NEW YORK (AP) -- Whitesnake. Cinderella. Flock of Seagulls. These did little to help the legacy of 1980s rock music.
Did The Replacements, Husker Du and Crowded House do enough to save it?
Two new works, the Broadway musical "Rock of Ages" and the new Greg Mottola film "Adventureland," present opposite soundtracks for the Reagan era: While the stage production revels in hair-band kitsch, the more indie-minded "Adventureland" is nostalgic for the sounds of `80s underground.
Together, the two works beg the question: How should `80s music be remembered? As a period of schlock and excess? As a culmination of rock 'n' roll fun? Or were the `80s perhaps more multidimensional than our collective memory generally considers it?
"Adventureland," which opens in theaters Friday, is directed by Mottola, who helmed last year's hit coming-of-age comedy "Superbad." This time, Mottola (who also wrote the script) portrays the awkwardness of his post-college 20s, pulling from his experience working at a Long Island amusement park for a summer.
And to him, the `80s weren't just Warrant and Wham!
"I wore T-shirts and jeans most days in the 1980s," Mottola, 44, said. "I wasn't saying, `What did Emilio Estevez wear in "St. Elmo's Fire?" I'd like to dress like that.'"
The film is stuffed to the tilt with tunes, boasting a pulsating soundtrack of The Replacements, Lou Reed, Big Star, The Cure, Husker Du, the New York Dolls and others (the acclaimed indie band Yo La Tengo, formed in 1984 and still active, fills in the score.)
For Mottola, nothing is as much a criterion to the past as music.
"As I was writing the film, I almost saw the film as my idea of a good pop love song," he said. "The music is the most exciting thing in the movie to me on some level."
Music is woven into "Adventureland," with some 40 songs in total. Characters relate to each other through a taste for similar bands. Mix tapes are exchanged. Ryan Reynolds' character, for example, is not to be trusted because of his boastful lie that he once jammed with Reed.
Mottola recalls discovering the less commercial music of the `80s: "It was only later when I got older and met some cooler kids that they told me, `You know, there is thing called the Velvet Underground. You might want to check it out.'"
"Adventureland" is a reminder that `80s culture wasn't just one note.
"This sounds dorky, but The Replacements are a band that I think saved my life at certain points, when I was really depressed and lonely," said Mottola.
The film isn't dominated by outlandish styles from the period. One character in the film, though, typifies `80s kitsch: Lisa P (Margarita Levieva). With a look straight out of an early Madonna video, she's a roller-skating sexpot as vacant at the music she dances to like Falco's then-ubiquitous hit "Rock Me Amadeus."
"I needed to have, like, a couple of those huge hits that you couldn't escape," said Mottola. "The song has a special power to get under your skin like a flesh-eating virus."
As much as "Adventureland" is an intimate story filled with personal music, "Rock of Ages," which stars former "American Idol" contestant Constantine Maroulis, is for the crowd. The musical, which officially opens April 7 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, is a raucous celebration of `80s hair bands.
Ushers hand out fake lighters to hold up during power ballads, while waitresses ask patrons "Are you ready to rock?" before show time.
With an on-stage house band, "Rock of Ages" stitches together numbers of arena bombast from groups like Journey, Poison, Whitesnake, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Quiet Riot and Bon Jovi. It's being promoted as a musical that will do for `80s rock what "Mamma Mia!" did for ABBA.
"This whole era gets pushed to the side as incidental and trite and silly," said Chris D'Arienzo, who wrote the musical's book. "It's only not respected by the critics."
D'Arienzo, who will turn 37 this month, feels both nostalgia for the music of "Rock of Ages" and laughs at it, too. Growing up in rural Michigan, he remembers first seeing the cover of Poison's "Look What the Cat Dragged In."
"I honestly thought, `These are the most beautiful women I've ever seen' and then realized they were all dudes on the cover," laughed D'Arienzo.
Without a trace of seriousness, "Rock of Ages" exults the trashiness of the period's bleached blonde hair, wine coolers, gratuitous sax solos, leather pants, jean jackets and fog machines.
The theatricality of `80s cheesiness seems oddly befitting to Broadway. For the most part, rock star extravagance became passe once Kurt Cobain's Nirvana and early `90s alternative rock ushered in a new, rawer sensibility.
D'Arienzo (who plays in his own band, Saint America) is also at work on a film adaptation of "Rock of Ages" for New Line Cinema, which he'll both write and direct.
Ultimately, what "Rock of Ages" and "Adventureland" have in common is their interest in peering into the past through the prism of music be it via Guns N' Roses or Husker Du.
"The touchstones of that time are all defined by this music," said D'Arienzo. "It was the stuff that I was playing when I had my first kiss."
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