IMAGE: Jimmie buchanan
Last Thursday, I found myself amid livestock, awarding-winning pies, carnival rides and more faded Open Up and Say...Ahh! T-shirts than you could throw an elephant ear at. And, because I traveled outside Portland’s irony-worshipping confines, those tees were authentic (not machine-worn, mall-bought attempts at ’80s cred). I was at the Douglas County Fair in Roseburg, and I was there to see Poison. This was not, however, cultural tourism. I was not there ironically; I was there to embrace my butt-rock roots.
Yes, I realize that frontman Bret Michaels is on some horrible matchmaking reality show called Rock of Love . And I’m well aware that the band’s aging members, up close, look like pickled versions of their old selves (though, during the show, with the help of distance and the setting sun, it might as well have been their late-’80s heyday). I was also disappointed on my trip down to find that Poison’d! , the band’s recent covers album, is too straightforward to be entertaining and not interesting enough to really be good (though it is expertly played). But it was not the Poison-at-present that concerned me.
I was there to unabashedly relive my childhood love of ’80s hair bands with a bunch of people who see no shame in that—many of whom were just excited to have a big musical event to attend. Among the crowd, I saw the usual suspects (middle-aged moms, skanked-out butt-rock mavens) and a few surprises (high-schoolers, hipster kids). And the band—which has existed in some form for 21 years—didn’t disappoint a one of ’em. Lead guitarist C.C. DeVille (who I used to pretend to be when air-guitaring with my brother as a kid; he, of course, was Michaels) proved as awesome as ever, breaking into blues riffs, unexpected covers (“Georgia on My Mind”) and wailing solos that elicited such shrieks of approval you could barely hear ’em (the Beatles effect). He even requested “a round of applause for me.”
Michaels, despite his perma-puckered lips and overly pelvic dancing, was actually quite charming, too. He seemed genuinely grateful to be living the rock-star life, and even performed with a broken right hand, leading audience clap-alongs by pounding his left hand and right forearm together. And when he gingerly strummed the chords to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” the crowd thanked him with flying lighters and impassioned singing.
The best part, for me, was when the band broke out old faves I’d totally forgotten about (I mean, I haven’t listened to a proper Poison record in about 14 years). Along with the 4-H bunnies, Haunted Mansion and carnie grub of the day, Poison’s “Fallen Angel” brought me unbridled joy—the whole affair just felt like home. And that, friends, is nothin’ but a good time. ￼