You ever have one of those conversations that you wish could go on for a long time? Where you're talking to someone who you just know gets it? Somebody you look up to and could listen to their stories on end. That was me recently with Lonn Friend. For rock fiends, the name should require no introduction. Lonn was the Editor in Chief of the coolest rock mag EVER, RIP Magazine. RIP Magazine was the real deal. Better than Revolver, Metal Edge…anything out there today. Lonn and his staff got to the REAL dirt. The stuff you wanted to know but never saw anywhere else. They partied with the rock stars. They got all the exclusives. They had all the best pictures. And in the thick of it all was the man who held it all together. Lonn Friend. He soon after went on to host Headbanger's Ball and then later on work for Clive Davis.
Following the whirlwind period of the late '80s and early '90s, Lonn began to assemble a book centered around his adventures as the captain of the good ship RIP. It was finally published this fall and is entitled Life on Planet Rock. It's an excellent read that recounts his friendships with Guns N' Roses, Metallica (Lars actually wrote the foreword) and Bon Jovi, among many others. To no surprise, Lonn has many anecdotes to share. Some that are quite surprising. Some not quite so much. But they're all entertaining and he writes in an easy-going style that keeps you pulled in waiting for the next adventure to start.
I got a measly 15 minutes to speak to Lonn and that was nowhere near enough time to talk to this interesting guy. Still, this affable, humble, and highly influential scribe was more than happy to spill some stories. If you want to find out the rest, go out and buy the book you rascals.
antiMUSIC: Lonn, it's more than a pleasure to speak with you. I've always been into rock magazines since I started buying Circus in the mid '70s. During the late 80s and into the 90s, the magazine that just tore up the competition was RIP. I mean at the time, I would have broken into a store to get a new copy if the store was closed. That's how strongly I felt about it. It left everything else in the dust. When the new issue was out, you just HAD to have it.
Lonn Friend: Thank you I appreciate those kind words.
antiMUSIC: You've had many musical experiences while in media and during your record company stint. Does the book chronicle a certain period in time or is it about all these experiences?
Lonn Friend: The book started as a collection of anecdotes. You know in the creative process where you started and exactly where you end up. So I had all the adventures and what began to come out during the revision process was that the focus of the book was going to be the fact that I was at the centre of the loudest musical storm in history which was the '80s and '90s when Guns and Roses, Metallica, Scorpions, Whitesnake Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and Bon Jovi just ruled the charts. And it was all about volume and we were the mag that was the Rolling Stone of hard rock music. It was important to me that you didn't take for granted that the audience was just banging their heads; that they were also USING their heads. They were also thinkers. They wanted to know what was happening inside the minds of these artists. So we didn't re-write press releases and put out articles. We ran big spreads, and exclusive interviews. And I developed relationships that allowed us to have access to the content that other magazines at the time weren't privy to. So the focus of the book is really…that's why there's like a half dozen really encompassing chapters about the biggest artists that I got deep inside of: Guns and Roses, Metalica, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and then the two really significant moments in time with Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The Pearl Jam chapter and the Nirvana chapter are really about that shift that took place in 1992 when out of Seattle comes this genre of music that just lops the hair off American metal and I'm kinda like blessed to have been right in the middle when this stuff was happening. And as a writer you try to bring people into that moment with you. So right back then, living it, and then the last year or two going through it with all the perspectives, the peaks and valleys that my life has given me the last few years, this book came out and it turned into a memoir. The memoir part of it is where did I come from?
I'm a Beatles child. And it goes all the way back to seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and buying my first album the next day when I'm seven years old. So the journey starts there. Then I talk about the Who. And then my seventies chapter is about being a prog rocker in high school. And then going to UCLA and becoming in the punk and new wave movement right when The Clash, and The Jam and the Sex Pistols and Talking Heads and Blondie and all those acts are coming out. And here I am with a clique in school and hanging out with the Talking Heads! It's just a weird set of circumstances that becomes my life and that leads me to Hustler magazine. Hustler leads me right to RIP because metal was…is all about decadence. I was welcomed in because I was from Hustler. They dug me right out of the box because I came from porn.
antiMUSIC: How did you get to Hustler?
