Saturday, August 13, 2011
Jani Lane, 2/1/64-8/11/11
Jani Lane's passing caught me at a time when I felt condemned for being myself. You know, relationship problems.
People's opinions--especially on little issues--can get me down, make me insecure.
After a lifetime of being on the receiving end of picky condemnation, I spent two days trying to remember what word defined "wondering if you're capable of accomplishing anything, even something simple like cracking a joke or crossing the street by myself." In the evening of the second day, the word came to me: "unsure."
Even if you're doing great work, you can feel unappreciated. Sometimes one person (that you care about) scolds you, other times it's as though a singular person uses the domino theory to influence a crowd to scorn you.
In Kansas City, before I started an in-person interview with Jani while he was on the road with Poison in 1991, he looked at a fax his management sent on a Sunday. He slammed the paper on the table, and harshly folded it up. It was a less-than favorable review from ROLLING STONE on CHERRY PIE. The critic's opinion mattered.
I should have told him to look at the other reviews in the mag over the course of a few issues. Even records, that sell well, are despised by people in the music business. Besides that, if people pick on you that much, then maybe you're doing something that makes you stand out. I remember a band first suing him, claiming they wrote “Heaven,” (which he wrote before he joined Warrant) and then that band almost succeeding in getting an opening slot from Warrant in California. Maybe these negative people could be better at their craft, instead of being jealous of what an artist has to offer. Through the years I told him to listen to the fans; they felt the perfection of CHERRY PIE--all great songs. A fun listen.
To this day, I want to believe that if Jani Lane had been his own biggest fan most of the time, that maybe he would never have put the music second and the drinking first. He apologized that CHERRY PIE was sexist instead of proclaiming, "This is a pop art video." (It is great pop art!) I think he apologized too damn much because of other people's opinions. Was he surrounded by too many music snobs in LA? Was he trying to impress his contemporaries in other bands--what were the real reasons they didn't like him? Some of it was because he was more into his newer songs, and wished people would listen to him.
In the end, he came to terms with what made him famous, and wrote his own bio a few days before he died at http://www.janilane.net. It included the enthusiastic, "And YES, I LOVE THE SONG “CHERRY PIE!!!'….SWING IT!!"
He was a terrific performer. He knew how to work a crowd, and feed off his band and the vibe of a room. There are videos on youtube where he's interpreting hits in different ways--including a bluesy acoustic performance of "Cherry Pie" for Guitar Hero and a piercing cover of Judas Priest's "Electric Eye." The first four Warrant albums are state of the art in arrangements, performance, and songwriting. I wish all my artists had seen Jani live. He had such a range of emotion as a performer. There was that strutting "down boys" eroticism, something that inspired one male fan to write, "I come to your shows for the music, but love when the girls show their titties!"
He was tender with pure love songs and also the "I'm hurt" break up pieces that made even the most macho guy relate to with "I Saw Red." As a fan, I was slammed for believing in his music even though--quite simply--I loved it. Once, members of an entire music industry bulletin board scolded me when I stated that Jani was the Joni Mitchell of hair bands. They wrote, "Joni Mitchell was a great artist." Yeah, so was Jani!
I worked with him on a benefit for the late Ray Gillen of the blues-rock band Badlands in 1992. Another musician from that era cancelled out on rehearsals and a benefit because he didn't want to be associated with Jani or Trixter who were also on the bill. I asked Jani, "Maybe you'll be friends someday, and you two can dialog," and he responded, sternly, "I don't think so." Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner loved him, as did the other musicians on the bill--all old school talent. Glenn, in particular, wanted to help Jani with his addictions; he saw himself in Jani. They sang together that night, and were honored to be with one another. Robert Mason, who is the leadsinger for Warrant now and was in bands with George Lynch and Ozzy Osbourne, was also on the bill. For a few months afterwards, I stayed in touch with him, and he always talked about his fondness for Jani as a musician and a person.
A couple of times he went overboard, showing his bitterness on stage. He seemed spoiled rotton, as he criticized the venue. It made the audience feel uncomfortable. He reminded me of Lenny Bruce but without purpose, just a few too many beers.
He lacked dependability. Artists can have a career in any industry, if they're dependable. After that, they'll only go as far as their friends are willing to put up with them. I remember three tours he left, some actually quitting the band. Most notably he left the DOG EAT DOG tour in 1993, and the Poison tour during CHERRY PIE without consulting with the headliners. That would certainly cause everyone involved in marketing the band and their album frustration. Jani should have conferred with their management and they negotiated with Poison's people to make the tour work... or maybe create a publicity campaign even if it was a press war.
It's also about bootstrapping. Being determined as in "You've Got Another Thing Coming" by Judas Priest, "If you think I'll sit around as the world goes by, You're thinkin' like a fool cause it's a case of do or die, Out there is a fortune waitin' to be had." Poison, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Sebastian Bach, and smaller acts: Dream Theater, Firehouse, and Southgang's Butch Walker all weathered the influx of grunge and other trends in American music.
In recent years, Warrant as a band--without Jani--rebounded, just fine, too, because they loved music enough to put that first. Without Jani, the group was not ashamed of what they were doing.
Jani tells a famous story about walking into the CBS President's office after the success of two albums, and seeing a poster of ALICE IN CHAINS on the receptionist's wall, "We were no longer a priority for the label because there was a new movement coming, and we just didn't fit in.” I never subscribed to that as the reason Warrant never got famous again till the day Jani died. A label head not paying attention to you is a setback, but it is up to you and your team as to whether you want to work through this adversity, and make it on your own.
