Like most youngsters of a certain era, Phil Varone discovered KISS and his trajectory was clear: he was going to be a rock star. The Long Island native made good on his promise as the drummer for rock band Saigon Kick, with whom he recorded and toured from 1988 until 1996. From there, Varone — also a producer and songwriter — joined Prunella Scales, and in 2000 he was hired by Skid Row, with whom he toured the world.
Varone left the band in 2004 to pursue acting and standup comedy, although he never lost his passion for music. Last year, he made waves by posing for Playgirl magazine, a precursor to his recent sex tape, Phil Varone’s Secret Sex Stash, released through Vivid Entertainment.
For the uninitiated, it’s easy to dismiss Phil Varone as another inked-up musician looking for 15 more minutes of fame. In fact, he’s so much more. A lifetime in the music industry left him with the best and worst of a dream come true, and he candidly discusses both in this interview, along with the story behind the Stash, women on the road, and the work he’s doing to help troubled teens.
When did you decide that a sex tape would be a good idea?
I’m going to be 44 in October and I’m going through this midlife crisis right now, so I thought it would be a lot of fun. It started with Playgirl. I know that Playgirl was always synonymous with the gay side, and 75 percent of their readers or buyers were men, and when we contacted Playgirl, they were trying to go in this new direction. They hadn’t had a magazine out for about three years and they’d just started putting them on the stands. So it was like a bucket list thing: “Let me try that. It would be fun.” I always wanted to do it. I started seeing all of these celebrity sex tapes and I thought it would be fun to do something a little different. Kim Kardashian — obviously, everybody wants to see her get laid, and of course the Tommy [Lee] and Pam [Anderson] tape, which was basically the pioneer of sex tapes. With me, people always ask about groupies and girls that I’m with and what I actually do, so I thought it would be fun to go that route. Come on —realistically, where’s my career? I’m a washed-up rock star that was on a reality show. The next thing is a sex tape. Let’s face it — I know where I’m at! I’m the most realistic person on the planet, OK? And I’m just having fun. I spent so many years not enjoying my life, and being in the music business that literally eats you alive, being in bands that rip you off, shitty managers and all that fun stuff, and these days I surrendered to the universe and went, “I want to have fun now.” I’m not hurting anyone and I’m having a good time. So that was pretty much the decision and I went with it.
Any guy in a band can get laid and the girls are happy with you, but to publicly take your clothes off for the camera, whether Playgirl or a film — that’s brave.
Trust me, Vivid’s been very good to me. I love that company. Their editor let me go in and edit, which is cool. We’re sitting there editing and I’m going, “Wait a minute, take that out. I look fat,” and he’d start cracking up. I’m very conscious of that. Playgirl especially, because that was my first time. I’ve been naked in front of people a lot and it’s a different case, like you said, when there are people in front of you and it’s set up and you have to hold an erection for two hours or whatever, so it was a little scary and I was definitely worried about that.
Playgirl was brutal because I’m an acquired taste. To most rock chicks I’m cute, but to gay men either I’m in or I’m out and they were brutal to me. Not about my dick, but just about me. The reviews were so funny, even though they were bad. My fiancée and I would read them and we would just laugh. It would be so cruel as, “Why does that face have to be hooked to a big-ass cock like that?” or something like that. The best one was, “Holy fat cock, Batman!” That was my favorite review I’ve ever seen in my life! They can get brutal, so you have to take it for what it is. It’s the entertainment industry, you’re accessible around the world, you’re going to be critiqued by anonymous people behind the keyboard and you’ve got to be ready for it. So when you do stuff, you have to think a little extra and go, “OK, do I look like this? How do I look here?” I’ve always said that they can say anything they want about me, call me an asshole all you want, I don’t care, it doesn’t matter. I’m used to it and I have a great cock, so I don’t give a shit. That’s really how I look at it. I say, “You wish,” and that’s pretty much what it boils down to.
