You’re asking me to tell you about the girl with the banana ...,” says Poison drummer Rikki Rockett. “How am I gonna do that and make it printable? It’s really hard to do. Look, everything you’ve heard is true, plus more.”
Rockett, the beat behind the debauched platinum blonde, platinum selling, Pennsylvanian glam rockers that birthed the party anthems “I Want Action” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” passes up the chance to wax nasty in print. It seems that 15 years ago, in esteemed music periodicals like Circus, Hit Parader and Metal Edge, Poison (Rockett, guitarist C.C. DeVille, bassist Bobby Dall, vocalist Bret Michaels) was happy to regale readers with tales of hedonistic aftershow rituals involving supine, star-struck groupies and an array of intrusive, phallic produce and paraphernalia. Yet, he’s apparently mellowed.
Maybe rock & roll really is dead, rotting in a shallow, unmarked grave as Rockett trudges through an interview schedule with the help of his “personal assistant” Big John. Rockett seems inordinately grounded, not up to discussing the good ol’ days, save justifying Poison’s existence and reiterating points about the band’s popularity. He is focused on the music, unwilling to be distracted by questions about glam’s past or what attracted people to it.
“I think it’s real simple, honestly. I don’t even really think it has to do with the genre or what we wore or anything like that. I think with Poison ... we wrote songs that held up. I think that’s what it comes down to. How we dressed, and everything like that, is probably the least interesting thing about Poison, really.”
Of course, it’s not. Poison was four distinct characters that moved from Harrisburg, Pa., to Los Angeles to work the Sunset Strip circuit. They passed out flyers; they paid to play. And when they got their break, they made it work, crafting durable, hooky tunes and serving ’em up with a well-conceived stage show that packed punkish panache, working-class sincerity, and unmitigated rock & roll release. But almost inevitably, the storied pressures produced personnel changes; Poison only reconvened the original lineup in 2000. Now, as the circumstances don’t exactly preclude classification as a nostalgia act, Rockett makes a case:
“We’ve been together for all this time, for 18 years and have songs that have held up—that’s the more important thing. We really laid down a fan base, and we toured more than anything. We put more time into that than any other aspect of our careers.”
And they still do. But his defense suggests Rockett has been fielding a lot of questions lately about the past, swimming against a strong nostalgic tide challenging Poison’s right to exist beyond their heyday. It’d be a somewhat justified (if lazy) line of questioning, were the band’s latest album, Hollyweird, not one of the best post-popularity recordings out there.
Hollyweird is 95 percent good tunes (comparable to the back catalog) and rocks raw, without production sparkle (a surprise, because polish was the M.O. on previous Poison platters). And despite the cover photo (tattooed naked chick straddling a Harley), a cover of The Who’s mammary anthem “Squeeze Box” and decadent references (to booze, reefer, one-night stands, et al), it evinces a band that has grown up and focused, less concerned with—but still appreciative of—boobs and bananas.
Rockett has mellowed; Poison’s priorities—and perspective—have changed. And that’s why they’re the only ’80s metal band with appeal sufficient to justify an arena tour every summer. Now, more than ever, they know when it’s time to go to work, unlike their peers who pissed away fortunes and are now consigned to cruise the state fair circuit.
Of this, Rockett is proud. And by balancing his priorities, he gets the best of both worlds: continued success and scantily clad late-night perks (he does intimate that last night a lingerie-clad lady came calling at his hotel door, but stops short of elaborating), taken in moderation.
“It’s just as decadent now as it ever was,” says Rockett, “as far as the circus that surrounds us. The thing that is most important is that you are out here to play a show. And if you do all those crazy things every single night of the week, you can’t play worth a shit. When you’re 22 years old on your first world tour, you can recover from that stuff. But as you get a little bit older, you can’t recover from that stuff quite as easily. We don’t really operate like that anymore.”