(8) vixen, "edge of a broken heart"
(1) poison, "EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN"
& vixen plays on
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Then vote. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/12.
chelsea biondolillo on vixen's "edge of a broken heart"
A brief history (in words and pictures) of my rise toward and escape from high school, and Vixen’s rise and fall from fame—both of which happened between 1987-1991.
A couple of weeks into the 1986 school year, my parents moved from Portland to Oregon City, a mostly blue collar suburb about ten miles away. My city friends warned me about the “preppies” out in the sticks, how they popped their collars, teased their mullets, and listened to hair metal. Though I joked along, I took mental notes about what it would take to fit in out there.
My eighth-grade school picture demonstrates how far I’d managed to not come in a year. It’s not that I was opposed to big hair or shoulder pads—I had the Thompson Twins on endless repeat that year—it’s that I just didn’t know how to do it. My hair drooped lankly by second period no matter what I did. I hated collars and pastels.
The women of Vixen however, were at least publicly not sweating such details. As lead guitarist of the band, Jan Kuehnemund told Aamer Haseem of VH1’s short-lived reality TV show, Bands Reunited, in 2004 of the band’s look, there was “not really a whole lot of planning, on the clothing. What we were wearing was stuff we liked. We were just girls doing our hair, doing our makeup.”
In the earliest publicity pictures of the band-as-we-know-them, they look like they have done it all themselves. Their acid wash and leather fringe look like off-the-rack from Miller’s Outpost or Contempo Casuals. Their hair looks more frayed than styled. They are the kind of glamorous in this photo that the girls who lived next door to me aspired to, which is to say, an LA-by-way-of-the-sticks kind.
Though the kernel of the band formed in St. Paul, MN, the lineup that would become known as “classic” moved to California in the mid-80s to join the rock scene immortalized in ’87 by Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years.
VIXEN “classic” lineup:
Janet Gardner—lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Jan Kuehnemund—lead guitar, background vocals
Share Pedersen—bass, background vocals
Roxy Petrucci—drums, background vocals
When I look at the earliest pictures of Vixen, I see flyover country’s idea of Hollywood metal. This is also what I see in many of the faces from my high school yearbooks.
I picture Linda, an Oregon City girl whose bangs were teased so tall she had to hunch forward to fit in the passenger seat of her mom’s Corolla.
I picture pre-teen Tonya Harding hand-sewing her skate costumes—she would have gone to the high school just one depressed suburb over from mine, if she hadn’t dropped out—using fabric from the Mill End store we all shopped at.
There’s a brief scene in Decline, when Spheeris asks a baby-faced Janet Gardner if she has a back-up plan, in case Vixen doesn’t make it, and Janet says, smiling big, “No such thing. No back up.”
One girl I knew in the 9th grade wasn’t allowed to use hairspray, because her Jehovah’s Witness mother thought it Satanic. But every couple of weeks or so, when this girl got on the school bus, she’d brandish a pink can of contraband Aquanet and announce to everyone that it was time to do her hair. A mob would form as she aspirated glue around and around her head. Hands would reach in to scrunch and push clumps from tip to root. Brushes and combs were contributed to the cause. Then the crowd would part and she’d be laughing and patting at her giant sunburst of a mess of hair, which she’d later have to rip and yank flat before the bus dropped her back off at home. I remember the long hiss from the can, and the sound of all her ends splitting in the afternoon. It didn’t seem like fun, during or after.
That same year, I was old enough to start “running around downtown” with one of my old friends. I gave up trying to fit in with the subdivision kids, and switched to black lipstick (absolutely verboten in my school picture) and the flatter hair I saw downtown. More Calamity Jane, less Lizzy Borden. More Kim Gordon, less Lita Ford.
Vixen, meanwhile was not only into that suburbs-hit-it-big vibe, they were leading the charge. In 1988, they were signed to EMI, and released their first album, Vixen. “Edge of a Broken Heart,” with its big open notes and head-banging 4/4 time, combined with boilerplate lost-love lyrics, was the first single. And that was no mistake: “Edge” was written by Richard Marx (music) and Fee Waybill of The Tubes (lyrics) at the request of their shared label. The album credits on Vixen include four producers, four lead engineers, and fifteen writers in addition to Jan and Janet.
“Edge” made it to number 26 on Billboard’s Hot 100 that year, but it couldn’t hold the spot. While Marx is on the year-end list, with “Hold on to the Nights,” Vixen is not.
Despite it being their biggest year as a band, it still wasn’t easy.
At best, they were ladies first, rockers second. In a flashback clip on Bands Reunited, Jan tells an interviewer, “People would come up to us, and they’d tell us that halfway through the show, they forgot they were listening to a female band. They were just having a good time.”
