Rock and roll—not the music but the experience, the lifestyle—is not as interesting as the people involved think it is. That swaggery, smug, don't-give-a-fuck-but-secretly-give-all-the-fucks-in-the-world self-importance. The bourbon and the van and the dirty pants, because that's life on the road, man! You won't understand unless you've lived it, unless you've fucked sweet lady rock and roll all night long with the dirty pants and the bourbon and the van. Maaaaan.
Michael Shilling's Rock Bottom wants to help you understand, and, to its credit, pokes a little deeper into the psyches of its decaying rock gods than you might expect. Blood Orphans, a semi-ironic up-and-coming outfit, are on tour in Amsterdam and (due to shenanigans) have just been dropped from their major label. Darlo, the drummer, has a sex addiction—he refers to ejaculate as "warm sex tears"—and a porn-king dad under indictment for tax evasion. Adam, the guitarist, is the nice one. Shane, the singer, is spiritual and hard to care about. Bobby has eczema. And Joey, their manager, loves cocaine and will sometimes press her "perky B-cups" against stuff.
Shilling—who has freelanced for The Stranger—has obviously poured a lot of sweat and care into these characters. The book cycles deftly through five points of view, detailing sordid pasts, bleak presents, and uncertain futures. Blood Orphans' rapid rise to fame and even swifter downfall leave a void that might be interesting—but some piece of grandiose language or self-congratulatory smut or yet another description of shredded eczema sores elicits a wince on every other page.
Bobby recalls some sex he had: "The one time she and Bobby had slept together, she had whispered, 'Hit that magic kitty' over and over into his ear, her breath a mixture of pork and whiskey, until he went soft." Uuuuugh. Darlo gets nervous: "But now doubt crawled up his dirty pant leg and seized his balls. His balls, normally so big and burnished, experienced a sense of entrapment. Doubt shrank them down, filling him with a lightheaded sense of foreboding." Okey-dokey. Shane punches Bobby in the face: "When he felt the tooth go, right on his middle finger, he had the same sensation as sliding his cock into a warm, wet, welcoming pussy. He went rock-solid, standing there breathless as Bobby fell to the floor, clutching his face." Yikes. Someone does this: "'Fuck memories,' he said, and popped a pimple on his chin." It's just all so forcibly rock and roll. And so, so uninteresting.