RIP & HUSTLER Magazine editor and author Lonn Friend talks about his career and his books in an in-depth chat
Lonn Friend is a guy who made his mark building relationships and writing about some of the biggest music stars on the planet as the editor in chief of RIP, the BEST rock magazine of our era. He’s written an acclaimed book about those years, LIFE ON PLANET ROCK, a rollercoaster ride that was followed this year by another spectacular book SWEET DEMOTION. If you’ve ever read Lonn’s writing you’re aware of his incredibly real, “you are there” vibe and his books are even more in that style. SWEET DEMOTION offers up a lot more amazing stories about a man’s life in rock and roll and manages to cover even more peaks and valleys than its predecessor. I had the pleasure of a lengthy phone call with Lonn, determined to soak up as much as I could from one of my teenage idols. I came away from it with the realization that Lonn isn’t just a great writer, he’s also an amazing interview subject. Read on…
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking to us Lonn. I started writing at a young age for a newspaper in Rockford, Illinois beginning with a Cheap Trick story and all I ever wanted to do was to go storm the headquarters at Larry Flynt Publications where your magazine RIP was produced and meet you. You and your magazines, some of which I had to hide under the bed, had a profound influence on me as a kid. It was RIP magazine that made me wanna write. Do you hear a lot of stories like that from people??
Lonn Friend: Not enough but yeah, a lot (laughs)…but thank you John. Right on. I love Rick Nielsen and have known him for over twenty years. When you think of Rockford you always think of Cheap Trick. That’s cool to hear. It’s nice when I get emails or messages and people tell me things like that. When you run a magazine you don’t really think about affecting people or anything while you’re doin it. You just think you’re doing your job, you think you’re having fun and bringing fans closer to their heroes but you don’t really think about other people actually digging you or your job. Then 20 years later you write a book or two and get to talking to people and you begin to realize that you actually DID have an impact on a certain segment of the pop culture and that means something.
LRI: I think you made more of a cultural dent than you are aware of because you and your magazine actually covered things in a realistic way. For instance, half the bands I talk to like to talk about the 90s grunge thing as if it were a plague that just instantly killed all hard rock and I always think back to how wrong that is. It was much more gradual and normal and RIP covered it that way. The emerging alternative wave had always been represented in your magazine. Bands like Chili Peppers or Mother Love Bone were covered side by side with RATT and Faster Pussycat.
LF: I think some people do forget how eclectic the magazine was. In any given issue I would feature Great White, Motley Crue, Fishbone, Nine Inch Nails, Deicide…..all in the same issue. I took it to heart that the fans out there were not one dimensional people. I knew that some Iron Maiden fans might also dig Ministry, one a brutal industrial band and the other a classic British metal band. We as music fans are not one dimensional, most people like a variety of things and that’s normal. That’s why when the grunge thing started I flew out to Seattle to see Alice In Chains before their first album came out and that led to that chance meeting with the Soundgarden guys and Jeff and Stone who went on to form Pearl Jam after Mother Love Bone. That was an exciting time but that was all just natural progression in the course of covering the ROCK scene. Sometimes people like to typecast and get so into one genre that they get arrogant and discount what your friend down the road may appreciate, he or she might be into all kinds of stuff. The guy that was in that Anthrax mosh pit might like Bon Jovi even if he wasn’t tellin you that and he wasnt wearing a Bon Jovi T-shirt. I tried to give fans a magazine that reflected a pretty wide range of rock and musical tastes.
LRI: I agree. The kid I know that turned me on to Urge Overkill and Faith No More also had an Enuff Z’ Nuff cassette in his car. It did however seem like some of the other magazines on the newstand tended to really focus on one genre.
LF: If there’s an audience than there is a market for what you’re doing. When Gerri Miller was running Metal Edge she was basically a one woman operation and she geared that towards that Sunset Strip 80s metal movement and those “pinup” bands. That magazine was really popular, a lot of fans couldn’t get enough of Motley Crue or Warrant but it wasn’t Metal Edge that the Skid Row guys came to when they wanted to reevaluate their image for the SLAVE TO THE GRIND album it was RIP magazine. Sebastian wanted to be shot for the cover with a broken bottle by the Guns and Roses photographer Robert John and that’s what we did. Our magazine was so connected to the artists and it was as a conduit to the fans. It wasn’t like we were a separate entity, we were a part of the family of a lot of the bands that we were covering and making headlines at that time, especially bands like Metallica or Guns and Roses. I took that as a great thing and a thing to stress. Whatever idea we could come up with to break new ground or do something that would be cool like when Scott Ian asked if he could interview Fishbone it was like…..”Yeah, why not??”. When I left the magazine the last cover story we did was on Pearl Jam and the band wanted Al Jourgenson of Ministry to write it and that’s what we did. That was it.
