According to Blackie Lawless, it all started when he was nine years old. "My brother had a guitar and I used to sneak down to his bedroom and play it when he wasn't there," he begins. "I got my own guitar when I was about ten; I didn't get an electric guitar until I was 13. I made money playing music the first time when I was nine. I made $16.35 and I thought, 'Boy, I am on the road to riches now!' Little did I know that was the most amount of money I was going to make for a long time doing it!"
Somewhere between subjection to military school and enrollment as "a political science major/psychology minor at Wagner University," where, he states, "I was learning what I wanted to learn because I wasn't listening to the crap that public schools teach you. I learned to see through all the lies." The Staten Island native was in a street gang with Ace Frehley, suffered a serious stab wound, and devoted himself to "the same band in school for eight years, not because we were great or loved each other. We were just lucky to have the proper instrumentation in our own neighborhood. I really didn't start to get picky about instrumentation until I could drive, started going to concerts, and things like that. Then my eyes opened up. Eventually that led me to California after the New York Dolls broke up. (Lawless spent six months as a Doll, replacing Johnny Thunders.) The bassist and I played together about a year there, then he went back to New York. I stayed in L.A. and started doing what I wanted."
The result of Lawless' ambition was a shock-rock unit, Sister, a band he now parallels to Motley Crue. By 1982, that band had evolved into W.A.S.P., and their on-stage "psycho-drama" (i.e., rack, raw meat, posters, sawblades) brought Lawless, Chris Holmes, Randy Piper and Steve Riley mixed global response. In the twelve months between debut and The Last Command, the band's strong musical credibility quickly surpassed their outrageous live reputation, proving them much more than a visual phenomenon. In addition, interest was regenerated in their independently released first single "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" courtesy of a team of irate U.S. Senatorial wives complaining about sleeve and Iyrical content. Meanwhile, the instantly likeable Lawless, through no fault of his own, has become proprietor of the most controversial and notorious hips since Elvis' pelvis was declared too risque for national television. (One might wonder just how many hours the PMRC women devoted to scrutinizing the Lawless Iyrics and crotch in the first place!)
"I'm not up here using rock'n'roll as a platform," Lawless defends. 'Rock'n'roll was never meant to be a platform to preach politics or devil worship or any of that bullshit. It's a fun medium; a very basic art form, and was never meant to be highly sophisticated. We've taken that pretense and elaborated on it a little bit visually, but the music we've tried not to tamper with all that much. I call it 'electric vaudeville,' because we're not doing things that are totally new. We're taking the same ideas that happened 60, 70, l00 years ago, repackaging it, and putting a different bow on it, but we're not doing things that are so far removed from Shakespearean Theatre."
While the extreme theatrics might seem a bit over the edge to the
untrained, Lawless stresses, "The first thing I think about when I go in to
record is the songs themselves and a direction will naturally take its own
course of what the show is going to look like. If the songs are strong, you
don't have to worry about the show overshadowing them. If the tunes are
really happening, you can't upstage them visually. You can have the best
show in the world, and God knows we're trying to, but the songs are what
stand at the end of the day.