Bret Michaels

Nine lives

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By Gary Graff  

Few knew what to make of Poison some twenty-five years ago, when the Pennsylvania quartet began popping up in rock clubs around its adopted home of Los Angeles. The pouffy coifs and make-up said New York Dolls. The killer riffs and prodigious energy said Rolling Stones, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople and any number of other vintage rock favorites. But two decades after the release of its first album, Look What the Cat Dragged In, Poison is an institution, rising above the "hair metal" tag to be appreciated as an iconic band that helped pave the way for an entire movement. And since 1999, Poison's original lineup has been back in active duty, with no one looking for an antidote.

Q: Twenty years is a long time. How does it feel?

Bret Michaels: I think our 20th is pretty significant to us. Our ten year anniversary was in 1996, right as the first greatest hits album came out, and it was kind of bittersweet 'cause C.C. (Deville) and me had that huge fight, he had left the band, we were in the studio at that point just finishing Crack a Smile, life had changed in the music scene. It felt like a whole different world. So it wasn't quite the glory that I wanted it to be. I think this time around sort of makes up for the first one. C.C.'s back, he's completely sober, playing great, looking great. Everything feels like it's supposed to.

Q: What's changed in your relationship with C.C., which seems so crucial to the band's well-being?

Michaels: It's the first time in twenty years that I've actually got to know the guy, and that's a big thing for me. I feel closer to him now than I ever have. I've known the guy for twenty-three years or so, and I'm learning stuff I never knew before. Before, we didn't know exactly what he'd be talking about at any given point. Now when he's the ranting and raving C.C., we're able to translate it into, "Oh, that's what he meant..."

Q: Are you surprised that Poison has lasted this long?

Michaels: I think it's great. It's such a nice feeling when you go on that stage and can look around and go, "Guys, we have survived not only our own demons and critical beatings and accidents and all that stuff." To be here all these years later and still selling concert tickets and making albums, it's so great.

Q: Who are you seeing at your concerts now?

Michaels: Right now our audience seems to be getting younger and younger and younger. It's amazing. It's like they dumped a whole college out there along with the hardcore fans. It's just been getting younger and they're starting to want and discover guitar music again. You see these kids in Led Zep shirts, AC/DC shirts. I think they've figured out, "Holy shit, you actually play guitar by plugging it into an amp!"

Q: When will we hear some new music from the band?

Michaels: I'm always thinking along those lines. Whether or not I can convince everyone that needs to be brought in, that's a whole different element. My thing is it's simple -- we go into a rehearsal hall, everyone's got song ideas and, guys, what's the problem? It's all about finding the right producer and me and C.C. putting our two heads together.

Q: Then again, does the band really have to make albums anymore?

Michaels: I always feel like I've got a little bit to prove. A lot of people say that's a stupid way to think, but I like feeling like I've still got stuff in me to do. Otherwise, it becomes a job to me, and I don't want that to happen. I don't want to be, "Hey, I've got to tour in the summer" and it's a job. I'm still passionate about it, man. I still love what I do.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.