When they put the press release out for my sex tape, I went on Blabbermouth just to read the comments because I knew it was going to be like a fucking chum in the water. Every idiot just came out and was trying to rip me apart. It’s everything from, “You have to be a rock star to be called a rock star,” to whatever, this and that and the other thing. Of course that’s what disgruntled people who never got record deals or guys that can’t get laid say, and that’s reality, so I’m pretty much there with that and I’m very good with myself, because if you have the insecurities, that will prey on you. As long as it’s nothing derogatory against my family or making up bullshit, I don’t care what they say, because these are the first people that are going to buy my tape and the first people on line to have me sign it and they’re going to shake my hand. That’s just the way it goes. They can call me a dummy in anonymity, but in real life they would never say it to my face. They don’t have the balls.
The Internet has given them a voice.
It really has. I complain about stuff and I’ve written to TV shows, like the news, pissed off about dumb stories, but I sign my fucking name and put my number on it. I want them to know it was me, even though they don’t know me, just the fact that, “Here’s my e-mail, here’s my number, call me and I’ll tell you exactly why I can’t stand your fucking newscaster.” I sometimes think that if you’re going to complain or have an issue, you’ve got to own it. I can call everybody a dummy on the Internet, but I own it. I put statuses out, but I put my name on it.
Did you make the tape and present it to Vivid or did Vivid sign on before filming began? Were they the first company you negotiated with?
I wanted Vivid because I love Vivid. They’re the biggest and the best and that’s the bottom line. I gave them a bunch of footage because I film stuff all the time. I’m in an open relationship. The technical name would be a swinger, even though it’s so Austin Powers, but my fiancée and I are in an open relationship, we have sex with other people, and the people in this tape are my friends. Since I shot all that stuff over the last year or so, I’ve had sex with them several times. I kind of wanted to show how my life is and having fun with these really cool people. So they were pretty much onboard right off the bat. The good footage that I have from the road, unfortunately, we couldn’t use because I couldn’t get releases from the girls. In this day and age, contrary to popular belief, there’s a big legal department and they make sure everything is covered. I have about three hours of material from the actual tours, like, ten years ago, that’s a lot of fun, but I can’t get it out just yet. I would love to because I think the fans would really enjoy that.
Let’s clarify. There are five girls in the video and all are aware they are being filmed.
Yes. I shot it myself and they signed releases and had ID. I would get contacted on Facebook. One of the girls said, “I have your Playgirl magazine; I would love to …” and I said, “Well, funny enough, would you like to get filmed doing it?” And they said, “Sure!” It was real groupies that contacted me to have sex and I asked them if they wanted to be in a sex tape. So it worked out in my favor. A couple are good friends of mine that I have sex with on a regular basis. They signed releases and they knew exactly what it was.
Why is it so easy to get women on camera?
I don’t know. Let me say this right off the bat: I never taped a girl without them knowing. I’m not that guy. There’s no reason to do that. But I don’t know. Girls see a camera and they want to perform. I really don’t know. I remember there was one tour where I would literally ask girls if I could take pictures of their tits on a meet and greet line. I have thousands of pictures of tits. I have no idea why they would roll on it, but they did. I’m sure they just got caught up in the moment. I can tell you this: When word got out about the sex tape, I got a shitload of e-mails from girls and they were like, “I’m not on that, am I?” Because now we’re talking ten years later, with marriages and kids and professions. I said, “No. Don’t worry about it. I would never release something without an actual signed release.”
Were they tested? Were you tested?
No. It’s all condoms. I don’t have unprotected sex. We could have gotten tested, and I get tested anyway, but I wanted to show real life. When I see these girls, I use condoms. Anything I do, I wear condoms, so whether we’re tested or not, it’s irrelevant. I’m not a porn star. I’m a guy who likes to have sex with girls, and what they do after they see me is not my business. However, I’m going to be as safe as possible.
When did you begin using protection? We both know that musicians don’t protect themselves.
