Lonn Friend Interview - copyover from wayback machine
Lonn Friend with Richie Sambora and a Jersey buddy
Lonn Friend is the former editor of the famous American rock/metal magazine RIP. He was also an editor at Hustler magazine and was an A&R man at Arista. He has worked extensively in TV and radio. His entertaining autobiography Life On Planet Rock: From Guns N' Roses To Nirvana, A Backstage Journey Through Rock's Most Debauched Decade was published in 2006 via Portrait. More information can be found at www.myspace.com/lonnsworld
How did you become a music writer in the first place?
Early Flynt days, ’82, Althea asked me to start a music column for Hustler’s sister publication, CHIC. I called it Music Notes and wrote bits and reviews. Madonna and Motley Crue items. But I was never a critic. I always preferred writing about what I experienced personally. So my pen evolved from porn to metal to metaphysical online journals and blogs. I loved writing essays in high school and college. And x-rated fare never intimidated me. Evaluating hardcore came naturally. I think that’s why finding Henry Miller in 2002 was nothing short of life altering. The length of breadth of Miller’s voice, sight and authenticity cannot be overstated. Misfits, rebels, they have always inspired me. Having Larry and Althea Flynt as early mentors, I was doomed!
When was your first introduction to rock music?
After seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, I bought my first record. Meet the Beatles. I was seven. Some roll their peepers when I recall with precision that Sunday evening with my four-year-old brother on the floor of our duplex apartment in Sherman Oaks, California. The earth went off its axis the minute America saw John, Paul, George and Ringo and a television studio filled with maniacal teenage girls. As the next ten years passed, I was a serious student during the day but a hopeless, self-sequestered music nerd by night. I listened to everything, pop, Motown, the Brits like The Kinks, Pink Floyd, The Stones, how you can name names? It was the ‘60s and ‘70s, the greatest two decades in the history of contemporary music. I had an air guitar in my hands for hours shredding Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, and Lou Reed. Those pre-pubescent days set the path of not just my career but my life. I didn’t call the chapter in my book, ‘Chicken Soup For The Rubber Soul,’ for shits and giggles.
You edited the famous RIP magazine in the eighties and nineties. Can you give me a brief story on the creation of the magazine?
It’s well documented in my memoir but in a nutshell, I was near the top of the men’s mag editorial food chain in 1987, heading out at night to the Sunset Strip with the porn folks and local rock freaks. They were gravitating my way naturally and I went where that river was taking me. A scene was start with Quiet Riot, Ratt and Motley. Then GN’R came along and the video of Axl stepping off the bus, the brave seeker abandoning his one horse roots to taste the toxic tid bits of big bad tinsel town. Althea died in July of ’87 and she wanted a rock magazine to succeed at Flynt. I took RIP over in its tenth issue, altered the content from punk and hardcore to reflect the follicle-happy bombastic culture emerging locally, and followed the synchronicity of my staffers being street pals with Guns N’ Roses. RIP was born with GN’R. We had the first interviews with the band. I hired Del James, gave him the title senior editor, and before the ‘Patience’ video was shot, we were family. I did a cameo in the clip and Del put a RIP tee on Axl. And we vigorously embraced the heavier, more molten metal, like Slayer, Megadeth, Voivoid, Death Angel, Testament, When I got the exclusive to cover the making of Metallica’s Black – the only writer/editor in the world permitted monthly visitation to the North Hollywood studio where they were tracking – we were untouchable. Granted the porn connection laid a familiar foundation for the provocative hard rock community. Aerosmith’s management once called me and begged me to stop sending Steven Tyler x-rated videos. I said, sure, until on the set of the ‘Living On The Edge’ video shoot, Steven took me aside and said, “Don’t listen to that shit from management. You keep those tapes coming!” He and I understood each other. Relationships were being developed, friendships that were unique and trusting. I had insane access the other magazine editors couldn’t touch. I never took any of it for granted. I brought the good tales back for the fans. And we all had fun.
Were there any music magazines that inspired you to fulfil your dream (Rolling Stone, Creem, Sounds et al) of writing/editing a magazine?
