett met at a benefit for a band called the Diabetics. “We were going to get the drummer some new feet,” Rock says.
- We learn lots of details about Eva’s sex life in this episode: Not only is she annoyed that Johnny didn’t invite her into a three-way with Joan Jett, but she also reveals that she slept with all but one member of Bon Jovi. “The bass player was an a–hole,” she says.
- Johnny Rock conflates a Bible story with a Noah Baumbach film. “I think I saw it,” he says when Gigi asks him about the story of Jonah and the Whale. “That was that pretentious indie flick with Jeff Daniels as the a–hole dad in Brooklyn?”