Self Proclaimed Road Dogs From Hell Persevere Through the Years
Christopher R. Weingarten
For something called “pop culture,” it certainly looks to all things “pop” to find its scapegoats. And damned if the same media machine that fills countless magazine covers with the visage du jour isn’t the same one that sends empires toppling as quickly as they were erected. Examples are endless and have been repeated ad nauseam – with an infinite number of Behind The Music episodes detailing the media assassination and record company dismissal that helped Hammer go broke and drove half of Milli Vanilli to suicide.
These days, yet another one of pop culture’s metaphorical whipping boys is one-time “down boys” Warrant. At one point they were a dirty-rotten-filthy-stinking-rich assemblage of rock superstars, a multi-platinum cornerstone of glam-metal’s peak years and purveyors of the memorably over-sexed “Cherry Pie” anthem and album. Today, they are maligned ruthlessly by the media, with even the most complementary articles and rockumentaries replete with caustic barbs like “hair today, gone tomorrow.”
You know what? Fuck that.
Sure, the “alternative nation” or “indie rock boom” or whatever clever media tag placed on Nirvana’s messiah-like coming helped kill Warrant and the legions of their hirsute contemporaries. Sure, it’s not hip to rock out avec votre cock out. But this hasn’t affected Warrant’s boisterous blond frontman Jani Lane one iota. Lane has toured relentlessly over the last decade with the cherry poppin’ daddies of Warrant and, although they’ve had to scale down from arenas to theaters to clubs, people still flock to see them. He’s married to his girl of eight years, Rowanne, and has two daughters. He’s seen more money and tail than you could ever imagine. He’s happier than Eddie Vedder looks or sounds.
And why not? He’s seen it all. Having two multi-platinum records in 1989 and 1990, Lane certainly has seen his share of extravagance. “Everything was over-the-top,” Lane said. “It was drive the most expensive car you can afford and buy the biggest house and take out eight semis and five tour buses and the band still flies on a plane.”
Lane laments that there’s not much of a chance for the band to give a rebuttal to any of the slag the critics repeatedly give them in the press. Of course, the mountains of money and sleaze the boys witnessed in their short stint at the top should be rebuttal enough. Great stories abound, but Lane notes the “absolute sleaziest” involved a show at The Troubadour, the legendary Los Angeles hot spot, when the band was playing for a couple of record company bigwigs.
“I don’t remember who in the band had the brilliant idea, but they said, ‘let’s just shock everybody and lets have a girl come out on stage and blow Jani.’ That blew up in our face, The Troubadour banned us. We wanted to create a stir, but it also chased a couple labels away from us. They were like, ‘God, if they do this now before they’re signed, what are they going to be like when they get signed?’ You do what you gotta do,” Lane said. “I thought it was very rock n’ roll.”
Today, Warrant knows the pace of spendin’, sleazin’, and datin’ models can be very taxing on the bodies of young rockers. A peek at the latest incarnation of Warrant will result in seeing five guys with much shorter hair, much more low-maintenance garments, and significantly curbed libidos.
“When you’re selling records and you’re on a major label and you’re being wined and dined on a regular basis, that’s one thing. But now everybody’s had to buckle down and get rid of a lot of the bad habits,” Lane said. “We live on the road, practically. To keep up the kind of pace we had back in the day, we’d be dead. Or vegetables.”
Is this the mellowing of one of rock’s greatest extravagant figures? A wife, two kids, and a home in Fort Lauderdale are just the beginning. Lane’s trademark über-puffed coiffure is now gone, showing that, yes, you can take the hair out of the hair band. “Back in the day, if I would have said I wanted to cut my hair short, everybody would have gone, [gasp] ‘You can’t do that, we’ll get dropped from the label,’” Lane said. “Now, it’s like looking back at an old high school picture.”
And with the hair goes the clothes. Today the boys prefer to don a more streamlined – but still quite rock – wardrobe of leather pants, fishnet sleeves, chains, and animal prints. The Warrant of the new millennium is sans-glam.
“That stuff’s expensive,” Lane exclaims. “It gets old after a while. So many years of taking three hours to get ready to go on stage. [But] we’re still not going out in blue jeans and flannel shirts, trying to do a total dress down thing or trying to get away from the image. It’s a rock band.”
The mellowing and suburbanizing of Warrant will not, however, cross over into the music. The latest Warrant album, to be the band’s sixth studio effort, is now in its early demoing stages as the band shops for labels. Lane promises heavy songs, power pop, and riff-oriented tunes, but says it is still too early to focus on a direction. “When somebody writes the check and says, ‘Do the record,’ whatever mode I’m in writing, that’s what I’ll go with,” Lane said.
In addition, Lane and the boys continue being “road dogs from hell,” averaging 250 shows a year and currently on a summer arena trek with Quiet Riot, Enuff Z’Nuff, and figureheads-of-hair Poison. Titled the Glam Slam Metal Jam, this tour teams the Down Boys back with What the Cat Dragged In for the first time since 1990, a tour notable for Warrant’s departure after arguments with the Poison boys.
“It was egos on both parts. Both bands were doing really well and we were opening for them and there was a stupid, immature argument over stuff like stage room and mics and stuff like that,” Lane said. “There are a few people out there who are kind of curious to see if we’re going to leave the tour again this summer, but I think everybody in both bands are a little older and a little wiser.”
Older indeed. In fact, Lane himself gets a little caught up in the fact that the young road dog who barked his way to the top of the Billboard charts is now approaching middle age.
“The line keeps getting pushed back.” Lane said. “I used to say, when I was 24 and signed, ‘Ah, I’ll retire when I’m 30.’ When I was 30, I was like, ‘Ah, I’ll retire from music when I’m 35.’ Now I’m 36, and I’m sayin’, ‘Ah, maybe I’ll retire when I’m 40.’ As long I think we can represent ourselves without us walking off stage and feeling like we’re a joke. [As long as] I think we can give people a decent show for their money. Then I’ll think we’ll keep doing it, as long as there’s an audience to see it.”
And there is. Despite critical jabs, much of middle America never abandoned Warrant, and a younger generation, with less animosity towards the ’80s bands, keeps radio shows like House Of Hair and metal club nights buzzing with head-banging enthusiasm. And even if Warrant is not visible in the commercial spotlight, hair metal’s not dead, just dissipated. The chest-beating machismo and over-sexed verbiage? That’s Fred Durst. The lasers, pyro and wardrobe of lavish stage metal? Why, that’s Kid Rock. The Jacuzzis, cars, liquor and exorbitant spending? Cash Money Millionaire B.G. calls it “Bling Bling.”
But for anyone uncertain about the newly mellowed Lane’s legacy not living on, one need only to listen to the next generation, loudly chattering in the background of his Fort Lauderdale home.
“My daughter is just insane,” Lane said. “She’s got a bigger mouth than I do.”