It's just past 1 a.m., and the four dozen shivering souls gathered on the edge of the Hansen Dam in Lake View Terrace are watching a fledgling rock star unravel.
The song "For the Movies" has just blared out of the speakers for, oh, the 35th time or so, and the sagging man trying to lip-sync his way through its chorus is Josh Todd, the darkly charismatic singer for the glam-tinged rock band Buckcherry.
"I just . . . I just can't do this," says a dry-mouthed Todd, his eyes narrowed to slits in the spotlights. "I'm exhausted."
It's the seventh hour of Buckcherry's first big-budget video shoot, which comes a day after the Los Angeles band's return home from the marathon madness called Woodstock 99.
The crowd of handlers, label execs and pals gathered into the night is a testament to the building buzz on the band and its throwback rock, but Todd couldn't care less right now. MTV and the rock 'n' roll dream may beckon, but right now the 27-year-old singer is fighting a bad bout of fame insomnia.
Behind Todd, a row of 25-foot-tall plywood letters spells out H-O-L-L-Y, which, when combined with footage of a miniature, will replicate the famed Hollywood sign for the video. The pyro guys have the towering replica wired up to create, in the words of director Dave Meyers, a "really heavy metaphor for fame." Not to mention "a cool looking fire."
At the moment, however, the shoot has plainly hit a wall.
Meyers has the song playing at high speed, Alvin & the Chipmunks-style, and he has told Todd to mouth the words in kind. Later, this footage will be played in slow motion, so it will fit the song in regular speed but also give Todd's motions a dreamlike quality. Right now, however, it all seems like some bizarre sort of karaoke torture.
The rasping Todd waves off the camera after another flub, and his girlfriend steps forward to counsel him. The union workers with electrical tape and cable cutters shrug and kick at the dirt underfoot as the song keeps playing: "You don't have to fall to pieces, you have to prove it/Make up your pretty faces, a lovely trip, a lovely place/You got one life here to make it for the movies."
Todd wrote the song in part to describe his father's odyssey from an Oklahoma backwater to Hollywood in search of silver-screen fame. But the words also apply to rising rock bands such as Buckcherry, now that videos have replaced concerts and album covers as the primary shaper of an artist's image. On any given day, three music videos are being shot somewhere in the L.A. area, and their handiwork can catapult a band to overnight fame. So Todd inhales deeply and stretches his neck. "Can I see a playback real quick? I wanna know if we're clicking here."
It may be a surprise, this being the era of rap-rock and frothy teen pop, but Buckcherry does appear to be clicking with its raunch-rock revival. They've toured Europe with KISS and scored the opening gig for the huge Aerosmith concert in Japan on New Year's Eve, and their debut album (produced by Terry Date and former Sex Pistol Steve Jones) has sold close to 300,000 copies. Moreover, their first single, "Lit Up," became a staple of rock radio earlier this year--not to mention a declaration of the band's intent with its unapologetic, bleating chorus of "I love the cocaine, I love the cocaine."
"We like to party, and we want to give people music they can party to," says Devon Glenn, the band's tall, thick-armed drummer. "Rock has been missing that for a while. Remember when you used to go to concerts and there was danger, there was sex, there was an event? That's what we want."
Buckcherry began in 1997 in Los Angeles when Todd met guitarist Keith Nelson through a mutual tattoo artist friend, and in short order they added Glenn and bassist Jonathan "J.B." Brightman. After DreamWorks Records won a small bidding war to sign the band, the label pushed for the addition of a fifth member, Yogi, a seasoned guitarist, for adding heft in live shows.
And what is the Buckcherry sound? It's based squarely on Nelson's reverent channeling of Angus Young riffs ("I just got it," the guitarists says of his new AC/DC gold pendant. "Cool, huh?"), while Todd's singing and stage presence evoke Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and some Iggy Pop. Flashes of Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, KISS and the Black Crowes can be heard in their debut album, "Buckcherry." What remains to be seen is whether all of that is actually a selling point in the current pop music scene.
"Buckcherry just pisses people off for some reason, something about their decadence or style," says Cheryl Botchick, music editor of CMJ New Music Report. "But the real rock fans love 'em, and I do, too. They play great in the heartland, but not on the coasts. It's music for bars and barbecues."