This article first appeared in HOTPRESS (#14) May 2006.
“Twenty years! It does not seem like that long ago”, exclaims Bret Michaels, lead singer of eighties powerhouse Poison. He is discussing the release of his group’s latest greatest hits set, Twenty Years of Rock.
“I was saying that to Rikki [Rockett- Poison’s drummer] the other day, and he said, ‘it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, because I live it daily’”.
Poison represent the height of eighties rock excess. While Motley Crue and Guns ‘n’ Roses were worse behaved, no other band had such showmanship or indulged in such onstage musical excess. Even in the early days of the band, Posion were attempting to emulate the decadence of their heroes, albeit with limited success.
“We wanted to give fans a great show, but we didn’t have the technology”, laughs Michaels. “There is a doco called The Making of Bret Michaels, where they show an early gig at the FW Hall-which was a veterans hall- and we had our ‘pyro’ show. They slowed down the footage, and it’s a coffee-can flying through the air with smoke flying out.
“We used to try to do confetti as well, we had a box of confetti in the roof, which was odd because it was a low roof, and I’m sure some people working there wondered why there was a cardboard box with confetti in it up there. But when we triggered the box so the confetti would fall, it just all fell in a big pile on me, and the front of the audience-it wasn’t the KISS confetti show we had hoped for!”
Indeed it wasn’t. In fact the band’s usage of car fuses, homemade explosives and other such things often didn’t go as planned, however Michaels seems keen to assure me that there were no dangerous accidents.
“We got an A for effort, a D minus for execution”, he laughs.
In the early days the band also auditioned some interesting guitarists, inlcuding Guns ‘n’ Roses genius Slash. Surely the band could see his talent, so why didn’t they jump on him?
“Basically, I was out-voted”, says Michaels. “In fact, this is one of the main sources of tension between me and CC (DeVille).
“I liked Slash, I thought he was a cool Joe Perry style guitarist, but the other guys thought CC was better suited. He doesn’t act crazy, he is crazy. In hindsight, CC was definitely the right guitarist.”
The aforementioned tension between Michaels and DeVille spilt out in the most public of fashions, at the 1991 MTV Awards. Posion were meant to perform at the show but instead the band imploded. What the hell happened?
“We had all been drinking, amongst other things-and the soundcheck was great, we sounded great”, insists Michaels. “So anyway, this place is full of industry people, we’re on stage, and because the awards are televised, the entire arena is silent until they come back from commercial break. Imagine 8000 people in an arena, all totally silent. I was like, ‘this is fucking with me’- it felt like The Birds.
“So because it was really weird, we started playing a song during the commercial, the TV people start freaking out, and when we came back from the commercials, they introduced us- and we were meant to play Unskinny Bop, but CC started playing Talk Dirty to Me. It was very confusing because we were already playing loudly, and then his guitar lead came out and he didn’t notice. I’m trying to tell him, and he thought I was yelling at him- which I wasn’t.
“So I grabbed his lead and plugged it in, and we came onstage he gave me a shove, and then I pushed him, and it all happened. CC didn’t play on the next few albums”, laughs Michaels.
A little known fact is that Michael has been diabetic since an early age, a condition that slows down his wild ways. Michaels is under no illusions about the fact that this affects his life immensely.
“You know, it does”, he says quietly. “I need to take four injections a day, plus I need to constantly check my levels. During a show, often during a drum solo or a guitar solo I go backstage and check my blood and insulin. I can still party, I just can’t go over the top. Because when I do go over the top, things happen- like the car accident.”
Yes, the car accident. Another excessive moment in the band’s life occurred in 1994 when Michaels lost control of his Ferrari, and ended up in emergency with broken ribs, nose, jaw and fingers. Luckily, there were no passengers.
“I was out having a good time”, he says matter-of-factly. “Chris Penn, the actor, and me were invited back to someone’s party. I was drunk, but I had false confidence. My girlfriend wouldn’t get in the car with me, a fact that I thank God for every day. All my life I have raced go-karts, so I was confident that I was fine. Clearly I wasn’t fine. Later, when I went to pick up my car from the police compound, my entire front tooth including the root was in the front seat. Needless to say I didn’t make the party.“