LRI: I may be part of a subculture but I love Larry Flynts books and the written stuff in HUSTLER including the biting politics. I am a HUGE fan of the Milos Forman movie PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT and have heard from members of bands but noone as close to the source as you. I have to ask….how involved in the creation of RIP magazine was Larry’s wife ALTHEA?
LF: Althea had an idea for a magazine called RAGE, she wanted it to be the first non-sex related title of the company. She wanted a magazine about fashion and culture and rock and roll and that project was her BABY!!! They started to prototype RAGE up and they spent a lot of money doing that and putting it together and she started to get sick right around the time where it looked like RAGE might actually be able to produce a first issue. A lot of people don’t realize how much groundwork and prototypes and things it takes to get a magazine to that first issue. At this time I was doing HUSTLER and running CHIC so I wasn’t there when the decision was made but someone made the decision “Ok, instead of keeping on with this, let’s do a ROCK magazine rather than continue on this hybrid content magazine, this RAGE prototype”. That was when they approached me in-house to oversee the beginning of RIP magazine. The first few issues are really low-budget, the first issue was The Punks Vs. The Metalheads and it was really about underground music. The Mentors were in it and those first few issues of RIP were very underground. The way i explained it in my book PLANET ROCK is pretty much true in that there was this buzz on the street. These bands and this scene were starting to emerge and one of them was GUNS AND ROSES. This was July, 1987. Prior to that I had a relationship with Althea because Larry had gone off to Jail or the hospital and Althea was running the company and I was one of her favorite editors because I was the guy who always had the music playing in my office. We became FRIENDS….as close as you can be FRIENDS. Althea and I were the best of friends and it was based on that mutual love of music. I would walk through to her office, she had that red velvet office and it was kind of set apart from the rest of the offices like a vault. Whenever I did people would be like “Who the hell is that punk Friend and why is he just walking into Althea’s office???” The truth was that she dug me, she confided in me and she had all these WICKED ideas about HUSTLER. She would talk to me about HUSTLER and run these concepts by me but she would always talk to me about rock and roll. She would tell me about how much she loved Motley Crue and Billy Idol and KISS and how she had met Gene Simmons. The whole rock scene fascinated her and she was fascinated by decadence. To be honest, she influenced Larry in a lot of ways to contemporize the magazine and make it appeal to as many people as possible rather than just the Cincinnati truck drivers jerking off demographic that it started as. The magazine started to pick up a humor and sophistication as she worked on it through the early 80s. When she started to get sick, things started to shake up at the company but when she DIED…..I was one of the people at her funeral and it was July 1987 which was the same month that I took over at the magazine and we had our second issue. It just all happened at the same time, Althea was gone and Larry was mourning her, we all were mourning her and the CEO was pretty much running everything as far as HUSTLER went. I went into his office and said “You know what, give me this magazine, I’ve been doing porn for long enough and CHIC is running great, let me have RIP and let me have some fun with it but I need some things. I need better paper quality, i need a freelance budget and I think i could do a good job.” That was it. That was how that went down and it went down with no expectations, whatever I did was fine, nobody was buying it. They were thinking about unplugging it because it was so underground and it wasnt getting any distribution.
LRI: Would Althea have been pleased with the ultimate product?