At worst, they were a gimmick to sell records. Toward the end of the reunion show, Share Pedersen (now Ross) reminisces with her bandmates about how “…at the beginning of every tour, the guys in the other band? and the crew?—remember? At the side of the curtain, to see if we actually played our instruments!” The women all nod.
I like to think, based on the promo picture of the band for “Cryin’,” the second single released that year, they, like me, have heard a bit of goth’s clarion call. They were surely in the process of refining and defining their “look”—Jan’s ‘fox’ striped clip-in hair piece has made its appearance, while Roxy Petrucci has traded her acid-wash bustier for leather. Janet’s hair is less wingy at the temples and Share’s has more height, which suggests a stylist on board.
The weekend before I started high school, I was “missing” for a couple of days. It is worth noting that no one knew this until after I’d come back home. I did not run away. I was not lost. But, I’d been loose downtown with a very bad influence, and once my mom figured out what we’d done, I was grounded for a year. What I see in this picture is a desperate attempt to play the part of someone following the rules. I am wearing colors other than black and I have even tried to pouf up my bangs again, and again, I have failed.
I have always hated this picture.
The women of Vixen, meanwhile, have been touring hard in their picture. They spent 1989 supporting their singles and opening for huge names like Ozzy and The Scorpions all over the world. In August, they played with Bon Jovi, Europe, and Skid Row to a crowd of 66,000 metalheads in the UK. And just a couple of months later, they were back in the studio, but this time, without Marx or Waybill’s writing help.
In another 80s flashback clip, Share says, “the writing is so much easier now, because we trust each other,” but sitting with Haseem in 2004, she admitted that the opposite was true. In 1989, she says Jan and Roxy were trying to find songwriters who could whip up another hit while she and Janet felt, “…let’s keep the writing in the band. No outside writers at all. We don’t need it. Why are we doing it? That’s bullshit.”
By my junior year (no longer grounded), I’d collected around me a host of poor but well-read friends, and we aspired, even if vaguely, to getting the fuck out. In this year’s school picture, I see that bluster and resolve. I’d made a pact with a couple other girls not to smile for the camera. I was proudly wearing a second-hand men’s jacket. This is the year I’d saved up enough for my first pair of Doc Martens.
I was so sure I’d go to art school after graduation that I’d stubbornly refused to sign up for math classes, even though my guidance counselor said I’d need three years of math to get into any “regular” college as a fallback plan. I am clearly saying No such thing—no backup, here.
Vixen, too, were forging ahead, despite rumblings of dissatisfaction from the ranks. The bullshit that Share and Janet had called out in ’89 carried on into 1990. They’d managed to limit their sophomore release, Rev it Up, to one producer, but they couldn’t stop the flood of fill-in writers. Pedersen and Gardner are the sole writers credited on only four of the album’s eleven tracks. The other seven songs are written in part by other people, at least a dinner party’s worth, including members of lesser-known glam metal acts like Keel and Autograph, and writers who’d pinch hit for Eric Clapton, Heart, Elton John, and Whitney Houston.
I know this year was tough on the band personally, but they look the most comfortable in their leather, lace, and big hair, here. That October, they played their new single on the Arsenio Hall Show, giving them a chance to reach a wider audience. Even still, in an interview for his book Flashbacks to Happiness: Eighties Music Revisited (2005), Share told Randolph Michaels “people thought we were lip-synching. They didn’t think it was really us singing!”
My friends and I were headed toward the post-glam grunge aesthetic waving our working-class roots as a stubborn standard, while Vixen were all-in on Southern California’s sheer sleeves, pale pink against shiny black, and brocade-for-days party scene. Somehow, even after years of teasing and curling irons and hairspray, their hair looks better. In this picture, they look a little like they think glam can last forever.
My senior pictures were taken by my grandmother in her front yard, which is now, over a year after her death, my yard. We tacked up a piece of paisley fabric from Mill End and I got myself all goth-glammed out, and she snapped away. I was headed to art school in the fall, as I’d predicted, and I was working hard to carve out some aesthetic for myself that felt true and safe. While crashing hard into Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails, I was also listening to a lot of Mazzy Star and Smashing Pumpkins. What I was not even considering listening to, was hair metal.
And it turns out I wasn’t alone. Share told VH1 that the band broke up in ‘91 because Jan was too nice, too swayed by the opinions of others, but also “it just seemed like the whole era was over anyway, and it was just time to call it a day.” To hear the band retell it, they broke up over the suggestion of a second (or replacement) guitarist, but the tension had been high for months. They weren’t alone, either. Many of the bands in Spheeris’s film didn’t make it out of the early nineties. (Though many saw an inexplicable resurgence in 2001, according to their Wikipedia pages.)