Lonn Friend: The way I tell the tale…I mean I pretty much go through the chronology of how I got there. I mean I got the job at Hustler in 1982. I did a really bang-up job. I wore all kinds of hats during the '80s when Flynt Publications decides it's going to go with its first non-sex publication, Althea Flynt, Larry Flynt's wife, thought it should have been a rock magazine. So she put it on the company's roster to put out a rock magazine. She dies in '87 , in July, and at the same time she's passing this world---and I talk about my relationship with her because she was truly the first metal chick I ever met-she gave me the assignment to write about metal for Hustler in '86 and that was called The Loud and Lewd World of Heavy Metal. She wanted me to interview Motley Crue and WASP and I went into the bowels of Hollywood: the Rainbow and talked to fans and that was a precursor to the RIP years. RIP started as a punk rock magazine with a different editor and six issues in, they were going to pull the plug and I walked in and I said: "You know what? There's this band Guns N' Roses coming out and everyone's talking about them and I think we could kinda gloss this book up a bit and make it a real Kerrang style fan magazine, but real intelligent." And that's how it started. I just took it from there unscripted.
antiMUSIC: Were you friends with anybody in the industry prior to that?
Lonn Friend: My relationships developed very quickly the minute I got the editor's job at RIP. I just became a promotional, networking hurricane. And went out, and I traveled constantly and I met the labels and the managers and everybody I could. I just started to watch everything kinda blow and grow. And the magazine…our timing was prophetic. I mean to start a magazine, a rock magazine…a hard rock magazine when Appetite For Destruction is coming into the public consciousness…who could script anything better? I mean that's universal providence more than anything else. My history was…I was a publisher's assistant at Gambling Times but I cut my teeth writing about pornography. That's where I learned.
antiMUSIC: How did your first few issues do?
Lonn Friend: The first issue I did…I took over in the seventh or eight issue and it was...I put Aerosmith on the cover, Permanent Vacation record. And that was Steven holding a parrot. So that was my first call. And then I started to think, "Well you got the staff of people
who are in the street who are out there, just coming to me organically, this great talent." And they start to tell me who to cover. And one of the kinda coolest stories in the book is the decision to put GNR on their first national cover of a rock magazine. Because I'm thinking Poison, but one of my editors comes in and says you know I think Guns N' Roses is going to be bigger than Poison. And I said "Well I'll give it some thought". And the next day Slash calls. And I had never talked to him before. And this is like a real bold move, and totally cool that the artist calls and says, "Lonn this is Slash from Guns N' Roses and we want to be on the cover of RIP and we're going to be bigger than Poison." (laughs) That's so classic. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: When did you feel the magazine was really starting to take off?
Lonn Friend: The magazine started to take off with the June '88 cover where I put Guns N' Roses and Axl and Slash and it said the metal's new super group---I wrote the cover line and then that issue was huge. Then we rode that wave and I developed that relationship with Metallica. We had a Christmas issue, Christmas 88. We had Metallica with Santa Claus outfits on the cover. That issue was huge. Started to know Motley Crue; they were starting to make Dr. Feelgood. Then where it really blew up was where Del James, Axl's buddy said: "Axl will do his first exclusive interview with us." And I said "Dude…" And then he said he wants to be on the cover with a shotgun. And I said, "Whatever the f*** he wants" and that was April '99 and that issue was the biggest we ever had. I mean that was huge. And he had a RIP t-shirt to boot. And this is where the story gets so multi-leveled because our relationship with Guns and Roses was so intimate, not only was I invited to the "Patience" video shoot, but Del was already there and he already put Axl in a RIP t-shirt. Now could you imagine being another magazine and seeing a video that the whole world's looking at and there's logo of another magazine on screen?
antiMUSIC: That's amazing.
Lonn Friend: We had amazing access and it was all based on relationship and personality. G N'R was a family and they were very insular and they trusted hardly anyone. Because one of the edicts was that we weren't going to prostitute these artists over their bad behavior. If it fell into the story, we would discuss the party and then whatever else. But if it was to damage or hurt the image of an artist rather than the heroic image of the artist because that's what RIP was all about --- heroes --- then I chose not to. And that's why I told in this book, why I reveal that I knew that Slash had been shooting heroin the night that I did the cover story with the snake. There's a lot about me that people don't know. The whole journey into the record business; my deal with the devil and my failure and that's as important to my life story as being at Headbanger's Ball and the editor of RIP, the host of a syndicated radio show.
antiMUSIC: Who was the biggest a**hole you came across during your time there?