LF: Are you kidding me, she would have been thrilled. That first Guns and Roses cover, METAL’s NEW SUPERGROUP with Axl and Slash shot by Robert John after that theatre show. The fact that we could get a picture like that from a band like that in like 5 minutes is AMAZING. Those guys loathed doing photo shoots, they hated doing press and it was a real cool accomplishment for us. Whatever it was, there was some kind of magic and our star rose with that of GUNS AND ROSES and later with METALLICA. That photo by Ross Halfin where we got them to all wear Santa Claus hats for the cover….that issue just BLEW UP!! They werent promoting a record and that photo wasn’t shot for the cover but it was just so cool because it was fuckin Metallica in Santa Claus hats. I just stuck it on the cover and we were off to the races. The relationship with James and Lars just took off also, I met those guys and we just hit it off. Lars had recognized my name from having written an article for HUSTLER about porn stars and that’s how I bonded with them. They were mixing “And Justice For All” and we went out to the Roxy and then we went to the Rainbow and drank beer. I know Althea would have been beside herself with all that came with the success of RIP. What’s most startling about watching that movie is that it is really like watching film footage of Althea. Courtney’s performance as Althea was just startling close to actually being Althea despite Courtney having never actually MET Althea. Sometimes if you’re doing a biopic you study your role by spending some time with the person but Courtney nailed that by watching archival film and by wearing her clothes and basically channelling Althea. They were similar characters, they really were, they were self-destructive to the nines. She was extraordinary in that movie. I went to the premiere and I told her “You nailed it totally….your husband didn’t “get” me but you nailed it Courtney!!”
LRI: Now you’re doing all these interviews for your books. Do you find it a strange situation to be on the other side of the microphone being the subject of the interview rather than the guy asking the questions?
LF: That’s a good question John. I spent so much time, hours and hours of time talking with artists and using many kinds of media to do the interviews. I’d be either using my sony walkman recorder on the road and doing a planes, trains and automobiles thing on the road doing interviews or sitting in a radio station at KNAC or Pirate Radio or on camera like I was doing the Headbanger’s Ball stuff. When you get to the other side and you’re writing books or whatever all of a sudden you’re the one looking for the press. I think what those years gives me is a sense of camaraderie and empathy for the person on the other side of the microphone and that’s why I love doing interviews like this. I love talking to people who appreciate the journey and talking to you because you’re such a fan is cool because I’m talking to someone who I might have impacted early on with my writing. Talking to you now…..this is your press, as much as it’s MY press, it’s one hand washing the other and I never get tired of it. When I get to talk to people who appreciate it and have this back and forth connection it is not ever uncomfortable. Where it gets to be uncomfortable for me is when it gets into PROMOTING my stuff. That’s just because of everything I’ve gone through these last ten years and this sense of humility I have and just appreciation for even being able to birth these products I have, to me to have to go out and SELL it is almost asking too much of me. That makes me uncomfortable. I’ve really gained a true understanding how difficult it is for real artists to not only MAKE the art they make but to actually go out and SELL it. It’s weird and you don’t wanna pander yourself. You as an artist would like a viral, word of mouth campaign where people just FOUND your stuff and that is pretty much how I’ve approached the promotion of my new book. I’ve gone through a self publishing campaign for this new book which is nice to do nowadays but in basic terms means I don’t have that big publisher push that I had with my first book LIFE ON PLANET ROCK when I was with Random House. There’s no massive corporate infrastructure so what I do rather than PAY people to go out and hustle for me and do P.R. is I just rely on the cosmic powers of the universe to take me where I am supposed to go. What’s funny is that this book actually IS finding the people who it’s supposed to find. I knew it wasn’t going to be huge and I didn’t write it to get rich just like I haven’t done ANYTHING to get rich these last ten years of my life. I know what it’s like to make a lot of money and have a big title and do everything first class. I also know what it’s like to LOSE just about everything, start over and become an even purer voice about what it is you do. I have been so identified with this eight year period of history in my life even though I have had a 30 year career in and around journalism and media. Those eight years from 86 to 94 where I transitioned from Hustler to Rip magazine and then the ascension of RIP magazine, those years….to this day….are what I am identified for. It’s been a little bit frustrating for me because I am such an eclectic FAN of music and have such a respect that I have gotten so weird in my own head and my own spiritual quest that I have almost had to FORCE myself to blog and talk about my book signings and releases and stuff. I really am relying on cosmic sources to help me promote this book.
LRI: I am “friends” with you on FACEBOOK whatever that means because everybody is “friends” with everybody but I can tell from your postings that you really don’t wanna spam people or sell your book. You truly handle your page just like anyone else.
