To many of the tragically hip nightclub hoppers on L.A.'s Sunset Strip, the posters plastered all up and down the boulevard probably looked at first like advance publicity for a This Is Spinal Tap sequel. Picture it: Five typical-looking heavy-metal glamour boys in studded black leather trousers, shirts opened to the navel, and enough billows of fluffed-up hair to excite a nearsighted poodle. In front of them, kneeling submissively at the band members' boots, a gaggle of scantily clad, breathless, bedroom-eyed bimbos. And capping off the effect, emblazoned across the flier beneath the band's name (the fittingly delinquent-sounding Warrant), a brazenly offensive slogan: "Quality You Can Taste."
Not since Madonna first writhed across a TV screen in her bra and "Boy Toy" belt had any long-fought stereotype been so willingly embraced. Surely in this age, when so many heavy-metal bands were finally making strides to be taken seriously, to expand their musical palettes and shed their groupie-baiting, no-brainer images, these guys couldn't really be serious.
Well, they weren't--not entirely, anyway. "The fliers were supposed to be funny," says Warrant guitarist Erik Turner, talking on the phone from a hotel room in Sacramento. "Kind of a joke on the typical rock-group photo. Very tongue-in-cheek, y'know? 'Course, some people didn't think it was funny. But at least we got noticed."
Indeed, within weeks, Warrant was one of the Strip's top drawing bands, regularly packing in popular showcases like the Troubador and the Whiskey and accruing gobs of word-of-mouth notoriety for its catchy songs and wild stage antics. Funny thing was, on stage the band looked exactly like its posters: all standard-issue heavy-metal luster and bluster, with the girls in the front row happily playing the part of the crotch-watching babes. If the pose was a joke, Warrant sure was in no hurry to let its audience in on it.
Certainly there was a wry, ironic sense of humor at work somewhere within the band, as evidenced by the group-credited concept behind its debut album. Let's face it. How many hard-rock hopefuls, upon being discovered in the bars by scouts from Columbia Records, would have the pluck to lampoon their own instant champagne wishes and caviar dreams by titling their debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich?
If Warrant's initial promo posters poked a wet, wagging tongue in the cheek of heavy-metal's infatuation with leather, mousse, and bimbo dominance, DRFSR's title track nailed the average rocker's remaining obsession: the mean green. The song's chorus, a shouted proclamation of the album title designed specifically for audience participation, was hilarious in concept. Imagine this band leading 12,000 representatives of America's future through an adrenaline-charged chant of "I'll be dirty! Rotten! Filthy! Stinking Rich!"
Finally, there was the album's cover. Taking note of the first rule of metal merchandising--which dictates that every successful band must first invent a ghoulish, demonic cartoon mascot to adorn its album covers, tee shirts, posters, hats, buttons, belt buckles and bumper stickers--Warrant decided it needed its own dastardly character, too. So the band commissioned a former Disney artist to paint a grotesque portrait of a presence more evil than even Iron Maiden's avenging skeleton: an obese, gold-toothed, Rolex-wearing, hundred-dollar-bill-smoking rock 'n' roll manager.
Considering the yucks quotient of all the evidence at hand, you might expect the guys in Warrant to be in reality a bunch of Saturday Night Live alumni in disguise. A "Wayne's World" sketch gone Blues Brothers big-time.
But peek under those ridiculously long locks of teased-out hair and you'll merely find still more ridiculously long locks--not to mention heads as hard as the rock the band plays. It's true: For all their seeming comic perspective on the genre they work in, these dudes appear to be the real deal. Just try asking Warrant's lead guitarist if the band has yet considered the irony that, as sales of Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich now top the two-million mark, he and his cohorts are well on their way to becoming rancidly rich themselves.
"We might be someday, I dunno," shrugs Erik Turner, with perfect California casualness. "But, like, we still let people buy us free beers. A-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"
OF COURSE, playing dumb in the heavy-metal game could just be the smartest possible strategy. Lead singer/songwriter Jani Lane, Turner, drummer Steven Sweet, guitarist Joey Allen, and bassist Jerry Dixon may well find the atypical heavy-metal lifestyle ripe for satire. But they've never been so foolhardy to actually break any of the rules they make fun of.
Sure, Turner might insist his band is above the preening vanity of most glam-metal bands, proclaiming boldly, "We're not scared to mess up our hair." But the dapper dudes in Warrant do credit a hair and makeup man in their album's liner notes, naming him on their obligatory thank-you list above friends, family, Zildjian cymbals, and God.
And while their infamous posters may have poked fun at hard-rock's stupefying sex-obsessed attitudes, those attitudes are by no means foreign to Warrant's members. Asked to assess the average age of the band's audience, Turner hems and haws for a moment and then concludes, "High school age up to, like, 22 or 23. That's the average age of the girls we sleep with, anyway!"
Indeed, apart from Warrant's acute sense of what makes a heavy-metal band laughably typical, it'd be hard to find a more typical batch of melodic metalheads. It's refreshing, for example, to hear a mousse-maned pinup like Lane croon to his girlfriend, as he does on Warrant's hit ballad "Heaven": "I don't need to be the king of the world/As long as I'm the hero of this little girl." Refreshing, that is, until you learn that three out of five Warrantees have already dropped their steadies to make room for the nightly procession of groupies suddenly available. "And we'll see how long [the other two] last," Turner laughs.
But if Warrant is rapidly becoming the butt of its own jokes, the guys are laughing at themselves all the way to the bank. Metal is, after all, the joke that the whole music industry has been forced to take seriously in the 1980s. Long discounted by radio programmers as the loud, obnoxious noise of a fleeting phase adolescents pass through on their way to becoming well-paid, advertiser-pleasing adults, heavy-metal has now proven itself a viable sub-genre of popular music--if only by its stubborn refusal to go away. In short, what the business has finally come to realize is that the Motley Crues and Metallicas of today will be the Beatles and Stones of tomorrow.
This news flash has sent a lot of record label A&R people on full-scale metal-detecting missions. And as a result, that hard-rock mindset is already infesting the craniums of some of the music business's biggest execs.
"We have a saying now, `Don't let the suits fool you,'" cracks Turner. "They're all a buncha sick puppies, believe me."
And if Warrant is just the kind of band these suits might have laughed out of their offices around the time they were all looking for the next Bruce Springsteen, well, they're still laughing. But with the band, not at it.
"Everybody likes sex, and everybody likes to laugh and have a good time," Turner explains. "And that's what Warrant's about. We wanna take off where the old Van Halen left off--a party band with a good sense of humor. And I mean, let's face it: You gotta have a sense of humor in this business!
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