On The Lonely Death of Jani Lane – A Reprise

As with yesterday, not every day is interesting or exciting enough to easily bless me with blog ideas. Realistically, I’m writing every day just to force myself into the habit – it’s an act of fortitude, not grand inspiration. And tonight, while the rain is battering the house with Biblical anger, I’m wondering how I got into this recent pattern of sleeping 8pm-2am, waking up to write, and then falling asleep again from around 6am. Every night. It’s a lonely, depressive routine that’s cutting me off from my husband and preventing me from getting much done outside of work.

When I’m searching for ideas, I tend to trawl news sites for anything that sparks the ranty monster in my brain. Failing that, I flounder around on Facebook or even YouTube. YouTube is getting to know me well enough now – it offers me Mean Tweets and slam poetry and old Skid Row videos. And then this one came up…

Oh yeah. It’s 3:30am, I’m on the couch all by myself, and Jani Lane is still dead. Thanks YouTube.

There seem to have been a lot of celebrity deaths recently, and I’m thinking that Rob and I have started to get to that age where the people we grew up idolising are starting to drop off the edge of the Earth. Jani Lane’s death wasn’t recent (nearly 5 years ago), but it still sits badly with me if only because it went so unnoticed by the world at large. He wasn’t David Bowie. Listening to Warrant had long since stopped being cool… well, let’s face it: it was never cool. It just seemed like no one cared enough to be able to keep him alive.

But as much as they grew to hate it, there was never a song that typified that time of silly, frivolous sexuality better than ‘Cherry Pie’. It was the Married with Children of music. Kelly had a short skirt. Heh heh heh… One day someone will write a History thesis about ‘Cherry Pie’, and try to figure out what the cusp of ’80s music reveals about the age which spawned it and then kicked it onto the trash heap to die of exposure. Jani Lane might not have been Bowie, but he might well have been Van Gogh.

I’m sure many will think that’s a long bow to draw, but as a society we’re really not very good at understanding artistic or cultural movements when we’re in the midst of them. Lane had a remarkable talent for songwriting – writing all of Warrant’s hits – and (like Prince) ended up writing for other artists. Yet the Californian music scene that created Warrant and fostered them into stardom seemed to go exactly nowhere. It was a flash pot that created a lot of light for a very brief second and then left us with only our scarred pupils and a faint whiff of gunpowder in the air.

As I described it in my old blog just after his death:

“[T]he musicians don’t just disappear when the spotlight turns off. We quit paying attention, but they still have mortgages to pay and kids to feed. They have to figure out how to make their way in a world where the rules have changed yet again. Most keep doing what they’ve always done: playing music and trying their darnedest to get paid for it. If I had that kind of burning talent, I’d struggle to quit playing too. But it can certainly be a rough life. You end up in yesterday’s clothes, with a constant flu, eating a half-cold burger at 3am – the soles of your shoes all taped back on because you just can’t stop needing them. After so many demands from promoters and agents who care more about making money off your hide than offering any kind of support or job security, I’ve heard plenty of people say they end up feeling like a used-up old whore. Not just on the outside: on the inside.

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.”

What became clear in the days after Lane’s death was how badly he managed his transition back to the real world. Warrant broke up, reformed, broke up again, reformed again, broke up yet again. He cycled through three marriages. Alcohol bloated Lane’s once-slim figure. Despite attempts at rehab, he kept going back. In the end, it was the only friend who stayed with him in that last motel room…

“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 motel 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 recognise 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 fix your worn-out shoes. It doesn’t put up with you being a dick (and let’s face it, we’re all dicks sometimes).

… 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.”

And THAT’S why his death still bothers me so much. It was just so utterly pointless. He was a failing artist. He was depressed, and he drank himself to death. We’ve all heard that story before. We’ll hear it again.

We probably should have been nicer to him when he was alive. We should have appreciated him more. But would it have saved him? As I’ve said before: “Jani didn’t have to die in order to teach us to be nice. He wasn’t Jesus Christ.” We’re grown-ups and we already knew that we should be nicer. And the people who said the nastiest things about him were always going to be the least affected by his death anyway.

The story goes that, when he was found dead in that motel (by the maid), the only ID was a note in his pocket which read: “I am Jani Lane”.

He didn’t write the note.

Apparently it wasn’t even the first time that a “friend” had left him in a motel room, with a note, as a mess for somebody else to clean up. No charges were ever laid. It’s not a crime to leave someone to sleep off their booze and then fail to show adequate concern for their well-being.

And perhaps that’s the saddest part of the whole tale. He died as he lived: inconveniently. A bit of an embarrassment that people wished they could shuffle off and forget.

But please don’t forget him… You didn’t have to like him – you certainly didn’t have to like his choices – but he was a remarkable man.

 

 

 

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