Lonn Friend

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Douglas had the chance to talk with Lonn Friend, formerly editor of ‘RIP Magazine’ and reminisced about his last three decades in the music biz as well as his new book, ‘Life on Planet Rock’.

Doug: Hello Mr. friend it’s Doug from Cleveland. How are you?
Lonn Friend: Very well thank you and yourself?

D.E.: Cold as usual, want to trade weather? Ok, it’s 1967 and you walk into a room with a table sitting in the center of the room. At the table sits four men. You sit down and say hello Paul, George, John and Ringo. They say hello and you are allowed to ask one question, what would it be?
L.F.: (laughs) Are you guy’s human? Or were you dropped off by the mothership. (Laughs) It’s funny because I was playing golf onetime with Alice Cooper and he said he had a theory that all of the guys, the Dylan’s, the Beatles, Elvis aren’t human, they were left here by aliens. And so I said “well then that would make you an alien, right?” And he said “well yeah”. Hehe he said it very humbly.

D.E.: Speaking of Alice Cooper, you mention him very fondly in your book. Tell us about Alice Cooper as a friend to Lonn Friend, and as a performer that you’ve been a fan of for many years.
L.F.: Yeah, one reason I think that the chapter in my book “Wonder In Aliceland” may be my favorite in the book is because it’s a story about one day getting to meet your hero and then having something to do with the artist’s career. We have a significant relationship especially when his Trash album was coming out and he and his people were looking for someone to step up in the media and believe in his comeback. He had been out of the loop for sometime, I mean he had toured but he hadn’t been on the charts in ten years. So, we met on a golf course on a drizzly day and he gave me a rough mix of the Trash record. I said “hey I’ll put you on the cover of RIP” (hard rock magazine of which Lon Friend was editor). RIP Magazine was just starting to hit its stride at the time we had done exclusive features with Guns N Roses and Metallica and the whole hard rock thing was beginning to crest.

I saw this as a great opportunity to live a dream cause I got to pay him back. And I got to be a fan that befriended his hero. He has always been there for me. When I left the media and joined the record business and then left the label he was still there. In fact just last week we did an hour interview on his syndicated radio show Nights with Alice Cooper. He was so complimentary and he knew selling this book is no easy thing. He told me “hey you stepped up when Trash was coming out and that was big”. Alice said “hey we’re opening for the Stones November 8th in Phoenix why you don’t you come in a day early and we can play golf”. And I was booking the ticket before I hung up the phone.

I have never questioned Alice Cooper’s friendship and I think that I get pretty personal in the book. There are others however that I do question from time to time. There are artists that I have traveled many miles with to many countries and sometimes you sit back and wonder if it’s because you have the title, the magazine, the radio show, and the TV spot and that’s why they’re so close to you. Or perhaps they really liked you and appreciated your honesty and your trust was built on something more then your position or your influence.

D.E.: Speaking along those same lines: the book is published and has been released to the public now so has Gene Simmons gone out and bought a copy?
L.F.: Hey good question hehe. I know that Snake from Skid Row has told Kiss that the book was out. Snake works with Doc Magee on their management team.
You know what’s funny man? You don’t know if anybody is reading your stuff. Just like when you’re in a band and you don’t know if anyone is listening to your record.
I recently met John Mayer at an Aerosmith show. We were introduced to each other by Chad from the Chili Peppers. Chad said, “Hey do you know Lonn Friend? He used to run RIP Magazine.” And John Mayer’s eyes lit up and he said “dude I had your posters all over my wall!” and I told him I really liked the song he wrote about “daughters”. And that’s odd, I never thought I would have an impact on John Mayer, ya know.

It’s cool ‘cause you never know if people are out there or how you’re influencing people, but now I’m on Myspace and I get these long emails from people from all over telling me about being a teenager. You know this guy from a small town in the Midwest is telling me that he is in his 30’s now but when he was 16 he would run to the post office to make sure he got his new RIP Magazine. It’s really cool to hear from people because when I was doing it, all I was doing was riding the wave. I sat with my staff and they told me what new records were coming out, I sat down with bands to do articles and try and do the best we can. And it was really fun.

D.E.: So what do you think set RIP apart from the other magazines of the day?
L.F.: I think it was our editorials. It wasn’t enough to do a one-page article on a band with basically a rewritten press release and a stale PR photo. If we were going to focus on a band we were going to get 6-8 pages of material and have an exclusive photo shoot just for RIP. It wasn’t arrogance but I thought RIP could be the Rolling Stone of hard rock. Like an American version of Kerrang and that’s why I used a lot of British writers too, because I loved their attitude. I had several British writers that are still active and writing great stuff today for Mojo and Q and others.

