by Chris Marlowe
Raw Power:
May 21 1992


STRETCHED OUT TO HIS considerable full length on a hotel bed and bolstered by several rooms allotment of pillows, Blackie Lawless recalls his early years as the vocalist with WASP. With a mischievous laugh, he explains, "In the beginning, we were doing what we wanted to do because we liked it! We were having fun, and we didn't give a damn if anybody liked it or not. We were entertaining ourselves, I kid you not. People would come up like it was a Rorschach test or something, saying, ‘What’s the social relevance of what you're doing?’ And we were like, Man, there ain't none!’ And now its like a 180 degree turn away from that — There's all the significance of what it stands for."

Blackie’s referring to is his latest project, a rock opera entitled ‘The Crimson Idol’. Significant it may be, but the gruesome theatricality that got WASP banned from so many venues in the past has not been discarded. "With a story like this," he says, "you can do Things that will scare people even worse than anything they ever dreamed of. I've never seen a Friday The 13th movie: they don't interest me. But this does, because its real. The real horror is real life."

There is a plot, but the message seems to be more important when the sole remaining founder member of the band enthuses, ‘The moral of the story is, ‘Be careful what you wish for. It may come true.’ You have a boy who is after the acceptance of his parents. Which is what everyone in life wants, whether they admit it or not. We all want that, and he never gets it. So he trades in what little bit of home life he's had, and he goes out to seek his fortune.

‘Well, he climbs to the top and gets as high as you can go, and he realises at that point that he's more miserable there than he was when he was on the bottom, because at least when he was on the bottom, he had somewhere to go. So there's only one way out for him."

A libretto in the form of a printed narrative comes with the album, and the two work together as clues to interpreting the tale. Blackie says, "It's meant to cross-reference. Only the two together will give the whole story. It's meant to take the listener on a journey for several years. That’s part of the fun of it. I wrote it in a very Shakespearian fashion, where There's lots of riddles; and a statement in reality is not rhetorical, it’s a question."

Along the way to his premature death, the protagonist Jonathan Steel encounters memorable characters such as the subject of the first single, ‘Chainsaw Charlie’ (subtitled ‘And The Murders In The New Morgue’). ‘Basically, Chainsaw Charlie is the president of Capitol Records out in LA," Blackie openly admits. When I wrote the part, ‘He’s a cocksucking asshole’, I meant That! I begged for three years to get off hat label, and they finally let me go after he heard that. What, was it something I said?"

In art, there's a happier ending for Charlie. Blackie gloats, ‘I’m writing the story so I get to write it the way I want to! Lets just say we won't be bothered by Charlie after this one. His demise is very ugly. And very messy! But it's symbolic, cos the chainsaw is what those guys do to kids out there. Young musicians, they hack them up and leave them for dead by the roadside. And when they're done with them, they find somebody else to take their place."

Jonathan’s death is more tragic as he realises that his granted wishes are ultimately worthless. His creator elaborates, "Where he dials the phone, that's his mother that picks up the phone before‘The Idol’. And she says, 'We have no son and hangs up on him. That is the beginning of the end. And he says, ‘I was intoxicated from the alcohol and the drugs, but equally as intoxicated by my own fame.’ He had to get loaded just to get up the nerve to call his parents."

"A lot of people think it's autobiographical," Blackie acknowledges, "But my father is sitting right next door, so nothing could be further from the truth! There are parts of me in it, but what I did was I took three or four guys that I knew in the business and I took a little bit from each one of them. You have a few drinks and the truth starts coming out. They tell stuff about their childhoods. Really scary stuff. And a lot of time its that pain that manifests itself, that drives those guys to get to where they are.’

Blackie admits that a rock opera will carry with it a whiff of ‘70s pretentiousness "Thank God this record is as good as it is, or I would be suffering from that stigma right now. You know what pisses me off about the whole thing? Rock and roll is supposed to be about rebellion, going against the grain. But a 15-year-old kid who says, 'I hate Country And Westem’, he's putting on blinders and he's not giving the stuff a chance. It’s hypocritical beyond belief I get really angry about that. There ain't but two types of music in this world: good and bad. There's a lot of people that are pigeon-holing stuff, and tats so unfair."

Since his previous stage persona was often smeared with blood and wearing a buzz-saw codpiece, might not Blackie’s image work against him being taken seriously? "I don't know and I don't care. And I know that sounds arrogant, but you have to do it because you like it. See, we all travel a path in life. And on that path, artists leave their works by the roadside. When people look back on what I've done, especially starting with ‘Headless’, now, and whatever I do from now on, I want them to see me as a sculptor, as someone who left clearly defined images that were multi-dimensional and could be viewed on multiple levels. That for me would be the greatest thing that could happen.

Blackie is equally unworried about whether his fans will fully comprehend ‘The Crimson dol’, because he’s positive that, "They will eventually. If you look at any great work like Gulliver’s Travels or Animal Farm, those are books that you have to go back and re-read from time to time. Because you're always going to get something out of them that you never got before. And that’s the beauty of this, too.".