November 1988 – “Elemental Roc,” known famously among fans and the populous simply as “ER,” plays their final show in Wembley Stadium, to the last of three almost sold-out audiences, the culmination of a twelve-city tour. The tour was a bittersweet send-off to their fan base, built up exponentially over the band’s rise to glory from 1983 to 1985.
November 1988, a few days later – Rolling Stone magazine reviews the band’s final show as “Riveting….Epic. A performance worthy of guitar legends layered with tight, anthemic vocals. ER made the most of mediocre material on their final obligatory contract-fulfilling album, but fortunately anchored the concert with all their hits from Elemental and El Mental Too.”
July 1985, over three years earlier – Elemental Roc wraps up their El Mental Too tour with a fourth sold-out show in Madison Square Garden, the culmination of a 32-city tour. It is a powerful, celebrative ode to their fan base, built up exponentially through the release of just two records. Yet it is melancholic for fans in the know, as ER had only written two albums of material and never intended to do much more after that…they are expected to quit at the apex of their rock and roll glory.
– – –
February 2005 – Elemental Roc’s famed drummer Mike Toole is found dead at home at the age of 36. An official spokesperson for the band comes out of retirement temporarily to issue a press release. She indicates no foul play, that drugs were not a factor, and “…it appears Tooley died of natural causes.” The band makes plans to auction off his drum set for charity, although lead guitarist and band founder Ricky Shultz makes sure that everyone knows that he paid for most of it.
April 2005 – With plenty of buzz about the loss of Toole, the band plans to get back together for a one-off performance at the Staples Center, both as homage to Tooley and charity fundraiser for a drug rehab center (there wasn’t a clear organization that supports families who have lost loved ones early to unexplained natural causes).
April 2005, a few days later – ER’s record company reluctantly backs the planned show:
“Ricky, this is Clay in booking.”
“Clay! Wow! You still doing the gig, man?!”
“No, I’m Clay Junior.”
“Oh…say ‘Hi’ to your Pops for me then.”
“Yeah, will do. So…we can back ER for one charity show, but I’m supposed to tell you—’No music from that third album, except maybe the one hit. And no new stuff.’”
“We don’t have any new stuff.”
“Great then. And we got you a drummer who knows what he’s doing. He’ll be in touch.”
“Oh, yeah, good idea.”
June 2005 – [Excerpt from Rolling Stone review of the concert at Staples Center] “…These guys just aren’t that good anymore, other than their fill-in drummer.”
– – –
July 2019 – Ricky and the guys are enjoying a barbecue together and longing for the old days:
“I wish Tooley was here.”
“Yeah, man. And that we had practiced more for that gig in ’05.”
“No doubt. I miss the energy of the last round in London….”
“That was killer, but I really miss the big ones, like playing MSG in ’85 after cutting Mental Too. Those were the days!”
“We could do it again, you know.”
“If we do, let’s rehearse more.”
[New drummer:] “I suggested that last time….”
“Right. This time we mean it.”
“We might have to put up some cash to get someone to bite.”
“No problem. I’m getting big checks lately from those sampling royalties…who would have thought that rap fans would admire my guitar riffs?!”
“They don’t know it’s you, man. Or even us.”
“Whatever. Let’s make it happen, boys!”
July 2020 – ER, practiced, primed and ready for a 10-week Las Vegas residency, learns that their tour has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
August 2020 – Ricky Shultz contracts COVID-19 and succumbs to the virus.
– – –
March 2022 – The guys are enjoying a barbecue together and again pining for the past:
“I wish Ricky was here.”
“We were so ready to rock Vegas.”
“Man, that dude on TikTok sure sounds like him. You see him?”
“Yeah, kinda eerie.”
“You know, it worked for Journey….”
“But Perry didn’t die. He’s just out of the band.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Let’s get TikTok guy!”
July 2022 – ER has brushed up on their music—again—and assimilated their new lead vocalist. He doesn’t play guitar well, so they bring in a guest member, a pal of the keyboardist. In the meantime, their new drummer leaves the band because it’s not really coming together this time. Their hired fill-in plays drums about as well as the new vocalist plays guitar. Rehearsal footage is sent to their record company.
August 2022 – The booking branch of ER’s record company gives the band some bad news via a written letter, including the following text, “Given the quality of recent performance video and changes in band personnel, we are informing Elemental Roc that a Las Vegas residency has not been secured this time around. We also wanted to mention that we were never happy with how you threw together that third album (we knew the final tour would still make us money, so we didn’t say anything at the time, but promoted you reluctantly). Regretfully, there is little to promote now. Cheers.”
August 2022, a few days later – ER sends rehearsal video to multiple state fair booking agents.
“Aren’t we sending this a bit late? The fairs are already happening.”
“I’m thinking for next year, dude.”
“Yeah, that’ll give us time to practice. Apparently we need it.”
September 2022 – The Arizona State Fair booking manager takes interest, saying “They’re okay, actually. Not like the old days, but they play their songs noticeably better than any cover bands around here, and I think they could put on a show at least as good as one of those ER tribute bands.”
September 2022, a few days later – The Arizona State Fair marketing manager speaks with the booking manager: “About your ‘tribute band’ comment—I had a brainstorm….”
August 2023 – ER fills the air with rock ‘n roll one single Saturday night at the Arizona State Fair, headlining as “RocCuss: The Music of ER.” The impressed audience thinks they are a tribute band and enjoys what the event writer for the Arizona Republic later describes as “…a convincing show. At least as good as the real band at Staples in ‘05.”
Copyright © 2022 Richard Berndt – All Rights Reserved.
Author’s note: Although portions of this account loosely resemble reality, and I saw both REO Speedwagon and Huey Lewis & the News play at the Western Idaho State Fair, this was a fictional composite of rock bands in general: A shout-out to cover, tribute, and original bands still mostly intact who keep the great music going.
I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it, like it, yes I do.
[Thanks to Marty & Kelly Meyer for seeding the idea for this bit. Good luck with the screenplay.]
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