In Remembrance: Jani Lane 1964-2011
Why does everybody want to be my friend now
everybody wants to be my friend now
when I'm six feet under ground
-"6 Feet Under"
When the news came out that Jani Lane had died, I was stunned even though I should not have been. He was found alone in a budget hotel room with no identification other than a letter written by a friend saying, "I am Jani Lane" Despite the tragic circumstances, his personal issues were not at the forefront of my mind at his passing, but his talent was. I thought about that 1991 show that melted my mind, the records that brought light to dark days and even the songs that taught me life lessons. What I saw in the weeks after his death largely sickened me. Not one article I read gave him or his talent any credit. Most referred to the one hit single he wishes he could leave behind and despite having many other bigger hits. Most of the articles felt like they were written by a staff writer who knew little or nothing about Lane or Warrant and even worse, did not look beyond the superficial nature of the music videos they remembered. Then there was the song "6 Feet Under" from his 2003 solo record Back Down To One that distressed me beyond words. Written from the point of view of someone after their death where they discuss the irony of popularity in death- "Everybody wants to be my friend now/When I'm six feet under ground". The power-pop anthems on Back To One would have found an audience if anyone had cared to put money behind promoting the record and while I enjoyed the record, I found myself just as guilty as the mainstream media in my coverage of Lane and Warrant. I could have written about the record but I didn't and now it was too late, I was one of those people he spoke about in "6 Feet Under" and while I'm late to the game, this piece is long overdue. I don't care what anything thinks or says, Jani Lane was a significant artist to me in my formative years and his music has been a companion to me on my life voyage.
On July 2, 1991, I attended the "Blood, Sweat & Beers" tour in Chicago with two friends. The show consisted of Firehouse, Trixter and headliners Warrant. To protect the guilty and more importantly their then-innocence, I'll refer to my two friends as "Jethro" ad "Dave". Since none of us was old enough to drive, my parents drove us. Jethro had been to a few concerts but it was Dave's first concert. Looking back two decades later, I must say, I've seen hundreds if not thousands of concerts since then, but I largely remember every moment of that show. When it was time for the headliner Warrant to take the stage, they opened with the then unreleased "Inside Out" which featured an ambush of Motorhead guitars paired with a powering thrash metal drive. A little over a year later, the speed and tempo of the song was take up a notch for their Dog Eat Dog album and the song stood side-by-side with some of the more seasoned thrash bands entries. I remember looking over at Jethro at the concert and he was losing his mind. I need to emphasize this, he was losing his mind. He had both arms in the air where they shook back and forth like the kid having a seizure and was screaming at the top of his lungs to the point where blue veins began to pop from his neck. Dave turned to me and asked, "What song is this?" I responded, "I have no idea, it's a new one not on any of their records". Within a year, Jethro would deny he ever attended the show, let alone was losing his mind in an entirely sober state. However, the underlying fact was that Warrant put on a great show and every single person there (20,000- a record for a Warrant headline show) was euphoric from the evening. There was a scorching take on "Uncle Tom's Cabin", a beautiful acoustic rendition of "Blind Faith", a wistful arrangement of "I Saw Red" and "Down Boys" was draped in a moment of pure pinpoint thunder. During the encore, Lane made his way to the back of the shed and performed "Heaven" as the crowd sung along to ever word and the evening's finale found all three bands on stage for a cover of the Beastie Boys "Fight For Your Rights". The show may not have taken people down the disturbing highways of carnage metal bands did and it did not offer the spiritual salvation Bruce Springsteen and U2 offer. The simply offered a dazzling getaway from the real world. At that moment in time, Warrant was growing, evolving and attempting to communicate and connect with everyone in attendance. For all out highfalutin prose about rock stars over the last few decades, is there really anything better than communicating and bonding with an audience? Lane did this masterfully. He was 27 years old at the time of the performance and truly finding his niche.
It's easy to sneer and make fun of much that came from the Sunset Strip in the late 1980's but it often has more to do with the image than the music. My friend Jethro denied he ever liked the band when music styles shifted in the 1990s. I've largely judged music by my ears, not my eyes. Jani Lane had the capacity to write his testosterone anthems yet could write such unadorned reflections of faith like "April 2031", "Stronger Now" and even "6 Feet Under". This man was more than someone who adorned (both male and female) bedroom walls but an artist. Yes, I said it…the "A" word…artist. To Lane's credit, he was able to achieve much without the tools the more prominent hard rock bands of his era did. Lane wrote all of the band's songs and they achieved platinum success without Mutt Lange, Bob Rock or Bruce Fairburn producing, unlike the other Big Four pop-metal bands (Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Def Leppard and Poison). Warrant didn't have Desmond Child to come in and polish their singles, they didn't have Wayne Isham or Marty Callner come in to direct their videos nor have an A&R guru like John Kalodner to guide them (who helped resurrect Aerosmith and make Whitesnake more than a cult act). That is not to discredit the people who worked with Warrant (notably producers Beau Hill and Michael Wagener) but it's also a credit to Lane's divergent songwriting talent because Warrant lived and died on his talent.