I didn’t read Stone a lot; occasionally Trouser Press but I’ve never been a big periodical reader of any sort. I didn’t set out to run a magazine. It just happened. I had no game plan and cannot sight inspiration from other pulp sources as the match that lit my professional path 25 years ago. I just followed the flow of things and kept true to my love of music and a strident dedication to the fan. Being one, having a staff and freelance cache of editors, photographers and writers who were also fans, that’s why RIP kicked ass. We mirrored the passions and perversions of our audience.
Can you share some details on the more memorable experiences from your time as RIP’s editor?
The seven anniversary parties were each legend in their own way, starting with the first at the Cathouse where Sly Stone came in hammered out of his mind and took pictures with the Bangles; Axl showing up an hour after the party ended at the Country Club where some years later, Boogie Nights was filmed. “I was recording with Don Henley. Sorry Lonn,” said Axl. The next year he more than made up for it as GN’R played the third RIP party as a warm up for the four mythical Rolling Stones shows at the Coliseum. The Fire Department threw half my guests out at midnight because we were over crowded but a thousand remained in the Park Plaza Hotel upstairs ballroom and they witnessed one of the most incendiary performances of GN’R’s career. Axl stage dove, Mike Monroe did ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ A couple years later I put together a jam for the ages at the Hollywood Palladium with GN’R, Metallica and Sebastian Bach. They called themselves ‘Gaak,’ and took the stage an hour after Ozzy had smoked ‘War Pigs’ with Faith No More. Bas did an enthusiastic but flawed ‘Whiplash,’ so Hefield took the mike from him and said to the crowd, “I’m gonna do it this time. That other dude fucked it up.” The Seattle Party, however, was the most venerable of all. Pearl Jam on early, followed by Spinal Tap with Joe Satriani on guest lead guitar, Alice In Chains, with Duff McKagen on bass, Soundgarden and the one only true Temple Of The Dog set ever. Photo of my My Space page of Eddie and Chris taken by Marty Temme says it all. The entire cast of Twin Peaks was partying in the balcony. A music business veteran promotion guy comes up to me elated and inebriated and says, “This is the best party I’ve ever been too. I just got a blow job in the parking lot!” Bon Jovi played for us to help promote Keep The Faith and Pantera killed the last RIP party before I departed the company in mid ‘94.
Who did you interview?
Axl, Slash, James, Kirk, Lars, Jason, Megadeth, Soundgarden, Primus, Bon Jovi, Motorhead (still good pals with Lemmy, see him at the Rainbow now and then), Motley Crue, Queensryche, Tesla, Def Leppard and about fifty more. During the KNAC.COM online journalistic resurrection of 2000-2001, I did a streaming video series and sat down with Rage Against The Machine, Korn, P.O.D. Disturbed, Pantera, Static X, Rob Halford, Ian Astbury, Brian Johnson and others.
Which artists did you find difficult to interview during your years at RIP?
It was never difficult because I operate without expectations with only sparse preparation and few canned questions. My style has always been to hang, have a conversation, let personality and chemistry dictate the course of the content. Sometimes it made for magical exchanges, other times, flat root beer. But that’s the nature of the beast. I just dug (and still do) talking to musicians about their ‘muse.’ Most of these special blokes are tortured narcissists, driven by shadow as much as light. Being a writer, this has always fascinated me. Because I am them and they are me and we are all the fucking walrus, in this together. ‘Til the end times.
Which artist(s) gave you the best interview?
