VH1's Rock Honors: A Running Diary

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We really don't talk about this album cover enough

That's right: two running diaries in two days, conclusive proof that I watch too much TV. This is the second year of VH1's Rock Honors show, basically an attempt at a brand extension following the success of the Hip-Hop Honors show. But rock, for better or worse, doesn't have the same sort of consensus-based canon that rap does. The rock bands widely considered to be the most important or influential aren't generally the most commercially successful, and it's virtually impossible to imagine VH1 picking, like, the Velvet Underground for this show. Anyway, the Rock in the title of this show apparently just means 70s and 80s arena-rock, but I guess that would've made the name too long. I also have a creeping suspicion that this entire show is just a barely-disguised excuse to heavily promote Bret Michaels' new Flavor of Love show, which looks really grisly.

9:00: Bam Margera starts things off by smashing a guitar and a skateboard against a giant ice sculpture? And then saying "rock and fucking roll" with "fucking" bleeped out? OK, this show is definitely going to do its best to imitate the "Party Like a Rockstar" video as closely as possible, which I guess is actually a pretty good goal.

9:01: Nickelback covering ZZ Top is about a billion times better than Nickelback playing actual Nickelback songs. They do "Sharp Dressed Man," not grunging it up or anything, even showing up in suits. Too bad they didn't all grow enormous beards for the occasion. Nickelback, it turns out, could've been a really great bar-rock cover-band; they clearly missed their calling. The camera keeps showing tattooed people in the crowd flashing devil-horns, a trend that it is almost certainly going to keep going all night.

9:05: Wow, VH1 has assembled a really motley group of celebrities for this thing. This is going to be a weird night.

9:06: Bam Margera, wearing a whole bunch of scarves even though he's in Las Vegas and it's fucking hot there, is our host for tonight. I guess doing dumb shit on camera qualifies you as rock. At this point, Bam is probably my least favorite Jackass alum; he's an even worse media-whore than Steve-O. Billy Bob Thornton is here to introduce ZZ Top's video-package, and his soul-patch looks like it's about to eat his face.

9:08: ZZ Top could be the dumbest dudes in the world and they'd still seem totally sage and wise just because they're old and they have big beards and they collect incredibly expensive vintage cars and stuff. I also love that the guy named Frank Beard is the only one without a beard; that little tidbit was funny when I was eight, and it's still funny today (even if he does have a little starter beard now).

9:11: ZZ Top do "Gimme All Your Lovin'" surrounded by cage-dancers. Then, when they do "La Grange," some of those dancers manage to get out of their cages. Why wasn't there anyone in the "Party Like a Rockstar" video who looked like ZZ Top? That strikes me as a serious oversight. I'm not sure there's another band in history who has gotten so much mileage out of being sort of funny-looking. (They're really good, too; I'm just saying.) I'm sort of jealous of the one guy whose entire job is apparently to light Billy Gibbons' cigar during his solo on "Tush."

9:26: Cameron Diaz, who most assuredly does not rock even if she is sort of a pothead, gives a giggly and unconvincing tribute to Heart. She actually uses the phrase "the heart of Heart."

9:28: This Heart video-package is basically a two-minute distillation of their Behind the Music episode, only without all the dramatic inner-turmoil stuff. It's still pretty good. The Wilson sisters talk about how they were about the music, not about the image, which is pretty funny.

9:31: Whoa, Heart's tribute act is Gretchen Wilson and the surviving members of Alice in Chains? How does that make sense to anyone? Cameron Diaz makes a big point of telling everyone that this is the first time they've ever been onstage together, like they were always turning down opportunities to play together, just waiting for the right moment. The bizarro-universe supergroup manages to take a pretty good stab at "Barracuda" without ever showing anything that even vaguely resembles onstage chemistry, which is a pretty interesting trick. About half of Wilson's first album was basically Heart-plus-twang, and she can apparently make that twang disappear at will. She also looks visibly relieved when Nancy Wilson wanders onstage. This wasn't the mess it could've been; I'm sort of disappointed.

9:43: I wonder how it feels to be one of the backing dudes in Heart. It must be one of the least secure, most anonymous jobs in rock. They can be totally certain that nobody in the audience is ever going to look at them, and everyone else on the reunion-tour circuit probably makes fun of them. Heart makes the weird decision to play "Straight On," one of their only hits that classic-rock radio hasn't run into the ground; it's not a very good song. But then they immediately redeem themselves by doing "Crazy on You" and displaying Nancy Wilson's monstrous fake-flamenco acoustic guitar skills.

9:51: The Rock Honor award is apparently a bigass ring. I'd be really curious to learn which members of which bands actually wear that ring for longer than just this one night.

9:56: Robin Williams, of all people, shows up to scream an unbelievably obnoxious televangelist-parody rant about Genesis. (He's preaching the Book of Genesis, you see.) I can't believe I'm actually watching this. It makes perfect sense that Genesis is Robin Williams' favorite band. I wonder if he and Phil Collins are friends. For some reason, I'm getting this image of the two of them snorting blow together in the bathroom at Crate & Barrel.

10:01: The footage of a young, skinny, long-haired Peter Gabriel is really jarring. I know they just reunited, but Genesis is a really, really weird choice for this show; their biggest defining trait is probably that they don't come off like rock stars at all. I know they were once an important prog band back in the Peter Gabriel days, but as far as I'm concerned, they were mostly just useful for making Collins' five or six great solo singles possible.

10:04: Ha, the biggest group they could find to pay tribute to Genesis is Keane, whose exceedingly flat take on "That's All" shows just how good a singer Phil Collins actually is.

10:14: Collins is wearing white chinos hiked up really high: rock! This Genesis performance is totally lost on me; most of their big hits sound like music for Wheaties commercials. The best part is when Phil plays drums, mostly because it's oddly reassuring that Phil still knows how to play drums.

10:30: Bam brings his mom out onstage for a pathetic prewritten bit where he punches himself in the eye a bunch of times and then stage-dives.

10:31: Jada Pinkett Smith's rockstar-wannabe is just so ill-advised and sad that I feel bad for thinking it's funny.

10:33: In Ozzy Osborne's video-package, Sharon does most of the talking, which is probably for the best. If The Osbornes ever returns to MTV, they should absolutely change the name of the show to Trippin' with the Osbornes.

10:36: Queens of the Stone Age are probably the only band playing tonight that actually makes sense as a tribute act. Even more than the Gretchen Wilson-Heart connection, it's easy to draw a direct line of influence from Sabbath to QOTSA, and these days they probably do Sabbath better than Ozzy can. They've probably already played "Paranoid" a bunch of times, and they sound exactly how you'd expect them to sound playing this song, which is to say pretty good.

10:44: I don't really know who Criss Angel is (he does magic, right?), but he's onstage biting a mouse's head off, which I guess is supposed to be a tribute to Ozzy biting a bat's head off. That's not magical; it's just nasty. He looks a lot like Jared Leto.

10:44: Ozzy's live show is pretty funny. All the dudes in his backing band are burly bikered-out metal-lifer types, Zakk Wylde in particular. And so Ozzy himself looks totally out of place standing up there with his John Lennon glasses and his old-man perma-smile, bouncing up and down and clapping. At this point, he's rock's Muhammad Ali: everyone acknowledges his importance, but no one wants to be him. Zakk Wylde really should not be allowed to throw that one squealy high note into the main "Crazy Train" riff; it really throws everything off. There aren't very many good solo Ozzy songs, are there? At least this show is ending on time.



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