By Richard O Jones
Reading an advance story about the upcoming Denis Leary series “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” debuting later this month on the FX channel, I was delighted to learn from the New York Times that Ross High School alum and fellow former Sharon Park denizen Greg Dulli has a rather significant role to play in the show.
Leary plays Johnny Rock, an aging, washed-up rock’n’roller who gets a second chance at stardom, and Dulli — who became a rock icon as the front man for the band Afghan Whigs — produced the tracks that play the role of the hit songs for the Heathens, Leary’s fictional band.
In order to get a sense of the Heathens’ sound then and now, Mr. Leary started by writing the show’s theme song as well as a song that Gigi sings in the pilot. When the show was greenlit, he added five songs — some co-written by his longtime collaborator Chris Phillips — and went into Electric Lady Studios with Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs as producer. Some of Mr. Leary’s old friends, including Adam Roth (the Del Fuegos), Alec Morton (Raging Slab) and Charly Roth (Ozzy Osbourne’s band), were assembled to play behind Mr. Leary and Ms. Gillies….
Mr. Dulli and Mr. Grohl [Dave Grohl, former drummer for Nirvana and now leader of the Foo Fighters] appear as Johnny Rock’s nemeses, the rock stars who stole his “vibe and aura” and had the success that eluded the Heathens.
Mr. Dulli, of course, is hardly a household name, but his role fits with the side of the show that’s full of more esoteric music references and inside jokes. There are riffs about Metallica’s band therapist and a song spoofing the mope-rock of Morrissey and Radiohead.
“I wanted the musicians to sound like musicians,” said Mr. Leary. “If they’re in a room, they’re” insulting “the other guys, and themselves, all day long. I wanted to get inside that world, and I think the rest of the audience will adapt to that.”
Although we grew up in the same neighborhood, I didn’t know Dulli until he was a star. He’s a bit younger than me, and my brother knew him. I did several stories with him, and even won a Society of Professional Journalists award for a profile I wrote in 2004 that I titled, “Dude, Where’s Greg Dulli’s Car.” The link will send you to an unedited version that I saved, a somewhat more, um, scatalogical version from what appeared in the Journal-News.
The picture on that page is from the first story I did on Dulli when Journal-News photographer Greg Lynch and I went bowling with him at the Columbia Lanes, the traditional “Park Boy” hangout. Later stories we did over the phone and used promotional photos.
When the story about losing his car ran in the Journal, I got a few complaints from people complaining about showing him smoking a cigarette. So the next time I did a story with him, after the interview I asked the publicist if she could provide a non-smoking photo. A couple of hours later, she called me back and said somewhat sheepishly, “We don’t have any pictures of him not smoking.”
Photo: Denis Leary and Greg Dulli in the studio, from Leary’s Instagram feed.