Riding the wind, up to where eagles dare
In the whole of rock journalism, it may be impossible to conceive of a more riotously absurd task than one that begins with the words: “Hey, can you review those Poison reissues?”
Whatever you think of Poison—make that if you think of Poison—try to imagine that your responsibility, on some random evening, is to complete that assignment with something approaching maybe not seriousness but competence. Is that even possible? Can you write about the gentlemen who gleefully recorded songs with actual titles like “Want Some, Need Some”, “#1 Bad Boy”, and—God, I love this one—“Back to the Rocking Horse” without, for the entire 1,000-word bulk of your article, seeming like you’re on the brink of spluttery, wet hysterics?
The answer is more complex than you might think. Wait, no it isn’t. The answer is no. This music is not good.
But having said that, it’s true that less talented musicians have gotten further in life looking goofier than Poison, and… well, wait again. I take that back. No one has ever looked goofier than Poison. Sweet Georgia Brown, just drink in these mug shots on the cover of the “20th Anniversary” reissue of the band’s debut, “Look What the Cat Dragged In”. According to this photo, it dragged in four whores. Lady whores. Chick harlots. Puckered-up girly men. Irrationally Mascara’ed sissy-britches-es. I mean, has any band ever looked gayer? There have to be full-on gay bands looking at this cover going, “Oh, lighten up, queens.”
So, no, there’s little here that does not demand to be laughed at, in that head-back, belly-forward, bowl-full-of-jelly laugh that you imagine fat rich men do, like Mr. Monopoly or Dennis Hastert. But that doesn’t mean we cannot learn from it, revel in it, even—stay with me, kids—appreciate it. So in that respect are Ten Things I Learned While Spinning The “20th Anniversary” Reissues of the First Three Poison Records.
1. The “20th Anniversary” thing? Crock. Look What the Cat Dragged in was released in 1986, but Open Up And Say… Ahh came out in 1988 and Flesh and Blood in 1990, so the math is pushing it. Not that this is surprising. Women always tend to obscure their age (OK, that was my last girly-men joke. Swear.)
2. Poison, like many bands of its ilk, has long since circled the wagons on the nostalgia-tour circuit, where they do… pretty good, actually. Songs like “Nothin’ But a Good Time” and “Fallen Angel” are, as far as goofy keg-party songs go, about as good as it gets. And what, you want to drive all the way out to a soulless amphitheater to see John Mayer and Nickelback? At least bands like Poison and Motley Crue blow shit up.
3. When he speaks, C.C. DeVille sounds like Ross Perot mixed with Phyllis Diller mixed with the sound a ferret makes when it bursts into flame. It rules.
4. I should probably review the records. Look What the Cat Dragged In is a trebly, amateurish-sounding disc recorded by guys two years away from having any business in a studio; the “bonus track” cover of—oh, if only my dad could turn his PC on to read this—Jim Croce’s “Don’t Mess Around With Jim” being all the evidence you need of that.
5. Open Up, by contrast, finds the band pulling together for “Good Time”, “Rose” and the age-old saga of the rebellious young whippersnapper “Fallen Angel”, which, if you added 18 minutes to it, would have made a great Meat Loaf song. Also, the cover apparently created quite a controversy in 1988 from a populace unsure what to make of a cat woman with Silly String in her hair, a boxer’s nose and the worst fake tongue in the recorded history of photo manipulation.
6. Flesh and Blood is the sound of a band a little uncomfortable with the glittery shoebox it locked itself in. Thus, tracks like “Poor Boy Blues”, “Life Loves a Tragedy”, “Something to Believe In”, (which, on some days, rivals “Rose” for sheer cheek), and “Unskinny Bop,” a title that, after 16 years, I still don’t fucking understand.
7. Did I say I’d do ten of these? That was shooting a little high.
8. You could spend hours combing these things for best lyric, but my humble choice comes from Flesh and Blood’s “Ride the Wind,” in which Bret Michaels urges listeners to “Lick the wind”. Amazing. (Honorable mention to “Only to fly where eagles dare,” which comes from… you guessed it, “Ride the Wind!”)
9. My cousin will resent me if I don’t say something nice about Poison—we went to a show in 2003 when she was like 25 weeks pregnant, if that gives you any indication of the hold this band still has on people. So here’s this, which is true: “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is, for what it is, something approaching perfection. In a couple thousand years, the sea creatures who’ll have taken over our melted planet will use it to define the term “Monster Ballad”. I once interviewed Bret Michaels for a story about its ubiquity, and he told me, “Slowly but surely, I think ‘Every Rose’ is becoming the ‘Free Bird’ of our generation.” And he might be right. As a punchline, John Mayer plays in on Chappelle’s Show. Fraudulent country hobbit Kenny Chesney plays it in concert. No less an image-conscious alt-rock hipster than Billy Corgan sang it in 2003 at a Second City benefit, where he admitted, “I have a soft spot for this song because it does mark a moment in time.” Despite all his rage, he likes a Poison song.
10. Wait, that’s it. Poison marks a moment in time. They’re a magnificent microcosm of an era that’s long since expired, painted-up poster boys who see no reason to change their spots or stripes or digitally manipulated tongues at this stage in the game; moreover, to their great credit, they see that any whisper of evolution at this point would be met with ridicule, and a crippling silence broken only by the sound of Old Style bottles crashing against the head of C.C. DeVille. Poison knows what its role is, what it’s there for, and why DJs keep twirling “Every Rose” at Midwestern weddings year after year after year. They’re just the guys who hit on a thing and are gonna ride it into the sunset, while the other cowboys are left to sing their sad, sad songs. For that reason, the Poison reissues make it onto my CD rack, nestled comfortably for that day when I, too, need nothing but a good time. Except Cat Dragged In. That one’s shit.