What Sebastian Bach and 'Gilmore Girls' Taught Us About Music and Life
Gil (Sebastian Bach) was the physical embodiment of the themes Gilmore Girls tried to convey through music.
Gilmore Girls is the heart-warming tale of the two eponymous, fast-talking, incredibly pop-culturally aware mother-daughter duo, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, who show us being family means never apologizing for getting pregnant at 16. However, with it’s release on Netflix on October, 2014, and the inevitable, and multiple, viewings that entailed, it became increasingly apparent that one character shined a bit more brightly than the rest of the inhabitants of manic, pixie, dreamland Stars Hollow. That would be Gil, the guitarist of Rory’s best friend’s band, Hep Alien.
When Dave Rygalski (Adam Brody) moved to the bluer pastures of Orange County, Lane and her band needed a new guitarist to keep their dreams of rock 'n' roll rebellion alive. Enter, Gil. Gil is quite a bit older than the rest of the band, but he’s the only one they interview who can actually play. Gil’s been around the block a few times; he talks about how he and his band could’ve made it big at one point but the group imploded before their very first show. This might sound entirely too familiar to those who recognize Gil as not just another wacky character, but as Sebastian Bach, former singer and self-proclaimed heart of ‘80s metal band Skid Row.
Skid Row were the bad boy little brothers of fellow New Jersians Bon Jovi. Their snarky, jailbait edge gave them a little bit of distance from the pretty-boy appeal of their fellow genre-mates. While other hair metal bands celebrated the female form, Skid Row led the revolution of the disengaged with anthems like, “Youth Gone Wild”, and “18 and Life”. Bach replaced the original singer just before the band made it big, but escalating tempers within the band and decreasing popularity saw him ousted him in the mid-‘90s.
The eternal showman, Bach has a line of solo and collaborative projects to his name including a reality show and stint on Broadway as Jesus of Nazareth in Jesus Christ Superstar. Perhaps it’s the combination of all his creative endeavors that lends his character on Gilmore Girls such gravitas; one can’t help but draw parallels between Hep Alien’s various members giving Gil grief for being enthusiastic about embarking on a tour of Seventh Day Adventist churches because it’s not “their scene”, and how Bach was allegedly, ultimately, booted from Skid Row for booking the band to open for KISS when the rest of band considered it beneath them.
Indeed, music plays a pretty big role in the show, from the poignant theme song sung by the mother-daughter pairing of Carole King and Louise Goffin to the premise that Lorelai Gilmore had her daughter, who has nothing to her name except a Walkman and a tape of, “99 Luftballons”. Rory’s first onesie was an old Bananarama shirt of her mother’s. Lorelai mends bridges between her daughter and the private school mean girls by taking them to see The Bangles, and the whole reason the Jess bad-boy second love of Rory’s life plotline exists is because he’s like Joe Strummer stuck in suburbia, and only Rory and her similar taste in pop culture can set him free.
Beyond these musical cues, though, is a very genre-specific nod. It seems there was a not-so-secret metalhead on the writing staff of Gilmore Girls, and whenever the characters’ issues got too big to handle within their whiplash dialogue, metal found a way to get the point across.
Lorelai and Rory have been a twosome all these years but naturally there was another party involved when it came to making Lorelai Gilmore, Jr.: Christopher, Lorelai’s high school boyfriend/best friend. Lorelai and Christopher are just not meant to be together. Despite their history, their 20-year love affair, and their kid, they just don’t mesh. Their quickie marriage and subsequent divorce only highlight this further. But the best summation of this relationship is the vehement argument they have over their favorite bands. Christopher adores The Offspring and to Metallica-loving Lorelai this clearly means he is an ignorant child, because while the worlds of punk and metal may run parallel, never the twain shall meet. Metal is the tool that communicates not only Lorelai’s (superior) taste, but also goes to the very core of her belief system.
Industrial icons Rammstein blare out in full Germanic glory when Rory’s father shows off his new car’s sound system in an episode long after the previous showdown. Both girls have a complicated relationship with the man who fathered the youngest Gilmore, but this moment highlights when he’s finally ready to settle down and be a proper father, as illustrated by the practical car he’s peacocking about as well as the genre of music he’s now switched to. Lorelai did not believe he was responsible enough to be a stable part of their lives and never is that more clearly underlined than when he tips his hat to her music choice and, “gives in”.
Yet, he’s not doing this for the kids. He’s managed to knock up another woman and is stepping up to the plate for her. Despite the music, despite his actions, Lorelai’s belief in Christopher, or lack thereof, stands true. Oh, but Christopher tries. In the short time he and Lorelai do try to make a go of it, he picks Quiet Riot’s, “Cum on Feel the Noize” as their driving soundtrack. It’s quite telling when both Gilmore Girls quickly shoot it down.
Topping all that are the amazing costume choices, like Lorelai’s, “Heavy Metal Rules” t-shirt as well as her Bon Jovi cap, which all illustrate a very specific message here; mother knows best and mother loves heavy metal. She even read the Motley Crue autobiography in morbid fascination in one scene.
But who wants to listen to mom? Even Rory of the magical my-birther-is-my-best-friend relationship had her moments of rebellion: she chose to sleep with her married ex-boyfriend and then ran off to Europe to avoid facing the reality of her actions, despite her mother pushing the issue and trying to get her to own up to it; she chose to let some uppity business tycoon crush her dreams of investigative reporting and stole a boat with her boyfriend, which culminated in her arrest; she chose to drop out of an Ivy League school and mooch off her grandparents while throwing idiotic tea parties. All these choices pit Rory against her mother and even when she knew she was wrong, she couldn’t back down.
