When I heard Jani Lane of Warrant passed away last Thursday night, I immediately texted my attorney Juan Perez and recent Decibel cover artist Tom Neely, both of whom—like myself—are avid cock rock enthusiasts. Neely’s cogent response? “Too much cherry pie!” The details of Lane’s death hadn’t been revealed yet, but Tom was right, of course: the singer’s body was found at a Comfort Inn just outside L.A., along with some pills and a half-empty bottle of vodka. What Dr. Neely said the next day was even more on point: “Kurt Cobain killed Jani Lane 20 years ago. It just took him this long to go down.” Too soon, perhaps, but talk about dead-on-balls accuracy.
As legend has it, all those hair farmers on the Sunset Strip were just minding their own business, lighting their Virginia Slims with flaming hundos and doing coke off of Tawny Kitaen’s butthole, when Kurt Cobain had the unmitigated gall to tail-gun it down from Seattle with three chords, the truth and that crappy moth-eaten sweater from the “Teen Spirit” video, effectively shutting down the Strip, the Aqua Net factory and Riki Rachtman’s career in one fell swoop. But here’s the thing: Pretty much every weather-beaten rock ‘n’ roll legend worth telling is just mythology in the service of commerce. And if you were only two or three albums into your five-album contract with Giant Ass-Raping Mega-Label when grunge, heroin and “feelings” replaced flash metal, eight balls and songs about fucking, the chances were excellent that commerce would ask you to, uh, re-evaluate your position vis-à-vis the whole spandex/neon guitar/getting-tons-of-pussy situation. How Cobain’s various “victims” tackled their collective plight varies widely. Here are some examples:
SKID ROW – “Into Another” (1995)
Released in ’95, Subhuman Race was Skid Row’s only album released during the grunge era, and their last with frontman Sebastian Bach. Juan Perez might tell you this record is good, but he is wrong. Meanwhile, the tightrope imagery in this video might be interpreted as Baz & the boys’ ham-handed metaphor for navigating uncertain territory (read: market share), but by ’95 the writing was already on the wall. (In fact, it had already been spray-painted over by the likes of Candlebox.) Aesthetically, Skid Row made the telling decision to obscure bassist Rachel Bolan’s nose-to-ear chain, which had been featured prominently in previous clips. Perhaps this is an acknowledgment that Skid Row had been stripped of both their metal and their mettle, har har. Not that Cobain gave a shit: Ever-prescient, he anticipated this song by a year and a half when he blew his brains out.
MÖTLEY CRÜE – “Misunderstood” (1994)
After basking for five years in the multi-platinum mega-success of 1989’s Dr. Feelgood, the Crüe certainly weren’t going to take this whole grunge revolution thing lying down, floating in their swimming pools with Heather Locklear blowing them, or getting totally fucking hammered and killing/crippling some innocent people with their De Tomaso Panteras. No fucking way. Renowned for their excellent decision-making skills, Tommy, Nikki and Mick responded to Cobain’s solo-free insolence the only way they knew how: By hiring John Fucking Corabi. That’s right, dude: The dude from The Scream. No, not Scream. The Scream. Also formerly featuring Scott Travis, who went on to a presumably lucrative career playing drums for Judas Priest. Who needs Vince Neil, anyway? Or, you know, songs?
WINGER – “Down Incognito” (1993)
Unlike his more optimistic contemporaries, Kip Winger didn’t harbor any illusions about the huge steaming dump Nirvana had just taken on what Kip was hoping would be his retirement fund. The lyrics to Winger’s first post-grunge single really capture the frustration, impotence and resignation that so many platinum rockers of the day were experiencing. When Kip says he’s “waiting for the sun to shine,” he’s obviously holding out hope for the future—as in, like, maybe this Cobain dude will, I don’t know, fucking shoot himself or something. When he sings, “I just had to let it go,” he’s referring to the predilection for teenage girls that made Winger famous back in ’88. (Because “She’s only 43” just isn’t that sweet of a chorus.) When he sings about throwing all his pennies in the wishing well, it’s the near-final act of a desperate man—so desperate that he even pinched a lyric from Stealers Wheel (“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”). But it’s the chorus that encapsulates where Kip was at in 1993: “I’m all out of time, and I’m all out of money.” True dat, home skillet: Winger broke up the very next year.
DEF LEPPARD – “SLANG” (1996)
In all fairness, Def Leppard had already started sucking huge, smelly Sasquatch balls way before grunge ruined stadium rock’s endless coke party. Though it was released in ’92, at the height of the grunge explosion, the material on the sadly inert Adrenalize was written between ’89 and ’91. By the time the Lep dropped Slang in ’96, they were so out of it that they wrote this song. And made this video. Let’s maybe just skip all the obvious jokes for once and leave it at this: Ooooooof.