LF: (laughs) “Whatever that means”….It means we’re friends (laughs). I gotta tell you John, I’ve got like 5,000 people on my personal page and I had to start a second page but if you have ever met a person who has lived up to their name or tried to live up to their name it’s me. I was BORN with this name and it’s been more a blessing than a curse. As anonymous and impersonal as Facebook can be, I try to approach each and every interaction with my friends as I would with any friend I have in my life. That’s why I answer my own messages and do my own posts, nobody “runs” my page. I don’t get into things I can’t handle and when I am putting up a link for my book I am also the one who is signing that book and putting it into a bag and riding my bike to the post office with it because each one of those people MEANS something to me. They are spending THEIR money to read something that I wrote and that is not something i take lightly or take for granted. At this stage in the game I am more appreciative of people than I ever have been.
LRI: I read some of your statuses and I am like “Oh my effin god what is LONN doing???” He doesn’t wanna cut and paste and doesn’t wanna make the rounds dropping links on people’s personal walls or even on his wall. He talks shit about TWITTER and just breaks every single rule imaginable for someone who is supposed to be promoting through social media.
LF: (laughs). You’re talking about my gravity and whisper campaign. That takes a lot of FAITH man. But what I’ve noticed is….a lot of people are chasing their goal or their audience and work too hard at getting seen. Look at all these bands that are out there in social media promoting themselves. All they want is a shot but what they don’t realize is that if you try so fuckin hard to push it and put yourself up on a pedestal that you don’t deserve yet the only thing that is going to happen for you is heartbreak. They are forgetting that we are living in an age now where everybody can FIND basically ANYTHING. If you put your stuff out there just a little bit and it’s good people will find it and gravitate towards it. It’s just like what you are doing John. You’re showing people your voice and building your catalog of interviews. When they see that you’ve built up a nice collection and you know how to sit down and engage artists and come up with these interviews that prove you know what you’re talking about, that prove you’ve done a certain amount of homework or research then it will just spread through word of mouth. People that want to read are by nature, smart people. They will see, hey John knows what he’s doing, this is great stuff, these aren’t the same cookie cutter, press release questions that everyone else is asking. He’s actually getting people to open up. If you can create quality stuff it promotes itself. You know what my prerequisite is now to do these interviews? This is because of my history and all the work that goes into writing. My prerequisite now is I don’t do any interviews with people who haven’t read my books. Why, why do those interviews with people who aren’t familiar with me other than to ask me what it was like to fly around with Motley Crue on the Dr. Feelgood tour. I’ve been down that road man….A LOT, and I don’t know how many of those old stories I can reinvent or recreate from that time. I’m a real guy with a real life and lots of stories beyond those eight years that some people who aren’t friends with me or aren’t familiar with me just seem to sometimes ignore. I have really gone through a tough period here in the middle of my life and I have come out of it with a new perspective that I think other human beings who have gone through similar problems can relate to. I am not just this cartoon rock and roll figure and I’m not just a shill trying to sell things.
LRI: I can sense that but I also have to say something….I set out in the vast majority of my interviews to clear up some misconceptions about the subject. The BIGGEST misconception I am sensing from people who haven’t got your new book is that they THINK it’s SOLELY about your soul-searching and it doesn’t have the same rock and roll flavor. There’s a shitload of the same old Lonn that I grew up loving, a shit load of rock and roll insight and stories. Are you sensing that some people think this is a complete departure from that?
LF: Interesting. I don’t even think about it because I’m not even sure enough people have heard about SWEET DEMOTION or even come to a conclusion. I know that those people who have decided to reach out to me and write me or tell me about their reading it have been moved by it. Let me tell you what my dad said. This is my 82-year-old dad. He still plays piano and he’s probably my biggest fan and this is what he says to me…..”I read your book……I really didn’t know a lot of those things about you”. He said, “I didn’t know you worked with Sting at Interscope and I didn’t know you had that Sanctuary Music job and all of this.” Then he said something that hit me as profound, he said, “I don’t think this is going to be a mainstream book, I think this is going to be a book for people who know you and I think you got a lot of stuff off your chest”. He told me that it was a book for people who know me and maybe he’s on to something because believe me John…I know a helluva a lot of people (laughs).
LRI: You touch on how uncomfortable you were in the position at Arista and some of those jobs and I was wondering, what would you have thought 30 years ago if people had told you that you would even be doing that kind of record company work?
