Jani Lane of ’80s glam metal band Warrant was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room Thursday night. He was 47. Authorities discovered Lane’s body after responding to a call around 5:30 p.m. at a Comfort Inn in Woodland Hills. No official cause of death has been released.
As Lane likely would have suspected (or feared), the song that keeps getting mentioned in his obituaries today is “Cherry Pie,” an archetypical hair band anthem and the title track from Warrant’s double-platinum 1990 album. Released toward the end of glam’s commercial peak, “Cherry Pie” epitomized an era of leeringly sexist, macho rock music that many were glad to see end with the onset of grunge just one year later. But taken out of the context of the times, “Cherry Pie” just seems like a fun, harmlessly dumb party song, and one of the few metal jams of the time that you can sing at karaoke night without blowing out your upper register.
As the writer of “Cherry Pie,” Lane expressed misgivings about the song in a 2006 VH1 interview. “I hate that song,” he said. “My legacy is ‘Cherry Pie.’ Everything about me is ‘Cherry Pie.’ I’m the ‘Cherry Pie’ guy. I could shoot myself in the fucking head for writing that song.” Lane later backed off those comments, telling metal website Blabbermouth that VH1 “caught me on a bad day.” But whether Lane was caught in a moment of candor or grumpiness, there’s a lot truth to the assertion that Lane in life (and probably in death) will be summed up by that one song, for good or for ill.
Born John Kennedy Oswald on Feb. 1, 1964 in Akron, Ohio, he changed his name to Jani Lane after moving to Florida in 1983 with his band Cyren. He eventually left Florida for L.A. with future Warrant bandmate Steven Sweet, meeting up with Warrant founder Erik Turner in 1986. A few years later the band signed with Columbia Records and released 1989’s Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, which went double platinum on the strength of three Top 40 singles, including the power ballad “Heaven,” which went to No. 2.
Like so many other bands of its time, Warrant’s commercial fortunes plummeted in the early ’90s, and Lane’s relationship with the group became an on-again/off-again proposition. After 1992’s Dog Eat Dog sold one-quarter as many records as Warrant’s first two albums, Lane left the band in ’93, only to return one year later. Lane left again in 2004, but was coaxed back into the Warrant fold in 2008 for a summer reunion tour. Once that wrapped, Lane left Warrant for good that fall. Lane continued making music on his own, and filled in for singer Jack Russell for Great White’s summer tour in 2010. That same year, he was arrested for his second DUI in two years, and was ordered to serve 120 days in jail.
If Lane’s legacy is indeed being “the ‘Cherry Pie’ guy,” he seems to have come to grips with it in the final years of his life. “I'm happy as a clam to have written a song that is still being played and still dug by so many people,” Lane told Blabbermouth in 2007. “It's hard enough to write a song, let alone one that sticks around." But if there’s another song from Cherry Pie worth remembering, perhaps it’s the pretty “I Saw Red”—“Nerf-metal’s all-time most chilling cheated-on betrayal ballad,” in the words of critic (and Warrant fan) Chuck Eddy. Lane might be best known for shooting fire hoses at buxom blondes, but “I Saw Red” shows a guy who could also get behind a piano and a show quiet, more sensitive side that perhaps he would’ve liked more people to see.