Sometimes it’s a glorious thing for someone in the public eye to cement their legacy in their lifetime. Albert Einstein, smart guy as he was reputed to be, probably knew that people would still be calling out E=MC2 long after he was gone. Likewise, when I heard about the death of Warrant frontman and late-era ‘80s glam rock sensation Jani Lane, my mind went back to a clip from one of those VH1 specials in which he was interviewed about Warrant’s infectious breakthrough single, “Cherry Pie.” Here’s what he had to say, transcribed from a YouTube clip posted on a music forum I frequent:
“I hate that song. I had no intention of writing that song. The record was done, the record was called Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and [the A&R rep] called up and said, “I don’t hear a single. You gotta give me a fucking single like ‘Love In An Elevator.’ So that night I wrote ‘Cherry Pie.’ I sent it to him, he lived with it over the weekend, and all of a sudden, the album’s called Cherry Pie. The record’s called Cherry Pie, I’m doing cherry pie-eating contests. Right? If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’. And my legacy’s ‘Cherry Pie.’ Everything about me’s ‘Cherry Pie.’ I’m the ‘Cherry Pie’ guy. I could shoot myself in the fucking head for writing that song.”
TMZ said that when they found his body in a budget motel in Woodland Hills outside of Los Angeles, he had a half-empty bottle of vodka and a bottle of prescription pills, but at press time, the autopsy was inconclusive. Lane, 47, is among the saddest tales to come out of the glam metal era (though I’d argue that any death in a budget motel is inherently tragic). He’s not the first to be famous for one specific thing and forced to live with that thing for the rest of his life, but man, “Cherry Pie” sucked. And he knew it. I don’t care how you feel about Warrant, or Lane, or any of it, that’s brutal.
I remember the Cherry Pie record. I was going on nine years old when it came out in 1990, and my sister had it. Even then, those songs stuck in my head, and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Cherry Pie” typified that pre-grunge vacuousness that hard rock had to endure—not that I knew that at nine, but you know what I mean—before “commercial viability” came to mean flannel shirts and unwashed-looking hair. Warrant was one of a whole league of dopey, exploited bands, but “Cherry Pie” was so catchy, had such a strong hook, that it was bigger than the band. Almost in spite of themselves, Warrant wrote a perfect pop song, and for better or worse, it’s come to stand as a watermark of their whole era.
Some people can live with that and some can’t. Mark Hamill eventually came to terms with the fact that, no matter what he did or didn’t do for the rest of his life, he’d always be Luke Skywalker in the public’s view. You can either hate it or own it, and while I can’t imagine wanting to own “Cherry Pie” in an existential sense (or in a CD-buying sense, for that matter), I might feel differently about it had the song brought me a lifetime’s worth of notoriety and probably a decent chunk of change as well. Lane obviously couldn’t bring himself to own it, and whether he killed himself or was just trying to numb out a bit with the pills and booze—and I’m not going to give TMZ the credit of knowing one way or the other; the whole thing is almost too cliché to be believable—his life was ruined by the very same thing that made it. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode played out over 20-plus years.
There are a lot of bands from that time whose own disposability probably surprised the hell out of them, and I think that was definitely the case with Warrant. I’ve never had to get over that kind of thing, so I can’t say whether or not I’d actually be able to do so. Jani Lane couldn’t and how he’s dead. Sometimes what you want most turns out to be what you want least, and if you’re going to chase it, you should know what “it” is.