LF: I have a philosophy and this is it. It’s part of my whole, psychic revolution and that’s that everything I have done in my life is exactly the way it was supposed to be, even….ESPECIALLY, the mistakes. I’m living another story every day….I don’t know when those stories are gonna be told but they will be. My favorite writer, Henry Miller wrote some of his best material at the end of his life looking back on a forty year plus period of work with a perspective that he could only have by living his life and making his mistakes. That chapter I wrote called “Burial at Joshua Tree” the part about Larry Flynt paying me to take a girl to the Beverly Hills Hotel, have sex with her and steal the Gideon Bible and bring it back to him….that part is something I had never written about before in my entire life. I had told it on occasion in small groups of people, it’s a bar story. I have a friend who’s a banker and a big hedge funds guy that’s one of my biggest fans. Everytime we get together and he has someone new with him he’s like “Lonn….tell em the Larry Flynt story” so in a roundabout way I have become an EXPERT at telling that particular story. But I’d never actually publicly “written” it (laughs). That’s a rather provocative tale from that era….I mean it’s one of those things where yes, I did spend 13 years with Larry Flynt Publications and it was a robust time and experience, especially in the 80s with so much happening at Hustler and then even more especially in the 90s with RIP. I tell that story in the book along with some of those stories about rock and roll things but one thing people don’t know about me sometimes is that I just don’t ever wanna go BACK. I don’t actually wanna resurrect RIP magazine on a terrestrial format, I don’t wanna go work for Hustler or do anything for that matter that I have already done. I just wanna keep moving forward and doing new things and that’s one of the things people notice on Facebook. I’m trying to sort of move forward and elevate my conscience and take people with me even if it’s through a music metaphor. I do that because the world is so FUCKED up and I just wanna do a little bit to make things better or shed a better perspective. What i do is not structured and it’s not linear but it’s what I do. I have written these books that include stories and past tales but I don’t know how much more I will do of that. I took SWEET DEMOTION and edited it down from a thousand pages, after 9/11 I just wrote SOOO much because I felt like I had to, as a writer that was just my survival tool. To be honest it was really just me ranting to a small group of online people who were getting a newsletter that I was sending out. It was very informal, I just HAVE to write.
LRI: It is interesting. A lot of people we talk to whether they are rock stars or directors or adult stars can relate to what you are saying. They may have lived decades but they are continually asked about those 5 or 6 years of their life where they were heavily saturated in the pop culture consciousness.
LF: It’s the reason why Billy Joel HAS to play “Piano Man” or Metallica has to play “Master Of Puppets”…..and that goes for ANYONE who gets known for SOMETHING. All I did was I was a reporter that happened to be caught up in a very vibrant movement. I was the most visible reporter in that movement because I had the most legitimate, well thought out, well produced SMUT magazine, I had a spot every Saturday night on MTV Headbanger’s Ball, I had a syndicated radio show that was complete free-form where I truly did whatever the fuck I wanted and played whatever fuck I wanted for FIVE hours every weekend and that’s unusual. That’s unusual for radio because it’s an industry so completely structured and driven by the politics of the corporations that run terrestrial radio. Those years where all of that was going on are an example really of that “eternal rebel” (laughs). It’s the way I am STILL trying to operate outside of structure because most of my success in life has come only when I operate outside of established structure. The reason I had such a HIGH PAID yet totally unhappy and unsuccessful time in the record business was because I felt like a VEAL inside the confines of that structure. If you don’t have freedom you can never truly be successful and you also have to LOVE what you do and I didn’t love what I was doing as an A&R guy John. I just didn’t love what I was doing the same way that I loved being a writer. I brought some of the tools that I had acquired as a reporter and as an editor into it to deal with some of the acts I was trying to sign but in the end it still wasn’t my decision. I never thought that I had the psychic insight to find the next big group based on someone’s demos, that’s a rare and special skill. I know that I saw the Beatles when I was seven years old and I “got” that. I got U2 when I saw them at the Country Club in 1982, their first show on the west coast. I’ve been at the beginnings of a lot of movements but that’s just because if you grow up around and interested in music your whole life you begin to develop an instinct about it.
LRI: Do you still find yourself always being drawn back to writing about music?
