Hair and now
Two decades after hair metal’s heyday, Florida still likes its rock ’n’ roll loud, lewd and shaggy.
By Sean Daly
Published November 5, 2006
In the world of hair metal, that shaggy brand of raunch and rebellion, rock stars praise each night’s crowd as the drunkest bunch of party stars this side of Gomorrah.
“Looks like somebody got a head start tonight!” Cinderella singer Tom Keifer howls to his besotted minions on an August night in Tampa’s St. Pete Times Forum.
Next night, West Palm Beach, Keifer howls again: “Looks like somebody got a head start tonight!”
In the world of hair metal, rock stars dispense a brand of wisdom that only a true headbanger can fully comprehend.
“You can never get enough cowbell, folks!” Poison frontman Bret Michaels chuckles knowingly to his Tampa fans.
Next night, West Palm Beach, Michaels again: “You can never get enough cowbell, folks!”
In the world of hair metal, the live-show drill has been the same for two decades, and woe be the shredder who abandons the playbook:
Cue zowie guitar shriek.
Cue endless drum solo.
Cue gratuitous pyro.
Thank you, and good night!
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
For 20 bleepin’ years.
In the world of hair metal, change isn’t bad — it’s nonexistent.
Hair today, hair tomorrow
For great chunks of the globe, hair metal is a punch line.
For great chunks of Florida, hair metal is gospel.
The genre was born in the ’80s on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, a boulevard of broken morals where you slept where you passed out. A merging of glam rock, stoner rock and your dad’s poorly hidden Penthouse collection, the music was a response to ’70s punk, ’80s pop and the Gipper-knows-best vibe of the Reagan years.
The bands were blue-collar kids who shouted horny male fantasies but dressed like drag queens. They were Spandex-clad kings of MTV, video heartthrobs reeking of testosterone. People who drove Porsches didn’t listen to metal, but people who worked on Porsches sure did.
Hair metal would be overshadowed by grunge in the ’90s, but there were many who refused to go flannel. And they remain hirsutely loyal. To celebrate their 20th anniversaries, Poison and Cinderella joined forces this summer for a three-city, fan-stuffed Florida jaunt:
Tampa, West Palm Beach, Orlando. We tagged along, intent on discovering why a genre built on debauchery and Aqua Net still inspires a religious loyalty among those who simply live to bang their heads and play.
St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Aug. 19
Cinderella drummer Fred Coury needs groupies. Young ones, old ones, age doesn’t matter. He simply needs hot, half-naked fans. Pronto.
Coury’s backstage request has nothing to do with sex. The hunky musician with dark, soap opera eyes has a girlfriend; he also has the beginnings of a cold. Coury has agreed to be photographed for this newspaper, but only if he looks the part. And for an aging rock star hellbent on keeping up a certain image, the part has always involved the unmistakable stench of debauchery.
Bring forth babes, he commands, and I’ll pose. If Coury sounds arrogant, he has the hardware to back it up.
“Cinderella hasn’t had an (original) studio album out in years,” says the 40-year-old drummer, reclining on a backstage couch and watching VH1. “But our new DVD live disc just went gold! We just got another plaque on the wall!” He throws his hands in the air: “We win again.”
Coury says ’80s metal reminds people of the decadent days of rock ’n’ roll, when the music was about feeding your id and forgetting your problems. Many of today’s biggest acts, Coury says, have no sense of fun or theater. And in these troubling times, fun and theater are exactly what we need.
“We still dress like rock stars onstage,” he says. “I don’t want to see a guy in a pair of Converse, jeans and a T-shirt, looking like my next-door neighbor. . . . The fans want a show.”
Coury says life on the road isn’t nearly as raucous as it used to be. “The best thing about doing shows is the Starbucks delivery,” he says. He later gobbles a handful of pills. Uppers, downers, ’ludes?
Nope, Vitamin C.
For his photo shoot, Coury gets his wish: five beautiful women, ages 22 to 36, all seduced from the front rows of the Times Forum with a magic word: “backstage.”
You wanna meet a rock star?
Roxanne Bivona is 36, a divorced mom and plastic surgery assistant who moonlights as a “bikini beer girl” in Orlando. She’s dressed in a tattered denim miniskirt and a black vest that barely contains her cleavage. Giddy to be backstage, Bivona pulls out her cell phone and calls her son and ex-husband, both of whom are also at the Times Forum.
