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 hooted and squealed like baboons.
It was the 8th 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 was strong enough that CC DeVille actually played on ‘Cherry Pie’ (a fact that many didn’t realize at the time). There were so many great albums that came out in ’90 and ’91. Looking back, we didn’t really understand that that year was to be the big swansong for Hair Metal. For that last night: it was still magic.
The fact was, Poison had almost kept me out of America. I’d read an article after Flesh & Blood was released (wondrous day – singing along in the car with my best friend, Louise), where Bret Michaels had said they were touring to Australia and New Zealand over the summer. At the time I didn’t realize that tours are a bit fluid in those early stages, so when my parents booked a trip back to see friends in Arizona, I said no. I wasn’t going. Poison would be coming back to New Zealand and after not being allowed to see them in 1989 (too young, passing phase, mother saw someone stabbed at a concert once, blah blah) I wasn’t going to miss them again.
I know it’s hard to remember a time before Google, but I really had no way of finding out where Poison were, or where they would be over the coming months. In any case, my parents made it clear that they would not be leaving me home to fend for myself during the time they were away.
Completely coincidentally, this was how I found myself on my knees in the middle of a street in Mexico just a few weeks later. We had driven down from Tucson, and before we lost the signal of the local radio station, ‘Something to Believe In’ broke through my consciousness. “Turn it up!” I shouted from the back of the minivan, while my brother moaned. In retrospect, it was the perfect song for that moment in time. But when the DJ back-announced and said that Poison were playing in Tucson that night… “TURN THIS CAR AROUND!!!” Again, my parents refused.
So I begged. On my knees, in Mexico. I pleaded amidst the traffic until my father finally understood that I had no streak of reasonable self-preservation left, and he’d have to take me back to Tucson or see me splattered across the bull bar of a Chevy.
When I got inside the arena, I ditched him. Thus is the gratitude of a 12 year old. I climbed over the barrier and got as close to the front as I could. And I think people let me because I was small and cheeky. I ended up in front of a big guy who smelled like bourbon. He had a bubblegum trash groupie on each arm. They all laughed at me but I didn’t care. It was my first rock concert ever.
And if the album was wonderful, and the videos amazing, actually being in the same room as Poison (seeing them sweat and breathe) was mind-altering. I became a different person that night. I had seen the face of God.
God gives and God takes away though. I learned a few weeks later (thanks to my subscription to Metal Edge Magazine) that 8th Jan 1991 was the day that Poison’s bassist, Bobby Dall, welcomed his first child into the world. From afar. On the end of a phone, hopefully.
But that was after I’d already learned it was the day Steve Clark died.
Def Leppard’s guitarist died on his sofa, after combining opiates (for a broken rib), Valium and a lot of alcohol. Again, in a weird coincidence, he’d recently completed a stint in rehab in Tucson. It was the rehab center that introduced him to the woman who later became his fiancee. They got better together, and then they got out and eventually enabled each other right back into their addictions. Perhaps if he hadn’t gone to Tucson he would still be alive… He was only 30 when he died.
I thought of this when the story popped up this morning, marking 25 years since his death. Only 30 years old. These were the men who made me, but I have outlived him by a long way…
It was the 8th of January 1991. A baby lay crying and a man lay dying. Yet between them, the spark of life’s great energy still lit up the night.