LF: YEAH!! I have a guy who originally wrote to me ten years ago when I was working for KNAC and his name is Tony. He’s someone I have mentored and talked back and forth with ever since he first wrote to me and he has now become one of the most well-known music bloggers on the net. Tony told me something that stays with me, in fact he always tells me…. “You are always at your best when you’re writing about the music”. It’s so easy to forget that with all the changes and growing pains I have been through these last ten years. You tend to get so wrapped up in yourself and your life that you forget what it is that got you there and I want to thank Tony for constantly reminding me, he is so right. I always have to bring it back there to the music.
LRI: That’s awesome.
LF: Yeah. So much of what I do is bringing the reader into a situation that I’ve been in. Whenever I was writing SWEET DEMOTION and it felt like I was getting away from that I would go back to it. I’ve gotten to travel to and do some pretty cool music related things and if I can put you there then I have succeeded. There’s a really cool conversation with Ronnie James Dio that I included in the book where we talk about all of his albums and his career, I originally wrote it for a liner notes project and ended up using it in SWEET DEMOTION in order to do just that, bring it back to the music.
LRI: Were you way into any rock magazines or writers growing up?
LF: I will be honest with you when I was coming up I read magazines like Rolling Stone and later on Kerrang but to be brutally honest with you I did not passionately read a lot of rock magazines. I organically became the editor of a rock magazine and I didn’t really have any format or template in mind other than what I was feeling about the music. I didn’t set out to write PORN but I became the film critic for HUSTLER magazine, it wasn’t like I set out to do it as much as I just naturally got into it, I just developed a series of narratives where I could write and review porn films. Then when they started the rock magazine thing it was just a natural progression but I don’t really think I was following any influence I had or goal or script when I was doing what I was doing. I don’t think I’ve ever had a plan for ANYTHING I have done, I just keep coming back to that (laughs). I wasn’t a journalism major, I changed my major three times in college which I talk about in my first book PLANET ROCK. I was just the guy who went to the concerts, I was listening to music! I was there in the seventies with a bunch of people on campus eating lunch talking about the Buzzcocks and the Clash and the Sex Pistols and going on about the Talking Heads. This is where I came to do what I do, I never set out to be a writer.
LRI: Occasionally you are labeled or attacked as being more about the relationships with the bands than about the music.
LF: Oh sure, but you know the people who are my detractors are most bothered simply because of the fact that I hung out with the bands. They aren’t even concerned with my writing at all including one guy who you can look up on Google because for whatever reason it just never goes away. He’s hung up on the fact that I got privileges that went along with my job and my title and hung out with guys and took pictures with them. To that guy, that was all I had become and all I was about, I wasn’t a reporter or a real “rock scribe” I was just someone out there hanging out and soakin up the good time. What he and a few others failed to realize is that when I got done hanging out and taking those pictures and got back here to write the piece I was 100% in the belly of the beast. I was not focused on myself or my time with the band I was focused on the artist and bringing the reader as close as possible to the artist. It wasnt about me it was about everything I had witnessed, everything that was going on around me and I never brought myself into the story at the expense of the artist. As for my detractors, I honestly don’t think they were really hateful or insanely jealous as much as they envied the places I was able to go in the course of doing my job. I was kind of a cartoon character on MTV with the big beard and the throwing CDs on the ground and all that. It was a character and I’m not ashamed of that. Once again, it wasn’t like I knew anything about doing TV other than that one thing and I was offered that spot and I went for it. The reason I was offered that spot was organic too because RIP had a promotion going with Megadeth where MTV wanted to do a party bus on the town one night with Megadeth and capture it and have RIP magazine on the back of the bus covering the whole affair. I helped put together this evening where we just drove around this bus and did all this stuff like we drove around Santa Monica Civic Center Parking lot and we got on Ted Nugents bus because Ted was playing with Armored Saint then we went to Hollywood and met up with Slash and Jon Bon Jovi and on and on. It was fun and loud and I was fun and loud and crazy which is also what was going on with the bands and the music. This was THAT era and the bands loved me and that crazy character I was on MTV. It came out and they dug it at MTV and a couple of months later they asked me if I wanted a spot and I chose the name for it, I called it Friend at Large. We shot the first Friend at Large on a soundstage in Santa Monica August 3rd, 1991 and my very first spot was the spot where I showed the world for the very first time the record cover for the Metallica “Black” album. I was horrible, I was really not good on camera but it didn’t matter because all I had to do to make it all work was hold up that album cover.