Over there the art comes before sensationalism. And even today in America sex sells the pop culture magazines. I mean Blender Magazine is supposed to be a music magazine but there’s always some random chick on the cover, is it really a music magazine?

D.E.: Ok, so you are given a club for one night with an awesome sound system and the ability to pick any three bands from any era to play. Who do you choose?
L.F.: So basically you’re saying that I am throwing another RIP party but this one is in heaven and I can choose anyone? Hmm, I’d obviously like to see the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Zeppelin. But then again I’d also like to see Peter Gabriel era Genesis. What they did with Sound And Vision was unprecedented. This is tough. I did see Pink Floyd in ’75 during the Wish You Were Here period and that was stunning. Then again I didn’t get to see the Stones until the 80’s so I can only imagine seeing them in the 70’s or earlier.

D.E.: I didn’t get to see them until the 90’s so you’ve got me beat.
L.F.: Heh, and I saw Nirvana four different times but the best time was at The Palace with only about 700 other people right after Nevermind came out. It’s a tough question cause I instantly think of Kiss in the 70’s playing in South America in front of 150,000 people, but then with my eclectic tastes I think of one of my favorite shows ever. It was Tori Amos quietly sitting in front of her piano playing for two hours in front of 6,000 people and you could hear a pin drop. It’s a good question but too tough to answer quickly heh.

D.E.: If I told you that there was a musician who wanted to meet you for dinner and his name was Chuck Berry what would you say yes or no?
L.F.: (laughs) Oh man haha first off I don’t think I could ever look Chuck Berry in the eyes without laughing.

D.E.: I was reading the book at like 3 in the morning and I got to that part in the book and I woke up my wife laughing and told her she had to read those pages cause I couldn’t even explain it to her.
L.F.: Yeah, I’ve been asked to retell that anecdote several times even on live radio. And what makes it so bizarre is not that it’s Chuck Berry doing that stuff on video, but who I told it to.

D.E.: Jimmy f’in Page!
L.F.: Yeah! Jimmy f’in Page! Consider the environment. It’s my ultimate fly on the wall bus ride. It’s four hours with Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry! It was unreal. I can’t remember all the things that were said but when they turned to me and said “Lonn tell us a story” that was the first thing that popped into my head. I mean I didn’t really know my audience and I’m telling this story in a cathedral to these prophets. And I was like a kid living the Almost Famous life. I was in the moment and I decided to do my stand up thing and tell the story.

D.E.: So why did you write this book?
L.F.: Well I had to leave L.A. for a number of reasons, but a big reason was to shake up my life, which had gotten pretty static. I was out in the desert and I had to do something. One thing I realized is I had lived a pretty interesting life and I had become a pretty good writer. So I thought someone might want to read my memoirs and I had several people telling me that I should write a book.
What’s interesting is originally I thought I was just putting together a bunch of anecdotes. You know I could say “here’s what happened to Lonn at RIP or after RIP” or whatever. However it turned into a memoir during the editing process. My publisher Amy Hurt insisted that I go deeper into where I came from and what I had done, and that it wasn’t an accident what I did. I literally was born with the Beatles. When I was seven and I saw them on the Ed Sullivan show and then bought my first record.

When I wrote “That 70’s Chapter” which is about where I came from musically I realized in high school I was a prog rocker, then at UCLA I was at the forefront of the punk/new wave movement hanging out with The Talking Heads and I started to think how did this all happen?

How did I end up being in these positions I found myself in? I went from writing and editing porn reviews at Hustler for the Flynts and then comes along this band Guns N Roses. They light up a fire with this culturally decadent loud metal from the glam infused scene on Sunset Blvd. that stretches all the way across the world with bands like The Scorpions and Def Leppard selling mega records and there I was in the middle. I had a rock magazine fall into my lap and instantly these guys are digging me cause I have all this free porn! I knew the culture of decadence cause I had worked for Larry Flynt so it really was a seamless transition. Those bands took me under their wing cause they trusted me.

The oddest thing about the book is not the dirt because I definitely saw that, but I didn’t live that lifestyle with the bands. I observed it and I reported on it and from it, but I tried to take away only what was musical about that scene more than what was prurient about the scene. Maybe I had been numbed to that stuff at Hustler but I just thought “why do we have to write scandalous stuff?” I just wanted to write about the rock and roll. Of course there were moments, like with the article I wrote on Motley Crue. I mean, it was decadent, but it was nowhere near what Neil wrote himself in The Dirt.

I get emails and messages from people all over applauding me for taking the path I did in this book. A lot of people who were teenagers at that time have grown up a bit and matured and appreciate me taking the high road and not writing about how sick some of those tour buses were. Instead I looked for the soul in the music and the soul in the artists. That’s what I was trying to do with this book. I hope in some small way I succeeded, but it’s not a complete thing. It’s a very non-linear book, it’s weird, but then again I’m weird so why should the book not be?

