Michael Monroe: Still Not Fakin' It

Woe to me dearest reader, for your humble historian is having a hard time reducing to words an encounter with MICHAEL MONROE, vocalist of the great Hanoi Rocks and now touring the U.S. solo with a new band.  It’s difficult to compress an idol and real artist into a few sentences.  You might think it odd that our “underground metal” blog got a chat with one of the patron saints of hair metal, but that notion belies an understanding of Monroe that goes about as deep as Bret Michaels’s hair plugs.  Forefather of hair metal isn’t a title Michael Monroe ever wanted.  He is more Minnesota Strip than Sunset Strip; more David Johannson than David Coverdale.  But “peaking” around prime time for hair metal didn’t help Hanoi stand out in the crowd, and their snotty, punky attitude was lost in the U.S. under a sea of mediocre label acquisitions and A&R cheese. 

I mean, look at these guys: they were glam in Helsinki in 1979.  Corpse paint in Oslo in 1998 makes you “different”?  Ya, whatever.  And they could write actual songs.  Hanoi tunes had harmonies, dueling rhythm guitars, a sneer you could hear.  Years before landing on the Left Coast, they blew out the California myth in one verse on “Malibu Beach Nightmare” thusly: “I’ll find a sweet sweet girl / A sea pearl, she’ll make me burn that naughty girl / I’ll find a skin head girl / A Brixton pearl / Down at the Malibu BEEEECH!”  Or how about “Dead by Xmas”, the breakup anthem for the ages:  “I’ll be dead by Christmas girl anyway / Don’t give all my things away / They’ll make great Christmas presents for you and for all my friends.”  I’d pay money to hear Tom G. Warrior’s take on that bleakness.  “Ice Cream Summer” is another favorite: “Rosalita, now our summer’s gone and you left me all alone . . .  BITCH!” followed with some vivid imagery indeed:  “All that’s left is a photograph / You’re laughing and the ice cream’s melting down your pants.”  English guys don’t write English that good.

The bottom line is this was band way ahead of their time.  Maybe they’re not of any time.  And Hanoi got lumped into a scene that they didn’t create and probably didn’t want any part of.  Sort of like Black Flag after 1982. To add insult to injury, Vince Neil—by then was representing everything Hanoi didn’t stand for—killed their drummer in a freak drunk driving incident.  Hanoi never recovered, which made two bands that Vince Neil ruined. Maybe three if you count his solo stuff. 

So ya, I was pretty psyched to get a chance to speak with Michael Monroe about his new solo project and his first shows in L.A. since four nights sold out at the Whisky in 1988.  The Hanoi reunion is over, and Monroe is once again a free agent from the reportedly still drugged out Andy McCoy (a topic Monroe wisely wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—address but you can read all about McCoy here and in his autobiography Sheriff McCoy out on Ian Christe's Bazillion Points).  I’d read back in the day Monroe was a bit arrogant and prissy.  If true then, it certainly isn’t now.  He was open, friendly and fun throughout the call.  Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

You were glam in Finland in 1979.  Was there a glam scene there? 

Not at all.  It was just us.  There was a big James Dean “rocker” scene.  It was dangerous.  We got threatened, called “fags”, “junkies”, whatever.  Once we were touring in the country, and I awoke in the bus with a broken window on my bed.  The bus had stopped for gas and was surrounded by rednecks breaking out the windows.  So, ya, we were it for the glam scene in Finland. 

How did you happen then?

We just liked the Dolls, Johnny Thunders, 50’s rock n roll, the Ramones, the Damned.  It’s just what we wanted to do.

Were you disappointed to be marketed as metal in the U.S.?  I thought of Hanoi Rocks as the Clash with a harder edge.

Ya, exactly, we loved the Clash.  The Dolls. Those were our influences.  We didn’t want to be heavy metal.  We were happy when those metal bands liked us. We were happy when Axl re-released our records [Rose famously put out the early Hanoi discs on his Uzi Suicide label], but it wasn’t what we were trying to do.

How about extreme music in Scandinavia - are you surprised that took off there?

What do you mean?  Like Children of Bodom, bands like that?  It’s not my thing. I’m glad Finnish bands have had some success.  I’m no nationalist, but that’s good for them.  The Finnish language has been described as sounding like somebody is strangled.  It’s bleak in Finland.  So those bands aren’t surprising.

Onto your new band.  Why now, why the U.S.?

I’ve been wanting to tour the U.S. for years.  With Hanoi we couldn’t really get over, for reasons I don’t want to talk about. But they tell me there are kids in the U.S. who want to see us, who never got see Hanoi. 

There are some former kids too.  You’ve done several solo records, but this seems like more of band.  Right or wrong?

That’s right. It’s not me and a backing band.  I’m excited to be writing with a band.  Particularly Ginger [guitarist of Wildhearts fame], me and Sami [Yaffa, bass player from Hanoi].  We are writing well together.

Ya, I was happy to see Sami Yaffa.  His basslines were a secret weapon in Hanoi, they were great.

Thanks, yes, he’s an old friend. 

What can we expect at the show?  Any covers? 

We just got going, so we’ll be doing a lot of Hanoi stuff, some Demolition 23 stuff.  I’ll do a couple of my solo songs.  For covers we are thinking of “Wanna Be Loved By You” by the Heartbreakers, “Ain’t Nothing To Do” by the Dead Boys.

You’ve done lots of covers.

Ya, “She’s No Angel” by the Heavy Metal Kids – I did that twice.  I loved that song.  I made it straight ahead.  I once returned home from tour when living in New York, and there was a message on my machine from the bass player saying he was the guy who wrote the song, so I had it corrected on the record.

That’s cool to fix that. How about “Ain’t It Fun?” [Monroe’s duet with Axl Rose on “The Spaghetti Incident?”]  Do you keep in touch with Axl?

No plans to do that one.  I haven’t talked to Axl in a long time, but I consider him a good friend.  Sebastian Bach texted him back stage at one of my shows.

Alright, well, thanks for talking with me.  It’s been fun, and, really an honor.  We need good live, loose music nowadays.  It should be a good time for the band to play out.

They tell me it’s good timing.  But to me it’s always a good time to be Michael Monroe.

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Alright, there you have it.  At the Viper Room this Friday, at the Brick by Brick in San Diego on Saturday, at the Brixton in Redondo Beach on Sunday, and at www.michaelmonroe.com anytime:  live, loud, blues-based music with two guitars, popping bass lines, a real drummer, great hooks and a legend on the mic.  Let’s hope a new summer’s comin’ on.