LRI: Those of us who were big “RIP” heads were already aware of your relationship with the band because of the magazine covering the creation of the “BLACK” album from embryo to birth.
LF: Yeah man!! And that was huge. Still to this day we are mentioned in connection with that because we were the first magazine to chronicle the creation of the biggest album of the decade.
LRI: I couldn’t believe it when I met Lars on that tour and he was EXACTLY as you’d described him. Just this hyperactive, excitable guy sitting cross-legged on a guitar case talking to an audience backstage and providing personal insights on my Twisted Sister shirt. It was like, wow, every way RIP presented him was just as he was.
LF: (laughs) Yeah, that sounds exactly like Lars and he IS a great guy, and I am happy that our relationship has continued, he invited me to see them for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing and it’s crazy because that band has gone through their own “SWEET DEMOTION” and it was documented in that movie “Some Kind Of Monster” and they came through it better for it all. When I was looking for someone to write the foreword for my book Lars was the ONLY person I called to write the foreword for LIFE ON PLANET ROCK. I was going through a divorce and they came into Vegas and he met me on the tarmac when his plane landed and I gotta do this in my “LARS” voice. he said “I hear you’re goin through a hard time, why don’t you come on out with us we’re playing a gig with GODSMACK and bring whoever you want”. So I did, I got ahold of a bunch of people who wanted to meet the band, I brought a couple family members and I sat with them afterwords and said, “Yeah, it is a pretty tough time but I just need to write and I need to write this book. I have a publisher and I have an agent but I need a foreword, would you write one for me?” and Lars said “Absolutely!” and then he said to me, again in the “Lars” voice…..”Ok….so I will just write it….I dont want it to be about anything or to be about Metallica I just wanna do it straight from the heart and I don’t want it edited, that’s the only thing I wanna say” and I was just like “Whatever you want man, that’s fine”. He called me two other times while he was in the process of working on it (laughs). One time was when the book had already been turned in to the publisher and I was on the golf course with my brother and I was like “golfing”!!! and the phone rings and he’s like “Lonn….., this is LARS….do you remember that night that I kind of blew you off in Munich???” And I was like yeah. He says “Well, what did I actually SAY to you that night do you remember??” and I said “Yeah Lars that is actually in a chapter I wrote for the book, I turned that in” and he goes “Well, don’t fuckin tell me I will remember it for myself” (laughs) and that was just this weird moment of synchronicity between the two of us because he identified and remembered this moment that was an important moment between the two of us and between the band and the magazine. He and I both connected on that moment and he incorporated his remembereance into his foreword and I wrote about it in my chapter but it was a SHARED moment.
LRI: You’re being so nice with these stories and I can imagine doing book press it gets tiring regurgitating tales that are in better, more in-depth form via the books but would you PLEASE share just a smidgen of the goddamn Bon Jovi story???
LF: Haha…thats a good one. Harvey Kubernik, who is a venerable rock writer who’s interviewed George Harrison and Bob Dylan and everyone on down, gave me my favorite line about that Bon Jovi story. After he read PLANET ROCK he said to me “Lonn, that Bon Jovi chapter gave me a stomach ache” (laughs). I call that chapter the thousand dollar chapter and it’s absolutely true as I told it and I think its one of the more humorous stories because of how I got thrust into that scene by him with those robotic women hosting QVC. I tried to make it fun even though that was really the end of a really great, long and fruitful relationship with that band. The ironic thing is how great a relationship I had with that band, I had gone to Europe with them and had filmed a TV pilot called ROCK A MILE with Lonn Friend and VH1 didn’t buy the show. I still have a 28 minute demo and Jon saw it and thought it was great and I was happy and of course I still love Richie and I understand Jon but I also know that he sold his soul to the devil (laughs).
LRI: I have to ask you…. what do you think about all of these books coming out now by musicians? I realize it’s easier to sell a book these days than it is an album but many of them strike me as either totally fabricated or sensational save for the rare instance of the artist who actually writes them without using a ghost writer.
