first round game
(5) warrant, "cherry pie"
(12) madam x, "high in high school"
& WARRANT MOVES ON
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closeD @ 9am Arizona time on 3/5.
dan kois on warrant's "cherry pie"
Is Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” the worst song of the hair-metal era? It’s certainly among the simplest. Backed by a stadium-boilerplate drumbeat—kick-kick-BOOM, kick-kick-BOOM—electric guitars deliver E chords and A chords in martial unison. The drum fills come exactly where you think they will; the guitar solo does exactly what you think it should; the late key change doesn’t energize the song so much as just bring it back to level.
And the lyrics? The lyrics of “Cherry Pie” are as simple as a nursery rhyme, albeit one about fucking. Where are the places that the singer and his “cool drink of water” can be found swingin’? In the bathroom. On the floor. The living room. The kitchen. The front porch. The lawn. Wherever they want to, ‘cause there’s nobody home. Warrant lead singer Jani Lane was under orders from his label Columbia to pen one last song for their upcoming record, a big sex anthem, a hit. Lane wrote “Cherry Pie,” he said, in 15 minutes. Nothing about the song suggests we should doubt that story. Maybe he’s overstating it, actually? The song seems not to have been written at all but to have emerged fully formed on first performance, an artifact so elementally pure that it might have been improvised by a group of comedians given the audience suggestion “hair metal.”
And if the song is an ode to unsubtlety, its music video—which flooded MTV in the fall of 1990—is the national anthem for an unsubtle country in the most blatantly dumb period of its history. (Until now, maybe.) The girl who is Lane’s cherry pie—model Bobbie Brown, who would later marry Lane—is blonde, red-lipped, wearing roller skates and jeans shorts, the archetypal virginal sexpot of turn-of-the-decade music television. She pouts, grins, kissy-faces the camera. She prances, she dances, she giggles delightedly as she is blasted with water from a high-power firefighter’s hose. If you were 15 in 1990 and wondered upon hearing the song, Could “cherry pie” mean what I think it means?, the video did away with that sole mystery 30 seconds in by showing a tumbling slice of pie landing on a bemused Brown, plopping onto her lap in a perfect pubic triangle. The only thing more absurd than the video is the unforgivable fact that somehow, Beavis and Butt-head never once watched it.
The video is, in its way, perfect: a feverish burst of peacocking, a memory bomb from a time in which the only people more garishly teased than the music-video girl were the band members themselves. Lane wears black leather pants, thin leather suspenders, and leather gloves. His glorious blonde hair, longer than Brown’s, is held back by a black bandana, except in the scene in which Lane and Brown are interrupted mid-swinging by her father – then he is nude but for a black leather baseball cap, brim popped at a jaunty and suggestive 45-degree angle.
I could watch the video a thousand times and still find something new in it. (It is edited more wildly than a Transformers movie; in its three minutes and 19 seconds I count 314 separate shots. Cherry π, indeed.) Drummer Steven Sweet pounding his sticks into actual splattering cherry pies. The mitt-shaped couch upon which Brown perches for the song’s one out-of-nowhere lyric about baseball. And the horrible rictus Lane displays in the video’s nightmarish climax, a smile ten miles wide, the image of which no one who saw that video as a teenager can ever forget:
To hear the song now is to hear a rich musical tradition—the hard-rock anthem—at the end of years and years of major-label reduction, a product finally not of aesthetics or rage or sex or hunger or any of the complex urges that once drove the music’s creation but of pure commerce. It is a simple syrup of a song, sickly sweet and addictive. It is rock and roll at its perigee, but still somehow possessing the power of rock and roll. And it was, in its way, an end of things.
In 1992, or so the story goes, Jani Lane stopped by the Columbia Records building in L.A. to strategize with the label about the band’s next album, following the top-10 Cherry Pie. Lane had been in the Columbia offices before; behind the president’s secretary’s desk was mounted a framed print of the cover of Warrant’s first album, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich. (A sly touch from a label exec, to display a grotesque corporate stooge lighting Benjamins on fire.)
But things were changing. Nirvana’s Nevermind had exploded. Lane kept hearing “Evenflow” on the radio, even on once-reliable metal stations. Hair metal was being replaced by the flannel authenticity of grunge—itself another costume, of course, as teased and presentational as leather and hairspray. Above the secretary’s desk, the Warrant album cover was gone. It had been replaced by Alice in Chains. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.