As long as I can remember. I know that … we all make mistakes on the road. There’s been a few times when you don’t have a condom and you just do it. I’ve been fortunate that I came out of that unscathed, but let’s face it — around the ’90s, when the AIDS thing started really getting … obviously, no one knew what it was in the ’80s or had an idea of it, and all of a sudden it really exploded and that’s when everyone got cautious. I think there was a time when everyone was running scared, like crazy scared, and then this kind of lull happened when people got kind of cocky and they went, “Ah, you know, it’s just bullshit, they were scaring us with everything.” But I never backed off of that. I don’t care, because you can get other shit too, so I kept it going. There’s been times I screwed up, of course. Everybody does. You’d be a liar if you said you didn’t. But I’ve been fortunate, and these days it’s straightforward having safe sex. People argue all day long, “Well, you can get this from oral, you can get that,” and yeah, I know that, but I’m also going to live my life, have fun and be as safe as possible. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, too. There are a million things that can happen to you in life, and I think you should be as safe as possible, whether you’re having sex or driving a car.
So … 3000 women. Amateur! Gene Simmons claims 5000 and Wilt Chamberlain claims 10,000. Don’t you think it’s time to step up your game?
I know, I’m slacking! I’m slacking right now! I think I’ve done pretty good; I don’t need to prove anymore. Since I left the band my numbers have decreased heinously; however, I still have sex and I’m very content with my sex life. Even if it’s only one girl here and there, I’m pretty good.
The plan is to update the site with new participants?
The DVD has five girls. I think I gave them seven or eight total, so they’re going to be able to constantly update new scenes and content. We’ll see. I don’t know. I’d like to keep it running. I think that it would be fun. I have a couple of ideas to keep the viewer coming back, but Vivid has to be onboard, so we’re going to talk. Traffic to the website has been great and I’l like to keep it going, so however we can, I’m definitely open to it.
Do women have to meet certain criteria to fuck Varone?
No. I have my fetishes, but I just like cool chicks. I don’t discriminate at all. I just like really cool people. I go more by their personalities than anything. I know that sounds stupid, but I really am a personality guy. I see stuff in girls and I say, “I’d love to fuck her,” that like my fiancée is like, “Really? I don’t see that.” My fetish would be a ginger, total redhead, freckles, little thing with no tits. That would be my perfect girl, my fetish girl that I’m still trying to find. But in general I like all girls as long they’re fun and want to have a good time.
No tits? Musicians love huge silicone tits!
I love boobs, don’t get me wrong, but if I had my choice I’d like a nice set of A cups. I like natural stuff too. I’m not into these gigantic, rock-hard softballs. I don’t find that attractive at all. And I love a good ass. It’s so funny, too, because when I’m with girls they think I’m going to be this fucking maniac, like I’m going to do all this weird shit, but I’m pretty mellow. I like to have sex and I like the girl to have fun. I’m a very giving sex partner. I’d rather the girl feel good, because I have fun doing it, so girls are very surprised when they actually have me that I don’t make them swing from a chandelier.
Well, that is the stereotype of the rock musician.
I think stereotypes are number one. I’ve had girls say, “I’ve never had one of you before.” “One of me”? Like I’m a fucking species? So it works for and against me. They want the bad boy, and sometimes they think I’m going to go ape-shit: “You’ve got to go easy with me.” I’m like, “I’m really not that crazy.” In fact, most of the groupie sex is kind of boring because … the exciting part is that it’s new and spur of the moment, but it doesn’t last long. I’m probably the worst lay in the world on the road because your head’s not really into it. Now I’m enjoying sex. It definitely falls on that stereotype, and when people have you they say, “You’re completely different than what I thought, and in a good way,” so that’s good.
“Sex on the road can be boring because your head is really not in it.” These girls are giving you the time of your life! They’re beautiful and will do anything for a man in a band, you’re serviced in every possible way and it’s boring?
It can be. It’s like, it’s part of the road. It just happens. I’ve heard strippers say that when they get home they don’t want to be touched or bothered because they deal with it all day, so on the rock star side, we have girls that go ape-shit on us all the time and it’s almost the reverse. A lot of times you just go through the motions and you find yourself kind of bored. Not all the time, but sometimes. When I was doing drugs, I was like, “I just want to do blow. Hurry up already.” I’d always choose the drugs over the girls and that’s what I meant by not having your head in it. You kind of go with it. There were other times when I absolutely loved it. I was in the mood to do it. It’s just a matter of what kind of mood you got me in and how excited I was to do it, or whether I felt like I had to do it for the story.
