Full disclosure: I’m a Poison fan. Along with Guns ‘N’ Roses and Aerosmith, they helped kickstart my life-long love affair with rock and roll. Somewhat more importantly, they were one of the first mainstream rock bands I returned to after my “3edgy5u” disdain for anything that’s not punk enough ebbed. So when I got invited to Mexico to check out Bret Michaels’ new suite at the Hard Rock Hotel Maya Riviera, I stage-dove at the chance.
First, let’s talk a bit about the suite: It’s luxurious. It’s spectacular. It’s got not one but two stripper poles—uh, I mean, “support rods.” It’s packed to the brim with actual Poison memorabilia. In fact, Bret confessed to me that giving up the taxicab motorcycle from “Fallen Angel” and “Unskinny Bop” was really painful for him, because he was riding it up until the day it shipped south of the border.
If you’re ever in the market for a place where you and 19 of your closest friends can hang out, hot tub and party until the sun comes up, well, Bret Michaels created it for you. Remember, this isn’t just the singer of Poison and the star of Rock of Love; he’s also the guy who helps people pimp out their RVs. So what we’re talking about here is a oasis designed from the ground up by a working-class northeastern boy who made a pile of money and now gets to make his dreams come true.
“You know, our parents’ hard work is what allowed us to live our dreams.”
Those dreams include a pool table made out of a late-sixties Camaro. And while it broke my heart just a touch to see a classic piece of American design being used for something other than its intended purpose, I can think of worse things.
When you hear about an aging rock star from the last gasp of real American rock and roll, it’s easy to assume that he might be a little full of himself. But from what I can tell, Bret is just a regular guy with a little money and a lot of fame. He was happy to make as much time for me as his handlers would allow—more even, as he kept waving them off while they tried to shuttle him away from the excited, half-drunk guy with decaying hand tattoos.
And at the risk of getting too fan-boyish, I’ll say it wasn’t just a media junket Q&A. Because Bret didn’t want to just stand there and get questions thrown at him. He wanted to mingle and get to know people. He’s more comfortable with that kind of intimate personal contact.
In case you didn’t believe us about the Camaro pool table…
“What’s it like going back to Mechanicsburg as a rock star?” I asked the former Bret Michael Sychak, referencing his humble beginnings in a Carpatho-Rusyn family in suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“It’s great,” he said, “I go home and do stuff with my dad. I see my old friends and…” He hesitates a second. I cut him off.
“And you can’t bullshit them.”
Bret looks at me and for a moment, there is perfect understanding between us. “Right.”
“My old man is an ironworker,” I said. “I’m not a rock star, but I’m doing OK.” I want him to know that, despite the fact that he’s a millionaire celebrity and I’m an aging punk rocker, we’re not all that different.
“You know, our parents’ hard work is what allowed us to live our dreams,” he replied.
How many people do you know who get that?
Of course, I wanted to know what current bands he was listening to. He grinned with a touch of embarrassment. “Well, I know they’re not really new, but I think Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters is an amazing songwriter. The Vines are great. Jet. There’s a lot of good rock bands out there.” He has one of his people give me his email address so I can send him a mix tape. The next step will be friendship lockets, I suppose.
“Why do you think that rock doesn’t have the industry support that it used to?”
“It might not, but who are the touring bands making the most money? People still love going to see bands like AC/DC, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard.”
And in any event, people still seem to be interested in what Bret Michaels is doing these days. I asked him to make a video saying hi to my wife and my best friend from high school. He was happy to oblige, not only doing it, but re-doing it when it became obvious that his assistant had made a mistake and not recorded properly.
They say never meet your idols, but Bret Michaels was a top guy.
…and the stripper poles
After being pried away from me and my damn fool questions, Bret entertained all of us downstairs with an acoustic set of Poison songs and covers. But even when that all-too-brief performance was done, Bret hung around, signing autographs, taking questions and generally hanging out with his audience.
The 1980s rock scene isn’t exactly synonymous with humility. Combine the “give no fucks” attitude of punk with the big budget of arena rock and you get a rather unholy beast. It’s good to see that some people survived it all without getting an attitude.
Who knew that a guy who got his start teasing out his hair and wearing eyeliner could be such a hero for the kids?