I’m not big on rankings or lists but memorable chats were Nikki Sixx on his New York hotel floor in ’89, the Slash RIP snake cover rap at the guitarist’s house in the Hollywood Hills and later with Jeffrey Ressner at a local restaurant for our Rolling Stone cover story; Chris Cornell in Denver the night we hitched a ride back to the hotel with two fans in the parking lot after the Skid Row/Pantera/Soundgarden concert. Phillip passed a joint around on stage during the encore where Bas and Chris joined in. Cornell was not a big pot smoker and his buzz got him impatient after the gig. He wanted to leave and his band mates were still in the arena hanging out. So I suggested the adventure. Let’s just walk out in the parking lot and find a ride with fans. It was so Almost Famous long before Cameron scripted the Topeka party sequence; Brian Johnson in his room at the Four Seasons in 2000 for KNAC.COM; Rob Halford on my Breath Of Fire radio show for KNAC.COM when he confessed he’d had both UFO and paranormal ghost encounters; Geoff Tate in London. Sammy Hagar at the Ritz in Chicago. David Lee Roth in the driveway of his father’s San Marino home. Tyler on the floor of my office at Flynt. Jimmy Page at the Bel Age. They’re all Golden Gods to me, and they’re all on drugs (laughs).
You wrote some famous articles on Bon Jovi (inc. the December 1992 RIP cover story ‘Bon Jovi: Born Again’) when was the last time you spoke to Jon and Ritchie Sambora?
I wrote the bio for the new All American Rejects LP, When The World Comes Down. Spending three months with these stellar lads from Oklahoma, watching their creative process, calling them friends was my enjoyable project of 2007, along with the Black Tide and Rev Theory interviews. The new kids, their youthful exuberance and reverence for the band and era that I reported so intimately on, reignited my metal pen, so to speak. When I sat down with Black Tide, I was told Gabriel had never done a real sit down and was uncomfortable with interviews. He was only 15 for God’s sake. Before the session, I handed each member of the band a Xerox of Jim Morrison’s college transcript, which I’ve had in my archives since working in the U.C.L.A. Registrar’s office after graduating in ’79. They were all big Doors fans. But for Gabe, I had something special. My laminate from the GN’R/Metallica stadium tour replete with a photo RIP’s bearded editor on the back. Gabe’s father took me aside after the interview and told me his son had never opened up like that or seemed so comfortable, which made me feel very good. Musicians by nature don’t like doing press. Why not make the experience as enjoyable and enlightening as possible?
Anyway Jon Bon Jovi loves the Rejects – and they share the same powerful agency, CAA - so they scored two nights at the Garden in New York opening for the BJ. I sat behind the stage night one with my buddy Larry, a huge Jersey bred fan. At one point in the set, Jon came to the back railing behind the Riser and saw me. There was eye contact and he flashed that Svengali smile with an affectionate nod. After the gig, I spent some time with Richie. He had a little hospitality area set up for his mom and some friends. I couldn’t help but notice how much his new girlfriend resembled Heather, whom I’ve adored since she was married to Tommy Lee. When she and Richie broke up, that bummed me out, like oh shit, if this marriage fails, then all of ‘em are in trouble. I remember watching her in the pit on numerous occasions. She took her spot right under Richie and glared lovingly at him the entire gig. Rock star unions are fraught with peril for obvious reasons. Anyway, Sambora and me hadn’t seen each other in three years since the Joint in Las Vegas’ 10th Anniversary where Bon Jovi did a set in the parking lot and we all watched Nine Inch Nails together from the balcony. Jon’s wife, Dorthea, was visibly aroused by Trent. It was a good hang. Richie was always the one I was closest to in the band. A kindred spirit. We stood on the stage together after the Garden had emptied and took a photo.
What were they like to interview?
All the guys were open and transparent and easy to rap with except Jon. He was always guarded, mindful of his appearance and presentation. Like Mick Jagger, Jon leaves nothing to chance. He’s a genius in that respect and a challenging interview for a reporter who’s come to expect and cherish honesty and candor. The best rap I ever had with Jon was when I was on the road in Europe with the band for three weeks in 2001 putting together a demo for a TV show I called, Rock A Mile With Lonn Friend. We were in Venice, a day off between Padova, Italy and Vienna, Austria. Jon and I took a boat to the Cipriani Hotel - a location he fondly recalled as the site of the U-571 wrap party – and drank pinot griggio. I rolled an hour of the most honest, naked, genuine Jon Bon Jovi you could imagine. A slice of it is in the edit of the demo that you can find on You Tube.
