From Guns N’ Roses to Nirvana, a Backstage Journey through Rock’s Most Debauched Decade
We salute Matt Cale
Between frantic, quick-before-mom-gets-home rubs on the bathroom rug, visits to the nearest adult bookstore for love doll bargain shopping (note to all curious shoppers: do not spend less than $50 for anything you plan on fucking), and late-night, Peeping Tom stakeouts of the one semi-hot chick who might have allowed a smile to escape her lips while accidentally looking in my direction, I read Rip magazine. Hit Parader was for greasy chicks, Circus a glam rag at best, and Kerrang! too damned expensive as an import. As such, I stuck by Rip for several years, one as a subscriber. I looked forward to every issue, largely because they balanced their Skid Row, Guns N’ Roses, and Great White coverage with a little Sanctuary or King Diamond now and then. The mag worshipped Metallica, of course, and was the exclusive source for the lead-up to the breakthrough Black Album. It was all there – hyperbolic, overly positive reviews (to this day, I can’t remember anything they hated), inside scoops of tour information, upcoming albums, industry gossip, and unnaturally lengthy feature articles that described every thrust, every load, and every deservedly objectified groupie on every tour bus you could imagine. As they said, if Jack Russell slammed his meat axe into a stoned slut, Rip was there. And they did it better than anyone before or since.
The editor-in-chief of the world’s greatest rock n’ roll fanzine for nerdy teenage boys who couldn’t get laid in a whorehouse giveaway was one Lonn M. Friend – a bearded crazy man who spent more time with the stars than anyone else of the period. He partied, flew around the country, took his lumps in mosh pits, and never failed to give us the only story that really mattered – whether or not Slash actually did rape the L7 bassist with a bottle of Jack at the Whiskey a Go Go. He gave us splashy covers, mini posters, scoops, and even homoerotic attachments against our better judgment. His memoir, Life on Planet Rock, captures those events with flair and charm, and while it’s not the sort of book for the unbelievers or uninitiated, it’s sufficiently sleazy and silly to appeal to the general fan. That said, this is Lonn’s journey from beginning to end, as – by necessity – he becomes the most obnoxious name-dropper in the history of the written word, managing to pack in what seems like every celebrity encounter in his many years on this earth. And, like Harry Knowles, he’s too enthusiastic by half, proving to have an infectious love of music, but lacking all critical depth. This is proven in spades when he becomes an A&R man for Arista after his Rip gig has concluded and somehow believes that some worthless sack of skin called The Bogmen are the second coming of the Stones. Friend rightfully calls out head cheese Clive Davis on his conservatism, lack of vision, and greedy idiocy, but Friend proved himself no real judge of talent.
We get a bit of Friend’s life outside the magazine, but it all pales in comparison to the days when he sat with legends and one hit wonders alike, all in the pursuit of the next big thing. It’s clear that musicians loved Friend because he worked like a motherfucker promoting, elevating, and pushing bands, regardless of their worth. He hit a gem now and again (I owe the discovery of King’s X to Rip, and no, I didn’t realize they were religious – or maybe I didn’t care), but by and large, he was a carnival barker – he could celebrate rebellion, individuality, and kick-ass mindlessness, while at the same time believing that a corporate whore like Gene Simmons spoke for anyone other than himself. Funny I should say that, though, as Friend discusses an interview with the God of Thunder where he was appalled at Gene’s commercial enterprises (this was about the time the Kiss coffin hit the shelves). And despite Gene’s worship of the almighty dollar, can you blame the man for exploiting the obvious need in America’s youth to watch painted idiots on high heels spit blood and breathe fire while power chords wailed? And as Gene says to Friend at one point, what’s wrong with whores, anyway? They’re the most honest people in the world, as you always know how much each and every thing you do is going to cost. Not so with marriage, says the unwed Simmons.
Friend’s world began to crumble once grunge hit the scene, although Rip did their best to stay hip and relevant. Alas, they were a magazine for the hair-and-hedonism 80s, not the allegedly introspective 90s (I say “allegedly” because as with all musical movements, indie rock was just as much of a pose as anything else), and it was a matter of time before Rip died with little mourning. Friend tried the music biz, radio gigs, and assorted writing jobs, but nothing ever seemed to match the days of fire and leather. He continued to touch base with Metallica, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and the like, while finally meeting old heroes like Pete Townsend. Through it all, he keeps a sense of humor and a determination not found in many doughy, pasty metal heads, regardless of age. He’s not the kind of guy I’d like to hang around (at times, I wanted to smack him and force him to confess that he really, really hated everything ever put out by Motley Crue), but he never failed to reinforce why I stayed hard throughout Reagan’s second term while growing out my hair and pseudo-moustache.
I also could have done without the spiritual bullshit that, while never pushed, popped up from time to time as if to dispel right-wing rumors that all rock nerds shunned religion like showers, calls to “turn it down” or, say, the dating scene. He shares lengthy conversations with Alice Cooper, a professed Christian who manages to make faith sound even more ridiculous than usual. But Friend’s too kind to tell him to get fucked, and he even explores a bit on his own, though more to assuage mid-life doubts than anything approaching real devotion. It makes sense that friend would try to find “meaning”, though, as his entire life seems like one big effort to get along and avoid conflict. Given this deep, abiding love for everything, one wonders how the magazine avoided topping 500+ pages every month. If this is what made it, what on earth was cut? That said, I read every word like sacred text, seeing its delivery to my mailbox as the one thing every month that didn’t make me look twice at that straight razor in the medicine cabinet.
So if the book lacks a broader context, or even avoids trying to speak wisely about a genre of music that seemed to spring to life and die without much sense at all, it made me smile throughout. Especially illuminating was Friend’s porno past, as he worked for several years with Larry Flynt’s empire. His (and my) favorite anecdote involved Chuck Berry, who apparently made an underground film wherein he pisses on a broad and gladly takes a deposit from some dame’s poop chute into his waiting gullet. Yes, that Chuck Berry. I’d pay top dollar to see it, but apparently it was too hot even for Flynt to touch it. His job reviewing and writing about assorted porn products and films was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and a reminder that some guys get paid to watch the performer of “Johnny B. Goode” literally eat shit, while others are doomed to remove far less famous excrement from bathroom walls in fast food establishments. Friend’s led a charmed life, even if he was never allowed to share in the flesh parade that defined the world of rock. But he was there – and he was loved.