Did you ever turn it down?
Oh yeah, sure. There’s a funny story — I walked off the bus and this girl comes up to me and says, “Last time you were here, you didn’t fuck me. You turned me down.” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to fuck you now, either, because I’m doing blow and I really don’t want to.” And I left. So definitely you will turn it down and move on. A lot of times I would get calls from certain other band members and, “Hey man, do you have a girl for so and so?” I’d go, “Yeah, please take this one. She’s annoying the shit out of me,” and I’d send her to the other band.
What makes a girl annoying?
I think they try too hard. You don’t have to try. Just come up and be cool. We used to call them the Big Tit Questionnaire. It was, “Where’d you come from, where are you going, did you like the show, are the people nice, so what are you doing …” I’m like, “Listen, I understand asking questions, but just chill and have fun.” You don’t have to give me an interview. Just be cool and don’t try so hard, because we’re really not expecting much. We’re all just trying to have fun. And then there’s girls with these tremendous egos because they slept with every band that came through and they think they can control you. I always love the girl who would come up on the tour bus and be like, “Oh, this is my first time on the bus,” but she knows where that hidden refrigerator is. “Oh, so you know where that hidden ice chest is?” “Oh no, I just …” I’m like, “Yeah, whatever.” I like people who are real and not trying too hard. Just have a good time and we’ll have a good time and chalk it up to a great time and move on.
Why do women love musicians so much? What makes you all so irresistible?
I have no idea. There’s a girl here that I have sex with who’s a drummer and she’s fantastic. I watch her play drums and I literally wanted to fuck the living shit out of her just watching her play drums, so obviously there’s something there, because I feel the same way when I watch girls play. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s this animal thing, but when she plays and she says, “Will you fuck me backstage and be my groupie?” Fuck yeah, that’s hot as shit! It’s really fun, she’s smoking hot, and for some reason the way she plays drums just makes me crazy, so I can totally see how it can work with a girl.
Ted Nugent once told me, “Guys, me included, that girls think are good looking — the music has everyone fooled! Some of these musicians are the ugliest motherfuckers in the world! If we didn’t have guitars, we wouldn’t have a prayer! Not a prayer!”
I agree. I totally agree. Because let me stress this: I have zero game. If I’m in a club just being a guy, I couldn’t get laid with a thousand dollars strapped to my dick. I’ll give you a funny story. We were in a club here in Los Angeles, my fiancée and I, and there was this redhead maybe four people down. I was like, “Oh my god; I’ve got to have this redhead!” I told my fiancée, “Can you go get her for me?” She was like, “What am I going to say to her? I’m going to go over and say, ‘My fiancé wants to bang you?’” I said, “Yes! Please go do that for me so I can have this girl!” At the same time, a guy that my fiancée is having sex with comes over. He’s this super-hot model guy and I go, “Dude, you’ve got to get me that redhead,” and he’s like, “Yeah, no problem.” He’s from Austria, he has the accent, he has total game. He goes over and gets the girl for me. That’s what I’m trying to say: I end up without the band behind me, I have zip, and that’s what Nugent’s saying. You don’t need to have game when you have a guitar strapped on or you just finished playing a hit. They just come to you and say, “I want this,” but if I were a normal guy in a bar, I’d never get laid. That’s the difference.
I have to say: Ted Nugent is something else. I auditioned to play drums for him and it was down to me and Mick Brown from Dokken. Dokken’s bass player was playing bass for Ted, which was the deciding factor, which I totally agree with. You don’t break up a rhythm section, especially when you’re a three-piece band, and Ted — this is nothing but class — Ted called me himself. In the music industry, people will definitely make management call people, but Ted called me himself and gave me the news that he was taking Wild Mick and why. I thought it was a classy, classy fucking move and I have nothing but respect for Ted Nugent. He gave me the great talk and said, “It’s not about your drumming. It’s about the rhythm section and I think you’ll understand that,” and I said, “Absolutely.” Was I bummed? Fuck yeah. I love Ted Nugent and his tunes and I wanted to play. But I thought it was really classy that he would call me directly and it made me feel good as a drummer, because so many times when you’re told no, the first thing in your brain is, Why, why, do I suck? What the fuck happened? He made me aware that I didn’t and why he made the decision, and I would have made the same decision.