You were an A&R person at Arista. Who did you represent?
I signed The Bogmen the week I got there in ’94, a remarkable six piece from Long Island with a frontman that resembled Bono and Frank Sinatra on crack. We made two LPs before my contract was up and I (and they) were set off into the wilderness. I also oversaw the signing of Nerf Herder and had the EELS ready to close until Clive [Davis] said E wasn’t a star after the showcase I set up and that was pretty much the end of my A&R adventure at Arista.
What was it like being in the business rather than being an observer writing about the business?
I loathed the business, the egos, the marketing-minded bottom line conscious agendas that often trumped the essence of the music. I wrote countless memos to explain myself, why I felt this band or that was worthy of our precious attention. Like kangaroos in their own cloistered courtroom, the suits hopped from one act to the next, giving second’s not even minutes of evaluation time. A&R was maddening but also a great lesson. I learned about waste, self-entitlement, corporate credos. I also lived the high life with business class travel and fine dining up the ass. Since ’98 when that gig ended, I’ve been on a path of self-examination and discovery. Ten years of Kundalini yoga has altered my view of the world beyond the business. I don’t think I could ever work inside a company again. I haven’t in six years. Freelance is rough on the bank account but an elixir to the soul. And I would not be the writer I am today had I not suffered like Job in the wake of the Clive experience. Riding high in April shot down in May. That’s life.
Who were/are your favourite music writers?
Because I didn’t read a lot of mags, I never developed an alignment to any single scribe. I hold Harvey Kubernik and Bob Lefsetz in current high esteem. I’ve shamefully not read enough Lester Bangs or Chet Flippo, though the latter’s anthology, Everybody Was Kung Fu Dancing, provided the early structural inspiration for Life On Planet Rock. Last June, while attending the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee as background for my Dec ‘08 Metallica Metal Edge cover story, I met Chet for lunch in Nashville. He told me a great Rolling Stones ’72 tour story and fed me some wicked local BBQ.
What made you decide to write your autobiography Life On Planet Rock?
I was going through divorce, living in the desert, decomposing like a brittle leaf on a burned out summer lawn and one day I stared at all the documents I had in my laptop, stuff that was never published, just musings and essays. It wasn’t a book and had no theme or narrative. But during the literary process of putting a proposal together, shopping and landing a deal, and then assembling a bunch of anecdotes, a memoir evolved.
For whatever reason is there anything you didn’t include in the book? Or would you say it’s “warts ‘n all”?
Planet Rock is far from warts and all. During the big revision where I drafted more than a hundred new pages, some material was lost either by editing or my own personal re-thinking. Truth be told, some of the stuff that would have sold more copies would have been difficult for my daughter to digest and no being in this life or the next means more to me than Megan. She is the one perfect accomplishment of my journey in his incarnation. I took the high road because my spiritual teachings for a decade have tutored that mindset. My mom loathes Jon Bon Jovi. She thinks a lot of millionaire musicians have taken advantage of me. I feel gratitude for the peaks and the valleys and the last five years, I’ve discovered the essence of friendship. When you’re the most influential voice in hard rock music for eight years, everyone kisses your ass and calls you buddy. When you’re broke from divorce and don’t have a business card anymore, it separates the human wheat from the chafe. The fans have kept me going, their messages, emails, amazing compositions of support and love. To that end, my cup runneth over. And there are so many great, beautiful rockers I still hold close to my heart. Walking around the NAMM show in Anaheim this weekend I encountered so many familiar faces and felt the love. The support remains strong. Nothing means more to me than relationships, be they artist, executive, anyone whose crossed your path and made a difference. Rex and Pepper from Down grabbed me off the convention floor while they’re signing autographs and I sat and rapped with fans as they passed though. It was awesome, the kind words about my memoir or remembrances of what RIP meant to these amazing, loyal metal fans. I’m feeling really positive now about future media ventures and especially the RIP coffee table book concept. I want it to reflect the old school and the new who wouldn’t be where they are, living the dream, without Maiden, Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, Priest, Motorhead. Next generation rockers from various genres show up on my radar all the time, seeking advice, bios, just an ear to hear what they’ve been making in their home studio. I broker deals and consult, connecting folks bent on expression who’re looking for a way into a system that is constantly changing. That service fulfils me. If I can get help people find Katy Pfaffl or Ruby James or L.A.’s Cockpit – three unsigned entities deserving of a shot right now – that’s a blessing. I’m working with a singer from Rochester, New York, named Kris Hadlock, who eats and sleeps the Bon Jovi rock star dream. In fact, he has songs that are so ‘80s metal authentic, you feel like you’re in a time warp listening to them. It won’t be easy finding a way into the machine but Kris’ passion is so strong, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Have you received any feedback from those artists who feature in the book (such as JBJ and Sambora)?
