During the late 80s and early 90s there were few ways that metalheads and rock fiends were able to get intimate with their favorite bands. A time before the internet, a time before satellite radio; there were no ipods, no podcasts, in fact, compact discs were the NEW form of media. During that time, the name Lonn Friend stood for rock and roll. He was a beacon for all that was metal. As the executive editor of the rock magazine RIP, Lonn’s face and easy going demeanor were inviting and relatable. With his personality and raw, unprocessed passion for the music, he worked his way into the inner most sanctums of rock n’ roll – VIP access on world tours, tour bus invitations, exclusive interviews with bands who trusted no one else, he had it all. Some of the bands that he befriended during this time have gone on to become legends in the industry. (Guns N Roses, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue). After RIP he worked at ARISTA Records and soon learned the corporate, reckless and emotionally bankrupt ways of the music industry.
Over a decade later, Lonn has released a book chronicling some of his most personal experiences with the bands that we as fan only see from the other side of the glass. “Life on Planet Rock” will transport you back to a time where rock n’ roll and metal were known for its excesses…drugs, sex, attitude. There are very few people who could write a book like this with such honesty and relay such true emotion. Each chapter brings you on a new road trip, teaching you a little more about the bands you loved to love or loved to hate, either way, they made you feel something.
Thanks to Lonn for writing this homage to a era in music that will live on in my heart forever.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | September 2006
The general vibe I got while reading through this book, was a feeling of unity among music fans. The stories you tell are your own yet they relay a bigger story, a story that fans can bite into and really take hold of. It’s sort of a universal theme and I think that’s one thing that has always set you apart from other music writers, you ask questions and write from the perspective of someone that really loves the music, and I think that transcends everything else. Was that something that you did intentionally or is that just who you are and what came naturally?
I never intended to be a rock journalist or even a writer. It just happened, the cosmic alignment of being a fan and in the right place at the right time, time and time again. In fact, nothing about my professional journey has been premeditated, which is probably why it unfolded the way it did, the peaks AND the valleys. I wanted Planet Rock to reveal that MUSIC has been a part of my life since I was seven years old, since The Beatles appeared. I wasn’t blessed with the talent to play an instrument so the Universe offered another skill set with which to channel the connection. I think that’s why I’ve felt so close the crowds, especially through the RIP years. They took me in and I did my best to report to them what crazy things I was seeing while bouncing around behind the high volume curtain.
I know you said that you have many more chapters written that didn’t make the book. In the book you talk about a regular mailing that you use to send out to your mailing list that included a lot of your musical mates. Do you still actively send out mailings to that mailing list? Is there any chance of maybe releasing some of the lost chapters to people that way? How can people get on that mailing list?
The My Space blog is has become the organic home for my modern ruminations on life, death, culture, rock, roll and everything in between. It’s the same kind of stream of conscious journal writing I was doing at the turn of the millennium and sending out to my global mailing list. Many of those musings, which I called Breath of Fire (the rapid, abdominal breathing method utilized in Kundalini Yoga), were the early compost of what eventually became more formative narratives or chapters in the book. For example, The Who, Aerosmith and Beatles chapters were originally BOFs, but the composition and revision process that ultimately birthed Planet Rock sent these unstructured missives through significant changes. As far the B sides of my book, I have about 16 chapters in various stages of development that could become a sequel. Planet Rock: Book Two, Random Journeys, more eclectic, free form, anecdotal, less a memoir. A man can only purge one memoir. Thank Heaven!
Lonn and Jon Bon Jovi in June 2001 – Vienna Hotel Lobby
One of my favorite parts of the book is your revelation about Gene Simmons. There’s a quote at the end of that chapter where you reference a point in the interview where Gene said “I’m acting right now” in reference to his character and questions you had previously asked him, yet it was said in a way where you didn’t know whether to take it as a truth or as a joke. I think that a lot of musicians in the past took on a personality but as you wrote about in the book, they didn’t all play them 24/7. Do you think Gene is one of the best actors in town or is that just who he really is?
Two nights ago, I was sitting with Doc McGhee and a bunch of folks and ended up doing an impromptu reading of the KISS chapter, which was quite surreal since I’ve known Doc for 18 years and he’s known KISS and Gene for a dozen. Believe me, Doc has more stories about Gene Simmons than anyone alive so my humble recollections don’t hold a candle, but there were moments during the reading where his smile went wide, like he ‘knew’ I was hitting a nerve. A couple people have asked me if I’ve watched the Simmons Family Jewels show on A&E. I haven’t but am a bit curious about this latest Simmons media manifestation because I’ve heard it looks ‘truthful.’ Of course, we know how much manipulation is inherent in reality programming so therein lies the rub. Is he acting for the cameras or being himself? Perhaps a bit of both, huh?
You did sort of a grassroots solo project where you toured with Bon Jovi for awhile and videotaped portions of the show and the basic happenings of the tour from a fans perspective (yet with access most fans would never have). Do you think we’ll ever get to see that in its entirety and what was the real inspiration behind that?