Do groupies get a bad rap?
Groupies get an awful rap. Groupie means a person who follows a band. I’m a huge Motley Crue fan, so I must be a Motley Crue groupie, because when I was a kid I would go see them play, and technically that’s the real meaning. I think groupies get a bad rap. I think the name is too strong. I think that girls who come back and want to have fun and have sex with the guys are totally cool. If I could go have sex with a girl band, I would. I’ll take that groupie moniker any day if I can bang a hot, famous chick. People look down on groupies and call them whores and sluts, and I don’t think that at all. I think they’re girls that are enjoying themselves, they’re having a good time and they’re taking the opportunity to do bucket list stuff. If they’re not harming anyone, then fine. I’m not going to judge them at all. I think they’re great. That’s what I fell in love with; that was the romance of the music business when you were a kid. Sex, drugs and rock and roll, and the fact that a kid like me that wasn’t popular in high school, that always wanted to bang the prom queen, couldn’t until he got a record deal. I find that fucking great, and I think it’s a great thing that we’re able to do that and have fun. As long as no one’s getting hurt and no one’s doing anything weird or illegal to each other, I think it’s a good thing.
There is a statement in one of the press releases that reads, “Phil last fall responded to ex-Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach’s claim that Varone’s decision to pose nude for the cover of the December 2010 issue of Playgirl magazine is ‘further proof that the name ‘Skid Row’ has completely lost all credibility, cool, accuracy and is now devoid of all meaning in every way.’” Really? This from a man who once went onstage in a T-shirt that said “AIDS kills fags dead”?
Ugh, yeah. You know, I don’t judge people and I don’t get into wars in the press with other people. If Bas wants to feel that way, that’s his opinion whether I agree with it or not, but I always find it interesting when people make certain statements like that without having their own house in order. It’s almost like politicians. The same asshole that wanted Weiner to resign — that Republican was having an affair with the wife of someone who worked for him, and he paid off the family so it wouldn’t be a scandal. So it’s like, if you have 80 skeletons in your closet, don’t comment on other people’s skeletons. That’s just across the board.
My time in Skid Row was amazing and I had probably the most fun I ever had in my career. I don’t see me being nude in Playgirl hurting Skid Row’s name any more than “AIDS kills fags dead,” or throwing a bottle and cutting someone’s face off, or just being an ignorant asshole in general. I think people need to stay out of everyone’s business, but don’t you think that most stuff is fueled by jealousy and envy? Jealousy is one thing but envy is another. Both mean the same, but envy is way worse. I think that most people’s comments are fueled by that, but really, who cares? I wish nothing but the bet for Bas, for Skid Row, for anybody. I have no ill will. I don’t really care. When Page 6 calls me to make a comment, I say, “Comment about what? I’m in Playgirl, who cares? I don’t care what Sebastian thinks about me in Playgirl. People that are insignificant to your life shouldn’t bother you, so I don’t make it a point to let those people bother me. I really don’t. If somebody says something false or it’s some kind of defamation, sure, I’ll definitely defend myself, but calling me a dummy? Go ahead. If calling me a dummy makes you feel better, then that’s fine. All it’s doing is getting me more press and making people look stupid. I always come out fine because I won’t argue. There’s nothing to argue about. If I have a problem with someone, I can talk to them off the press. I don’t need to call you a dummy in the press. I’ll call you up personally and call you a fucking asshole, and if we need to battle, we’ll battle. That’s the way I am. Anybody can hide behind a keyboard and be this anonymous asshole or say what they want, but the bottom line is, if you have an issue, just call me. What’s the problem? Or just keep your mouth shut for once in your life, that’s all. Who cares?
You also have a wildly popular standup comedy gig, the Sex Stand Up Rock & Roll Show. How did you know you were funny?
