John Kennedy Oswald (Jani Lane), 1964-2011

Like rock fans all over the world, I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn today of the terrible news that former Warrant vocalist Jani Lane has been found dead at the age of just forty-seven. The sneering attitudes of an often myopic rock music establishment notwithstanding, there is no doubt that as a performer, and as the writer of truly timeless songs, the work of this outstanding artist touched the hearts of millions – myself included – and will stay with them forever. It is sadly ironic that, with the sway of grunge and ‘alternative’ rock stylings having loosened their grip on critical opinion, the artistry of bands like Warrant is finally getting some of the recognition it surely deserves. In my long-held opinion, nobody from the ‘hair metal’ era was better than Warrant. And that fact is principally owing to the remarkable songwriting gift of their lead singer at the height of their fame, the man whose talents made superstars of them, Jani Lane.

Like Cheap Trick before him, and their mutual formative influence, The Beatles, Jani had an unerring ear for the killer hook, for melodies that dripped over you like honey; once heard, never forgotten. If Warrant cannot be credited with inventing the power ballad, they certainly perfected it, with iconic songs like Heaven, Sometimes She Cries, and Blind Faith capturing the hearts of a generation and prompting a million fists to punch the air in sheer delight. Their upbeat rock anthems were equally iconic and unforgettable; perhaps more than any other song of the era, Downboys encapsulates the exuberance, vitality and unbridled joy of the Sunset Strip scene at its height. Jani always felt that Cherry Pie – a song that he regarded as a throwaway piece of fluff, that (unfortunately) came to symbolise the band – was a millstone, tagging him as just another dumb jock and obscuring his true talents and aspirations as a songwriter and musician. While, in actual fact, there is no shame in having written Cherry Pie – it wouldn’t have attained such cultural ubiquity if it hadn’t been a great song, and it remains a slamming hard rock anthem which always sounds great on stage – he certainly had a point. From the same album, songs like I Saw Red and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (which earned the grudging respect of a quite remarkable number of the ‘glam sucks’ brigade) simply oozed class, evincing a striking narrative gift and attaining a depth that few of Jani’s peers could match. After everything changed, with the advent of grunge, he raised his game still further, delivering the under-acknowledged masterpiece Dog Eat Dog (1992). Darker and more sombre than previous Warrant offerings, in keeping with the changing musical landscape, the album nevertheless retained the key elements that had made the band so successful in the first place, and undoubtedly contained some of Jani’s best ever songs; with the raw power of blazing rockers like Machine Gun and Bonfire and the devastating emotional impact of towering songs like Let it Rain, Quicksand, All My Bridges are Burning, Andy Warhol was Right, The Bitter Pill and Sad Theresa, it remains an album for the ages. While Jani’s last full-length albums of new original material with the band – 1995’s Ultraphobic and the following year’s Belly to Belly – might have indulged alternative influences too far for the sensibilities of many long-standing fans, songs like Undertow, High, Chameleon, Indian Giver, Feels Good, Letter to a Friend and the fragile marvel that is Stronger Now – cited by Jani as perhaps his favourite of all the songs he wrote – proved that a gift like his always shines through beyond the surface trappings.

It is a very sad day, and my heartfelt condolences go out to Jani’s family and friends. I know that he truly loved his fans, loved being on stage – loved exercising the special gift he had for making the world a sunnier and more vibrant place. That is how he will be remembered all over the world. I was never lucky enough to see Jani Lane perform, but I will certainly never forget about him.

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4 Responses to John Kennedy Oswald (Jani Lane), 1964-2011

  1. Tina says:

    He was one of the best…I am heartbroken 😦

  2. A.Y. Marsh says:

    Me too. It’s been touching to read so many glowing tributes and wonderful memories, from musicians and fans alike.

  3. A.Y. Marsh says:

    Full tribute to Jani Lane due in next month’s (November) issue of Classic Rock magazine.

  4. A.Y. Marsh says:

    The Classic Rock piece was disappointing, but there is a really excellent retrospective on Jani and Warrant in Issue 4 of Classic Rock’s dedicated AOR magazine.

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