Rock A Mile with Lonn Friend, a piece of which you can find on You Tube or on my myspace page, was a self produced demo I did back in the spring of 2001 when I desperately searching for a new outlet with which to connect fans to their heroes. It reflected my access, relationship and perspective on what it’s like to be inside, really inside, with a huge rock group that also happen to be old mates. The 24 minute reel made its way to the the upper crust of VH1 but was never green lighted for a show. It’s hung around and been viewed by industry folk but until I cut it up and placed the clip online last month, no true BJ fans had ever seen the footage. I don’t know if the entire demo will ever be processed for viewing online but you never know.
Lonn’s “Rock A Mile With Lonn Friend” Demo
The bands you write about in the book are bands that are either still touring and releasing albums now, or bands that will never be forgotten…The Beatles, KISS, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Guns N Roses. Do you think bands that make an impact of this magnitude are a thing of the past? A dying breed? And if so, why do you think that is? Are there just no great bands to break on to the scene anymore or is it just a different monster entirely with the dawning of the internet, online music sharing, and ignorant record company execs? I always thought that nothing spoke louder to the masses than live music and while many bands tour, there aren’t a lot of bands that are making the impact that those bands made. In your opinion, why?
The groups selling out arenas and stadiums in 2006 are the ones who’ve been touring since the 70s and 80s. Or in the case of the immortal, ineffable Rolling Stones, the 60s! Delivering it live is the lifeblood of a career. Radio and hits are so problematic but fans will come back again and again, tour after tour, if the bands they love continue to knock them on their collective asses. My friend Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon has a great line at the end of some gigs. “You keep comin’, and we’ll keep rockin’.” There it is in a nutshell. The new groups struggling for a piece of the marketplace pie are doing it new school, through this medium, the amazing, unifying Internet, because the music industry has morphed into a grand banking exercise where only a few acts with the big promotional dollars behind them get a chance at widespread success. I love this independent time. It’s creative and honest. The next Pearl Jam , Rob Zombie or Journey will probably be born out of MySpace rather than the giant label machine.
I loved your honesty in telling about your time spent at Arista. It was a rough time for you, yet you learned a lot from it. If you could go back and do it all over again, would you make a different decision or do you think your time at Arista enlightened you for your future endeavors? It’s ironic how tyrannical the music industry can be considering that their product is music! You would think the whole formulaic way of signing bands would be defunct by now, why do you think that these methods are still in effect? I guess its easier now for bands to put records out on their own so we are seeing a lot more of that but still, major labels are where all the money is and what most bands are gunning for yet in order to get signed they have to fit some corporate mold, it’s almost like going backwards.
I rambled into this briefly in the previous question but I would like to address the insightful query at the outset which asks if I could go back, what would I do? This is where I fall upon my spiritual teachings of the past several years, the journey that began when Clive Davis sent me back into the raging waters of life without a paddle in January 1998 at the close of my Arista contract. The intuitive author, Carolyn Myss wrote in Anatomy of the Spirit, “You cannot make a wrong decision. It’s impossible.” This postulates of course that everything we do in our life holds a lesson and that our failures are as important to the development of the self and soul as our successes. Perhaps MORE so. You’ve no reference for how bright the light is until you’ve traversed the shadow lands. Yeah, I’ve gotten a bit metal physical in my old age, I had to. Everything fell apart. If I look back with regret, I’m holding onto the past and that’s not good. If The Bogmen became platinum stars at Arista, who knows? Maybe they’d all become assholes or drug addicted egomaniacs corrupted by fame and fortune, instead of the beautiful bunch of fiercely independent artists and entrepreneurs that I still call friends to this day. Everything happens the way it happens.
Towards the end of the book, there’s a chapter where you talk about doing a QVC ad for Bon Jovi and some issues with the payment and your mom said “Haven’t you learned yet? These rock stars are not your friends. They’ve always taken advantage of you.” Did you feel like you were taken advantage of a lot? It’s clear that you were friends with many of them but were there times when you questioned it? I find that even now, working with bands that are not even close to that caliber of success, I sometimes feel exactly the way your mom said but in the end my passion for the music wins out.
People have interpreted the Bon Jovi QVC anecdote different ways. Am I taking a shot at the superstar who screwed me? No, not at all. It really wasn’t about the thousand bucks. It was about my perception of an event, an action, a moment during a time in my professional career where I’d lost confidence in myself and was looking for affirmation, love, support and yes, sustenance from my so called millionaire buddies. That chapter went through many, many changes but in the end, it’s about two things: self empowerment and the quality of friendship. Snake from Skid Row, one my truest, oldest and dearest friends in the rock world, grew up with Jon and knows him as well as anyone. He loved the Bon Jovi chapter. Told me it was perfect and that Jon would see all sides of the story I was trying to tell. The superstar ego is a fragile beast. Because I’ve struggled financially the last few years, I sometimes see the mountains of money these artists are raking in and say, ‘how much do they need?’ But that’s judgmental and flawed. We have to dig down and assess our own sense of abundance, rock star, rock scribe, rock fan. Would I love it if Jon Bon Jovi or Richie Sambora sent me a check for fifty grand as part of the Lonn Friend Mid Life Relief Fund? SURE! I’ve no clue where my next dime is coming. I want to tour my book, and need capital for that. But I also know I’ll be taken care of, always have, always will be, and that THEY, the successful groups with whom I’ve broke bread and devoted words for so long, owe me NOTHING. Like Tommy Lee would say, ‘it’s all love.’