I’m blessed that I was part of a very open family. My father’s hysterical, my uncles were very funny, I come from that background, and I was very fortunate that my parents allowed me to listen to Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Redd Foxx, Lenny Bruce and all these wonderful comics when I was 12 years old. I always wanted to do standup comedy. One of my good friends, Craig Gass, who is on the Howard Stern Show, he did Gene Simmons all the time and Al Pacino’s baby, I met him when I was out on the road and we started telling stories, just basic stuff. I would have this guy in stitches. We hit it off because he does Gene Simmons and I do Gene Simmons and we did this battle of Gene Simmons voices, and Paul Stanley, and we had a really fun time. He said, ‘You should do standup comedy. You have great delivery, you have all this stuff.”
Here’s my analogy of doing standup comedy. It’s like auditioning for American Idol. When your friend says, “My god, you sound great singing that song,” and you audition and you’re awful, that’s how I kind of felt. You might think I’m funny, but getting onstage and making somebody laugh with my material is a lot different. He’s my buddy, he knows me, we have fun together by making each other laugh, but getting in front of people who don’t know who you are and trying to stand there and deliver comedy — it’s really brutal. But I wanted to do it, experience it and be humbled, which I was! It’s very scary, and I’ll tell you, it will definitely kill your ego in seconds being heckled and told you suck. Going through that helped me so much in my public speaking and when I do lectures or interviews or just in general. Humility is something we all need, especially when you’ve been riding on this massive ego for 20-plus years, getting everything you wanted, and all of a sudden the one thing I do want is a laugh and I didn’t get it. It was exactly what I needed.
Where have you lectured?
I did some lectures in colleges, talking about drug addictions, what I went through when I did my documentary, Waking Up Dead. I talked about having a cocaine problem, what the music business did to me and how I changed my life. I’m not a preacher. I still drink and I have fun, but I told my story and exactly what had happened to me. I told musicians about the music business and how unromantic it is, although we have it in our brain. And, of course, I host the show. I like getting up there — anytime there’s a camera or microphone on, I like to get on it — so it killed my fear of getting in front of people. I spent so many years behind a drum set, behind a wall of guys that covered me. Even though I was onstage in front of 20,000 people, I was kind of protected. Once you get onstage by yourself, it’s you versus the microphone versus the audience. It can be really lonely if you’re bombing or it can be the most exhilarating thing in the world. That’s what keeps us going. It’s that excitement that gets you back onstage.
How much of a part does music still play in your life? Do you have any desire to get out there again?
I play within my show, so I get the best of both worlds. I get to do standup, I get to host, and at the end of it I play drums. It’s a lot of fun because I have a live house band, which is all girls. I’ve done my time in bands, and at this age and time in my life, I have no desire to be in a band. I’d do session work if that came up. It’s not something that I desire right now, but I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. I love playing drums, so I would do that if it were something that worked within whatever was going on at the time.
The industry has changed so much. You played in arenas, had record deals, traveled in a bus. The options for making a living were different. What do you see when you look at the industry today?
I think the music industry is awful. It’s always been. I think that the romance is way over and let me explain what I mean. I grew up in a really great time in the ’70s and ’80s. I was a metalhead. I graduated high school in 1985, and I was a huge Motley Crue fan and that genre of music. As music changed, I got into Jane’s Addiction and stuff like that.
I was in love with the idea of getting a record deal, being famous, getting girls and all this money and everything like that, because back then you got these eight-album deals and all this dumb shit that meant nothing, but at 20 years old it meant a lot. It was fun because we also were given two or three chances, where in this day and age, the airwaves are monopolized. Clear Channel owns everything, even though it’s not supposed to be that way according to the laws, but it is. The playlists are locked and there’s 40 artists basically that sell records. Everybody else is pretty much on their own.
I also believe that the days of good bands are few and far between. There are a handful of bands, but with technology comes being shitty, and the fact that Pro Tools can make anybody sound good is a disservice to the fans that buy records and go see the bands live and they suck. Saigon Kick — we were together 24 hours a day for two years, writing and playing hundreds of shows, before we got a record deal, and we were able to go in the studio and actually record. These days, bands are together for a month or two and then they’re recording all of a sudden, they’re put out on the road, it sounds like shit and so be it. It takes time. If I were 20 years old in Saigon Kick, I would still probably try now because that’s my dream. But I’m 44 years old and I know that the music business is the worst business in the world, so no, I wouldn’t do it with what I know now. Bu if I was a kid, I would probably want to pursue it and be a rock star, of course, because that’s just in your blood.
