In one night, this relic from the Revlon era managed to enrage any enthusiasts he might have had left -- giving two local acts a Danzig-style shaft, leaving fans standing in the rain for over an hour, and threatening to shoot a soundman who wasn't even getting paid.
"Admittedly, I was not 100 percent prepared for him," says Todd Divel, who ran sound for Lawless and company at the Oriental Theatre on July 4. But nothing could have prepared Divel for the browbeating he suffered at the hands of this delusional megalomaniac -- except maybe the section on Lawless in David Konow's exhaustive tome Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal. According to Konow, who conducted extensive interviews with Lawless's former bandmates Gary Holland, Randy Piper and Chris Holmes, the Ballcrusher had lined his shelves with books on how to intimidate people.
While the Oriental's staging crew unloaded and assembled a mammoth microphone stand -- a junkyard contraption that reportedly weighs in excess of a thousand pounds and looks like a poor man's knockoff of the stand HR Geiger designed for Jonathan Davis -- the Blackster, by way of his road manager, informed Divel that he wanted all of the local acts cut from the bill. When Divel, himself a musician who plays in the Monkey Butlers and Three Miles West, balked at the demand to scratch sets by Moore and Havok -- the latter of which had fronted part of the dough to make the show happen in the first place -- Lawless and crew passive-aggressively took matters into their own hands.
"So I realized that they're kind of pacing themselves slowly," Divel recounts, "because they wanted to push their time to as close to doors as possible, so that when it comes down to it we say, 'Well, we've gotta cut the local acts because we've gone too long.'"
The codpiece-clad character, whose ego is as big as his mike stand, has used this tactic for years. In 1997, when W.A.S.P. toured with Motrhead, Lawless "often delayed sound checks until right before the doors of the venue opened, leaving the band with no time to prepare," Konow writes. On that same tour, while Lemmy and company were on stage, Lawless threw all of Motrhead's personal effects out of the shared dressing room and into the hallway -- which prompted the metal god to later deck him. At a tour stop in Boston nearly a decade earlier, Lawless made Metallica change "outside in a garden shed in the dead of winter," reports Konow. "When Lars Ulrich came backstage to borrow one of his heaters (there were several lying around), Lawless ordered him out of his dressing room."
Metallica? Don't tell Blackie, but I'm pretty sure the shoe's on the other foot these days. Who the hell does this guy think he is, Gene Simmons? In fact, in early interviews, Lawless -- a native New Yorker who replaced Johnny Thunders in the New York Dolls -- said he'd taken his cues directly from the Kiss bassist when he formed Sister, a proto shock-rock act that preceded W.A.S.P. But even Simmons, who's clearly had few self-esteem issues over the years, found Lawless's egomaniacal demeanor absurd. In 1985, when W.A.S.P. opened for Kiss, "their stage show featured giant replicas of the band's heads that floated above the stage," Konow notes. "Simmons looked at Lawless's head and remarked, 'Yep. That's about the size of it.'"
Same clown, different circus this month in Denver. At the Oriental, Lawless and his crew put Divel through the ringer. At one point, when the soundman was slow to comply with Lawless's inexplicable demand for a forty-millisecond delay in his monitor, the frontman lashed out. "Blackie takes a step back and looks at my monitor guy, and he goes, 'Can you run front of house?'" Divel recalls. "And the monitor guy says, 'No.' And Blackie goes, 'Can you fucking learn?' And the monitor guy goes, 'Well, um, no. I'm kind of busy at the moment.' Blackie then starts yelling at his tour manager. He's like, 'This is bullshit. I'm going to put a fucking bullet in that guy's head.'"
But Divel didn't need to worry, because a little later, when Lawless noticed some fans had taken shelter from the driving rain in the venue's lobby, he had a half-dozen security guards and MOD Productions' Cory Morrison escort him to his dressing room. "Apparently he said, 'Fuck. You told me there wasn't going to be this many people here. I don't want people to see me,'" Divel reports. "He just completely freaked out. The guy has no basis in reality."
Neither do the fans who've continued to follow him since his L.A.-based outfit caused a minor firestorm in the mid-'80s by issuing "Animal (F*ck Like a Beast)" -- Lawless's one claim to fame in a career that's otherwise a footnote in the annals of metal -- which became a focal point in the futile witch hunt led by Tipper Gore's Parents Music Resource Center. Because after performing for just 46 minutes at a deafening 118 db (excessive for a venue that size, Divel says), Blackie and his boys headed for their bus, and never engaged their fans at all.
Shockingly, Lawless's manager didn't respond to my requests for an interview. After all, he's got to be good at damage control by now, right?
And the night's damage wasn't done. Due to the lackluster turnout for the W.A.S.P. show (which also featured erstwhile Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy, LA Guns and Metal Church) and the recently canceled Jam Against MS benefit featuring Hal Ketchum and Montel Williams -- which pre-sold only 83 tickets out of a possible 1,600 -- MOD president Michael O'Donnell and partner Morrison were forced to dissolve their company. Morrison says the pair had poured their heart and soul -- not to mention $150,000 -- into preparing for the W.A.S.P. show over the past six months, renovating a theater that had tumbleweeds in the aisles when they took it over.
But the combined losses from the two shows was just too great to absorb. Now a new company, 44th Avenue Productions, led by Scott LaBarbera, has taken over operations at the Oriental. O'Donnell and Morrison will both continue to work at the theater, and while they're surprisingly upbeat about the changes there, neither is willing to bury the hatchet -- unless it's in Lawless's skull.
"Think about it, Blackie," O'Donnell wrote in an open letter to MetalSludge.com. "Do you really think your fucking mike stand will fit into a shitty bar? Because that's where YOU are going to be. It's not 1985 anymore."
I'm sure that will come as news to Lawless.