Reliving the 80s in the mid-aughts
When I found a YouTube copy of the 2004 VH1’s Bands Reunited Vixen show, I watched with a mix of discomfort and fascination. I hate seeing people thrown together in awkward situations designed for maximum drama. Which is what seemed to be going on as Haseem surprises the bandmates one by one. We see Jan express disbelief that the others will go for it from behind what looks like her office-job desk. We see Janet, who says she’s a stay-at-home mom going through dental hygienist training, bite her lip and say, “I haven’t been singing at all.” Roxy, ever the badass, is of course into it, but says that she’s been “playing [drums] with myself a lot lately.” While Share, ambushed as she knits with friends at a yarn store, and looking every bit the diy-punk-“Stitch n Bitcher” so popular in the early aughts, seems most to have moved on creatively. She’s got other music projects going on, and needs a lot of peer pressure from the other knitters to say yes.
Except, further research found the band had been together in various incarnations for years—all except Share. Janet, who said her “life had gone in a completely different direction” since the breakup, who “only sings for my son these days,” who seemed the most nervous about performing, the most wigged out by the possibility of having to face Jan after all those years—had been playing with Roxy in a version of the band since 1997, even recording an album in 1998. And Jan, for all her quiet anger at getting kicked out, had been playing guitar with Janet and Roxy since 2001. I know that no one believes that reality TV is real, but... For all their early struggle to be taken seriously as musicians, to be seen as authentic rockers, it seemed the phoniest of theatrics.
In 2004, I too went to an 80s party, held not by a TV show, but by a coworker at my newly acquired corporate desk job. I remember aspiring to a John-Hughes-Molly-Ringwald look (not pictured: a wide-shouldered petal pink brocade long suit jacket, which I rented for the occasion), but a certain Vixenesque glam influence is undeniable. I’d also like the record to show that I kept those curls up all night. Turns out there’s no magic to it, it just takes a fucking TON of hairspray.
The women of Vixen would try to spin the reunited line up into a steady thing, but it fell apart quickly. Jan, using the name and three new musicians, released some music in 2005, and then tried again in 2013 to get the original members back together. Share, Roxy and Janet all agree that they’d signed on, but the announcement was delayed by Jan’s sudden cancer diagnosis. She died just a few months later. The three remaining members reunited, as promised, and with a new guitarist they are still touring today. They’ve got 12 dates this year, including three in Europe and one with Lita Ford.
Chelsea Biondolillo is the author of two prose chapbooks: Ologies and #Lovesong (Etchings Press, UIndy). Her essays have appeared widely online and in print, and have been collected in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016, Waveform: Twenty-first Century Essays by Women, and How We Speak To One Another: an Essay Daily Reader. She has an MFA in creative writing and environmental studies, and is a regulatory analyst by day and an online adjunct by night. She lives outside Portland, Oregon on a couple of acres in the shadow of Mt. Hood and blogs irregularly at roamingcowgirl.com .
KATIE JEAN SHINKLE ON POISON'S "EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN"
What is the meaning of life? According to the film Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, when asked in heaven by St. Peter what the meaning of life is, Bill & Ted & the grim reaper quote the first lines from the chorus of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”:
At the end of the year in 1988, Poison conquered the Billboard charts with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” a power ballad from their album Open Up and Say…Ahh! “Every Rose…” stayed #1 into 1989 for three consecutive weeks. It is their only #1 hit to date.
Poison never expected “Every Rose…” to be the single to top the charts. In fact, the story behind the inception, told in many different permutations throughout the years, is that Bret Michaels wrote the song in a laundromat in Dallas, Texas after a fight with his girlfriend. In a Dallas Observer interview from 2012, Michaels is asked “Back in the laundromat, did you feel you had written something special?” Michaels responds “No, I was just heartbroken … When you write a song, nothing pops up and says that this song is magic. When I wrote it, it came from my heart and soul …The record company really didn’t believe in it. It ended up being a No. 1 song. It was a rock and country station in Dallas that actually broke the song.”
The first time I ever heard “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, I knew it as a country song. My father, a permanently disabled cowboy, a stay-at-home dad, was a strict country & western music fan.
He loved this song. I do not remember if he actually bought the album or the single, how the music ended up in my house, as I feel like I would remember vividly the album cover of Open Up and Say…Ahh! standing out amongst the Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty records if he owned it. I associate “Every Rose…” with my father’s constant state of physical pain from feet surgeries, back surgeries, residual complications from heart attacks suffered too young. He would sit on the edge of my parents' bed, smoke Camel wide unfiltered cigarettes and close his eyes while Poison’s guitar and bass riffs smoothly filled the room between plays of “Hillbilly Rock” by Marty Stuart and “Mountain Music” by Alabama. My father died in July of 1990 from one final massive heart attack at 54 years old and it is strange to think that “Every Rose…” may have been one of the last ventures into new music my father had before death. Can you imagine “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” being one of the last songs you “discover” before you die?