While the 1992 release Dog Eat Dog was viewed as a commercial disappointment (it only went Gold -500,000 copies sold), it's the band's most mature and full-bodied work. It covers many of the same catchy melodic riffs that made them popular on the tracks "Bonfire", "Hollywood", "All My Bridges Are Burning" and the ballad "Let It Rain". Yet it also illustrated the band venturing into much heavier waters on their muscular lead single "Machine Gun", the push and pull distortion of "Hole In My Wall" and the aforementioned "Inside Out" which was even faster and more manic that the 1991 live version. The record's eye-opening cuts were "April 2031" and "Andy Warhol Was Right". "April 2031" is an apocalyptic vision of the world forty years after the birth of his daughter. In reading an interview with Lane around the time of its release, he was inspired by the birth of his daughter because having children makes you less self-centered. Here is Lane pondering the how the horrors of the modern world would leave their mark on her generation, "As far back as Veitnam/ We should have learned our lesson/ But we closed our eyes". Lane's intelligence and awareness grew with each release. "April 2031" is ultimately a love song for his daughter written in the hope it would cause his fans to reflect on their life path. Back in 1992, the internet did not exist so our relationship with albums was much more intimate and we would spend hours dissecting lyrics and trying to understand their meaning. When the world turned on us, we found our liberation in songs. Dog Eat Dog was one of those albums I returned to time and time again for years as it was a tightly wound with intricate societal mysteries. While sexual tension was evident on a few cuts, it was not as in your face as their previous records and they felt more at home here housed along with a collection of tunes that told a larger story capturing a heightened sense of emotional consciousness. "Andy Warhol Was Right" is a disquieting first person narrative of a very delusional soul wanting to bask in the glow of celebrity and their way of attaining it is by killing someone. The production is serene and bare with children's voice, a xylophone and a whispered vocal that is radiates melancholy. Then there was the wonderfully power pop "Sad Theresa", a song the band originally wrote and demoed in 1987 but resurrected in 1992.
After the relative failure of the album (in the eyes of the record company), Lane left the band for a solo career. Despite returning to the band within eighteen months, Lane spent the better part of 1993 writing and recording a bold and incandescent solo record, Jabberwocky. The album was a departure for Lane. The record consists of mostly acoustic songs with a weighty introspection to his lyrics, which was only hinted at on Warrant records. Listening to songs like "Comfortable With Sad", "Pretty on the Inside" and "All You Had To Say" found the charismatic singer-songwriter at a crossroads. After honing his chops in a genre that was big on self-image and self-assurance, he stripped himself down for the world to see, warts and all. The bewilderment he was feeling, the rejection and uncertainty are all deeply evident on Jabberwocky. If this had been a Robin Zander solo record, it would be hailed as a brave four-star magnum opus in all of the musical trade papers. Going back five years earlier, there are two early demos Warrant recorded in 1987, "Down the Road" and "Young, Wild and Free", both overwhelmingly influenced by a more classic rock vibe along the lines of Cheap Trick. I can't help but feel is these songs were put out by Cheap Trick on Lap of Luxury or Busted they would have been hailed as long lost classics. However, Jabberwocky was the work of a man who the music industry deemed undeserving of time and attention. The songs were more personal, the stakes were higher and this was a man trying to make sense of his life through his art. Lane spoke of officially releasing these songs often over the years with the most recent announcement occurring four months before he died hoping he would have them in stores before the end of 2011. Sadly, we're still waiting.
With few other choices available to him, Lane rejoined Warrant in 1994 but they were never the same. Drummer Steven Sweet and Joey Allen both left the group and their 1995 and 1997 records left much to be desired. Listening to Ultraphobic and later Belly to Belly Volume One I couldn't help but feel deflated. They weren't completely throwaways, but Lane fell victim to what most hard rock bands of the late 80's and early 90's did, instead of finding their muse and delivering what they were best at, they tried to format their sound into what they felt would make them cool and hip again. To Lane's credit, there is some powerfully soaring moments on Ultraphobic. He emerges from the rubble of a failed solo career and a marriage that ended in divorce on "Ultraphobic" – a Temple of Doom rip-your-heart-out break-up anthem where Lane threw himself into a lava pit and came out with something to sing about. Then there is the heartrending "Stronger Now" where Lane delicately delivers a confessional of moving on in an all too cruel world.
