YOU’VE GOT to give Bret Michaels one thing — he’s a hustler.
Ten minutes ago, he had just one shiny billiard ball to sink on his miniature pool table, and I had five. An embarrassing defeat was looming for yours truly.
Now, we’re both shooting for the black.
“I can’t get beaten on my own table,” Bret exclaims, pressing a bangled right hand to his forehead- It’s as if he doesn’t realise I have the billiard-playing ability of a watermelon.
Glancing around at the platinum discs adorning the wall of Bret’s games room, it occurs to me that he might let me win. As a good-will gesture, to put me in a good mood for the interview.
Yanking gently on his cue, Bret sends the white ball gliding across the baize, striking the black just so, and it goes tumbling into the left pocket.
“Aw, bad luck,” he opines, replacing his cue on the rack.
BRET MICHAELS lives in a rather impressive, but by no means obscenely plush, two storey house just 15 minutes from Sunset Boulevard. The door is answered by his girlfriend Suzy Hatton (for whom he is currently producing an album) and she takes me onto what seems at first to be a video set, but which is actually a lounge.
The acoustic guitar bearing a painted rose sits on a stand in front of the fireplace, like a freeze frame frons the ‘Every Rose…’ vid. Everything is bathed in a luminous green light.
“I thought it was about time to do something worthwhile with my money, so we moved into this house,” Bret explains on his descent from upstairs.
“You should see my room. Everything’s in suitcases — it’s like a hotel!”
Bret, now 27, is eager to impress. He’s about to go out, wearing an ebony cowboy hat and a pair of jeans fit for an anorexic scarecrow.
With Flesh And Blood still fresh on the shelves and a do-or-die Donington appearance approaching, we don’t have to scrape the barrel for topics of conversation. The LP has only spawned one hit single to date, “Unskinny Bop”, but Michaels says he’s elated with it and thanks mogul producer Bruce Fairbairn.
“Bruce is great with melody,” he says. “I’d try something and he’d say, ‘That’s cool, but I think you can do it better than that’. So I’d try something else and we’d finally come up with something unique.
“Lately I’ve been trying a lot of different things vocally. I’ve really spread my musical wings — or my vocal wings, you might say. I’ve been trying a lot of new things since we ended the last tour.
“There’s a song called ‘Souls Of Fire’ which was the only song that didn’t make the record because I think we need to work on it more. It’s a real, real soulful song. I think we’re gonna hold off until the fourth record on that one. It has a great riff and a great melody but I don’t think we’re ready to put it on a record yet.”
WHILE POISON’S new platter has been received reasonably well, their first visit to Ole Blighty has the potential to start the world tour on a bitterly flat note.
Hardly universally liked in this country, the thought of what a few well-aimed bottles of piss could do to their confidence is frightening.
And the situation isn’t helped by the fact that the Glamsters have never visited these shores before, and so will have fewer supporters on hand at Donington than any other band on the bill.
Why, when their last tour went for 15 sweat-soaked months, did they not bother to include Europe?
“We’ve just never played there yet. I don’t know why, we just never scheduled it,” Bret says, holding outstretched hands above his head.
“No reason, we just never thought about it. Good or bad, we just didn’t do it.
“But Donington will be raw. It’ll just be some drumkits, some amps and us. No explosions, no nothing.
“We’re not that big over in Britain. We won’t make any money, believe me, but I know we’ll make some good fans. What’s interesting is that it’s like America; we’ve got to build our following there first. We’ve got to go over there and prove to a lot of people that we’re good.
“You can’t just go over and expect the world to love you. It doesn’t happen like that.
“At least with us it doesn’t, anyway..”
‘Lord I’m feeling lonely, Feel like like I can’t go on/The streets have all grown cold now/The mystery’s all gone.”‘(‘Life Loves A Tragedy’)
POlSON ARE the ultimate rock stars. Big cars, big arenas, big wallets, big sex, perhaps big drugs and – yeah -big, loud pop-rock. I toured with Poison during the final stages of their last tour—just two cities in Australia. And, for them (stealing a phrase from Bruce Dickinson) life really was ‘a limo and a bottle of Jack’.
There were models applying to be included on their infamous ‘groupie computer’, the arenas were sold out, their albums and singles were riding high in the charts and every day was a party. This was the dream of every red blooded, starry-eyed kid, never mind musician, in the world.
But now, Poison are serious. There are no real dirty songs on this album, no boasts that ‘I got a girl on the left of me/A ‘girl on the right/I know damn well I slept with both last night’ Yes, Poison have got serious. On the surface it seems to he just another exercise in tasteless marketing, but it maybe not.
AT CHRISTMAS 1988, Poison bodyguard Kimo died alone in a Palm Springs hotel room. A close friend of the band, a night’s heavy drinking didn’t mix with his daily insulin shot.
Two weeks later, another dream came true — ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn’ went to number one in the US. But what should have been pure euphoria was only numbness.
A year later, in a nearby Palm Springs bar, guitarist CC DeVille’s former girlfriend was busy fixing drinks on a still night. A violent drunk stumbled in and started harassing patrons. He was thrown out, but when he returned he brought a shotgun and the blast could be heard around the block.