D.E.: Heh, yeah I was telling my brother about the unique feel of the book. It skips around within each chapter as well as from chapter to chapter, but each chapter itself all comes together by the end. It’s refreshing that each chapter has a specific focus rather than a normal biography that just goes chronologically.
L.F.: And believe me this is a lot more structured than before the editing. I think of this book’s structure like a camel. It goes up the first hump then comes back and down for a flashback then returns up to finish off the point. And that’s why the book ends with Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, it returns to two of the longest relationships I have had.
Some critics have applauded the ability the book has to put you right there through my eyes but some people have taken shots at the non-linear feel. And yes it’s not normal but what art is? There is a new book by Chuck Klosterman who is a great rock journalist, and his book is all over the map!

D.E.: So why is the music business run by people in three piece suits that don’t even enjoy music, know nothing about it and yet feel compelled to control what makes it to the radio and our ears?
L.F.: Yeah, there is another chapter in the book, which I wrote in the revision stages. I feel like I sold my soul to the Devil and failed to bring rock to the big institution of the record label which had previously based it’s success on pop and R&B. I went into the whole thing very cocky that I could bring rock inside with me, but everything happens for a reason and I did learn a lot about the inner workings of the music business.

Remember, my whole career up to that point I was on the outside looking in and getting my ass-kissed by everyone because they all wanted to be in RIP, they wanted their bands on MTV, they wanted help getting on the radio, and they wanted me to write about what they were doing so they could be hip. So when I got the record label gig that was like getting the keys to the kingdom, to be able to step inside and see it from the other side. That right there is the great crossroads of my career, and really of my life.
Because here it is 1998 and my contract is up and since then it’s been 8 years of just floating from one thing to the next without a whole lot of prosperity. And to return to the question of why did I write the book I thought hey maybe I lived through this shit for a reason. Maybe the reason was to write this book, and maybe by doing that I can find my way back to a sense of prosperity.

D.E.: Well I was chuckling while reading when you mentioned working with the band Nerfherder because I was an intern at a radio station back in the early 90’s and I remember pushing to get them played, mostly do to the fact the band name is a Star Wars reference, and here you were back then on the other side pushing to help the band as well. Although I did notice in the book you attributed the quote to Han Solo when actually it was Princess Leia talking to Han, but I’ll let you slide.
L.F.: Ha good catch!

D.E.: So what advice could you give young writers, aspiring rock stars, and future A&R slaves?
L.F.: Ha well let’s take this one at a time: for the writer’s it is very easy. Write what you love, express what you’re feeling, and don’t let anyone dictate to you how to observe or process what you are experiencing whether it’s music, or film, or art or whatever. Write from within; write your truth. Sometimes we have to write to a certain structure for a certain gig and that’s fine, but you don’t have to bend over for anyone to write your truth. When I was at RIP I only wrote about bands that were making an impact and would let me in to see what was the truth. It wasn’t just lip service there was substance and depth.

For an A&R rep, which is now almost an ancient and extinct race, if you listen to something and it moves you, the guitar player has chops, the lyrics speak to you, the songwriting has appeal then you’ll hear it as a fan. You have to be a fan of the music to make it. The problem with the music industry is it has been controlled by suits instead of fans for a longtime. And it was such an institution based on profit and greed, and if you’re a fan you’re not worried about those things. You’re going to shows and buying records because that music moves you, it is a vehicle for escape, it is a starship taking you someplace else. That’s why you love rock to have that moment, when you’re at a show and you go outside of your body.

For rock stars it’s similar to being a young writer. Make music for you and make the music you love, not what’s going to sell records. Write about what you observe around you or to express what’s happening inside yourself. There should not be a list of rules for you on your wall to tell you how to write your music. You should just plug in your guitar to your Marshall and let flow what goes through you. Make the music for you and be your biggest fan.

D.E.: So what are the first two lines of the poem “I Scream With Nuts”?
L.F.: Haha I actually remember them. “I tore out my guts, for I scream with nuts”. Dude, that’s an amazing question hehe. So you want to hear something crazy?

Two weeks ago I went back to that college ‘cause my daughter had a varsity tennis match with her team. I went to the math and science department to look up Bob Barlow and Dick…the two professors that I hailed in that chapter. They were two guys that meant a lot to me. They taught me; they were my tutors in life. I found out that both still teach there. Unfortunately they weren’t on campus so I just left them each an autographed copy of the book with an intern.

I walked around the campus with the intern and was like “there’s the planetarium where I did my “germ” project in 74’ or in 1975 when I messed up the planetarium”, and I realized that they haven’t put a penny into that campus it looks exactly the same. Which it was kind of cool cause the memories came flooding back as I walked through the halls.