Now Warrant didn't necessarily do themselves any favors in the credibility category during the late 1990s. They released a pair of mediocre records-Ultraphobic and Belly To Belly Volume One. In regards to the latter, let's just say be thankful there wasn't a volume two. They released a misleading and rather dreadful live album Warrant Live 86-97, which was recorded at one show in 1996 featuring none of the strength that embodied their 1987-1992 concerts. Then they re-recorded all their hits for Greatest and Latest, which to their credit was a rather solid selection of re-records which was only derailed by unnecessary dance remixes at the end of the disc. 2001 saw the release of a superfluous covers record, Under the Influence and by this stage, the band had more drummers than Spinal Tap. Lane left a few years later, which began a revolving door of different lead singers until Lane briefly returned for a full-fledged reunion of the original five members in 2008. It didn't last. Every single cliché they could have embraced they did, they only one missing was their own episode of Behind the Music. Then there were the disturbing interviews Lane gave over the last few years of his life. In a VH1 documentary Heavy: The Story of Metal, Lane looked and sounded out of shape. He spoke of his disdain that one tongue-in-cheek song written in fifteen minute is his lasting legacy. "I could shoot myself in the f****ng head for writing that song". I felt sorry for him when watching it but I also was angry. He met his future wife on the set of that video and they had a child. I remember reading in interviews where the words on the page beamed with love that transcended words about this child. This is the same child who inspired him to write one of his best songs, "April 2031" and in the disappointment that followed, she had to of been a beacon of light in his life. To me, even if the happiness of his marriages were short lived, he walked away from them with a love that would be eternal in the form of his children. That being said, Jani Lane should not have his life and legacy defined by tongue-in-cheek pop song. His was a top-tier performer and the albums and songs I speak of in this piece are a testament to his songwriting talents. When I saw Rock of Ages earlier this summer, I was saddened when I heard "Heaven" (a number-two hit in 1989 for the band). I couldn't help but feel that Lane would have felt a sense of renewal watching his song glow on the screen (in an otherwise ludicrous film).
One song that exemplifies he was more than a creator of cheap thrills is "Thin Disguise", a 1990 b-side, one of the best cuts ever designated to the flipside of a single. Left off their second record for reasons I will never fully understand, the cut takes a piercing look at failed relationships. We live our lives by a code of silence, where we rarely let anyone inside our mind. The narrator of the song is telling their tale from an empty house where love once lived but now "There's not enough conversation to fill the empty spaces". It is too late for them to show their true colors, but upon hearing this at a young age, it struck me deeply as a cautionary tale to never hold back, because we are will be exposed in the end. When Columbia Records released The Best of Warrant in 1996, someone had the foresight to include "Thin Disguise", which is why I bought it. The band had the same insight when they re-recorded songs for Greatest and Latest. While a lyrically uncomplicated song, the sentiment is driven home by the band as if the clock was ticking on their lives and this was their legacy. The A-side of the cut is the Warrant's most iconic and out of respect to Lane and his legacy, it will go unnamed in this piece. I am doing this not to be pretentious but because every single obituary and memorial piece I read in 2011 mentioned this song and did so in a derogatory manner. All anyone had to do was flip the cassingle over to hear a different side of the band and some revelatory lyrics from a man who was sadly foreshadowing his artistic demise. I wish he had had the strength to go back and listen to and feel the power of his lyrics on "Thin Disguise" and take down his mask to show the world who he really was.
One evening a decade ago, my friend "Jethro" was older, wiser and drunker in ways of the modern world. I was driving him home when he turned to me in the early morning light when he had a proclamation that nearly made me drive into a ditch. In his less-than-sober state he said, "You know what I wish would happen to the music world at this moment in time? I wish a band like Warrant would arrive and kick the world's ass!" Jani Lane did not change the face of music and his most commercial contributions do not fully reflect the degree of his talent. He didn't reinvent rock n' roll but he made a hell of a lot of people happy. The way I will remember him is not for his shortcomings or what could have been, but what he accomplished through not just the MTV and radio hits, but albums like Dog Eat Dog, Back To One and songs like "Ultraphobic", "Stronger Now" and "Thin Disguise".
For Jani Lane, the dejection he experienced was too much to bear and as a result, the world will be a lesser place without him or his music. Children will graduate and marry without their father in attendance. The magnificent women who shared in the creation of these miracles will never look upon them without being reminded of the profound love and excitement that once was. Whenever I hear a Warrant song, I will think of falling in love, stolen moments shared with friends I love beyond words, the heartache of failed relationships and the eternal hope of renewal that always felt within reach because of Lane's music. My wonder will also be tinged by the tragedy that befell Lane. I have no way of being able to be inside his mind, but I have a distressing feeling he left this world feeling he had not made an impact on people's lives. I am sadly writing this piece too late for him to read it, but his music moved me then and moves me today. He may physically no longer be with us, but his spirit will live on. At the end of my days, if I have touched a tenth of the people he did during his all-too-short life, then I will consider my life an unqualified success.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
In Remembrance: Jani Lane 1964-2011
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