The hair isn't quite as big as it was back in the late '80s, when moussed metal monsters like Jerry Dixon's band Warrant ruled the airwaves and the concert circuit.
"I think we look similar to the way we used to, just a little more hip," Dixon, 34, insists. "You know, the hair's not as long, but it's still there."
Also not as big -- at least with record buyers -- is the brand of music Dixon's band still specializes in: that blissfully simple-minded, hedonistic party-hardy noise that dominated rock radio in the pre-grunge era. "I think one label's gonna finally take a chance and sign one of us, put the money that it needs into it," Dixon believes. "Somebody's gonna have the balls to try it, and I guarantee it, people will love it."
Celebrity Theatre, 440 North 32nd Street
Scheduled to perform with Dokken, Ratt, L.A. Guns, and Firehouse at Metal Edge Magazine's Rock Fest 2002, scheduled for Thursday, September 12. Tickets are $32.50. Call 602-267-1600.
But if the hair and the bank accounts are thinning, at least the oversize egos that once made it hard to stomach bands like Warrant are deflating right along with them. And the sense of self-deprecating humor these guys now display about their dubious place in rock 'n' roll history is the one thing that's grown big.
"I think people just come to our show to get that whole '80s experience," Dixon shrugs. "And it's a great lineup: us, Ratt, Dokken, L.A. Guns and Firehouse. I mean, if you ever wanted a taste of what that scene was like, this is it. It's like the '80s supreme pizza!"
The former soft-metal pretty boys of the world have had to develop a good sense of humor about themselves over the last decade and a half. They've gone from virtually ruling the pop charts during their mass-production peak between '87 and '89 -- a period that seemed to crank out a new quintet of shaggy-haired, spandex-coated noise boys every week -- to becoming little more than a campy footnote in pop history, somewhere between Don Johnson's singing career and Milli Vanilli.
"Oh yeah, we've been great, then we sucked, then we were posers, then we were a joke," recounts Dixon on the phone during a rare day off on the Ratt/Warrant/Dokken Rock Fest 2002 tour. "But now, I don't know what happened, but suddenly this year, we're cool again. It's like the trends have gone full circle and our stuff is old enough to be cool again. Strange business."
It helped that the '80s pop-metal bands and their followers showed they could take the joke. Compilation discs like VH1's The Big 80's: Big Hair at once poked fun at the genre ("The Big Hair' teases up 16 hits from the decade that defined follicular excess," promises the 2000 Rhino release's liner notes) while serving up a guilty pleasure mega-mix of the best of the late-'80s metal bands (including Warrant's hit "Cherry Pie"). And Blink 182 donned AquaNet tease-ball hairstyles as comic music video shorthand to recall the era in its "First Date" video.
Wisely, none of the members of Poison, Cinderella or Winger has turned up on Entertainment Tonight demanding respect. Ever since Ozzy Osbourne welcomed a camera crew into his house, embracing the joke has become the smartest career move an aging rocker can make.
"David Lee Roth hasn't quite gotten it," whispers Dixon. "He still tends to overdo the glam thing" -- even though, as the press has mercilessly noted, the former Van Halen front man is clearly losing some of that precious mane. "I mean, he did look a little freaky up there on the MTV awards."
Warrant's own lead singer, Jani Lane -- now a married father of two in his late 30s -- also appears to be going through a bit of a midlife crisis.
"He went and got a little mohawk!" says bassist Dixon, who, with Lane and guitarist Eric Turner, are the last three original members of Warrant still touring under the name. (Drummer Steven Sweet and lead guitarist Joey Allen jumped ship after band's third album in 1992.) "The first time we saw it, we were like What the hell?' But I guess he went for the shock value there."
Dixon, who still sounds a bit more mirror-obsessed than most men his age ("I think we look great today! We look a little more defined than we used to, but I think we look as good as Aerosmith."), nonetheless knows not to take his band too seriously.
"There's not a lot of rocket science behind what we do," he admits. "Our music, it's pretty simple. You get your Marshalls, and you get a good sound man and keep your licks up and everything, and you can keep doing this music as long as you want."
Dixon is also one of those rare rockers on the comeback trail who doesn't feel a need to push new material or try to paint his music as something suddenly vital and relevant to a new generation of record buyers.
"It seems like the old fans want to bring their teenage kids to our shows and say, This is what a rock show is. Forget all those depressing bands you go to see -- this is what we grew up on.' It's kinda like we have our own little world," he adds. "You go to our show and it's kinda timeless. It's like it's still 1989, and you can still rock out!"
Of course, the times have changed a ton since 1989. The once naughty-sounding lyrics that Warrant, Ratt and their contemporaries still scream out in concert read like nursery rhymes compared to the latest Eminem hit. Winking double-entendres like "She wanted me to feed her/So I mixed up the batter/And she licked the beater" from the once PMRC-enraging "Cherry Pie" barely raise an eyebrow alongside the explicit bedroom recipes in Khia's "My Neck, My Back."
"Cherry Pie' was pretty racy for its time," Dixon laughs. "It's kinda hard to believe today, but we got a lot of flak for that."
Warrant's audience, too, has become a sort of tame older version of the former wild childs who used to jockey for backstage access.
"You see the same fans now, and some are dentists, some are teachers, you know?" Dixon says. "You see a whole range of people that you wouldn't think would still be into this music. But they are.
"I think they definitely had to move on with their lives and aren't wearing the spandex to shows anymore." (Thank God!) "But the schoolteacher, she still loves that type of music, and it's a big part of her life."
Dixon likens tours such as Rock Fest to a themed vacation for the over-30 rocker. "I think in the '80s and early '90s, there was a different lifestyle attached to the music than there is with today's rock," he asserts. "It was all about hanging out. It was all about going to the shows and making all the parties. Hollywood, y'know?
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"I don't think a lot of people besides us still live it," he adds. "I know we live it to the fullest extent. But I think people like to come back to it and visit."
And what about those shaven-haired teens who get dragged along to the Rock Fest?
"They'll pull you over and go, Dude, I'm not gonna tell my friends I was here, but that was sweet!'" laughs Dixon, whose own 9-year-old son prefers Aaron Carter to his dad's goofy band.
"Deep down, you know they dug it."