'Rocky Balboa' Fits Like a Favorite Old Glove

Like many Americans, I grew up loving the "Rocky" movies, but lost track of them somewhere around "Rocky IV" or "Rocky V" and joked with my friends that the series would likely conclude in double digits with Stallone fighting from his wheelchair.

I never imagined that I would (almost) get to produce the film's "inspired by" soundtrack. So last summer, when I got the call that there was interest in having me produce the CD, as I'd done for "The Passion of the Christ," I wasted no time in assembling some of my favorite rock bands to watch the film and write a song.

In early fall, several of us gathered at a studio in Santa Monica to watch the film. Afterward, one of the film's publicists asked us our thoughts on what we had seen and whether we would like to work with them.

The rockers and I were unanimous in our conclusion: The film was like a favorite baseball glove from the seventh grade that has been pulled out of a box in the attic and still fits, bringing back lots of memories.

It's no exaggeration to say that for many of us, Rocky taught us how to win, how to lose, how to fight and how to be men. Come to think of it, Sylvester Stallone taught us those things as well, for the story of Sly and his alter ego are intertwined in ways that he may not even understand.

It was Stallone, after all, who in the mid-1970s had a dream to write, direct and star in a film called "Rocky" and reportedly turned down offers to make it that didn't include him in those roles. He refused and waited for the fulfillment of his dream.

When Rocky got complacent and lazy, so did Sly, and around that time — somewhere between "Rocky III" and "Rocky V" — the series lost its soul.

As my rocker friends and I watched the final film in the "Rocky" saga in a dark room in Santa Monica, I couldn't help but get the feeling that I was watching the resurrection of both Rocky and Sly Stallone, and that once again their destinies were inextricably tied together.

Maybe Stallone realizes this now. He seems to have spent years trying to escape from the long shadow of Rocky Balboa, and now, in his twilight years, seems to have given up running, embracing the character he created and admitting to the audience that he and Rocky are one and the same and always were.

When the lights came up, we all agreed that "Rocky," though unlikely to win an Oscar, was a good film — one that I, as producer, and the artists would be proud to be associated with. The film is short and sweet and recaptures the essence of what made the original "Rocky" movie such a watershed moment in American cinema.

Rocky seems to have lost most of what he gained. He's back to living in a small, rather dumpy apartment; Butkus the dog is long gone, and so are Adrian and Mick.

In a savvy move plotted by Stallone the screenwriter, Rocky is now the owner of a small restaurant where he presides nightly over his patrons, entertaining them with stories of the good old days, battles won and lost in the ring.

His tranquil if sad life is interrupted when a sports news show does a simulated match-up between the current champion and Rocky and decides that Rocky would have triumphed, which results in a challenge being issued, which results in one last exhibition fight. I won't spoil the ending, but it's a good one.

The most poignant and ultimately important scene in this humble film is when Stallone ties up the entire 30-year series with a remarkably poetic and inspirational scene where the old warhorse gives his all-grown-up stockbroker son some words to live by, telling him that a successful life is not about trying to avoid life's battles, but taking the punches to the gut that life inevitably deals us and withstanding those blows, standing up.

That speech alone is worth the admission to "Rocky Balboa" and makes the conclusion to the 30-year journey that Stallone let us share in worth the wait.

There will be no Rocky Balboa "Inspired By" soundtrack after all, for despite our affection for the film, I and 10 of the country's top rock bands, though willing, simply ran out of time — the time that would have been necessary to write and produce 10 great songs to send off a series that over 30 years taught lots of little boys like us how to fight, how to take the punches that life would throw at us and, ultimately, how to be men.

Mark Joseph is the author of "Faith, God & Rock 'n' Roll" and the editor of Pop Goes Religion. He has worked in development and marketing on such films as "The Chronicles of Narnia," "Holes," "Because of Winn-Dixie" and others and produced the rock soundtrack for "The Passion of the Christ."