Day of Reckoning, by Matt Warren
When we meet him, Bobby Liebling is practically a zombie. The excellent new rockumentary Last Days Here opens with Liebling, lead singer of the obscure-but-respected 1970s doom-metal band Pentagram, sitting in his decrepit “sub-basement” smoking crack and ranting incoherently about bugs under his skin. The flesh on his arm is rotting away; arms dotted with raw open sores that look like infected vaginas. His bottom row of teeth are AWOL, causing his sloping Semitic profile look like it’s being sucked backwards through his face to the magnetic center of his skull. It’s the face of a man who partied every bit as hard as such inexplicably ambulatory rock martyrs as Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne, yet never made a dime. Picture Anvil: The Story of Anvil, except more damaged and even less successful. But against all odds (and despite its title) Last Days Here is a story about a beginning—not an end.
Even within the annals of lunkheaded rock ‘n roll fuck-upery, the story of Pentagram is legend. They were a band as determined to fail as any that’s ever existed. For example, say you’re an unsigned rock band in the mid-1970s, and you somehow get Kiss megastars Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons to come by your suburban Maryland home to watch you rehearse. Do you A) drop everything else, practice your dick off, and get there early, or B) go work your minimum-wage janitor gig, crossing your fingers that you’ll get back home in time to audition—a janitor gig you fucking hitchhike to. If you’re the members of Pentagram, the answer is a clear “B.” And, if somehow over three decades your sludgy brand of Sabbath-esque stoner metal gradually acquires an adoring cult audience, do you capitalize on this fact by A) keeping the band together, touring, and recording new music, or B) get strung out and show up to your headlining festival gig during literally the last song, causing your guitar player to go hide behind the amplifiers out of embarrassment. Again, the only clear choice is the latter. And if hardcore Pentagram fan Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down) offers you a record contract, do A) say “yeah, that sounds great,” or B) just fuck off and go smoke some crack. If you picked “B”, there’s a 99% chance that you are, in fact, Bobby Liebling.
But despite the many colorful anecdotes directors Don Argott and Demian Fenton (Rock School, The Art of the Steal) no doubt had at their disposal, Last Days Here doesn’t focus on Bobby’s past, but rather his uncertain future. The film begins with Pentagram in a state a flux, with the addled Liebling openly predicting his own immanent death. And we believe him. At fifty, he looks easily twice as old as the elderly parents with whom he still lives. He’s tired. But even at rock bottom, Bobby’s guileless nature can’t help but attract a loyal circle of fans and admirers, eager to see the would-be rock god finally capitalize on his potential. The most notable of these is Bobby’s beleaguered manager Sean “Pellet” Pelleteir, a loveable metal dork who seems to genuinely have Bobby’s best interests at heart. But Pellet’s efforts to keep Bobby focused on his career prove easily frustrated. Complicating matters is Bobby’s new girlfriend Hallie, an unlikely love interest 1/4 Bobby’s age; at once reinvigorating and incredibly distracting, Hallie’s presence works in equal measure to both propel and derail Bobby’s comeback.
Totaling 91 well-paced minutes, Last Days Here is, for the most part, an effective and engaging character study, even though at times I sort of wished that the film had been from Bobby Liebling’s perspective, as opposed to those viewing Bobby from the outside. I guess it’s simply a matter of what footage the filmmakers were able to get, but the portrait we get of Liebling remains more enigmatic than intimate. But whatever. So grow out your hair, crank up the vinyl, and smoke some hash out of a light bulb, ‘cause this is one rock doc that really rocks.