It’s a pity, I thought to myself as the credits rolled on episode eight of Roadies, that Lester Bangs didn’t live to see this show on television. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I could aspire to honor his legacy with my scathing indictments of this trainwreck of rock-era nostalgia. Get ready for “The All Night Bus Ride.”
We open on seasoned road dog Phil (you know, the one who went to space with Taylor Swift?) in bed, wearing the necklace Ronnie Van Zant gave him nigh on 40 years ago, which he claims he has not taken off since. He is sleeping through the sound of his ringing phone; through the pounds of Staton-House Band road manager Bill (Luke Wilson) on his door. Worried for Phil's well-being, fellow roadie Wes calls the cops. Mid-phone call, Phil throws open the door angrily brandishing his pistol, as he is wont to do. That's what rock'n'roll used to mean.
There was a bomb scare at the arena they were set to play, so the crew’s pulling up stakes early to get to San Diego to play a corporate gig the Limey arranged. Bill needlessly says the arena’s name (Cory River Arena) and the name of the company they’re playing for (FunCo). Let the record reflect that the episode was written by show creator (and seasoned veteran) Cameron Crowe. Entire names are frequently spoken in the episode—which implies that Crowe is aware that you may not have followed every one of these characters, or the universe they inhabit, with your full attention to this point, but turned it on solely because you saw a still of Luke Wilson on your Showtime Anytime app.
“God, do I hate myself for lovin’ this show,” Phil, once roused and led to the tour bus, mutters while watching Dead Sex, the erotic zombie show-within-a-show starring David Spade the roadies are obsessed with. I get where he’s coming from.
Milo, the bass tech, is worried that when the tour goes to Europe, the roadies will be abandoned by the wayside for cheaper equivalents. “I’m just really fucking worried I’ll lose something special, y’know? I don’t want this tour to end,” he tells the band’s bus driver, Gooch. After this week, only two episodes of Roadies remain. I get where he’s coming from.
Phil, when asked by Wes how he got mixed up in the rock n’ roll fantasy that has become their day-to-day existence, declares, “You don’t pick it. It picks you.” The roadies smile knowingly at this cosmic truth. But who was Phil’s “it”? Who, pray tell, was the band that lead him to this point, this bus?
You had to ask.
Phil’s eyes glaze over—dewy, yet dead. You wonder if the whiskey in his glass is staged iced tea or the real thing, a thick pour from the handle of Jack Daniels sitting next to him. He begins to tell the rapt roadies a tale that begins in 1973. Which cues a flashback—the season’s first, inexplicably.
Phil got into the game by delivering Havana cigars across state lines to a couple of bands. The bands in question? The Who and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He didn’t know jack shit about music at the time, a pencil necked puss who couldn’t get the coked-up money man who requested said cigars to to pony up the dough, a detail which leads to a flashback scene in a public restroom.
Mid-piss, a longhair interrupts Phil and the money man, who is refusing payment. “Excuse me,” the long hair says. “My name is Ronnie Van Zant. My band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, is opening up tonight for the Who. If you owe this man somethin’, you’ve given him your word, you should pay. Otherwise, I ain’t got no reason to play for you tonight, or ever. Now do what’s right.” The money man does what’s right.
Phil makes fast friends with the long haired, black eyed, stranger; the stranger begins plying him with Jack Daniels, which gives him the confidence necessary to intimidate a hostile barfly fucking with Van Zant. The rest, naturally, is history, and the source of one hour’s worth of Skynyrd fanboy fodder. The story where Lynyrd Skynyrd beats the shit out of a bunch of German pilots in Japan is finally committed to whatever the digital video equivalent of celluloid is.
Phil, it turns out, has (street) survivor’s remorse because he wasn’t on the plane that killed the majority of “his” band, having chosen instead, god forgive him, to parent his child. He knows that had he been on it, however, he would have saved ‘em. This conviction proves that he is not now, nor will he ever, be over the crushing loss.
“How you spend this little dance with destiny,” he tells the roadies, tears in his eyes, “that’s up to you. But when you find your band, you find your band. And that was my band: Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
The song of the day is “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, performed acoustically by two of the roadies, because of course it is. And the episode ends in a sing-along, because of course it does.