Lonn Friend: That's another thing about me; I try not to speak ill of people. Because I think it brings negative energy. If in the book I'm drawing some conclusion about Jon Bon Jovi over a situation we had together it's because I'm reflecting a moment and my impression of that moment. But one of the things I wanted to do with RIP is take the high road. And rather than review records that got one star cuz they sucked, don't review them at all. Most of the problems with our planet, is everybody's looking for the negative. That's what the media lives on and that's never been my way. And I haven't been as successful as I could have because when you're crushing somebody, people like it. The public enjoys reading about the fall. I mean look at Behind the Music. That would have never become an iconoclastic program if the fall wasn't depicted. But it has to be about the whole journey. Not just the fall, but do you come back from it. I was having an IM with Rick Savage a couple of nights ago, from Def Leppard and I said, "Hey dude; you're kicking ass out there." They're selling huge tickets with Journey and he says to me: "Yeah man, I just wondered what happened to them for 10 years." And Def Leppard never left the consciousness of rock and roll but you go through these periods. Whether it's timing or image or whatever it is; sometimes you need some space and I did see Leppard in front of 6,000 people when they should have been playing in front of 15,000, like 7, 8 years ago. That's just the way it was. And nobody bought that X record. That's just the way it was.
antiMUSIC: But if you stick around long enough and you're true to what you believe and do, it's going to come around.
Lonn Friend: That's right! This is a genre of music, rock music, hard rock music where the fans will go through your valleys with and they will rise and they will come back with you. The core will be there. That's why Iron Maiden, without a hit record can tour the world for the rest of their lives. And Judas Priest. Ask anyone. Judas Priest, they're singing you a song from 20 years ago. The success of these artists of this genre are never predicated on hits or radio; it's that visceral connection that a fan has that allies the fans. That's why a genre thrives. Even now. Bands that couldn't get arrested anywhere and never get played on the radio; they're doing arenas because you want to see them.
antiMUSIC: I'm sure it's something that a lot of people come across in positions like yours, but how did you separate the real people from the ones that were just there to get on the cover of RIP?
Lonn Friend: Well, I kinda examine that too because I cut myself open to find out whether my last name was authentic in my relationship or whether it was it was smoke and mirrors. Was I getting my ass kissed because I was the editor of a magazine and later on the host of a spot on MTV …was it my position that endeared the artist to me or was it they really did like me. Because I'm a likeable guy. I've always been non-confrontational. And that's what I had to examine. Because believe me, when I got out, when I didn't have the business card with all those titles on it anymore. They abandoned me. A lot of them left. And who …were they really friends to begin with or was it the fact that I could helped them? And that's why I try to in the acknowledgments mention Rex from Pantera and Snake from Skid Row and Rick Savage, and Scott Ian from Anthrax. Because believe me, a handful of artists, of all the relationships I made and people I knew, they're the ones who called me when I had nothing going on, when I was broke, and asked me "How's it going? Work on your book. Write your book." Ritchie Sambora said that. It's in the chapter, at the end of the Bon Jovi chapter when I'm in the desert in Las Vegas going through a divorce, just falling apart. He says to me: "Write your book."
antiMUSIC: You really did make some friendships out of it.
Lonn Friend: What I'm seeing now, because I started a MySpace page, I can't believe how many people were touched by that magazine. It fuels me. It's amazing the letters and messages I get, and the comments. I wasn't aware. I was just trying to do what I've always done since I started this run, which was connect the artist to the fan. That's what I was doing. You love music like I love music. I'm a fan. No rock magazine, nothing that involves music or art should ever be run by anybody but a fan. Otherwise it's a business exercise. Commerce is one thing. But the world goes to s*** if it's driven by commerce. So I'm a purist. I'm a romantic and I'm a purist. This is my time now
to be on the other side of the microphone so to speak, and to try to articulate and feel what those guys were feeling as I was asking them the questions. That's why these things are important.
antiMUSIC: It was an awesome read. Congrats on it and thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about it.
Lonn Friend: It was my pleasure. Thanks a lot for being interested.