Dependability means being sure that you'll do the work without complaining, and that will help you become more sure of yourself, even if you're afraid. We put up with crap every day, but we also get good things. Everyone has an opinion, and most of them are assholes. So it's them, not you--you're an individual. They don't have a life. For instance, if I knew Michelle Bachman, whose credo is "Anyone who is gay is just wrong," I'd be perfectly justified to tell her that her form of scolding, de-programming causes people to be unsure of their unique selves.
Down the line he was calm with me, telling me about finding sobriety. "Jeff Pilson says he's starting a song in the morning, thinking about it all day, and then finishing it at night." How much happier can you get thinking of your writing, and then ending the day with a completed song! Success! Bliss!
I took my gnarly, macho, diehard (and "I Saw Red"-relating) musician friend Paul Nanna to the Lowdown, a 200-capacity club in Mount Vernon, for a routing date for Warrant. Paul's band played there, and he quipped to Jani, "Look, don't spit in the mic... I have to sing in it next week." His eyes popped out of his head as Jani and then keyboardist David White duo'd on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody": two voices, one keyboard, a full house of sound and amazing vocals. "He appreciated being there, was thankful for the gig," Paul said. "He was gracious to the crowd."
I appreciated knowing Jani, not just for the music, but because he was a human being who exchanged info about craft without prodding. On the best days of my life, it was because I started the day writing. That self-centered work helps me realize my personal accomplishments.
I am drawn to artists, and have stayed in touch with most of my friends through the years. One of the first people who told me about Jani's passing was a writer/editor colleague I worked with at HIT PARADER. I told her about this article and the personal anxiety I'd been dealing with, how I'd been unsure of myself. She reminded me to believe in myself and all the things I accomplished, "Everything is baby steps, and you've done it before. You'll do it again. Keep looking at what you've done already." Always go forward, away from those who hold you back and put you down.
The blessing about Jani's death is hearing and reading that he and Warrant did have a place in rock and roll. The band was cherished by the fans, and critics from different eras were sympathetic to him. Now people are listening to his songs without prejudice. "This is a good song," wrote Kenny, from the progressive classic band Wonderous Stories, after he posted "Bitter Pill" for his Facebook page. Former Akron-Beacon Journal and Spin magazine editor Chuck Klosterman wrote that Jani was "less pretentious than most of the credible musicians who usurped his role in the popular culture."
http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/32502/klosterman-remembers-warrants-jani-lane in Grantland.
Chuck Eddy resurrected a story in his Rhapsody obit, ""Warrant's funkish and pretty 'Down Boys' is proto-bohemian--Dion's lonely teen sits at home, whining 'I wanna go where the down boys go,' so he's obviously not a down boy himself, at least not yet; he just worships the wild street kids who head out at a million miles an hour. The synth lines come from The Police via 'The Spirit of Radio,' a Rush song that mimics the Velvet Underground's 'Sweet Jane.' And Warrant's guitarist plays 'Sweet Jane' chords." Jani Lane, like so many Midwestern boys, went to L.A. because that's where the down boys were. For a few years he got to be one, on TV."
I'm not going to beat myself up for not connecting with Jani the last years of his life. I wanted him to know about my artists, especially Jann Klose and Joe Deninzon who have Ohio roots, and have also been major inspiration to me. I reached out to him via his manager, through his myspace, to friends of friends, never to the ex-wives to get to him. I reached out to them to make sure they were all right. My friends remind me that I wouldn't have saved him, that Jani had to admit to having a problem and take time to learn why he did those things and to find out was who he was.
In spite of what he didn't accomplish for himself, Jani Lane has inspired me to keep writing and to be sure of myself. He was the real deal. I had wonderful times with his music, and will forever remember our conversations. I wish his legacy were longer, and hope he knows how much he inspired other folks, including me.
Jani's "Song And Dance Man" stands out as a theme for Jani. It has the lyric, "spoke of a million things before I die I should see. Open up your eyes, life is poetry in motion." After the song he raps about how other bands criticized his group for not playing their instruments in concert. Warrant did, and was very well-rehearsed. All you have to do is watch Joey (the blond acoustic guitarist), and see how he's listening to Jani, and in the moment with his frontman. It took years for Jani and the guys to get respect from other musicians in the scene.
This is "Bitter Pill." My opinion is we never would have had a famous Jani Lane without the savvy and hard-working Warrant. This band really does know what it's doing and is a great judge of talent--listen to Robert Mason, the group's singer. Give him a chance.
"Memories come rushing back, and it makes it pretty hard." What?
I found Jani's version of Frank Sinatra's "This Life" from the hard rock compilation album, "Sin-Atra." The download mistakenly gives credit to Billy Sheehan, but it's Jani, and it's great. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004T6SZ1C/ref=dm_mu_dp_trk12 I found the full recording on youtube, but I think you should buy it.
I always felt that Jani's albums reflected his life at the time he made them. He had created a rock singer-songwriter-styled group around '92-'94 called Jabberwocky. (Jani and ALICE IN WONDERLAND writer Lewis Carroll shared February 1 as their birthday.) "Comfortable With Sad" is one of the songs from the Jabberwocky sessions. You will have to do a search for it on the social networks, as the versions I keep posting are removed from the site.
I wrote about Warrant for a number of Rock magazines including Hit Parader, Live Wire, Powerline, Music Life Japan, Rock Hard France, and worked as a tour publicist for them after they were on CBS and helped with the band's media transition to CMC Records before they recorded ULTRAPHOBIC.