Life On Planet Rock: From Guns N' Roses to Nirvana, a Backstage Journey through Rock's Most Debauched Decade
"In the past, I often felt like a cartoon character, an animated idiot with long hair and a beard, walking around the backstage areas of clubs, theaters, arenas, or stadiums with a laminate hanging around my neck," Lonn Friend writes in the introduction to his new memoir. "My badge of courage, sword of power, ticket to ride any amusement I cared to in the rock-'n'-roll circus."
Paging through Life on Planet Rock, which chronicles Friend's early-1980s to late-'90s adventures in schmooze journalism at a time when hard rock carried considerably more cachet than it does today-first as an editor at Hustler, then as editor of hard rock/metal magazine Rip, finally as an Arista A&R executive-it's impossible to disagree with the dude. Names are liberally dropped, starfucking hyperbole is laid on so thick that giggle fits are unavoidable, and the inclusion of black-and-white photos of the author posing with people like Lars Ulrich and Steven Tyler feels strangely desperate-as though Friend had to prove he really did witness epic, decadent debauchery on a grand scale and fly on chartered jets back in the good ol' days when he was regularly stroked in liner notes.
What Friend-who takes great pleasure in exploiting his surname at every possible opportunity-was after with Rip was essentially glossy fanzining, which got him exclusive, with-the-band access. Therein lies Life on Planet Rock's chief appeal: We're along for the ride while Axl Rose tinkers with "November Rain" in the studio; when a black-market Chuck Berry videotape that would make R. Kelly blush is screened for Hustler staffers; when Friend introduces a star-struck Trent Reznor in 1994 to Gene Simmons, who asks the lead Nine Inch Nail, "Have you come out to see the band, or are you here to get laid like I am?" We feel Friend's soul-crushing disappointment as he struggles mightily and passionately to get alt-rockers the Eels signed to Arista in 1995, only to watch helplessly as Clive Davis blithely nixes the deal. We gasp with him when the news that Kurt Cobain has committed suicide fails to stall a golf game of Geffen executives.
Whatever Friend's shortcomings as a stylist-and, it's hinted, as a husband-his devotion to guitar-based music is devout, and as he extols the virtues of Metallica and recalls the effect bands such as the Who, Genesis, the Beatles, and Pink Floyd had on him growing up, his unwavering zeal carries you through Life on Planet Rock despite the many unfortunate phrasings scattered around like roadside bombs. "They bellowed again, tossed their mikes to the floor, and took flight like a pair of flannel-clad pigeons over a sea of sweaty bodies moshing in the pit below," Friend gushes, describing Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell's October 1991 performance of "Hunger Strike." It's natural to wince, but it's clear he means every breathless word.