I read an interview with Jon Bon Jovi where he’s talking about how iTunes destroyed record sales and stuff like that. I do agree with him to an extent, because back in the old days there was nothing like getting an album. I remember taking Shout At The Devil, opening it up, reading the liner notes, listening to it and looking the pictures. That’s the romance that I’m talking about. But we’re in a society now where the buying public is 14 to 18 for most of the bigger artists, and the other side of it is older people who want to buy songs. iTunes is great because it allows you to do that; however, it does have its downfalls because you lose the romance of the records. But I’m also 44 years old. I don’t feel like looking at liner notes anymore. When I was 20, it was cool because I wanted to do it. Now we’re disconnected. Our minds are on other things. So iTunes is just a product of the environment. If people weren’t using it and didn’t think it was great, it wouldn’t exist, so it’s obviously doing something right. I totally understand where Jon Bon Jovi is coming from, though, because I agree with him in that sense; that’s my time too. I loved that time and that affair I had with music, and I think that’s over with now. Just like everything else in life, these days, everybody doesn’t have time for it and it’s just disconnected.
Is the era of the rock star over?
Yes, absolutely. There’s not a rock star in sight. Not a new one. I couldn’t even name a new rock star. I think the rock stars are Jay Z and Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Those are the rock stars. As far as rock stars as we know it? None. There’s still the old ones, of course. Steven Tyler and those guys are legends. They’ll never go away. But the day of the rock star, unfortunately, is way over in general. I don’t think there’ll ever be another time of that unless something drastically changes.
As someone who had his own version of The Heroin Diaries long before that book became chic, and as someone who has rebuilt his career, when you see bands living like it’s the 1980s, what do you want to say to them?
Oh god. My take is this. I totally understand where they’re coming from. They’re living a dream and you can’t deny a kid their dream. You can only educate them and let them make a decision. You’re never going to change the fact that they’re a new band on the road and they get to bang chicks and do drugs and no one gives a shit and they’re going to die. That’s just inevitable. Nikki Sixx made it through, but John Bonham, Keith Moon, Bon Scott and Steve Clarke didn’t, and it goes on and on and on. So you’re always going to weigh the good and the bad, but you’re also living in the moment. Telling a 20-year-old not to bang that chick or do that line of cocaine or whatever is not going to work. You have to let these people learn the hard way, and sometimes the hard way is really hard and it’s really bad, but I think that people are a little smarter as far as the bands are concerned. I think they’ve seen a lot that’s gone on around them and they’ve seen people die off that shouldn’t have died off. Maybe it’s in the back of their minds a little more because you have someone like Nikki Sixx talking about it, and he’s such a respected guy that he might turn someone and make them think for one second. It’s a big asset to have a guy like Nikki and these other rock stars talking about sobriety, because they’re very respected, but for the most part … .
I have a 19-year-old daughter. You think I’m going to tell her not to do anything in college? I’m sitting there at Parents Day and watching my daughter and it’s like, OK, I can only guide her and tell her my experiences. She’s going to have to make the decision on her own and know that I’m here to help her if, God forbid, anything were to happen.
How many children do you have?
I also have a son who’s going to be 13. My daughter is in college at FSU. I see her; she goes back and forth and she spent spring break here with me. My son lives in Texas with my ex. It’s a matter of going back and forth. I talk to my daughter almost every day. My son has some issues because I was away so much and I wasn’t a hands-on dad. It’s one of the things I have to deal with that the music business kind of took from me and so did my stint in drugs. That’s something I deal with every day. That’s the personal side of stuff. That’s the one thing in life … I wasn’t there for them the way I should have been, but you know, “coulda shoulda woulda,” as they say now. You can just make it better from this day forward and that’s what I’m trying to do.
You’ve been very candid about how losing your mother affected you. Really, only the motherless can understand that.
