I started listening to hair metal and mid-90s dance pop in grade 11. It was a weird year. I’d just moved from the only city I’d ever lived in and I was in the middle of a two-year span of hair growth. Maybe something in me wanted to listen to other people with big hair. I’m not sure. I just know that I was 16 years old when I discovered Warrant.
Warrant was a band that came along at the end of the hair metal phase, which is too bad because it deprived them from a lot of recognition they should have had. They were very much in the Poison mold – pretty blonde lead singer, stupidly catchy hooks, arena-ready rock anthems. I really like Poison, for the record, but they certainly were never going to be considered in the same light as a band like Motley Crue, who were darker and grittier and preferred their candy to be up their nose or in their arms, not in their choruses.
But Warrant was more than a lame knockoff of a lame knockoff of Motley Crue, and the reason for that pretty much began and ended with Jani Lane. The aforementioned pretty blonde at the front of Warrant, Lane looked very much like a Vince Neil or a Bret Michaels or even a David Lee Roth with more hair. The difference was that Lane singlehandedly drove his band. Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends on your perspective. I wonder what Jani’s perspective was.
Lane wasn’t so much interested in the fame and the fortune that came with the gig as he was in writing songs. There’s so much more emotion in the lyrics of a song like “I Saw Red” than in most of the other power ballads that Warrant’s contemporaries were putting out.
The problem for Warrant, and Lane in particular, was twofold. The first problem was popping up just as a little band called Nirvana was about to change mainstream rock for everyone. Second, they were a hair metal band and the music industry’s powers-that-be expected hair metal songs. Lane wrote “Cherry Pie,” Warrant’s answer to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard, in roughly 15 minutes. He would regret it forever.
“Cherry Pie” led to millions of dollars for Warrant but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t an artistic failure. Lane was forever tortured by the way the executives were right, the way the masses ate up a simple, stupid song about sex, the way his joke song overshadowed the rest of the record, such as the wonderfully subtle “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
More, it ensured that no one would ever take Warrant seriously again. They would forever be the “Cherry Pie” band, the group who had a video too sexist to air in Canada. Jani Lane was branded as a joke and he came to hate his success.
All he wanted to do was write songs, and his greatest success became his greatest failure. That’s a sort of torture that only the most cruel of men would wish on even their greatest enemy. Jani lived with that for 22 years.
Jani Lane died last week. I hope he found peace with himself before he passed.
Goodnight, sweet prince.