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Last Days Here (2012)

September 5, 2012

8/10 Dying Worlds

Apparently selling your soul to rock & roll has its downsides. Who knew?

Last Days Here is a documentary about one Bobby Liebling: the former front man of a doom metal outfit called Pentagram. See, back in the ’70s, Bobby was the cat’s meow. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him, and his band was on the brink of fame. But as the drugs got harder and Bobby became the biggest roadblock to his own success, Pentagram disbanded and the world started forgetting about the band that almost was. A good few decades later, one Sean “Pellet” Pelletier discovers Pentragram. It’s love at first sound, and a few phone calls later, he finds himself managing Bobby’s “career.” As for Bobby, he’s spent the last few decades smoking crack in his parents’ sub-basement, waiting eagerly for his long-overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But since he’s more likely to keel over before his delusions of grandeur come to fruition, Pellet tries to get Bobby clean and get him back in the spotlight where he belongs. So with both of their livelihoods resting in the balance, the comeback tour begins.

For anyone who’s seen Anvil! The Story of Anvil (and for those you haven’t, you must), then this should all sound pretty familiar. Aren’t too many docs out there about the better-late-than-never comebacks of largely unknown, yet arguably seminal metal bands that never quite made it for some reason or other. Yes, far worse comparisons have been made, but right from the outset, it’s fighting an uphill battle. Anvil! really is that good.

But from the inset, there is a difference, and it’s a stark difference at that. From the moment you see 1970s Bobby juxtaposed with modern-day Bobby, you’ll know this is about so much more than just a fan’s dream to see his favorite band get back together. And that’s what saves Last Days Here from being a knock-ff doc or a Behind The Music re-run: it’s less about the music or the band as it is about the death-defying Bobby Liebling. If anything, this is a movie about overcoming addiction that masquerades under the guise of a rock doc. Certainly comes with the territory and I’m surprised there aren’t more docs like this for that matter, but still, not what I was expecting.

Although for a genre that tends to tell a lot of the same stories in a lot of the same ways, unexpected is a-okay by me. Anyway, back to Bobby.

When we first meet Bobby, the dude is a fucking horror show. He looks like the Crypt Keeper, he’s mooched upwards of a million dollars off his poor, elderly parents to support his own demise, and he smokes so much crack that he thinks there’s parasites living under his skin. And since the parasites won’t go away, he went and scratched most of the flesh off his arms to, you know, take care of the situation. That’s our introduction to Bobby: a sad, tortured soul with the lifestyle of a man-child.

With all that on the table, and even in retrospect, it’s hard to say what makes us root for him after that first impression. It’d be one thing if he was a victim in all of this, but for the most part he’s actually the one responsible. He’s ruined careers, he’s burned all his bridges, and his life could have been so much different hadn’t he been so utterly self-destructive. He is the product of a life fueled by sex, drugs, and rock & roll (not in that order), and he’s the reason Pentagram’s had a revolving door of over 30-freaking-members to date. As gifted a musician as he is, there’s not much to like about Bobby as a person or the direction his life has taken.

But you do feel for him, and the sympathy/empathy card goes a very long way. Also helps that he’s a generally likable, nice guy when he’s not hellbent on sabotaging his existence. Because, believe it or not, folks, sometimes people mess up. Sometimes they mess up so bad that they turn into crackheads who look 40 years older than they actually are. For all the enemies Bobby’s made out of friends over the years and as much as he made the bed he lays in, watching him in his parents house as he searches through the cushions for loose crack rocks is the definition of tragic. But the talent is still there, and so is the will to change. In a situation like this, no one wants to see crack win. Everyone deserves a chance to turn their life around and Bobby’s no exception.

Which brings us to Pellet.

More than the comeback, more than the addiction, the dynamic between Pellet and Bobby is the bedrock of this story. Pellet is one of those rare guardian angels, the kind that earned his wings pretty early in life. No matter how many times Bobby screws up or relapses or goes to jail or blows a gig, Pellet is there for him to fall back on – devoid of judgment, a vision of understanding. To Pellet, Bobby is a god, the one person in life he’d to anything for no matter how many people tell him to do otherwise. And to Bobby, Pellet is a savior – the last chance he’s got. It’s not an easy role for Pellet to fill, it’s not an easy role for anyone to fill, and as an outsider looking in, you almost have to wonder if it’s worth it? But for Pellet, it doesn’t even seem like there’s an option.

These two need each other. Might be in different ways, but they need each other all the same. If Pellet weren’t around, there wouldn’t be a Bobby to film, and when Bobby starts getting his shit together, you won’t believe the transformation. Man, everyone needs a Pellet in their lives, especially Bobby Liebling.

So that’s all well and good, and better yet, the music’s great, too. I am by no means the biggest headbanger in the pit, but damn if I haven’t been humming Pentagram tunes ever since. Hell of a nice bonus given the subject matter, although I wonder about how many converts it’ll fetch. Then again, that’s beside the point. The reason Last Days Here works so well is because is doesn’t matter whether you listen to Ne-Yo or Dio. The music comes secondary, it’s a vehicle for something else, and like any great documentary, that something else is universal. Take me for example: never even heard of Pentagram before this, probably would have stayed that way too had I not given this a shot. Yet, here I am, sitting in the choir, preachin’ to the masses.

And what a beautiful thing that is.

Last Days Here is a tough one to get through and does have a tendency to be a grueling downer of sorts, the kind of which you’d expect to find on A&E right between Hoarders and Intervention. But as initially depressing as the life of Bobby Liebling is, it truly makes his resurrection that much sweeter. Had it sugarcoated the reality of his situation or shown him as anything other than the pitiful mess that he was, this would have been one forgettable doc. Just a moving, funny, gut-wrenching testament to the ties that bind and the fact that it’s never too late to live. Quite the interesting change of pace from director Don Argott’s last doc – the outrageously infuriating and uber-incendiary The Art of the Steal (another must) – but a welcome change of pace at that.

But seriously, kids: don’t smoke crack.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2012 7:26 am

    Thanks for putting this on my radar.

    • September 5, 2012 8:38 am

      You’re very welcome! Even better: it’s on Netflix Instant. Huzzah!

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