Everyone gets those moments when they’re backed into a hole and even the best relationships suffer when strong personalities butt heads and pride gets in the way of resolution. Despite how far Lorelai has come, she, too, has her mistakes and flaws. So how to relay the important, personal messages the show whole-heartedly believes in without choosing sides between the two main characters? By introducing Gil; a former metal star but eternal fanboy who, like Lorelai and Rory, believes in the power of music and of individuality and actually sticks to those beliefs.
Not until season four, when all the relationships are settled and when the shine of hunky-doriness has dimmed a little, are we introduced to Gil. Gil tries out for Hep Alien despite the dubious looks of the band members, and has a great time rocking out. He thanks Lane, Rory’s best friend and integral part of the band, for the chance and relays his story. It’s after hearing him and believing in his enthusiasm and genuine love for music that Lane gives in and lets him in.
Gil knows the odds are stacked against him, and he knows what the others think about him. He acknowledges this out loud but tells Lane he’s not going to give up, even if they do reject him. This is what he wants to do and he will get it by working hard and not giving up. That speaks to the very essence of the show. Lorelai ran away from a life of privilege and ease in order to have Rory and raise her by her own rules. She worked as a maid at a local inn, lived in the tool shed with her newborn, and through hard work and determination she raised a precocious child and rose to become a manager and eventual owner of her own inn.
The most important lesson Lorelai drills into her daughter, and the audience, is that nothing comes easy but hard work will get you where you want and need to go. It is this drive and motivation that got her where she is and the same single-mindedness that got Rory to Yale. It comes as no surprise that Gil first appears when the girls are going through a particularly trying time, with Lorelai resorting to counting coupons to make ends meet. Determination will see them all through, and it’s only when Rory truly seems to give up that her relationship with her mother suffers, especially when she drops out of school.
Dealing with adversity, however, is not a new thing for Lorelai or Rory. The elder Gilmores, Lorelai’s parents, represent the greatest hurdle for them. It's because of them that Lorelai ran away from home, pregnant and 16-years-old. The entire series painfully jabs at that wound and opens it up to bleed significantly from time to time. Some of Rory and Lorelai’s own clashes rise from the tension Lorelai always has with her parents. These relationships seem doomed to keep repeating history and that’s exactly what happens in the subplot with Gil.
Gil and the rest of the band are primed to play a major gig that could actually lead to a record deal. But when the band gets into a heated argument over a song, a fight erupts and they’re booted out of the club before playing a single note. It's the same situation Gil had with his previous band. Gil admits he stopped playing guitar for a while after that first fiasco. Upon picking it back up on a whim, he realized he was keeping himself from what he loved because of the influence of others. He was the one getting punished, not them.
With this second disaster, though, he doesn’t retreat. He keeps at it. There’s even a scene later on where he’s performing Gwen Stefani’s, “Hollaback Girl” at a dinky Bar Mitzvah. But that Bar Mitzvah could very well have been a headlining spot at Madison Square Garden with the amount of energy and zeal in Gil's performance. The band eventually gets back together and Gil is quick to forgive them and that speaks to the very core of the show. Forgiveness is how you move on, how you heal.
The Gilmores spend seven seasons trying to understand and accept this concept and here’s Gil, who does it with a good-natured toss of his mane. It’s especially poignant that this episode is book-ended by Thanksgiving celebrations. Lorelai’s parents may need to forgive her for changing their lives dramatically, but she has to give an inch, as well. Something she, nor her daughter, is very good at, though it's s so simply illustrated by the very presence of Gil. But to touch back on the previous example, Rory does eventually go back to school and get exactly what she wants out of her education and life. Others be damned.
Beyond perseverance and forgiveness, Gilmore Girls is a story about setting off on your own path and believing in it. Lorelai chooses a different life than what her parents wanted for her, but she’s happy in her choices and confident that they were the right ones for her. This is the lesson she wants her daughter to learn most of all. People can make mistakes, can choose paths others don’t approve or support, but they need to have the resolve to stick to what they want and believe in themselves. That is the true meaning of identity and how both Lorelai and Rory define themselves.
Near the end of the series, Rory’s best friend, Lane, who signed on Gill in the first place, marries and gets pregnant. She laments the fact that she has to assume all this responsibility and be an, “adult” now, when she barely had the time to discover who she was and be herself. It’s a perfectly normal regret and one the Gilmore Girls can empathize with. Lorelai had Rory at 16 but she managed to build a life for her child as well as one for herself. Lane can be any kind of mother she wants to be, and while the ladies assure her of this, it’s Gil who drives the point home. Gil brings his son to the band’s practice and shows off how his kid has the same interests he does and how they’re building their relationship by using music as common ground.
Throughout the series, Gil constantly talks about his family. and while his references to kids may bum out the band because they further highlight how much older he is, they really uphold the view that one doesn’t have to lose themselves to make relationships, be it parental or otherwise, work. While family is the huge issue the show keeps beating the audience over the head with, here is a functioning family unit subtly noted. as well.
Gil might not be the most important character or the most prominent of this show. He might also come off as a caricature of a heavy metal meathead most of the time. But beyond the initial slapstick of Gil’s cartoonish exclamations of, “Awwwriiighht”, we get a nuanced character that shows us he truly gets what’s important in life while maintaining a perfect coif. He is the physical embodiment of the themes Gilmore Girls tries to communicate through the symbolism of music, and that’s what allows him to go beyond the shtick of it.
While it’s funny to see the complete disparity between Gil and literally every person around him, especially in a particular episode where he jams on a zither accompanied by elderly Korean ladies, it is his genuineness that makes him someone worth believing in. He’s like a dopey Buddha-in-training who provides the answers while going through trials himself. Add the obvious nods to his real life and the love of heavy metal to all that it and it makes you wonder what the Gil in Gilmore truly stands for.