Have you heard? There’s an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical ‘Rock of Ages’ coming out Friday that does for the ’80s Sunset Strip scene what ‘Moulin Rouge’ did for french whorehouses! Tom Cruise plays fictional rocker Stacee Jaxx, who jumps onstage instead of on Oprah’s couch. And between Billboard and the New York Times, mainstream media is, at least until the film is released, paying attention to the ’80s hair band movement. Billboard wrote an article from the L.A. premiere of the movie and spoke to Tom Cruise, who says that he consulted with his Vanilla Sky director Cameron Crowe to bring him up to date on “the history of rock and roll.” Wait, what? We thought he knew all about rock and roll, particularly the old time kind.
But in particular, the film’s debut gave some ’80s stalwarts a chance to spout off about the scene. KISS’ Gene Simmons claims to have spawned the whole thing, saying “we pounded the pavement in the ’70s when a lot of these guys were still little children in their moms’ wombs.” There is some truth in that, as many of the L.A. transplants that formed bands were inspired by KISS. But then there’s that ’80s metal star Debbie Gibson (huh?) who got to speak about how much she liked Poison, bringing back the long-dormant rumor that she was engaged to guitarist C.C. Deville. Lita Ford talks about her then-boyfriend, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx getting arrested and having to bail him out of jail.
The more interesting of the two articles is the New York Times’. Speaking to Poison’s Bret Michaels, former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach and former Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan. Michaels recaptures the ’80s Sunset Strip more than the musical will, talking about arriving from Pennsylvania with the band. “We chugged down the Strip in our very dilapidated ambulance van,” he tells the Times. “We had gotten there on a Friday day. We had nowhere to live. We’re driving past the Rainbow, Gazzarri’s, the Roxy, the Whisky, and everyone was just on the street partying. We were like, ‘Is this really happening?’ It almost looked like Times Square in New York. The van moved about 10 feet in an hour. For small-town guys it was a surreal moment.”
Sebastian Bach tells the most rock and roll story of the two articles. A relative latecomer to the Strip, he didn’t make it there until 1987. But he tells a pretty amazing story about hanging out with McKagan and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich at the Rainbow:
I always heard of quaaludes, reading Circus magazine and Creem in the ‘70s when I was a kid, but I’d never encountered quaaludes. One night me and Duff McKagan and Lars Ulrich from Metallica were at the Rainbow, and someone had a whole bag of quaaludes. I was like: “Finally! Where’ve you been all my life?” Me and Duff, being the adventuresome pleasure-seeking fellows that we were, decided to do some quaaludes. All of a sudden we’re standing up, and we lose control of the muscles in our face, our lips start drooping, and we start drooling on each other. We were like, “We better sit down.” So we go to the booth, getting spit on each other’s leather jackets, and Lars comes up with the brilliant idea of charging fans $5 to get a picture taken with us. He’s like: “Here’s your heroes! Guns N’ Roses, Skid Row! Get a picture.” Snap. We’re going [slurred slow-motion voice], “Hey, man, Lars, that’s not cool.” Click. [“I don’t remember that happening,” Mr. McKagan said, while Mr. Ulrich said: “I don’t have a recollection of that, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. But I do remember most of the shenanigans.”]
As the most successful of the L.A. bands, McKagan’s contribution to the piece is somewhat sobering. “A couple years ago men’s Italian Vogue asked me to write a piece about 1987 Hollywood, the Strip, and I think they wanted me to write this fancy frolicking story,” he says. “But at that time AIDS was still thought of as a homosexual disease — needles were shared, sex was unprotected, there were a lot of drugs. I remember housewives from Beverly Hills and Bel-Air coming down and slumming it and getting strung out. The dark underbelly, I resided there.”
He also talks about how popular the band got while they were touring behind Appetite For Destruction, and how oblivious they were to their success in an age before computers, fax machines and social media. “Imagine landing back on Planet Earth: People were all glammed out when you left, and now you could tell the photo of us they were trying to look like,” he tells the Times. There was the Izzy [Stradlin] guy, the Slash guy, the Axl [Rose] guy, the me guy, the Steven [Adler] guy, and they were walking all over Hollywood. It was weird.”
Rock of Ages opens on Friday. The two articles will likely be more interesting.