In 1990, Dan Kois was a junior in high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His cherry pie was actual cherry pie, which is delicious. PS Buy his book.
aurelie Sheehan on madam x's "high in high school":
Let us call Peter Dinklage me. This is a young Peter Dinklage, long, long before Game of Thrones, let alone the Doritos Blaze/Mountain Dew Ice Super Bowl rap-off. This is a Peter Dinklage taking a gig in 1984 when people with dwarfism were routinely called the m-word. The Peter Dinklage in Madam X’s “High in High School” is a teenager, and embodies not every but a few choice realities of my high school existence. Actually the t-word, for high school trauma, began in eighth grade, and included hair, the hair of Leslie Sipkin, who was beautiful and slim and short and wore a different outfit every day and she was an individual, a free spirit, a “greaser?,” smoked Marlboro 100s and always had a manicure, was not bitchy like most of the girls to me, but actually didn’t really care about me at all, I didn’t exist in her world, her world of dark brown magnificent lion hair, of an easy laugh and sweater jackets that tied with a sash at the waist and had zigzag designs and in her case furry lapels. No, Leslie did not see me. I saw her—obviously. Not like I thought she was a poet and who really cared about poetry—I wrote poetry like Harry Potter writes his punishment on his own skin under what’s her name’s spell, in blood, with pain—no she didn’t write poetry, because she didn’t need to write poetry, she was a discrete and powerful force of her very very own. Poetry was written for survival’s sake. She wasn’t (or she was?) in need of survival skills; she was the savviest person ever born. And the way she laughed, raucous, waist-bending, like besides her poise and her petite dynamism she had some inner furnace of hilarity wildness passion. She wore makeup like a pro. Not smears of blue like I finger-painted on my eyelids or little stripes on my fingernails like I had found a way to be unique in a land of conformity. Long black eyelashes and eyeliner and glossy lipstick on her beautiful mouth. Indeed you could say I had a crush on Leslie Sipkin, back in the day, from two desks away in Mrs. Bowman’s eighth-grade homeroom. Big Bird, we called her, because unlike the rocker-under-a-tight-fitting-striped-prison-lady’s-suit teacher in “High in High School,” Mrs. Bowman had zero relationship to anything sexual whatsoever. Like zero. Like antithetical. Like not in the same universe. And that was great—boundaries!—but it was also representative of how like kabuki those early days were for me, or like a macabre puppet show, when people were not just people, but alien figures who represented one pure thing. If this was aromatherapy, there were no blends. Mrs. Bowman had nothing to do with my body. And with her high-pitched voice and her tallness and her roll call, she couldn’t touch Leslie Sipkin, sitting in one of her outfits, wearing her jeans very well. So it should have been—something, something good, something not horrible—when the yearbook came out and Leslie Sipkin’s and my photos were flipped. And so there was my name, with Leslie Sipkin’s image above it. And there was her name, with my, wow, my little, ugly, braced, stupid face above it. Like the most amazing person in the world had been flipped with the most shameful loser there was. Sure, I generated a little self-confidence in the privacy of my own bedroom, or, as things developed, in the company of girls smoking in the bathroom, but this feeling of shame and mis-naming and silence is there in Peter Dinklage’s rendering of a short-in-stature, not all that cool looking, anxious little guy who is the class target for mocking and ostracizing. Ha! How self-involved am I to think I was the only.
Let us think about the hip flips of Maxine Petrucci, the guitarist, who formed Madam X with her sister, Roxy, who’s on drums. Maxine plays her guitar with smooth verve, and her hair is a lot like Leslie’s. I’m not sure how she got to be so thin and tall and gleaming. Is it a distortion on this little screen on my computer? Was she always so very thin and tall? I saw Patti Smith play a small club in Connecticut when I was in high school and she was thin too. She wore a ragged white t-shirt and her intensity and poetry was something else entirely—and something, something to know was there, like a hidden gem in the forest, like if you are trying to have faith and you don’t have faith just remember that maybe there is that secret, that Patti, despite the fact I went to the concert with my mother, despite the fact that I was nowhere near brave enough to wear just a white t-shirt like that, or scream like that, or be ugly like that, no, I was involved in the construction of a façade, a feminine beauty that could and had to touch coolness, which had a modicum of tough, but didn’t all, smush the colors together or thrust a hand into the black corner, instead that gestured. Gestures were all. And Maxine Petrucci gestures something very slick and clean and controlled in her guitar work here, wearing her thigh-high black boots and her little whatever, leather bathing suit. When the camera turns and it’s like, oh, she’s not wearing pants, it doesn’t even feel sexual, not to me, it’s more like theater, a theater that has to do with the little hip flips. So what do you call those hip flips? Shortly before this there was the hustle and there was the bump and there was disco overall, and it is a little like that and some of the new wave bands I liked too, in all their coolness and asexuality, it is a very very very very stylized physicality, a performance of sexuality, look what I can do, this is a little like a hip thrust, it’s the side hip flip, almost funny, and her sly look lets me know she knows that too, that this is a card trick, a