Why You Probably Shouldn’t Start A Band
Mr Ricky Gervais and his fictional band Foregone Conclusion in David Brent: Life On The Road. Photograph courtesy of Entertainment One
As The Office’s David Brent comes to the big screen, we explore how the tragic fictional band still strikes a chord.
“We’re both good in our own fields. I’m sure Texas couldn’t run and manage a successful paper merchants.” David Brent’s justification in The Office when pondering his lost musical destiny is key to understanding his psyche. Brent, like most men, has many itches he struggles to scratch, and accordingly his whole life revolves around explaining away his various disappointments – both to his audience and more importantly, to himself. We’ll probably never know how Ms Sharleen Spiteri and company would fare if left in charge of Wernham Hogg. But at least David Brent is now trying to address the big unanswered “what if” in his life. Could he have made it in music? As David Brent: Life On The Road – in cinemas 19 August – sees the Mr Bob Dylan of Slough hitting the free love freeway at last, it’s time to ask: where do Brent’s Foregone Conclusion stand in the pantheon of fictional bands. And why does the rubbish on-screen band hit such a nerve? We look at five examples from TV and film to investigate this curious, yet recurring trope.
The Soggy Bottom Boys
Messrs Tim Blake Nelson, George Clooney and John Turturro in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2000. Photograph by Touchstone/IUniversal/Kobal Collection
From O Brother, Where Art Thou?
This country blues belter of a band from the Coen brothers’ Homerian shaggy-dog story appeals to a fantasy many men have had at some point. Imagine if you just happened to make a record and everyone loved it? In this case, the fantasy falters at the point at which the relentless pursuit of the quartet by the Ku Klux Klan makes the success hard to enjoy. But that seems only right. After all, what would be the fun in a successful fictitious band? Every silver lining has a cloud.
The band Creme Brulee in The League Of Gentlemen, season two, 2000. Photograph by Nick West/BBC Photo Library
From The League Of Gentlemen
If David Brent was a different, nastier, more predatory man, this is what Foregone Conclusion would probably sound like. Five corpulent sleazebags in late middle-age knocking out flaccid yet faintly sinister blues rock. As with most fictional bands, the gap between aspiration and reality is the key. In the sweat-stained silk shirts, the grotesque theatrics and the miserable between-song banter, there’s the stench of real desperation. If you formed a band, this, Creme Brulée seem to be saying, is where you’d end up. As the group’s Les McQueen repeatedly reminded us: “It’s a shit business. You’ll find out…”
Mitch and Mickey
Mr Eugene Levy and Ms Catherine O’Hara in A Mighty Wind, 2003. Photograph by Warner Bros/Kobal Collection
From A Mighty Wind
As all songs from Mr Christopher Guest films tend to be (see also This Is Spinal Tap), Mitch and Mickey’s climactic tour de force “A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow” is actually a beautifully constructed and perfectly performed genre pastiche. As such, there’s nothing remotely rubbish about it. But it still belongs in this list because Mr Guest, via Mr Eugene Levy, nails so precisely the pathology of insular male music obsession. Being in bands is what inadequate men do when women ignore them. Mitch and Mickey’s chaste kiss is a moment of surrogate emotion – their relationship has tanked; Mitch is destined to remain heartbroken yet this kiss provides the illusion of resolution. The truth, as always, is messier.
Barry Jive and the Uptown Five
Mr Jack Black in High Fidelity, 2000. Photograph by Touchstone Pictures/Kobal Collection
From High Fidelity
This band – fronted by Mr Jack Black’s insufferable record shop know-it-all Barry Judd – were originally going to be called Sonic Death Monkey. And they were going to sound offensively terrible and ruin everything. And that’s why they represent some form of redemption. Just in the nick of time, Barry got over himself. He understood that playing unlistenable music to a crowd of disappointed revellers wasn’t, in itself, a worthwhile pursuit. So he knocked out a very passable cover version of “Let’s Get It On” instead. In doing so, he defeated the archetype. David Brent, watch and learn...
Mr Ricky Gervais as part of Foregone Conclusion in David Brent: Life On The Road, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Entertainment One
From David Brent: Life On The Road
The road in question is the M25. And, as this is a road that carries you round in a circle before dropping you off exactly where you started, that’s probably no coincidence. From the dangerously seductive “Lady Gypsy” to the anti-racism anthem “Equality Street”, David Brent has long since had a repertoire of songs he wanted to share with the world. And now, with the help of his band of hired hands, he’s making the dream real. As always, Brent is painfully earnest, desperately needy and completely unable to recognise his own limitations. Accordingly, Foregone Conclusion are something of a new gold standard in the lineage of awful fictional bands. All roads have been leading to this perfect storm of awkwardness and bathos.