There are plenty of documentaries out there about life in the music industry that paint it as a not too pleasant place to be. Tales of sex and drugs, with a bit of rock-n-roll, and an equal dose of death and rehab have become so commonplace that they can almost be seen as cliché. And certainly they should be seen as cautionary tales, or grim reminders of the dangers that lie in wait for anyone foolish enough to pursue the life of a rocker. But for some reason, despite the fact that much if VH-1's programming is dedicated to spelling out all the dangers of a life in rock-n-roll, there are still people who want to live the life of a rock star--or at least the life of a rock star as defined by VH-1 and MTV.
The problem with most of what is shown in music documentaries profiling well known musicians, or the seemingly endless barrage of reality shows featuring washed-up rockers, is that none of them capture the day-to-day life of what it's like to be a musician struggling to live in the real world of paying bills, finding a babysitter for the kids, and holding down a day job while playing music at night. And if that doesn't sound too glamorous, it would be because it isn't. But that doesn't stop it from being interesting, as evidenced by director Justin McConnell's documentary, Working Class Rock Star.
Featuring interviews and footage of well known performers like Gwar, Strapping Young Lad and Lamb of God, Working Class Rock Star focuses primarily on three Canadian bands--Bloodshoteye, Tub Ring, and 3 Mile Scream--all of which are at various stages in their careers. The one thing all three bands have in common more than anything else is the struggle to play their music while somehow making enough money to survive. Following members of the bands for three years, McConnell creates an interesting portrait of musicians and bands that have enjoyed a certain level of success, while having yet to reach a level where they are household names.
Parts of Working Class Rock Star are pretty much the standard stuff that's been shown in plenty of other documentaries about bands both established and unknown. We're talking things like creative differences and band conflicts, the drudgery of life on the road, and frustrations in the studio. But where MCConnell's film shines are in the areas suggested by the title, when we get to see some of the musicians profiled in their everyday lives away from the music. Among the most interesting of the film's subjects are Jessica DesJardins, the vocalist for Bloodshoteye who sounds like a pissed off demon, and happens to be a mother. Jessica and boyfriend/fellow Bloodshoteye member Shane Ivy struggle to find the balance between being parents and rockers in what makes for the one of most compelling parts of Working Class Rock Star. Likewise, 3 Mile Scream vocalist Matt McGachy's role as a college student studying early childhood development is also compelling. And while these aspects of the film are the most interesting, unfortunately they don't seem to get enough screen time.
By and large, Working Class Rock Star is a good documentary. At 95 minutes it could be a little bit tighter, but not much. McConnell does a great job of showing the unglamorous side of being a rocker, and that point is driven home, especially with the interviews with Devin Townsend and Dave Brockie (a.k.a.Oderus Urungus of Gwar). But the best interview has to be with Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush, whose no-punches-pulled take on the music industry is the rock-n-roll equivalent to Scared Straight. If Marino's raw observations aren't enough to scare you away from the life of a rock star, then you're either a complete idiot or really dedicated to your art, or both.
Working Class Rock Star is presented in 16x9 widescreen. The picture quality is good, but not great. The documentary looks like it was shot on consumer grade digital video, and perhaps with different cameras, because the picture quality is not always consistent. This is not to say that the picture looks bad, because it looks fine.
Working Class Rock Star is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital. The sound is good, especially considering much of it was recorded at live rock shows, Often times documentaries of this nature suffer from poor sound mixes and noticeable fluctuations in audio levels, but these levels remain consistent.
There is a decent selection of bonus material, including deleted and extended scenes, a short documentary on mosh pit culture, Skull Man's Pit Files, and a selection of music videos. There is also an audio commentary from filmmaker Justin McConnell.
If you're not a fan of any of the bands or musicians profiled and featured in the documentary, you might not be initially that interested in the film. But Working Class Rock Star is compelling enough, and the people involved are interesting enough, that even if you've never heard of anyone involved in this film, it is still worth checking it out.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]