|Jani Lane: 1964-2011|
I didn't go to the concert for them, but they made me laugh and I enjoyed the show anyway. My most enduring memory of the whole thing was the pretty girl in the front row who handed Jani Lane a note (which he read out over the mic): "Jani how I love you, let me suck the ways"... Jani's response was swift. "Get her a backstage pass!" he grinned. And we all cheered.
It was January 1991, and I was 12. 'Cherry Pie' was still on high rotation. Warrant were opening for Poison on the Flesh & Blood tour. The camaraderie between the bands seemed strong enough that CC DeVille actually played on 'Cherry Pie' (a fact that many didn't realize at the time). Looking back, we didn't really understand that that year was to be the big swansong for Hair Metal. Some pretty strong and decent albums came out in '91 and '92, but fashion was moving on, and the 12-year-olds like me were about to fall in love with Eddie "I hate to be a rock star" Vedder. I'm sure that bands of adult men don't really like to think that they're marketed to pubescent girls, but it's really outside of their control. Record companies know that older kids just don't create a "phenomenon" the way that a bunch of passionate pre-teens do. If you want Beatlemania, you need to find the mania... and then pretend that the band is really being marketed at the over-18s who can legally do all the stuff they're singing about.
Maybe it should have been a sign. A few weeks after I watched them in awe, Warrant ditched the Poison tour and made a bit of resentful noise about how they weren't being given enough room. They apparently felt that they were above the level of an opening band, and ought to headline on their own. I'll admit, I thought that Jani Lane was being an ungrateful dick. But I was 12, and my blind devotion was strong. Looking back, Warrant had good sales in the US and a handful of top ten hits. They were at the level where other bands had begun their headlining careers. If they'd got a record deal a couple years earlier, they would have become one of the big names of Hair Metal. But they peaked too late, and their next album (1992's Dog Eat Dog) sold a measly 500,000 copies. The party was well and truly over. The pretty girls had moved onto another bus someplace else, probably after pulling a flannel shirt over their halter tops. And the new bands showed them not joy and appreciation, but public disdain.
That's also often the point where all your good intentions can't reach that person anymore.
Of course, old rockers like Jani Lane meet far more spite than good intentions. I'm the first to admit that even I had a few jabs at him, in private. When I saw him on some rockumentary, complaining about the success of 'Cherry Pie'... well, it still sounded like ingratitude. Pretty sure he wasn't cursing 'Cherry Pie' when he was a fit young man who got that girl back to the bus on a cold, January night. I never made fun of his drinking problem though. I know how easy it is for men in his position to get that way. I've met those guys. It's embarrassing to watch what they do to their lives, and I guess even the fans who loved him would occasionally wish that he would just get off the stage and stop showing the world his gradual decline. Sometimes you can like someone and still want them to go away for their own sake. But I don't think they ever wanted him dead. It would have been a better, and much more deserved fate, to see him clean and healthy and ready to rock. He had a huge amount of brains and talent that he seemed to toss away. What we all need to understand (Jani included) was that that was a choice he had to make for himself. It sucks, but the only person who can really save you is you.
I started thinking about this while reading about how Glam fans have been affected by Jani's death, and how we all get so conditioned to defending the bands we love. I started thinking about it because I realized that time has tempered me in a way that it never did for Jani. Once, I would have agreed wholeheartedly that our knee-jerk defense of Warrant was a fundamental part of our love for their music... but I grew out of that. Their lives are not my life. I don't feel the need to defend the music I love anymore, simply because I genuinely don't give a shit what other people think of it. I'm not wounded by others' spite. I like what I like, and am peacefully contented to be outside of the herd. To many, my lack of a roaring defense means that I am no longer a "true fan"... but I couldn't give a shit about that either. I gained the self-confidence and self-assurance that Jani never really did. And I don't tend to assume that these grown men are in need of my protection.
But I didn't know Jani Lane. To me, his presence on this earth became something like seeing a guy you went to high school with. You were never really friends, but after a while you get old enough to forgive all the times you thought he acted like a douche, and hope that he forgives you for being kind of douchey too. You stop being jealous of his success and stop expecting him to be grateful for a life and career path that often kind of sucks anyway. And you just get comfortable with the idea that he's around, and you feel a bit sad when you see that he never really achieved everything he might once have achieved. If you pass him on the street, you'd probably say "hey" and ask after his kids. The confidence that allowed me to shrug off his critics was the self-same confidence that allowed me to forgive him in the first place.
What I know now was that Jani was lonely in a way that nobody should ever be. Nobody's dad should ever be left to die alone in a hotel room. I didn't wish him harm, but I never tried to help him either. I don't remember ever stepping up to his defense. I'm not totally convinced that it would have made a difference. I've tried to help people in Jani's position before, and I know it's hard for them to recognize love (or even benevolence) through the mist of so much contempt.
And how arrogant would it be to assume that the love of a "true fan" would have reached him in a way that the love of his wife and kids could not? I'm sure both Jani and I knew that the "love" expressed by fans is generally neither benevolent nor altruistic... nor, in fact, real. As Janis Joplin (another lonely death in a hotel room) once piqued: "Onstage I make love to 25,000 people - then I go home alone". That's not love, man. It looks like it, even smells like it, but it's not holding you day after day. It doesn't care about your worn-out shoes. It doesn't put up with you being a dick (and let's face it, we're all dicks sometimes).
Ironically, Warrant's first big hit was a pretty ballad about being blessed by the love of the right girl. And if Jani still believed in that, he might well have been waiting for an angel to drop down and rescue him. Shortly before he died, he wrote warmly about how he'd recently married "the love of my life". If we all want to reassure ourselves that our love and affection could have saved him... how shitty does that make his wife feel now? The fact is, all the love in the world is only a band aid if you haven't yet learned how to love yourself. The "right girl" might well come along, but you choose whether or not you let her in. It's easier to ignore that level of self-determination and pretend that it's all up to other people - it's easier to feel self-pity - but the only person who's ever really able to help you is the one who faces you in the mirror.
A friend of mine described Jani's death as "another R&R sob story", and... well... he's right. When you're in front of a crowd you might be able to convince yourself that these people really like you - the real you. When you're alone with your vodka on a day off... it's not that easy. We all probably "get" how Jani Lane ended up the way he did. Perhaps the most tragic fact of his death is that the world will gain neither insight nor compassion from his passing. We already knew how these stories tend to end. I don't know that anyone will be saved by his example. All that happened was that his kids lost their father in a way both demeaning and avoidable.
Another aging, good-looking rocker, Sebastian Bach, made a very good job of eulogizing how the Jani Lane's of this world end up where they do. Again, people may snipe, but (at least from what I've seen, across the other side of the world) Baz has always had a remarkable level of common sense and wit that can shine through at the most surprising moments. "The solitude of the empty hotel room becomes the diametric parallel of the adulation of strangers." Baz reminds us all to offer kind words to someone, before it's too late. And he's right. But we're grown-ups and we ought to have known that already. Jani didn't have to die in order to teach us to be nice. He wasn't Jesus Christ. And the people who were the most cruel will be the least affected by his passing anyway.
I guess that's a big part of what makes his death so sad. We gain nothing. His family gains nothing. Not even peace of mind.
The best we can hope for is that he found some kind of peace for himself.