I hope the doctors didn't have to shave his head. Yes, I know it sounds superficial. But that's all I could think about when I read that Bret Michaels had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and was fighting for his life.
Bret, you see, has a classic rock star hair. It's bleach-blond and poker-straight and cascades down his back just like it did in Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me" video. He always wears a bandana over his forehead, which serves two purposes: A. It makes him look cool and B. It covers up his hairline. When I met him in his tour bus, I fixated on his hair, desperately trying to detect traces of a weave. Alas, my investigation was a total bust.
Oh well. The rest of the night made up for it. (Mom, you can stop reading now. Kidding.)
This was in July 2007. I was assigned a 10-minute phone interview pegged to his Rock of Love premiere. Though I had a mild crush on "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" back in the day, I couldn't resist getting in some friendly digs about that fact that the '80s rocker with the spandex pants and the guy-liner was still belting out the same old party songs each night and following in the hallowed TV footsteps of Flava Flav. I braced for a Courtney Love-like rant; instead, Bret asked me to be his guest at Poison's next concert in New Jersey.
Sure, right, whatever. Don't misunderstand -- I'm not one of those New York City hipsters who waxes about the underground days of The Beastie Boys. I don't even know what Thom Yorke looks like. On the contrary, I'm disgustingly Midwestern and straight-arrow and kind of shy. Translation: A night of debauchery on Bret Michaels' tour bus in (cough, cough) New Jersey sounded as appealing as a 3 a.m. 7-Eleven beer run.
Of course I went anyway. I was too scared to say no and felt that I owed it to Bret for being such a good sport about the interview. (He was punctual too). I brought my friend Jaimee for moral support, assuring her in transit that this "guest" nonsense would likely add up to five minutes of pre-show garbage time.
Hours later, his tour manager led us to Bret's tour bus on the backstage parking lot. The Tour Bus. You literally couldn't miss it -- especially since it was spray painted with Bret's image and came equipped with a special sign on the door: "If the bus is rockin", don't come knockin." Deal.
Though the concert was minutes away from starting, I expected to walk into a Poison version of a fraternity kegger, with CeCe DeVille dancing with a lampshade on his head. Much to my surprise, Bret was all by himself. And though he was beaming with excitement to play for thousands in the outdoor pavilion, he couldn't have been more accommodating and gracious. He actually came prepared with follow-up answers to a few of my interview questions ('Like I told you, Poison is really like Aerosmith' ) and repeatedly told us to make ourselves at home. That bus, by the way, was amazingly souped-up and came complete with a bar, flat-screen TVs hanging from the ceiling and an array of fine leather couches. The bedroom was off-limits.
Now, I realize this all makes for a warm-and-fuzzy G-rated anecdote, but come on: I didn't meet a Disney channel tween. This was the man, after all, who penned the lyrics "Unskinny bop/Just blows me away/Unskinny bop/all night and day." Sure enough, after the crowd-pleasing, two-hour Poison concert, the Bret Michaels reality show set in. We strolled back to the tour bus, only now a gaggle of cleavage-revealing, double-D breasted women with flammable hair had formed a single-file line in front of it. Needless to say, no cut-sies allowed. Jaimee and I immediately felt like rejects from the Rock of Love contestant pool.
I intended to just thank Bret and quietly leave the 1987 time machine, but he was having none of it. He eagerly asked for my feedback of the show and encouraged us to stay for awhile and "enjoy the party." Just like Batman in his cave, he then lifted up the armrest on one of the couches to reveal a secret mini-fridge stocked with alcohol. Surely sensing my we're-not-in-the-Upper-West-Side-anymore anxiety, he handed me a beer and exclaimed, "Ok, you need to get drunk." (Yeah, I didn't. Just one beer. Boundaries, people!). Bret then plopped down on the sofa next to me and articulately expressed his enthusiasm about his upcoming Rock of Love episodes and his ATV adventures earlier in the day. His devout groupies strolled by to greet him, and I amazed -- well, half-amazed -- that he addressed most of them by name. We stayed until 1 a.m.
One note: During the night, Bret disappeared into his bedroom for a good 20 minutes. I assumed he was filming a sequel to his video with Pamela Anderson. But his tour manager matter-of-factly explained that Bret, who has type-1 diabetes, needed to give himself an insulin shot and lie down. The groupies all knew about it. I didn't.
It was a wildly entertaining night, and I left with a profound respect for a guy whom I once considered a hair-metal punch line. The thing is, laughing at a guy who enjoys his life so much is a futile effort. So get back on the bus soon, Bret, and feel free to tie all that pain back with a bandana.