Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. has been on a long and radically winding road for the past three years. It's taken him that long to perfect The Crimson Idol, a brilliant conceptual album that easily compares to those by Queensryche, Savatage and the Who. He suffered for his art, but out of that suffering came a cautionary tale focusing the rise of one Jonathan Aaron Steel, an ambitious musician who gets much more than he bargained for from the biz. Now, having put together a new band (guitarist Johnny Rod, drummer Stet Howland and bassist Doug Blair), Blackie is ready to take to the road and will be touring soon. Let us join the master of the macabre as he relives the creation of The Crimson Idol, a to-hell-and-back trip that brought him face-to-face with his own dark side.
I divided it up within the given space I had, which was an hour. I wanted to tell the story of what I thought were most of the inherent evils that go on in this business. The bottom line of this story is: Be careful what you wish for; it may come true. In this industry people are desperate for fame. They think they want it. I would say that covers about 98% of the people on the planet. When you get it, though, it's like you get the tiger by the tail. You have one of two choices- you either hang on, and you're in for a rough ride; or you let go and get eaten.
Each character was a little bit of a lot of people that I've met. When it comes to this business I've found that you're either decent or you're not, and there's not a whole lot of grey area in between. I've been doing this almost ten years now, and you get to a point where you wake up one day about halfway through your career and go, "What am I doing here? Why me?" It's a question you'll never be able to answer. It starts eating at you after awhile, and one of the conclusions you come to is. "Well, maybe I've been put here to say something." If that's the case, I have one of two choices: I can either say something good, or I can say something negative. One thing that all entertainers have- especially musicians who've achieved any kind of notoriety- is this great gift that they've been given- and it's not their talent. The gift is that they stand on this platform, and when they speak, the whole world listens to what they're saying. You can either use that in a positive way or a negative way.
There are nine characters in the story, and they each have been written from a satirical point of view. Like Charlie, Jonathan's manager. Upon first examination somebody would think that I'm slamming the music industry, but Charlie is a euphemism for entertainment in general-what happens to these kids when they come out here, and how they get consumed by the machine. Although Jonathan is very green when he first starts, he asks Charlie on the phone, "Tomorrow when I'm gone/Will they whore my image on/I'll will my throne away, to a virgin heir and Charlie's slave." In other words, is he going to end up like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe? Will he be dead and have someone still making money on him?
Jonathan is not me, but I became him over the course of making the record and was miserable for about a year. I didn't come from an element like that. To become that person, I had to get down in the gutter and stay there, emotionally. It took a phenomenal toll on me. I don't know if I ever want to go through anything like that again. I don't think it's worth it. Still, I'm a little close to it right now. Maybe in a year or two I'll change my mind, but there was a lot of pain. I reached a point where I was seriously fearing for my sanity. I know that sounds way over-emotional, but it's true. There was about a six-month period right towards the end when I couldn't sleep. I was sleeping probably four hours a night. When I would sleep, it wasn't a deep sleep; it was more like passing out. I was drinking a lot because it was the only way I could go to sleep. I'm not an alcoholic. The only drinking problem I ever had was somebody I used to work with. A couple of times I would jump up in the middle of the night and stand straight up in bed because I was having nightmares or something- cold sweats and the whole bit. It was not a very pleasant thing.
When I hit the one-year mark of working on the project, that's when the psychosis started. I'd gotten to a point, and I kid you not, where I sincerely believed, sincerely as I'm sitting here, that I would never be finished with the record. There was a little part of my mind that said, "Just put one foot in front of the other, day after day after day, and you'll probably get there," but there was such a void. The story I tell people when they bring this up, the analogy I give them, is that it was like climbing a mountain you couldn't see the top of because it was shrouded in fog or clouds. You're standing at the bottom, and you think you've got a good idea and you've got all this energy, so you say, "Ah, the hell with it, I'm going for it." You start traipsing along, plodding along, day after day after day. You start getting pretty close to the clouds, then you find yourself actually in the middle of the clouds. You become completely disoriented. You don't know what's up or down, . sideways, left or right. You are literally in a fog, and . you have no sense of balance anymore, but instinct . keeps pushing you on. Finally you see a little light, and . you run as hard as you can to get to it and out of the clouds. You can now see the top of the mountain, but . from where you're standing, you're exactly halfway from where you started. Now you have one of two choices- You can either go on and finish it, or you can go back down. But either way, you're still in the middle. That's exactly what it was like. And unless somebody's walked this walk, they will never understand what it means.
Some of it I found to be very therapeutic. The beginning of "The Great Misconception of Me," where he's: doing that great confessional bit, I found that to be very . therapeutic. One thing I learned about writing is that once you're a writer, you're always a writer. You're writing whether you know it or not. That's what was happening to me as I accumulated the story.
I wrote this record because I get asked one question over and over and over again wherever I go: "How do I get from where I'm at to where you're at?" I would try to tell these people, but they couldn't understand it any more than they could fly. So I thought, "Okay, I know what I'm going to do; I'm going to tell them this story, and I'm going to show them the worst possible side of this business. Once they've heard the story, if they think they still want to go for it, hey, go for it. Have my blessing.
The problem is that most people get into the business for the wrong reasons. The reason to be in this business, for me, is not the love of playing music as much as creating it. It's the idea of creating something from nothing. That's the reward. If you're into it for any other reason, any other perks or whatever, well, maybe somebody in our position ought to tell these kids. Then at least they've been forewarned. They can then understand quicker than they would have had they never been told. If someone had told me this story ten, 15 years ago, I wouldn't have given a shit; I still would have done it, because I didn't give a damn. I was willing to pay the price. Any price. Most people say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I want to pay the price," but they don't know what they're talking about. I tell people when they ask for advice, "Show business is not looking for people who want to do this; it's looking for people who must do this." There's a difference. In other words, if you don't think you can live without it, then go for it. Give it a shot. There's nothing wrong with trying and failing. But if you have the slightest inclination that you can live without it, you better seek another line of employment, 'cause you ain't going to make it to the finish line.
When W.A.S.P. first started I was oblivious to the things that I'm talking about right now. The only thing you're interested in in the beginning is how many women you can get and how many times you can get drunk each week, and your songs reflect that. I'm not knocking new bands. I think there's a place for that. It's rock 'n' roll. I haven't lost that fondness or that original motivation, but after you've been there for awhile, I think you have a responsibility. The R word- that terrifies the hell out of most people. They don't want to hear about it because it's enormous pressure. Sometimes it takes the fun away from that party atmosphere, and it makes you realize that you're responsible for the things you say that either directly or indirectly affect a lot of people's lives. That's a scary thought. Most people don't want to deal with that. -