As the photographer sets up the shot, surrounding the smirky Coury with his bevy of beauties, Bivona grabs her ample, enhanced chest with a genuine look of worry. She has finally made it to hair metal nirvana and she wants everything — everything — to be right. So Bivona shuffles to the side and whispers to a bystander:
“Are my boobs straight?”
Sound Advice Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach, Aug. 20
To best understand hair metal fans Billy and Matt Squicciarino, check out their 1999 red Mustang, especially down by the bumper.
There you’ll find a black ribbon decal, a variation of the “Support Our Troops” yellow curl. This one says: “SUPPORT ROCK & ROLL.”
“This is the music we grew up with,” says 34-year-old Matt, wearing a trippy AC/DC shirt and a knit cap.
“We’ll stick with metal ’til death, man,” says 35-year-old Billy, wearing a sleeveless Poison tank top and bandanna.
The Squicciarinos, both from Coral Springs, admit that they shouldn’t be at the show. Billy is on disability after just getting a kidney transplant. Matt is on dialysis, and rolls up his shirt to reveal a yellowed plastic tube jutting from his arm.
“I had a kidney for five years, but I rejected it,” says Matt.
“I’ve been through what he’s going through, so I’m just supporting him,” says Billy.
Matt and Billy are divorced. Matt and Billy both have three kids. Matt and Billy, mingling in the beer-can-littered parking lot with thousands of other revelers, wouldn’t think of missing the tailgate, the show, the chance to rock one more time.
“Our dad got us into this stuff,” laughs Matt.
Dad was a Motley Crue fan.
“He still pops Dr. Feelgood into his player,” laughs Billy.
The Squicciarinos routinely finish each other’s sentences, except once, when they ask in unison:
“Dude, can you get us backstage?”
Bad love, bad health, bad breaks across the board. Life has failed the Squicciarinos. Miserably. Only two things have never let them down: (1) each other and (2) hairy, boozy rock ’n’ roll. Like the Poison anthem goes:
“Don’t need nothin’ but a good time! How can I resist?” The answer: You can’t. Not when it’s all you have.
As far as the rock stars are concerned, their crowds are made up entirely of Squicciarinos.
“You have nights when you’re tired and don’t feel so good, but then you get out there, and you see them, and you want to do a kick-ass rock show for them,” says Poison drummer Rikki Rockett, 45, munching fruit and drinking Starbucks backstage. “I was really touched last night in Tampa. I saw both an older woman and a 15-year-old girl, and they were both equally moved when we kicked into Cry Tough, our first single.”
If the ever-earnest Rockett sounds slightly dorky discussing a cliched song about chasing rainbows, that’s exactly the point.
In the world of hair metal, irony isn’t bad — it’s nonexistent.
Hard Rock Live, Orlando, Aug. 22
“Looks like somebody got a head start tonight!” Cinderella lead singer Keifer howls at the drunken fans in Orlando.
The 3,000-seat venue is sold out, and signs inside this shiny club at Universal Studios warn of bloodshed to come:
“CROWD SURFERS AND MOSHERS WILL BE EJECTED.”
But there will be no violence. If hair metal celebrates decadence, it rarely urges destruction. After all, fat lips hinder power drinking.
As Keifer leads Cinderella through the same setlist as the night before and the night before that — guitar shriek, drum solo, pyro, good night! — the fans flick their Bics high over their heads. These days, rock show encores and ballads are celebrated by cell phone glow. But at metal shows, smoking areas look like forest fires and newfangled technology is for suckers. Bics rule. Period.
The crowd is packed tight with 30- and 40-somethings, but here and there, a young, fresh, possibly even virginal face brightens the landscape. “My first concert ever was Poison,” says 19-year-old Kayla Bryant. “I was 5 or 6. I was with my mom. During the show, Bret Michaels was about to grab my hand when a big fat guy knocked me over. I was so mad!”
Onstage, Keifer is apologizing for his voice. He sings as if he gargles with Ginsu knives, and his shrill, shredded instrument will go through yet another operation at tour’s end.
His sad speech is the cue for sweeping power ballad Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone), which Keifer will ask the crowd to perform, a classic rock gimmick that tonight is anything but. The singer needs his flock to finish the job, high notes and all.
Keifer points his mike at the crowd.
And just like that, 3,000 faces — some young, some old, some wrinkled with 20 years of marriages and divorces, births and deaths — tilt back and sing, “Don’t know what you got, till its gonnne!” holding that last, lovely note for as long as they possibly can.
In the world of hair metal, encores last forever.
Sean Daly is the Times’ pop music critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.