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{Off The Cuff} The Cautionary Tale of Jani Lane

Jani Lane passed away at the relatively young age of 47 this week in a seedy motel in a middle class LA suburb.  It was worlds away from the youth he’d enjoyed in Akron, Ohio where he’d begun playing drums as a prodigious 11 year old.  Music had been his life and passion.  After bouncing around a few local bands, a young Jani headed out to LA via a short Florida detour where it seemed any young musician in the 80s had to be if they wanted to make it.  Soon, his band was playing the local hair metal circuit and making enough waves that Jani was soon recruited to join one of the local heavyweight bands, Warrant.

It didn’t take long for Jani to become the leader of the band writing most of the songs and guiding the image.  This is natural for a natural born frontman…but Jani was always the 11 year old drummer at heart and had to basically act like he thought a frontman for a debaucherous 80s band should.  It didn’t take long for Warrant to strike up a record deal and soon “Heaven” was blasting from car stereos and awkward junior high formal dances.  The success of their debut album and the crowded field of MTV clogging LA metal bands heaped tremendous pressure on Jani to write a follow-up album that would take the band to that vaunted next level.  He buckled down and ended up taking the band in a heavier, darker, more conventionally romantic direction.  The band proudly turned in their finished demos to the label only to be told “You need a hit.”.  A crushed Jani went home and beat his head against the wall.  Every thing he had always dreamed of and worked for hinged on if he could come up with a radio-friendly hair metal anthem.  Something he already felt was dated and growing out of style.  It’s been argued that he read the grunge writing on the wall that would follow the next year and that’s why song’s like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had a distinctly darker vibe.

Nonetheless, here he was trying to write a poppy headbanger with a catchy chorus under direction from some suits in LA.  He soon hit upon the idea of “Cherry Pie” and legend has it he finished the song in 15 minutes.  The ensuing tidal wave of pop culture that would surround the band upon the release of the song and video was something Jani could never escape.  He lamented in several interviews that “Cherry Pie” had been the worst thing that ever happened to him because despite the rest of his catalog of songs he was forever now know as “cherry pie guy”.  It didn’t matter what he’d done or would do in the future, that’s all he would be known as.  His musician chops were dismissed and his life spiraled downward.  Grunge swept Warrant off the radio and MTV just as he’d seemed to inherently predict it would.  He left Warrant, gained a ton of weight and was generally failing at life.  A decade plus of bouncing in and out of projects and career opportunities soon found him doing anything he could just to hang on.

On August 11, 2011 he could hang on no longer.  Another victim of the music biz and its insatiable appetite for young, eager, impressionable musicians bound by legalese and financial pressures.  It’s a familiar tale that has befallen so many talented musicians and songwriters.  Knowingly selling your soul to the music biz devil is a tough thing to come to terms with.  Jani never did.

So, it begs the question related to Texas/Red Dirt is it worth selling your artistic soul’s out to only be known as the guy that sings about white trash river floaters for a quick couple years at the top only to struggle to keep up with the pressure of follow-ups from radio/management or is it worth slowbuilding your career on your own terms one night at a time with peace of mind?  If Jani Lane could give a piece of advice, I think I know which one he’d pick.

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