Throughout various interviews, the members of Poison claim that “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was a crossover hit on the Billboard charts, but it has been hard, in 2018, to locate the exactness of these statements. From the same Dallas Observer interview from 2012 Bret Micheals states “This was back before anyone thought about a crossover. We had “Every Rose…” at #1 Pop, #1 Rock, and Top 40 Country, which was unheard of.” The Internet only lauds a #1 on the Top 100 Billboard chart, so it is unclear what Michaels is asserting here, if the song was simply played on country radio stations or if it was a #1 hit on the country charts.
In 2013, on Michaels’ album Jammin’ with Friends, he recorded “Every Rose…” with Loretta Lynn.
In 2010, when Miley Cyrus was still pure country and 17 years old (3 years before Bangerz), she recorded “Every Rose…”
In childhood: Before my dad died, being too young to make the connection, I remember my babysitter J and her older sister S wearing Poison t-shirts. These shirts were black t-shirts with a picture of the band on them, cut jaggedly into crop tops featuring holes to show off cleavage and the underside of their breasts. In 2018, this particular t-shirt is listed as RARE on eBay and the listing says it is from the Open Up and Say…Ahh! tour from 1989. Today, I can imagine J & S at a concert on boys’ shoulders—the same boys who will eventually crush their hearts and leave them crying in my dining room to “Every Rose…” The t-shirt on eBay is selling for $18.91 from Hong Kong, with $10.00 shipping on a Buy It Now deal.
A few months later, when the weather was warmer, J showed up in yet another Open Up and Say Ahh! tour shirt, a regular fitted t-shirt that was not cut, which was confusing given the warmer weather. Her heart was broken by yet another dumb high school boy. I remember her sitting by my family’s stereo system—as my father took pride in having the latest music playing technologies—and listening to “Every Rose…” on repeat on a cassette single. She would burst into tears at the lyrics “I listen to our favorite song/Playing on the radio/Hear the DJ say love’s a game of easy come, easy go/But I wonder does he know/Has he ever felt like this.” Little did we know at the time, that J was pregnant and the boy who knocked her up didn’t want the baby and had broken up with her. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She ended up having the baby in the fall, and stopped being my babysitter.
I love reality television. Fuck a guilty pleasure, it is just a straight up pleasure in my life. I love all reality TV, too, the weirder the premise, the more into it I am. From Naked and Afraid to The Surreal Life, from Jersey Shore to The Swan, I am all in. One particular delight has been Vh1’s Rock of Love with Bret Michaels(now on Hulu). (Michaels, to me, is arguably the most interesting member of Poison due to his reality TV fame).
In July 2007, Rock of Love with Bret Michaels aired on the heels of the wild success of Flavor of Love, Flavor Flav’s show. The premise of Rock of Love with Bret Michaels is the same looking-for-love format as The Bacholer/Bacholerette. In season one, 25 women gather and vie for his attention and love. Within the first few minutes of the first episode of season one, we get these choice quotes:
- Bret Michaels’ life priority: “Rock n’ Roll is my #1 love.”
- His ideas about love: “When I was 15 years old I was handed the secret to love—There’s plenty of women out there that you want to be friends with, and there’s a lot of women out there that you want to have sex with, but if you can find one that you can be friends with and have sex with—henceforth: rock of love.”
- And, finally, his criteria for the kind of suitable companion he is looking for: “This girl’s got to be hot, she’s got to be cool, she’s got to be sexy, she’s gotta deal with the insanity, she’s gotta know that rock n roll is my one big love. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, rock n roll is an insatiable bitch goddess, but I love her, and I’m just looking for that one woman in my life to participate in that threesome.”
Cut to 2013, in an interview with Vulture, he is asked “Do you miss those Rock of Love girls?” and he answers “No.”
Why do we love “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” so much? Is it because it is a quintessential love song, embodying the true heartbreak we feel when abandoned by another, as all good loves songs are? Does it reveal something about a cross-over, crossing over? Is because it is such a surprising song coming from the same group that brought us “Nothin’ But a Good Time” and “Unskinny Bop”? Because we all want to believe that even hard cowboys and rock ‘n’ roll guys are sensitive lovers with huge hearts that really just want intimacy and passion? Were Bill & Ted & the grim reaper on to something when they quoted “Every Rose…” at the pearly gates? All beauty has its sad, sad song.
Undoubtedly, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is Poison’s best work. I never tire of it. When asked in the Dallas Observer interview if he ever gets tired of playing it, Bret Michaels says “It's the exact opposite…I still get excited playing that song on stage.”
Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of three books, most recently Ruination(Spuyten Duyvil, forthcoming 2018). She lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.