Lead singer of pop metal act Warrant, Jani Lane, died over the weekend. He was 47. That makes his death (which was probably the result of drugs and alcohol) not as stunning as Kurt Cobain’s due to his youth or as expected as so many older rock and movie stars who pass away. It was a slow burn for Lane and unfortunately, the last couple of decades hadn’t been kind.

For the most part, Warrant was a culturally insignificant hair metal act. They weren’t part of the British New Wave of Heavy Metal or the first or even second generation of L.A. glam/hair metal acts. Firmly in the middle in date of origin and talent it was always going to be a hard row to hoe for the band. They had a few minor hits and one really big song with “Cherry Pie” (ed. note: “Heaven” was actually their biggest hit, reaching #2 on the charts in 1989). Really though, any of their songs could have been recorded by any of the other mid-eighties/early nineties metal acts and sounded pretty much the same with the same impact. Lane had said that he wanted to be remembered for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, not” Cherry Pie”, but this weekend after word hit that he had passed restaurants were selling half off slices of cherry pie in his honor.

Warrant was a metal band for girls. They could have been a boy band. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to impeach the honor of the lads that made up the act. What I mean to say is that they were young, a little too good looking for a metal band and wrote pretty good to really good pop songs (depending on the single). I could be wrong but I don’t think they ever had a concept album in them if you catch my drift. So when grunge came and knocked metal out of the charts Warrant didn’t have a lot on which to fall back. Once the girls started to scream for Pearl Jam and unable to convert the guys who were still listening to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, et al. their once promising career grinded to a halt.

And that is where Warrant and I should have parted company—a pop metal band that had a couple of minor hits that died away when the fad of hair metal passed. I’d remember them in retrospective television and radio programs and be done with it. Like most stories that diverge from their pathway this one rounds the bend because of a girl. My high school sweetheart choose a song for us when we started dating, “Heaven” by Warrant. I would have been much happier with Skid Row’s “I Remember You” but if I remember correctly her sister and her sister’s boyfriend had already taken that song, not wanting to step on anyone’s toes or risk having to one day dance to the same song at her wedding as her sister, my girlfriend said it had to be something different. “Heaven” won out, I don’t know how, I’m not even sure I was that involved in the selection process. That’s the thing about high school romances; you assign sentiment rather than create it. In the adult world the song we would one day dance to would have been one that held some significant meaning because of memories attached to it but in high school it’s a lot harder to create those type of memories so you manufacture them.

After Lane passed away my wife made a remark about how I was taking his death harder than what she would have thought. I know what you’re thinking but you’re wrong, this isn’t about the girl or even the memories of the girl. Those are nice and sure I thought about her and that song when the news broke. What my sadness was really about though is something quite different. I realized with his death that we’re now in the part of the season where it’s about grinding it out. The important cultural touchstones of my generation, those that live fast and die young happened a lot earlier—the Kurt Cobains and River Phoenixes (I have no idea if I spelled either of those last name in plural form correct by the way.) We’re still several decades away from the youth that fade into gentleman and are knighted from passing away. They’re turning gray and becoming dignified but aren’t ready for the undertaker yet. I guess some unlikely names for that list would include Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr and Robert Smith of the Cure. As I get nearer to middle age, a lot of things from my youth will be passing. Not just actors, artists and musicians that die unceremoniously and are only memorable for the fact that they were a song that meant something to someone in high school but a lot of other non-sentient things as well. Things like the family businesses I frequented when I was a kid where the first generation are dying away, and either because of lack of interest from a second generation or lack of a second generation now necessitate closing; parks that I used to sit and think have now become buildings or changed so that I no longer recognize them; houses that I knew are now being torn down; railroad bridges I walked over every day are closed now due to age—all of these things that meant so much to my youth are slowly dying, grinding out the clock and inching towards irrelevance. That’s where we are in my lifecycle. The ones that were too hot, that ran too fast, burnt too bright have all died away, the stable ones that planned ahead and looked to the future are ready to inherit the earth and slowly growing into their position. It’s the middle of the pack now that are dying away, all the mom and pop shops and mid- to regional size shops and businesses. These names won’t mean anything to most but those that recognize them know what I mean—it’s the Eastland Mall Movie Theater, The Greater Valley Drive In and Golf Range, The Station Break Café & Deli, Smitty’s Deli, Nigro’s—all are either dead or slowly dying. There’s a list of other artists of average yoke, neither at the top of the pack or the bottom who are also inching towards or irrelevance or slowly dying like Jani Lane in hotel rooms all across America, some to silent acclaim, others only noticed by their families.

So, when I think back and seem a little sad about Warrant it’s not because I’m marking the passing of a great artist or remembering my first high school love. No, it’s because I’m mourning the slow, eventual passing of my youth. There’s nothing ahead but middle age and national chains.

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