What I wanted to write about this week was the return to some semblance of fame by a long-gone rock and roller who beat the odds and was in the process of overcoming his demons. I wanted to embrace the happy ending of a story about a fan being rewarded for investing blood, sweat and tears into honoring their musical hero. More than anything I wanted to share how great this little film was in how it subverted the tried and true underdog narrative and sincerely kept its audience guessing at whether it was going to play out like Rocky I or Rocky II. But shit, you guys. I don’t get to do too much of that now, and it really sucks.
If you are unaware, Don Argott and Demian Fenton’s notorious 2011 documentary Last Days Here charts the phoenix-style rise of Bobby Liebling, who momentarily rose to fame among metalheads in the mid-’80s as the lead singer of Pentagram. Sludgy stoner-rock precursors, original pressings of the band’s first album catch coin among collectors and, honestly, the slippery guitars, smoky vocals and surprisingly break-heavy drums make it worthy of the grail status it’s gained in the past few decades. In that time though, Liebling got caught up in heroin and crack. The film crew finds our man gaunt and bug-eyed, living on the couch of his long-suffering parents who claim to have sunk over a million dollars into supporting their son. To them they’re not so much enabling him, but instead keeping him in a place where they can monitor him and guarantee that he’s safe.
It’s a colossal bummer to watch Liebling as he flips over couch cushions looking for stray crack rocks and hear him wager his prized record collection against the certain possibility that, moments after he smoked up, he would ever do it again. You want some gloom and doom depths of depravity documentary footage? There’s a whole section of Liebling picking at the sores on his arms that he claims were produced by parasites. "I am epidemically covered in scabies!" he announces after one visit to the hospital. Underneath all this, like so many other addicts, is someone who desperately wants to shake the monkey off their back once and for all.
So far as rockstar excess cautionary tales go, Last Days Here ranks pretty high up there, but thanks to the tireless work of Pentagram superfan Sean Pelletier, Liebling defies the odds and gets another shot at salvaging a legacy if he can stay off crack and out of jail long enough to actually make it happen. Talk about the ultimate fan experience, imagine being the guy who not only gets to hang out with your favorite musician, but you’re also the one who slaves away to get them back into the spotlight and, in this case, literally save them from themselves? No good deed goes unpunished, though, as they say. For all his work Pelletier has to put up with heaps of Liebling’s bullshit, but the final result documented here is a damn fine catharsis that you honestly worry might not come together until the very last moment. And hell, our man even gets himself a gal, too! The end. Roll credits.
Oh, wait. No. In the time since Last Days Here was released (and racked up some love on the festival circuit) Pentagram has been touring with Liebling more or less “on the wagon,” but some cracks started to show a year back with him becoming (fully revealing himself to be?) a total and inexcusable creep who inexplicably tells rape jokes on stage and directly harasses the women of opening acts (which understandably resulted in those two bands bailing from the tour). There are moments in Last Days Here that presage horrendous behavior like that, most notably Liebling’s off-and-on girlfriend being forced to take out a restraining order against him, but his fall from whatever place of grace he had ascended to wasn’t over yet. It seems like he relapsed earlier this year and was a no-show for some dates in April. What happened? Well, he was arrested for what sounds like assaulting his nearly 90-year-old mom. This is of course the same mother who we see in the film doing her damned best to look after her kid while he delusionally complains about parasites eating away his organs. If there’s a worse way to wrap up this story, then I can’t even begin to contemplate it.
Does this incredibly bleak real-life ending ruin the movie? Not entirely, though it does take the joy out of that triumphant climax. Seeing him on stage once again to a packed house was the saving grace of having spent an hour and a half with Liebling’s drug-addled lunacy. As it was, the film plays like an appropriately pitch-black comedy that has a silver lining worth waiting for. Events of the past year have turned it into a tragedy.