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Michaels finds his muse on new CD

Bret Michaels
Bret Michaels calls "Songs Of Life" his first solo CD.

It might seem like an odd claim for the singer for the metal band Poison to make, considering he already has two releases out under his name, "A Letter From Death Row" and "Ballads, Blues and Stories."

But to Michaels, those previous two releases don't qualify as real studio CDs.

"It really is my first real solo record," Michaels said of "Songs of Life."

"When I did 'A Letter From Death Row,' these were songs that I felt very proud of, but some of them were written to fit the soundtrack (to the film of the same name). Some of them were written as music pieces, of a score ... So that was like a soundtrack with some score and stuff on it.

"Then 'Ballads, Blues and Stories,' I wrote as a story singer/songwriter storyteller record for just the fan club. It was never meant for distribution," he said. "We (Poison) have luckily a huge following at that site of the fan club, so I did an album just for them. They were really interested. One of the big topics on the site is what made you write this song. What inspired you? And 'Ballads, Blues and Stories' talks about songs that they picked out. You know, 'Every Rose,' 'Something to Believe In' I did acoustic versions of."

By contrast, Michaels said, "Songs of Life" is a solo CD that took a lifetime to make, because it collects songs that the vocalist for Poison had written throughout his career.

"I took them from different pieces of my life," he said. "That's really what it's about, different emotions at different points in my life, different feels of music that I wrote. 'Menace to Society,' I was extremely young when I wrote that. And it was during that Ramones kind of I'm angry at life (period). I'm a musician, but nobody knows that be-cause I'm a bus boy, that's where I was in my life, working at Bob's Big Boy. And my boss just didn't see me making it as a musician, and it made me angry. That is the fuel that drives this engine."

Michaels' employer at Bob's Big Boy, obviously, couldn't have been more wrong about the singer's future in music.

Poison originally was formed by Michaels, bassist Bobby Dall and drummer Rikki Rockett in 1983 in Harrisburg, Penn. The band soon moved to Los Angeles, where the current lineup came together with the addition of guitarist C.C. DeVille.

For the next six years, Poison managed to weather stormy relationships in the band and a wild on-the-road lifestyle to become one of the most popular metal bands of the 1980s with the multi-platinum hit CDs "Look What the Cat Drag-ged In," "Open Up and Say ... Ahh!" and "Flesh and Blood."

But by 1991, personality conflicts between Michaels and DeVille, coupled with DeVille's worsening drug and alcohol habit conspired to splinter the lineup.

Poison pushed forward, recording the 1993 CD, "Native Tongue," with guitarist Richie Kotzen and a follow-up CD, "Crack a Smile," with guitarist Blues Saraceno before DeVille rejoined. The original lineup released a new studio CD, "Hollyweird," last summer.

Michaels' "Songs of Life" CD has a few Poison-esque moments on rowdy tunes like "It's My Party" and "Menace to Society."

But several songs branch out musically from Poison's signature pop-metal sound. "Forgiveness," with its chiming guitars and relaxed tempo puts Michaels in an effective folk-pop setting. The title song boasts an anthemic folk rock sound, while "One More Day," with its simple acoustic instrumentation is a considerably toned-down counterpart to the power ballads that have been part of the Poison sound.

Lyrically, "Songs of Life" offers even bigger contrasts. The CD allows Michaels to show a serious and sensitive side that only occasionally has surfaced within Poison.

The most obvious example of this side of Michaels' writing comes on "Raine," a song about his love and commitment to his 3-year-old daughter, Raine.

Some of introspection may be a product of changes in the life of Michaels. A diabetic since childhood, Michaels not only has become a father, but just turned 40.

"It was a big deal for me in a great way," he said of his birthday. "For me to survive 34 years with insulin-dependent diabetes, and to be 40 years old and being able to live out my dreams, it was a milestone in a great way, not a bad way.

"Turning 40 was a great milestone in my life," Michaels said. "It's always been mind over matter, meaning I never look at myself and say: 'Oh my God, I'm 40.' I look at it and say I've survived and lived my life to the fullest, and I feel good about that. And I'm still driven, not jaded."

Fatherhood, as well, has had a profound effect on Michaels.

"Becoming a father, it really wants to make me be around," he said. "I want to be around for my daughter because I love her. I miss her when I'm away from her. And it really has taught me, on a serious note, that I want to survive my diabetes for many years. I want to see her have kids. I mean, long after my music career has gone to the wayside, I want to see my daughter grow up."

Bret Michaels plays Oct. 10 at Pop's, 1403 Mississippi Ave. in Sauget. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $18 in advance and $20 at the door.

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