Juliette and the Licks Suck

And so do the rest of you celebrity bands.

Juliette Lewis has touched Brad Pitt's penis. For most women, it would be enough to simply star in a few motion pictures and be known as Brad Pitt's former lover. Alas, Juliette Lewis is not "most women." This dual-fallopian-tubed powerhouse also sings in a four-piece band, Juliette and the Licks. Their second release is entitled Four on the Floor.

Yes, it's bad.

Comparisons to PJ Harvey and Hole often fail to mention that the Licks suck. Lewis' voice sounds like a raspy 15-year-old on Vicodin and meth playing "rock star" in her garage, parents suspiciously absent. On the cover, she's wearing purple spandex, no top, brandishing a bow and arrow. It's painful, and not in a fun way. By the time she starts begging, "Sister, sister, reach for your life," on "I Never Got to Tell You," you're thinking of acquainting your eardrum with any sharp object nearby.

If this was the work of a 34-year-old from Greenwood, you'd only hear about her if she worked in marketing and someone from sales was force-feeding her band's MySpace link to the rest of the office. But Lewis was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Cape Fear at age 21—the age a person would normally be in a band, mind you—and went on to star in some of the most evocative films of the '90s: Kalifornia, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Basketball Diaries. But something happened in the '00s, a time when her résumé started boasting a bit part at the end of Old School.

So she started a band. Most bands suck anyway, but how many have the foresight to get started while clinging to some remnant of fame? If this was 1992, we could pin "Juliette and the inanely double-entendred Licks" into the mere category of "Celebrity Band" and be done with it. But it's not so easy anymore, as the lines between actor and musician, entrepreneur and thespian, are diminishing.

Granted, Lewis is not that most viral of celeb musicians, the Chanteuse Hack. This breed requires nothing but name recognition and the ability to pose for an album cover. To wit: Kathie Lee Gifford, Hilary Duff, the Olsen Twins, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Sissy Spacek, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and J.Lo. (Alas, there is a limit to how low record companies will go. On Edward Furlong's MySpace page, the Terminator II star claims he is unable to find a U.S. label willing to touch what's already been released in Japan. Listening to his cover of the Doors' "People Are Strange" will answer any questions about why.)

But Juliette Lewis is not posing as a singer-songwriter, either—I'm looking at you, Billy Bob Thornton and Minnie Driver (see also: Kelly Osbourne, and Steven "have ponytail and kung fu moxie, will release horrible blues music" Seagal). No, Juliette Lewis is a member of a band. And there are two breeds of bands with celebrities for members: Celebrity Bands NOT Using Celebrity's Name, and Celebrity Bands USING Celebrity's Name (see sidebar below for details). The former aims for "authenticity" by failing to flaunt the actor's presence; the other knows that recognition rests solely on star power.

But more important is the distinction between celebrities whose music is a mere pet project (Keanu Reeves) and people who start bands to become celebrities (i.e., real musicians). The music of the already famous is far more dangerous. Unless aided by the humor or humility found in Tenacious D and William Shatner, they're bound to fail artistically. Fact is, celebs are surrounded by "yes" men. Good music comes from struggle, from criticism, from being rejected, and from discovering what creations within you still merit a public platform. Even the best of talent requires a boatload of practice to refine those skills. Yes, the double-edged sword of fame gives us the ability to make fun of the famous. But it's entertaining enough just to realize that even the luckiest still have dreams they deem pursuit-worthy.


Celebrity Bands NOT Using Celebrity's Name

•30 Seconds to Mars Jared Leto's My Chemical Romance–lite band. When I was 14, I wanted nothing more than to make out with Jordan Catalano, Leto's guitar-slinging character in My So-Called Life. Thirteen years later—as Leto's transition to "real-life version of Catalano" is nearly complete—I find myself sadly indifferent to the whole bit: Leto has gained weight and made a career out of playing to 14-year-olds. In 1994, that meant wearing plaid shirts. In 2007: black eyeliner. Having started 30 Seconds somewhat before his acting career's downfall, he escapes being considered merely a "Celebrity Band" by many.

•Dogstar Bassist: Keanu Reeves. "Aura of authenticity" severely diminished owing to Reeves' presence on the album cover. Also: those last two Matrix films.

•Salty the Pocketknife A prog/math-rock band whose bassist is Dustin Diamond, aka Screech from Saved by the Bell. Points earned for not trying to go the lowest-common-denominator route; points subtracted for sucking.

•Wicked Wisdom The singer—she of the disheveled hair and perpetually strung-out/ready-to-give-hell look—is Jada Pinkett Smith. Proof that the statements "I want to have Will Smith's baby" and "I want to front a nü-metal band" are not mutually exclusive. But they should be.

•The Accelerators Bruce Willis' band, in which he is said to spend hours playing mediocre harmonica solos to troops in Iraq, all of whom are disappointed that Carmen Electra canceled her appearance—and that Willis sucks.

Celebrity Bands USING Celebrity's Name

•The Bacon Brothers Kevin Bacon and his brother of lesser talent.

•Juliette and the Licks Lewis admits that her celebrity has brought a "double-edged sword" to her music "career," equal parts opportunity and backlash.

•Russell Crowe and the Ordinary Fear of God (formerly 30 Odd Foot of Grunts). If you hate someone, make them listen to this music. If you love yourself, leave the room before hitting "play."

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