My Back Pages is a series that explores our relationships with the music we grew up with. Poison is the subject of this installment.
It started with a cassette tape, boom box and roller skates. I was 10 and a chronic snooper/stealer of my brother’s things. I set out to roller skate in our laundry room and, since CDs were hardly the “latest thing” yet, I pilfered a cassette tape that would seriously rock my world for the next 20-plus years.
The skates were white with purple wheels, the boom box was huge, fitting right in with the fact that it was 1987, and the tape was decidedly more colorful thanks to the makeup worn by the four men on the cover.
From the first drum thump on “Cry Tough” to the final notes of “Let Me Go to the Show,” I fell in love with Bret Michaels, his blue eyes and Poison through “Look What the Cat Dragged In.” It was a love affair that continued well into my 30s and finally dissipated when Michaels became reality-show fodder.
But this is about the music. Maybe Poison didn’t make prolific music that would change the world like the Beatles or Nirvana, but for this 10-year-old who soon turned into a teenager, Poison’s music spoke to me like nothing else had up to that point.
Hair metal as a whole became a huge part of life in our house, especially considering that my beloved older brother was and still is a lifelong general in the Kiss Army – so much so he has long since sported two huge Gene Simmons tattoos. Luckily, our mom loved the music just as much as we did, so she wholeheartedly supported us turning our stereos to 11.
I was the girl who drew Poison logos to precise perfection (and still can) on her book covers at her Catholic grade school, plus those of Guns N’ Roses, Skid Row, L.A. Guns, Kiss, Motley Crue and Slaughter. I went from painting pristine watercolors in art class to drawing skulls, all the while being totally, maniacally obsessed with Poison.
I had 127 posters of Bret and the boys on my walls, and the pushpin holes are still there in my room at my parents’ house, like a badge of honor for the teenage girl I used to be.
I wore out the “Look What the Cat Dragged In” tape, and subsequently “Open Up and Say … Ahh!” Where “Look What …” was great in its own right while also being pedestrian looking back, “Open Up …” set Poison on its arena-headlining course. You can’t deny the effect of “Nothin’ But a Good Time” or the “been-there” heartbreak of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” and the raw sexuality of songs like “Good Love” or “Tearin’ Down the Walls.”
Poison’s third album, “Flesh & Blood” was, and still is, my favorite of the band’s albums. Something happened to me listening to that album: I became even more affected by the music I was hearing and the lyrics I read in the liner notes. Music became an integral part of my life, something I would use from there on out to tell the story of my life.
“Flesh & Blood” was released in June 1990; I can still to this day remember going to Gallery of Sound in Dallas, Pa. to buy it. The album would soon spend the next several months on repeat in my stereo. “Something to Believe In” was an early favorite; I loved how timeless and sad the song is. A few months later, I saw its video for the first time sitting on the sofa at my grandmother’s house trying to come to terms with my beloved Pop-Pop’s death. Suddenly, “Something to Believe In” became so much more than just a song. It became a coping tool that still makes me tear up when I hear it.
My brother took me to my first Poison show at the Kingston Armory in 1991, with Slaughter as the opening act. I remember being so excited that I could have passed out. Thanks to our dad having sweet hookups, we had balcony seats right above the stage, and I know I screamed just as loud as all those girls at Shea Stadium who saw the Beatles.
Over the next 20 years, 14 more Poison shows followed, a fact I am unabashedly proud of. I saw the band numerous times in Northeastern Pennsylvania, in California twice when my brother moved there, once in Charlotte, N.C., when he came back to the East Coast, as well as once in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Like any good fan girl, I joined Bret’s fan club and got to meet him in 2002 after a show at Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pa. After telling him how meaningful “Something to Believe In” was to me, he wrote, “To Nikki, here’s something to believe in. Love, Bret” on my “Flesh & Blood” CD cover, so it’s no surprise there are tears in my eyes in the picture taken moments after.
I was able to interview Bret as a wet-behind-the-ears journalist a few years later when the band celebrated its 20th anniversary with a summer tour, and it was a dream come true to marry my passion for writing with the band that instilled my passion for music. Everything came full circle when I got to meet him on that tour, and he posed for another picture and signed my story.
People may scoff at ’80s hair bands these days, but I will defend it until the day I die because those were the sounds that shaped me into the person I am today. Come hell or high water, Poison is and will always be my musical happy place.
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