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Fact or fiction? It can get a bit Weird

The `band' takes great creative liberties in a VH1 film that explores its history, influence.

July 05, 2006|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

To hear it from a Who's Who of rock and pop luminaries, the duo Platinum Weird holds an exalted place in rock history.

Mick Jagger calls the group "the most famous band no one's ever heard of." No less than Elton John recounts signing them to his Rocket record label, and Stevie Nicks cops to ripping off her signature style from Platinum Weird's singer. And others -- Bob Geldof, Ringo Starr, Rolling Stone magazine's owner Jann Wenner, Kelly Clarkson and Lindsay Lohan -- ponder the group's contributions to rock before its untimely implosion in the mid-1970s.

Except none of it is true.

With VH1's premiere of "Rock Legends: Platinum Weird" today at 6 p.m., Dave Stewart (formerly of Eurythmics) and Interscope Geffen A&M Records are gambling that viewers -- and potential record buyers -- won't feel misled by this mockumentary that holds itself out as a rockumentary.

Unlike the genre's standard-bearer, "This Is Spinal Tap," the film never lets viewers in on the secret. Instead, the authentically retro-looking "Behind the Music"-style special unleashes an elaborate "rock mythology" about how Stewart and a femme fatale named Erin Grace created a group whose counterculture niche would have an outsized influence on rock 'n' roll.

Truth is, the group's lead singer is songwriter-producer Kara DioGuardi -- the pop rainmaker behind numerous hits for Top 40 stars such as Carlos Santana, Pink, Ashlee Simpson, Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani as well as several former "American Idol" contestants -- who has recorded an album's worth of material as Erin Grace and gone so far as to do interviews as the character.

It remains unclear how far the group and Interscope Geffen A&M Records intend to take the admitted marketing ploy. Neither the film nor any of the press materials make it clear that Platinum Weird's history is anything less than what it seems.

Those involved defended the move as artistic license. And Stewart insists the made-up persona of Grace can be seen as a metaphor for the group's muse: the embodiment of his "lost female spirit."

"Lots of artists from the '60s created mythology about themselves," said Stewart, 54, earlier this week at the Hollywood recording studio he co-owns. "Robert Zimmerman started calling himself Bob Dylan. He was hinting that he was Woodie Guthrie's son. We're in our own perception of our own world. So what's reality and what's not?"

Accidental beginnings

As the story goes, in 1975, just three years after the group's formation, Grace disappeared and Platinum Weird was no more.

The VH1 show flashes forward through the years. It is "revealed" that a suspiciously Grace-like female rock savant once served as musical tutor to a young DioGuardi -- an amazing twist of kismet, to be sure -- inculcating her with the music and spirit of Platinum Weird. With that, DioGuardi stepped into Grace's shoes, and the group was born again.

In reality, those involved say, Platinum Weird was an accident.

Interscope Geffen A&M Records Chairman Jimmy Iovine enlisted Stewart (who has written and produced hits for Tom Petty, Alison Moyet and Gwen Stefani, among others) and DioGuardi, who had never met, to write music together for Interscope's burlesque troupe turned pop act, the Pussycat Dolls.

"Within half an hour of meeting him, we had written a song, totally bonded and had been handcuffed together," DioGuardi recalled of their meeting. (And she meant it literally: "Dave cuffed us together with some cuffs from a sex shop.")

However, the bittersweet lyrics and guitar-driven, album-oriented tracks they laid down were totally wrong for the bubblegum pop sound executives wanted for the Dolls. But Iovine was impressed enough to offer the duo its own Interscope deal.

DioGuardi, 34, is one of the music industry's go-to hit makers and the co-owner of a lucrative music publishing business. She has a soaring, dusky-timbre voice and perfect pitch modulation, and aspired to be a singer before becoming a songwriter-producer for hire. Initially, however, DioGuardi resisted Stewart's overtures to form a band.

"I didn't want to do the project," she said. "I make great money; I have a great life. Being in front of people was my last, great fear.

"It took Dave months to convince me. Every day he'd call. It was like the boyfriend who loves you so much, but you're like, 'I don't like you.' "

A year later they had recorded an album's worth of material that sounded unlike most pop music on the radio: adult themed rock-pop with a pronounced Anglo-American/male-female psycho-dynamic that places Platinum Weird squarely in the vein of Fleetwood Mac with shades of Garbage.

Then reality set in. They had to find a way to make their mark on the pop landscape.

"Who is going to accept a duo -- someone like myself at the age I am, coming from another massive group -- and somebody who has been writing hits for other people?" Stewart said. "It's a very odd combination."

Added DioGuardi: "We were trying to find a marketing tool to make people notice us."

Marketing charade

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