It’s tough, man. I’m still learning to live with the pain and it’s been 13 years. But, you know, it’s life. When people ask me why I do a sex tape and why I do Playgirl, it’s because my mom out of nowhere got a brain aneurysm and died pumping gas. That’s why. I’m not going to go out early and not enjoy life. If you disagree with that, so be it. I’m not hurting anyone, my kids are well aware of what I do, I’m not embarrassed by it, and unlike most parents, we talk to our kids and we let them understand life and realistic stuff. I think if parents were connected to their kids that much, kids wouldn’t be so lost in the world and shooting up schools and doing the shit that they do. People who truly know me know what kind of person I am. As crazy as I am, I’m very private and I like to do a lot of stuff. I like to help people and that’s where I enjoy life as well. That’s my program of life. I learned a lot the hard fucking way. I believe in karma, and I believe my karma has bitten me in the ass many times. These days, I’m just trying to have fun and do the right thing.
One of your projects is the Clear View Treatment Center. What does that involve for you?
I’ve been with them for six years. It’s a rehabilitation center for boys between the ages of 13 and 17 and it’s kind of like their last chance before they’re sent out on the streets again. They come from jail, they come from drug rehab, and they’ve been orphaned, so it’s giving them the education and the chance to get back into society and be good and give them a little hope. They’re great boys. They just want to be acknowledged. You wonder why people do crimes and stuff like that — it’s because they don’t know better and they are trying to get the attention that they never did. They just need a little bit of respect, so we give them respect and we try to give them a chance that they’ll have to really do good in the world. When it’s all said and done, they’re human beings and they’re going to make choices and decisions. Some of them do go back to jail, but for the most part, going through treatment gives them the opportunity to get on the right path. We do charity stuff, a poker tournament every year, and at Christmas we get sponsors involved and do a big party for them. We’ve been doing it at the Improv the last couple of years. They’ve been gracious enough to give me the place for free, and the kids love it because they get onstage and tell stories and tell jokes. It’s like their getaway. I do anything I can to raise money for them so they can run the charity. It’s a nonprofit, and just like anything else in this day and age, people aren’t donating like they used to. So I try and do as much as I can to get people aware of it and get some donations over there.
I can’t let you go without hearing you “do Gene.”
One of the things we used to do with Gene is we’d tell him how he talks and he’d say [Simmons voice], “I don’t talk that way.” “Yes, you do.” “No, I don’t. I don’t talk that way.” “Yes, you do.” It would go back and forth, back and forth with Gene. We would just sit there and do that. And he would always have cake at catering and explain why he’s having it, at the same time saying how bad it was for him. That’s how we got into these conversations with him. I guess just being around him for so long, everybody — even just regular people — would start talking like him.
One time on the KISS tour, it was the last night of the tour and their production guy had a headset on. I went up to him and I go, “Dude, it’s the last night of the fuckng tour. How about you give us some lights tonight?” And he goes, “If you can get on the headset and convince the light guy that you’re Gene and he say OK, I’ll give you the full stage, the full lights.” So I got on there and I told the light guy that I was Gene. I said [Simmons voice], “Listen, this is the last night of the tour. We’ve got Skid Row here. Give ’em all of the lights.” And immediately everything changed — the whole setup. They redirected all the lights and we got the whole light show. It was that fast.
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Gene, but he and I got along really great on that tour. We were kind of in competition for girls and he was kind of obsessed with my hair, which was weird. When I first met him, he told me I looked like Trent Reznor with Tommy Lee’s arms. We hit it off, so he’d come in the dressing room and he’d be in the paint and it was weird because I’d kind of go to my childhood. I was a huge KISS fan, so all of a sudden I’m 7 years old again looking at KISS posters. We’d talk about recipes — he’s Gene Simmons at this point, he’s the demon, and he’s talking about these great dishes that his mom makes. [Simmons voice] “And you’ve got to bake it for this amount, and then you put this in …” and I’m like, What the fuck is going on right now? You get to this point of being this little kid talking to the biggest band in the world again, but you’re talking about some Jewish dish that his mom made for him. It was a great time. That’s the good side of the music business, when you’re able to really enjoy those moments. It’s something you can’t explain to other people because it’s your thing and those were just special times.
— Interviewed by Vonda Dix
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