RIP Magazine – R.I.P.
I know you do a lot of freelance writing now, but would you ever consider going back to running the whole show again on a print magazine or do you think print media is an endangered species?
I met the editor of Revolver recently and told him how fine a job I thought he was doing with his magazine, that it reminded me in graphic design and editorial attitude of RIP. He made a kind comment, something about how inspirational my former publication was to him. That made me feel good. No matter what kind of imaging, marketing or state of the new media art bells and whistle trickery comes along, PRINT is still a vital tool in the world of artist development. Holding a piece of pulp in your hand remains significant. Magazines may be a dying breed but like vinyl, they’re precious and important. New media rules the world, yes, but if I’m a band just starting out, I’m still going to dream of the day when I see my picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone. As far as running the show again, I don’t think I have the constitution for the corporate world anymore in any context. I try to live my life now without drama, write about whom and what inspire me. There is no means to the end save self expression and connecting the fan to the music, which by doing so, connects him or her to a higher place. Planet Rock is in flames. Mankind has fucked it up, big time. If I can throw a few drops of water on the blaze via some conscious composition, I’m doing my job.
If you were putting together one of your infamous RIP anniversary shows tomorrow, who would you want on the stage?
Funny you should ask that because in a way, I am working on a kind of a RIP party event, but this time, it’s a Lonn fund raiser. I’m talking to the groups with whom I have the most history. Most of them are even bigger and more impossible to broach about anything personal or philanthropic. It’s really all about the cash these days, and there’s so much of it. I have to respect that and understand if so and so can’t do an hour set gratis for the former editor of RIP because it doesn’t work for their specific agenda. But I’m getting some warm response and who knows, Hollywood might rock loud and hard again in a few weeks, old school with new vibrations. Stay tuned and keep those cards and letters coming in!
Lonn and Steven Tyler
So, can I ask your views on a few current situations-
What are your personal thoughts on the Mel Gibson situation? You talk a lot about being a Jew and discussing that with him when you saw The Passion of The Christ…how did you feel when you heard about what went down recently?
I addressed this in a somewhat tongue and cheek blog a few weeks ago. It’s all about forgiveness, simple as that. (Read Lonn’s blog about Mel here.)
Did you ever think you would see a Guns N Roses tour in 2006? And do you think we’ll ever get to hear the full Chinese Democracy?
Sebastian Bach and I hung out last month in L.A. one night and he couldn’t stop talking about his time in Europe with Axl and the new GN’R performance monster. “Dude, Axl’s on fire!” chimed the eternal youth gone wild. I wish I was out there with them. These are the two guys who sang ‘Amazing Grace’ in my kitchen on my birthday back in 1990! I’m all about resurrection and believe anything in heaven, earth or rock n’ roll is possible if it emanates from good intention. Hey, maybe I can get another GN’R/Metallica/Skid Row jam together like the RIP party of ‘90. “And if I told you wolverines made good house pets, would you believe me?” Del Griffith, Del James, everything is connected. Chinese Democracy WILL come before there is democracy in China.
Have you seen Alice in Chains with their new line up and what are your thoughts on that? How do you feel when bands that really set the trend, as Alice In Chains did, move on after losing a member?
I saw the boys tear it up at the Roxy a few months back. I count Jerry Cantrell as an old friend and praise his strength and vision. Alice in Chains deserves to be heard and felt live again. I dug the new singer. If it’s not forced and the configuration works, a group can come back in new configuration. It’s all about the music.
What do you think about reality shows like Rockstar SuperNova? Do you think it discredits the band to have a contest to find a lead singer or do you think it’s just good marketing? You made a bit of a guest appearance on VH1’s Supergroup, what did you think about that show (aside from being friends with the whole band!)
Scott Ian invited me down to the SuperGroup house because I was living in Las Vegas at the time and he wanted to get together. I did a half hour interview and told stories about every member of the band but none of it made the cut. Before my book hit stores in July, Scott and I hosted Planet Rock chapter readings/SuperGroup viewings at the House of Blues Foundation Room on Sunday night. I invited MySpacers and anyone who wanted to come down. It was a lot of fun. I’ve never seen SuperNova. I can’t stomach the ‘talent show’ American Idolization of artistry. Sing and dance for thirty seconds and decide my fate. It’s postured and lame. But I’m about reinvention and if this is helping get Jason Newsted back in the fold, God bless everyone involved.
Other than The Beatles, if you could go back in time and see any band with their original line up play that you haven’t already seen, who would it be?
I never saw the Who with Keith Moon or Led Zeppelin. And just missed Peter Gabriel with Genesis back in ‘74 (it’s in the book). But I hear rumors of a reunion on that front. get me a laminate for that tour and I’ll write ya from the road…
Big thanks to Lonn for his honesty, his insight, and for taking us along for the ride for so many years. Go buy the book!!!!!! You’ll read it in one sitting and be waiting for the next one, just like I am.
*All photos obtained from Lonn’s MySpace profile