D.E.: Tell us about the line “sometimes its not the color of the chameleon’s skin that makes the difference it’s what he throws on top of it.” Also tell us the circumstances around what made you believe that to be true.
L.F.: Well the chameleon theme is something that came out throughout the writing process, and it wasn’t until writing the book that I realized how much like a shape-shifting chameleon I was. I just really like people around people and feeling like one of the gang. One the one hand I was never the big metal head when I took over RIP Magazine that the fans out there wearing Iron Maiden and Slipknot shirts are, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t understand what a sacred trust it was bringing their heroes into this book or onto the radio was.

So if I was doing MTV Headbangers Ball I grew my hair as long as I could and I threw on the rock shirt of the day. I wanted to be a part of that hard rock community and to fulfill that obligation and to carry that torch, and in that way I could be criticized for not being as authentic as others. You know what though, man? A lot of us have multiple personalities. I have an awful lot of respect for people who know exactly what they want. They are very clear about it and they never waiver.

I have always been a guy who asked a lot of questions, never really knew where I was headed or what I wanted. It’s like that Groucho Marx line “I would never join a club that would have me as a member”.
As a writer, an artist, or a musician you’re getting messages from someplace else that other people aren’t getting. You will fail at the 9 to 5 gig because you’re supposed to be doing something else. And the chameleon in me, whether it was punk rock, prog rock, metal, Tori Amos, Sarah Mclachlan, Aimee Mann, Katie Bush, or whatever I was listening to, if I was in the moment I would get it. I’m not being typecast I’m just putting on that skin, that different skin for the moment. Now, if that made any sense, good luck editing it.

D.E.: I follow you for sure. As a musician or a writer I deal with all types of people who are into all types of music and sometimes I see myself melting into various scenes at times and being a fly on all the walls rather than just rock, or punk, or metal. I enjoy a little of everything and I’ve never committed myself to be stuck on one wall. I am a little too young to have seen Zeppelin or Guns N Roses but that didn’t stop me in 1998 from driving 8 hours to Indianapolis to see Page and Plant perform and totally loving it.
L.F.: You know what man, when people write to me and say, “Oh my God you were there with Guns N Roses!” And yes I was there, I was deep into the scene, but you know what? You don’t miss the scene because if the music is good that’s what survives. These artists are just human – they eat, shit, piss, make love, and get depressed. Some do more than others. I often tell fans who put me on a pedestal because I’ve hung out with whomever “don’t put me on a pedestal because those guys or gals I am hanging out with are just like you and me”. It’s almost like a Christian proverb “you are as great as anyone else.” I try to empower people and tell them “don’t put anyone on that pedestal because you are the same”. It’s just that some of these Avatars of art got a chance to express and market themselves. The brave ones seized the opportunity or sometimes society embraced them for that moment of time.

Guns N Roses were like that. They lit, they burned and as a band they were too hot to stay together in that lineup. Not to say there is anything wrong with Axl out there playing with a bunch of random musicians and calling it Guns N Roses, it’s not Guns N Roses, but it’s Axl out there having the courage to reinvent himself while playing those old songs again. Whatever the reason, ego, personality, or business, that has kept the band from reuniting that’s just the way it is.

You should have seen Pink Floyd after Live Aid, but ego and business and bullshit got in the way. The table was set for the greatest tour with the greatest reunion, but hey man some artists don’t need the headache. I know for a fact that Snake and Sebastian from Skid Row will never play together in a band no matter how much they love each other. Well I guess I should never say never…

Doug: Later today I am meeting Chuck Mosley for lunch and there is always talk about Faith No More reunions and if Chuck would sing or if Mike Patton would ever come back, and it seems to be less about the people getting along and more to do with the headaches that come with it. It’s business getting in the way with art and music once again.
L.F.: Yeah, actually I just saw an interview with Mike Patton recently he looked good. I actually took him to his first photo session with the band. He had never had a picture taken with the other guys so I picked him up and took him over to the studio and they took pictures with Puffy and Jim Martin and the guys. He was only like 19.

D.E.: Yeah a little young to be thrown into the meat grinder like that. So what’s next for Lonn Friend?
L.F.: Well there is a line from one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, “Until I Die”, and it says “I’m a leaf on a windy day, pretty soon I’m going to blow away” and really that’s me – I’m slowly drifting along. I am deep into the promotion of this book and I’m sitting back waiting for a few deals with the radio show or whatever. I can’t tell you where I’ll be in a month seriously. I’m like the Dylan song: I am a rolling stone. I feel really good about communicating with fans, and that’s where the next manifestation will be. It’s a very mysterious yet freeing time so I’m just going to see what the universe brings next.