Round about 1989 I sat in a record company office in Hollywood with Warrant vocalist Jani Lane conducting an interview for Kerrang! magazine. Jani was a top boy, affable and articulate, self-deprecating and funny. The band’s début album, ‘Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich’, was about to be released and we were discussing Warrant’s OTT image of make-up and teased hair that had become pretty much de rigeur for any band wanting to make a splash in the American metal scene. “So Jani,” I asked, deciding I’d put him on the spot. “Would you be prepared to walk down the street in your home town back in Ohio like this?” I liked his response. “Fuck no, man! Are you crazy? If I walked down the street like this I’d get my ass kicked in a second for being a fuckin’ faggot!” For someone trying to make his name in the world of Hair Metal, I appreciated the honesty.
Lane’s refusal to embrace the Glam lifestyle 24/7 certainly didn’t hinder Warrant any. The band went on to have two double platinum albums and three Top 10 hits. Not a bad haul by anyone’s standards. But the truth is, anyone who was prepared to live Hair Metal morning noon and night had more balls than most of us, despite looking like some kind of drag queen gone wrong once they’d emptied the entire contents of their sister’s make-up bag onto their ugly-assed faces every morning. I for one didn’t have the necessary chutzpah to be walking down Birmingham New Street looking like that, so by this time had retreated into the resurgent biker look being rocked by bands like The Cult.
It’s kinda weird now, in our post-grunge world, to imagine just how normal it was for bands to adopt the Hair Metal look back in those giddy days of the 1980s. But for a while there the preening and the posing and the hairspray and the make-up seemed to be the most natural thing in the world to accompany heavy rock music. Look at photos from the time of Mötley Crüe, Guns N’Roses, Ratt, Bon Jovi. Pretty much any rock band you choose felt it was an essential part of rock’n’roll culture to get with the Hair Metal picture.
Grunge, of course, killed Hair Metal stone dead in 1992. It seemed that almost overnight looking like a chick with a dick and playing party rock was the ultimate kiss of death. What had once brought record company A&R men swarming like bees to honey suddenly saw them getting all snooty and claiming that rock music was all about ‘keeping it real’. Some bands cut their losses and quickly cut out the Silvikrin. Remember those early photos of Alice In Chains? All of a sudden we were all pretending we were far too mature to be dressing up like a Heavy Metal Widow Twanky. The trouble is, we all realised too late that Grunge was NO FUN. Some great music, sure. But too introspective, navel-gazing and downright miserable. Grunge never seemed to make anybody happy, whereas Hair Metal couldn’t help but put a smile on your face.
Hair Metal is, of course, making something of a comeback right now. rock’n’roll for the sake of rock’n’roll. It’s dumb and it’s fun. And I for one have no problem in saying I have no problem with it whatsoever. Though I suspect I won’t be breaking out the missus’ make-up bag this time around!
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HoJo rocked as a top journalist on legendary UK metal magazine
Kerrang! and now runs a way-cool rock T-shirt site at www.saltyrockz.com.