A grieving CC flew back from Vancouver, where Flesh And Blood was being recorded, to attend the girl’s funeral. They had only just decided it worked better if they were friends. In the meantime, a girlfriend of drummer Rikki Rockett died in a car accident.
Something very sweet had patently gone very, very sour.
THE very problems which may prevent Guns N’ Roses from ever releasing another album, the consequences of excess, the untimely reminders of mortality that haunt anyone who thinks he’s immortal, produced Flesh And Blood.
Then, at the other end of a harrowing emotional spectrum, the band’s arch party animal and leading hedonist, bassist Bobby Dall, got married. The ‘Flesh’ component fell into place. Bret wrote “Flesh And Blood (Sacrifice)”about that.
If you try to tape this LP onto one side of a C90, “‘Life Loves A Tragedy” won’t fit. You’ll miss the one song that’s worth the cover price alone, in which Bret admits: “One more step and I swear I go 0ver theedge/I’ve got to stop living at a pace that kills/Before I wake up dead’.
Michaels pauses and winces just a little, as if he’s recovered a painflul memory.
“That’s kind of a hard one to describe,” he says, when asked about the song. “Actually, that was about a night when I was in Hollywood, and I did some substances I shouldn’t have. It was a party night, it was the first time of trying it – it was pretty heavy stuff and it gave me a bad experience.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those nights, where you’re partying with not quite the right partyables. I won’t go into the explicit details. But I stayed up all night, needless to say, and next morning I was still up and I etched some things down for ‘Life Loves A Tragedy’.
“It’s just a growing up process,” he theorises. “It just reflects that the more experiences I got, the more I had to write about. When you’re 16 years old, you just care about getting laid, y’know what I’m saying?
“You care about gettin’ laid – and where’s the party? When you turn 21, by then you’ve had your first break-up. You went out with a girl, you dug her and she.., screwed you over, and you take something to heart. As I get older, the more things I have to write about.
“And although I don’t want to get older, unfortunately that’s the way it goes…”
THE FIGURE sitting next to me on the sofa seems a world away from the mascara-masked lead singer who once admitted that he always wanted to prove ‘I drink too much, I fight too much and I fuck too much.”
“We were young and innocent when we did our first record,” he remarks. “We didn’t know about anything. That’s the best thing about our band, we just don’t know any better.
“My theory on making a record is: make everything louder than everything else!”
But has that changed now?
“No. With everything we do, you can’t take away two things: the honesty and the heartfelt quality. You can’t take it away. We’ve made some mistakes, we’ve screwed up, we’ve gone on stage drunk when we shouldn’t have. We’ve done a whole lot of things that we shouldn’t have.
“I went on stage at Madison Square Garden when I was shitfaced, off my brain, collapsed because my blood sugar level was low (Michaels is a diabetic — Ed.), and we took shit for it. And we should have. We didn’t mean to do it, it was just one of those things we felt like doing.
“We were partying all day. We loved it; we were in New York, it was great… then you turn around and you have a touching moment…”
Relapsing back to his usual self, however, Michaels assures me that Poison have not totally de-sleazed themselves.
Reaching down to the torn knee on his demins, he says “we start from here, go to here, and….”
All well and good but with this new heady subject matter, are they growing with their audience or simply making an over-obvious pitch at longevity?
“Put it this way, I want longevity. There’s nobody that doesn’t. I want Poison to be around forever, or for as long as we can do it. But you can’t force anybody to like your band. You can only play what you play and do what you do and there’s only so many people who are gonna like you.”
BUT IF you’re planning to toss any bottled bodily fluids in Bret’s direction this month, don’t expect him to stand there and take it. Poison aren’t in the habit of scampering meekly offstage if their make-up streaks or someone calls them names.
“Y’know the World Series Of Rock?” Bret recalls. “We played that. We were headlining, our first night headlining, two nights sold out. The first time we went on stage our complete back line shut down. We had to stop the show. It sucked. We just kept on going. My mic worked, I clapped for a minute, rapped, the crowd loved it, and we got the guitars back up, and the sound and we were playing again five minutes later!
Last time I spoke to Bret, he had become cynical. With all the misfortune since then, surely he must be worse by now.
“I never became cynical about playing live. I just became cynical about some of the red tape that’s involved in whether your song gets played on the radio, like whether you said hello to eomeone’s daughter. Because you forgot to, maybe you were sick that night, in the next day’s newspaper it’s written that you’re the worst band in the world. There’s a lot of red tape that’s involved between rock bands and the media. That’s the truth.
“I don’t mind someone having an opinion about me. If you leave here tonight and you write, ‘I thought Bret was an asshole’, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. I just don’t like it when someone puts words in my mouth, and that’s been done a lot. I’ll do an interview and the interviewer will write whatever they think should have come out of my mouth.
“Sometimes, it seems, if you’re cool it all gets bubbled away, but if you’re an asshole what you said gets in there.”
YOU MAY think Bret is an asshole. You may hate Poison’s new album. You may think they’ve grown up and bccome boring.
Even if you do, they say they’re coming back to Europe early next year to give you another chance to like them.
They’re not thinking about failure. They’ve already met the biggest challenge imaginable — surviving.
Filed for: KERRANG!