None. I have no idea who’s read the book except those artists who’ve directly mentioned it to me and there have been several. But I’ve dropped enough names in this interview already and I’m really working on that bad habit.
Was writing the book a therapeutic experience?
Absolutely. I’m not ashamed to report that I’ve battled with manic depression and oft times, what eliminated my anxiety was merely sitting in front of the laptop and tapping whatever came forth. Before blogs, I was sending 1,000 word email rants to my mailing list. Since launching my My Space in 2005, I’ve posted almost 90 blogs. There’s a book right there. It’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done because it was uncompensated and unassigned. Stream of conscious midnight rambles. Gems and turds. Existential, self –effacing, transparent. What did Dylan says? “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve not nothing left to lose/You’re invisible, you’ve got no secrets to conceal.”
How long did it take you to write the book? Did you have to research anything maybe because you’d forgotten such and such happened?
It took about two years and I had invaluable help from online music scribe, Tony Kuzminski, a Chicago fan and musicologist who began writing me in 2000 at KNAC.COM. He has evolved into quite a journalist with an enormous blog file at antimusic.com and elsewhere. Tony fact checked every page of Planet Rock.
Will there be a sequel?
I’ve been contemplating that for some time. The Moons Of Planet Rock: Further Journeys On The Rock N’ Roll Road Less Travelled, something like that. A more eclectic collection given my passion for music spans the galaxy of styles. I’ve got about a dozen chapters near completion, B-sides of the memoir or other meanderings. I would love to see my ‘Dreaming Of Kate’ tale published being an archetype Kate Bush fan.
Can you tell me about some of the radio and TV work you’ve done recently?
I just finished consulting and being interviewed for two documentaries, Rock Wives for E! Entertainment, and an upcoming 80s Metal Sunset Blvd. production for VH1. I also contributed to a new UK-produced DVD on Tool where I pretty much articulated the link between King Crimson and Maynard’s dark and delicious outfit. Without shame, I am a proud, dyed in the British wool prog rocker, bred on Genesis, Camel and Gentle Giant. It’s very cool having Derek Shulman as a personal friend. Who’d of thought the lead singer for the most avant-garde prog ensemble in history would be the guy to discover and sign Bon Jovi? Life’s a fucking mystery, top to bottom.
Are there any rock stars you haven’t met (yet) but would like to?
Bono, Coner Oberst, Thom Yorke, Jack White, Bob Weir, Citizen Cope – off the top of my pointed head.
What kind of advice would you give to aspiring rock scribes?
Worship and wax accordingly about the music and remember that the musician is human, flawed and disconnected. And if you get the opportunity to break bread with these characters, don’t confront – communicate.
What are your future projects?
I’m shopping a radio talk show demo that Slash and Steve Lukather, two of my dearest long-term friends in the musician clique - came in and recorded with me. I want the airwaves back, Joey Ramone if you can hear me. Got a lot to say and teach; the artists deserve a place to hang and rap with a kindred dysfunctional spirit. Not to promote product but to shake the tree, as Peter Gabriel would say. Now that you’ve got me thinking about it again, I should get that Planet Rock sequel done. But the RIP coffee table project is front and center. Dave Grohl says he’ll kick my ass if I don’t get that book done. Times like these, eh?
Interview by Neil Daniels 2008