LF: I have to say I don’t read them John (laughs). I love Slash and consider him a beloved friend, a guy who signed a guitar for me recently when I needed it to sell it….. but his book….from what everyone has told me is entertaining but not very well written. To me, he is such a great and REAL guy so it sucks to hear about how it is just filled with inaccuracies and flaws that are obvious to people who were there and know him; people like Mike Clink and others who were a part of that history. It’s just a matter of a lot of these books not being very accurate and I blame that on the writer responsible for many of them Anthony Bozza. He is a guy who has gotten a lot of these high profile book gigs. What he does is he hangs out with the artist and he runs a lot of tape of the artist talking and takes what they say as the gospel without really checking facts or doublechecking the artist’s memory versus others. What you get is the definitive version of what the artist happened to say on tape that day and not a researched, well thought out and documented story. I love Duff and respect Duff and have a copy of his book which I havent read but I will say that I love the fact that he’s held on to his sobriety all these years.
LRI: Is the bottom line just that these guys aren’t writers?
LF: These guys are rock stars, not journalists. Billy Corgan is a guy that when he writes a book I tend to believe he wrote the book and maybe had some editing help. These other guys???!!!! I mean, seriously….STEVEN ADLER???? He didn’t write his book. NIKKI SIXX??? he has kind of a cool prose voice and style going now but do you know HOW HARD IT IS TO MAKE SENSE OUT OF A PERIOD OF YOUR LIFE LIKE THAT???? Everyone thinks journalism is easy and everyone’s a writer so they all have a book coming out but without guy like me……this is a good segue John into my story from the book, the title chapter actually of SWEET DEMOTION about the situation with Steven Tyler. I was called in July of 2009 to meet with Steven about his book that he was workin on but wasn’t happy with. It was this exact thing you and I are talking about. The writer he had wasnt getting it right so I negotiated and we made a deal, I got paid up front and spent the next two or three months going back and forth with him and that chapter is so intimate and so important to me. It represents for me the END of my midlife. I didn’t touch that material that I had on Steven Tyler for a year after I had been back and forth talking and interviewing him. He went into rehab, I left the project with him and I didn’t hear from him for months. He got healthy and he went and did his thing and went from SEASONS OF WITHER to SEASONS OF IDOL. I love the guy, we sent a few texts back and forth and it’s great that he’s back in the public eye because he is just one of the most genuine and beautiful souls you will ever encounter in or out of rock and roll. Having said that, that period with him and I was a MESS because that book and manuscript he had together was a mess. We worked and crafted to improve the whole entire first half of that manuscript and it was just a mind-blowing lesson in frustration.
LRI: Before I let you go, any additional insight into my favorite band KISS other than your chapter “Dr. Stanley and Mr. Simmons” from LIFE ON PLANET ROCK?
LF: I just ran into Paul recently at the Alice Cooper show at the Whiskey which was a nice, warm meeting. I havent seen Gene since the Comedy Central Roast that I attended with Craig Gass. That was the most BRUTAL public dressing down of Gene that I have ever seen in my entire life because that was Gene. Gene is Gene, what you see is what you get and man did he get it. When I flew with the band and did that whole travel period piece from Massachusetts to New York to the MGM Grand during the no-makeup era we just had the most fantastic music conversation the entire time. We had this whole conversation about KISS and how it was his reference to the Beatles and Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls and to me that stands as the miracle of KISS to tell you the truth John. They accomplished it. It’s a miracle of marketing, timing and theater to do it once but to be able to maintain it and come back and do it again years later is simply unthinkable. The genius thing of course is that as long as they can put on the makeup those guys can play until they are physically incapable of playing because they can hide their age behind the makeup.
LF: It is Gene-ius.
LRI: I remember the RIP cover photo of Gene and Paul back in the makeup again for the first time and the reverse photo.
LF: With the star on Paul’s WRONG eye!!!! I will never forget because it got by every single person on our staff, it was a great embarrassment that no one realized that it was on the wrong eye when the negative was flipped. Is that classic or what. Here’s the most hilarious thing…..KISS themselves didn’t even notice it, not the band, not their management, nor their publicist, nobody but the KISS fans who of course started writing in some letters (laughs). I had to retort by saying “Ahh, we were just testing you guys to see how close you were paying attention” (laughs).
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