The fickle winds of taste inevitably leave a trail of manure behind; an advertising-driven twister spewing Cabbage Patch Dolls, polyester sports jackets, Don Johnson and one-hour photo booths. Like breakers on the beach at high tide, trends emerge and sweep away everything in their path before receding to whence they came. Those left offer poignant testimony to the voracious maw of our attention-addled society. One such “survivor” is Warrant.
A refugee from a bygone era wiped out by grunge, they persist, some suggest, solely in hope to be immortalized — and hence vindicated — with their own “Behind the Music” episode. Their story follows the standard, scripted, rags-to-riches-to-rags trajectory, replete with a Spinal Tap-worthy stream of drummers, girlfriends, ex-wives and, of course, wild partying. It’s a tale as familiar as the branding, in which “BTM” acts as a sort of cultural divining rod of important period/genre acts. (“Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison — come right in. Whitesnake, Ratt and Warrant — please stand behind this velvet rope.”)
The truth is there’s something perplexing and subtly disturbing about lesser artists that hold onto the dream even after they’ve been shuffled off the main stage, their aria already sung. Like an unwelcome guest who lingers long after the party’s ended, they invite the unenviable rubber-necking stare, the freak gaze synonymous with the long-faded Norma Desmond and her dysfunctional passion for a camera whose lens has moved on. Because for each Will Shatner able to parlay kitsch appeal into a lucrative career, there is a George Takei working every “Star Trek” convention from Bangor to Anchorage.
So why continue to tour and play together, outside of the spotlight and a decade removed from success, attendance following an ever-tighter spiral down, like a stray piece of food circling the drain? Do they find a certain nobility in their steadfast refusal to give up the ghost? Are they driven by a passion and a need to perform, a lack of other job opportunities? Or do they have an affinity for the Norma Desmonds of the world, believing that as long as they can squeeze into a pair of leather trousers they’re still rock stars?
The band members themselves might have answered these questions and more, but despite daily assurances from Warrant’s management that original member Jerry Dixon would indeed call, day after day for a week the phone failed to ring, in haunting echo of Warrant’s music woes. For while the band still tours regularly (MTV’s “FM Nation” recently offered an ironic piss-take on their current state, documenting a Salt Lake City show in a club/bowling alley), they’ve not recorded an album of original tunes since 1995’s Ultraphonic.
Whatever it is Dixon does when he’s not “working” will remain as stupefying a secret as Chuck Barris’ double-life as a “Gong Show”-hosting CIA operative.
What we do know is that in August 1992, Warrant released Dog Eat Dog, the follow-up to the double-platinum Cherry Pie. Columbia shipped more than a half-million copies. Three weeks later, there came an answer: Nevermind.
Warrant’s label felt the Cobain gust and acted swiftly, dumping the one-time priority band six months later, notifying the members by letter. Since then Warrant’s been living down the role of unfortunate victims of circumstance, but there’s no shame in their fate. Nor do they deserve disdain for their membership in a now-gauche musical movement.
If anything, Warrant is a reminder that the best of times seldom remain that way, and are prone to shifts as sudden as the weather. No man except Paul Simon is an island, and how we deal with the inevitable storm is indicative of who we are as people. It’s a testament to the addictive buzz of fame, valediction and success — once tasted it proves hard to leave on the table, whether it’s a heavyweight boxer and his umpteenth comeback or the rock musician re-creating the magic of a moment long, long past. Yet no one should challenge a band’s right to exist, which in Warrant’s case is telling of their dedication and desire to perform that they continue to play for an ever-declining circle of fans.
Because otherwise they’re just part of a sad charade, a human puppet show on permanent rerun, reprising and recycling their hits like a jukebox, or like the music biz itself (see: Elvis, Nirvana, Monkees): risk-averse and creatively bereft, earnestly interested only in where that next dollar or Cherry Pie might come from and doing what’s necessary to secure it — and nothing more. Which, as they say, is good work while you can get it.
We mean, playing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” a hundred or so nights a year can’t be as bad as having to hear it that often, can it?
Warrant will perform the WRIF X-Mas party at Harpo’s (4238 Harper, Detroit) on Saturday, Dec. 21. For information, call 313-824-1700.Chris Parker is a freelance writer. E-mail him at [email protected]