see what I can do. I think the sexiest part is her guitar solo when you see her face. I think it’s funny when the lead singer dude is jumping around in his pink leggings and his curled-under bangs and lackluster hair, because there’s a franticness to his movements and voice, a touch of blather and anxiety to be heard, damn it, listen, unlike Maxine, tea party dominatrix, fucking good on the guitar. I remember the mix, in sex. Trying to make the right moves, but then also, well, huh, this actually really feels good. (Sometimes it felt good.) What does the body do and what doesn’t it do? What do we make it do and what does it make us do? My body was like a horse being dragged along by a rope. My body was like a high school experiment on a formaldehyde rodent. My body was like a zero thing, totally not in the classroom, like there are no bodies in the classroom for our little person hero in the video, there are no bodies whatsoever, except for the body as a transactional dartboard, and except for the false, daily theater that had two opposing and flawed ideas: one, the ghastly safety of pink dresses and stupid looking vest-wearing idiots and literally everything to do with school—the Stupid history, the Stupid evolution, the Stupid pencils and folders—and the equally disturbing fake-love and fake-cool and fake-appeal of the long-haired pink-legging guy and the bassist too aping something to aspire to, aping confidence, aping tallness, aping aping aping, and I love how this video knows this too, that the power of Madam X the band for the small person in the high school scene of splendor is undercut by the perfect hypocrisies of the band members being themselves a major fucking problem in high school. Okay whatever, saved on paying for actors. Adulation for the band itself. But it is also played straight-up, which means wrong, which means funny, which means it perfectly captures the awe-inspiring towering despair of high school’s utter, absolute, always hypocrisy.
No one seems all that high in this video. I’m not buying the zombie pencils and erasers and globes of the world as a stoner revelation. Biggest coolest high thing is when the teacher puts the taxidermy cat on her desk and then, beautiful! It jumps off and out of the classroom and into the other reality as the drummer, Roxy (who also, in what then becomes a kind of sad and capitulating or maybe this is funny maybe this is empowering moment, seems to not be wearing pants. It’s like they can’t afford pants! Like Madam X’s record didn’t sell well enough for anyone to get fabric for the back part of their bodies!).
The guys get to wear pants.
The ladies both have better hair.
Anyway, what does it mean to be high in high school? High in high school: the only way to get through high school. High in high school: there is literally nothing that seems high in this video. Pete doesn’t seem high at the beginning, does he? Unless he is stoned and a little paranoid and insecure feeling? And then he’s just like gazing out the window, and everything becomes a prison. I like the part where he opens his desk and there’s the band, that’s the very best part (better than no pants, but actually not as super cool as Maxine’s guitar), a secret world, but no sooner does he discover the secret world than he’s condemned for it. That feels about right for school, and there’s absolutely nowhere to turn, neither teacher, nor dorky squares, nor cool (-ish, very -ish) long-haired fellows, everyone is uniformly against you, zero zero zero, so do your best, keep your chin up, be very short and not all that persuasive as the hero or heroine of this story, try to use chipper points or goofy points or we’re all in this together points. But the “high” is stomped out before it can go anywhere for most of the video, it’s not high that those people’s heads are floating in red steam, that’s high school; it’s not high that everyone’s head has been blown off and replaced with inanimate objects, that’s high school; it’s not high that the whole thing is a precise psychological pressure drop, where it’s all. About. You. The. Entire. Time. Everyone. Is. Watching. And. You. Will. Be. Punished. Found out. No. one. Loves. You. That’s fucking high school. Shit, none of that stuff is very high, at least the way I’d like to remember high/know high, none of it is really funny, or really transgressive or really sexy—until the end, when my main man Peter Dinklage jumps into his desk and falls onto the stage of Madam X (in his Madam X t-shirt), and gets to do a goofy jig and then jump into the arms of pink-pants, and everyone is smiling and for the very first time in the whole damn video everyone is having fun. That’s the good ending. That’s high. That’s how it happened for me too, back then.
Madam X has a somewhat arduous history. This particular incarnation of the band (Roxy and Maxine Petrucci, and bass guitarist Chris “Godzilla” Doliber, and vocalist and pink-legging wearer Bret Kaiser) lasted just a few years, in 1984 putting out the album We Reserve the Right, of which “High in High School” is the single that goes down in history! The band actually got back together in 2014 with an appearance at the Sweden Rock Festival and in 2017—33 years after their first—put out a second album, Monstrocity, including a remake of “High in High School.” In all its banality and fevered fears and unspoken desires and hilarity and sorrow, there is no end to the pain and pleasure of high school. Madam X knows that better than anyone. Vote with your high school small person self. Vote for Roxy so she can get some pants and vote and vote and vote for hip flips and guitar solos—for Maxine Petrucci.
Aurelie Sheehan drank a shot of her parents’ tequila and listened to Pat Benatar on cassette while driving her Pinto too fast to the glen, to sit and be sad, on New Year’s Day morning, 1980.