Thirty years ago, director Jeff Stein released what he considers to be “the perfect glam-metal video”: Warrant’s infamous “Cherry Pie.” Though renowned for his direction of the Cars’ “You Might Think” (the very first VMAs winner for Video of the Year) and Tom Petty’s groundbreaking “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” Stein says the hair-metal band’s literally pastry-filled and figuratively cheesecake-filled “Cherry Pie” was “the closest I got to what I set out to do” in his videography — the cherry on his career sundae, if you will.
However, the director tells Yahoo Entertainment that while the high-rotation MTV clip made Star Search beauty pageant winner Bobbie Brown a superstar and one of the most famous video vixens of all time, he initially had a different actress in mind for the role of the “Cherry Pie girl,” someone who would eventually become a ‘90s icon in her own right: Josie Bissett, a.k.a. Jane Mancini of Melrose Place fame.
“I wanted to use Josie Bissett, who had done a video already for me — a very different kind of video, though very playful still,” says Stein, referring to 1988’s “She Did It” by Glamour Camp, a new wave band fronted by Chris Otcasek, son of the Cars’ Ric Ocasek. “Josie did several videos with me, and I'm not going to say I discovered her, but I think I helped give her a break. So, I tried to get her to be the lead in ‘Cherry Pie,’ but I kind of deferred to [Warrant lead singer] Jani [Lane], and Jani didn't really go for her. I don’t know, maybe she seemed a little more innocent or something. Maybe he wanted that ‘video vixen’ type. And there was Bobbie, and he obviously went for Bobbie — and ended up marrying her.”
Stein introduced Lane and Brown at a San Fernando Valley Mexican restaurant called Casa Vega — “a very kind of rock ‘n’ roll, hair-metal band place, where we had our casting consultation meeting” — and the rest was MTV history. Stein quickly realized that Brown was the right woman for the job. “Josie has probably forgotten all about this. She did very well without it — probably better without it, I have to say,” Stein chuckles. “‘Cherry Pie’ was not her. That was not really Josie’s persona.”
Stein doesn’t remember much flirtation between Lane and Brown on the video set, as he was more impressed by Lane’s showmanship (“He really wanted to be a song-and-dance man, in an old-fashioned sense, almost vaudevillian, and I think he was a great frontman”) and the band members’ chemistry. “I remember they put on a great performance. When you're the director of a video, sometimes you have to pull a performance out of people, but these guys were on,” he marvels. However, Stein later figured out that Lane was smitten while on the road with Warrant and Poison.
“The few days I went on that bus tour, I know Jani was talking about Bobbie a lot,” Stein recalls. “I do want to note the fact that they got married, so hey, it had a happy ending, at least for a while. So it wasn't like Bobbie was exploited. She got married to the guy! And also Bobbie has, I dare say, made a career out of being in that video. So, I don't see it as exploitation.”
Stein brings up this point on his own, because he is well aware that many detractors did see the “Cherry Pie” video as exploitative. Canadian cable channel MuchMusic even banned it on the grounds that it was “offensively sexist.” But while the video garnered this reputation due to its notorious firehose scene and many close-up T&A shots, Stein is still confused that so many people didn’t see the Steel Panther-esque humor in the clip — like that “think about baseball” moment with Brown in a cherry-red baseball uniform sitting on a giant catcher’s mitt, or the custom-made prosthetic buckteeth Lane sported for the line “put a smile on your face, 10 miles wide.”
“It was a parody. So I guess if people don't get that it's a parody, I don’t know, is that on me or on them?” Stein laughs. “I mean, it's so over-the-top, how could anyone would think it was anything but a spoof of other hair-metal videos, you know? If people think it was sexist, it was only sexist as a parody of sexism. I am the least sexist/misogynistic person, and I know who I am, so I stand by that. … We were known for being very respectful to women. I fired people on the spot that I thought were crossing a line. I never wanted a woman to be uncomfortable on my set. I'm not saying that because it's ‘PC’ now or whatever. That's the truth.
“I did my job. I got the right actress for the video, and the band was happy,” Stein continues. “She was perfect for that role, and she was a good sport. Just the playfulness of this, I don’t find it sexist or hardcore in any way, like some other hair-metal videos where women are really objectified. Now, some people would say Bobbie is very objectified, but to me, she's in the middle of this pop-art kind of world. And I'm not saying that to get myself off the hook for any reason. I just didn't think of it like that. The women that were in my videos, they were acting in it. They were really a part of it. They weren't an object in it.”
Stein storyboarded the video “pretty tightly, kind of lyric by lyric” to get that “very pop-art” feel, and he even threw in some highbrow art. “You know, I also do some public service to my audience,” he quips. “We did a take on American Gothic, that famous painting [by Grant Wood], and I cleared that with [the Art Institute of Chicago]. They gave me permission. And if anybody should have been fuddy-duddy or offended, it would have been them!”
However, Stein knows that a couple other scenes received much more attention, notably that not-so-subtle metaphor moment when a triangular slice of pie lands squarely on Brown’s lap. “Yeah, I had to find a cherry pie-wrangler to do that. I’m kidding,” Stein jokes. “Yeah, that was difficult in that it was not that CG. I don't think we had CG back then, did we? I'm kidding again. No, that was a practical effect. We just kept dropping slices of pie. Bobbie was a really good sport. We had lot of pies on set. We monopolized the cherry pies in the greater Los Angeles area — I think they were from DuPar’s, maybe House of Pies. We were pretty good. None landed upside down or anything. In art, our aim is true.”
As for the firehose scene, Stein admits now that that one is a bit problematic: “Honestly, this is just recent, but I was watching it again and there were some stills of it. It looked phallic, right? There’s like, water coming out of [the hose]. I don't even want to get into too many euphemisms or whatever! All they were doing was spraying her with water — like, it was fun, and she was having fun. But the way he was holding it, I think ended up looking phallic. I just realized that now! But the only thing I really remember about that scene was that the firetruck weighed so much, they were afraid it was going to go through the floor of the stage. It was a real firetruck. We went for authenticity.”
While the video caught a lot of flak once it aired on MTV (which, unlike MuchMusic, was happy to play it constantly after its premiere on Sept. 8, 1990), Warrant and their record label were thrilled at the time. “I remember how happy [Sony Music Label Group chairman] Donnie Ienner was with the video. They thought it was a home-run, and it had an unbelievable impact. It was one of those that you made it and showed it to people and you knew you had gotten it right — maybe almost more so than any other video I did! The reception was like, I was a hero for a day,” Stein laughs.
However, “Cherry Pie” was one of the last gasps for this sort of video on MTV. Exactly one year and 13 days after the Sept. 11, 1990 release of Warrant’s Cherry Pie album, Nirvana’s Nevermind came out — and hair bands quickly became passé. By 1993, Lane and Brown were divorced after two years of marriage, and in 2011, Lane was found dead of acute alcohol poisoning in a hotel room, at the age of 47. “I was kind of shocked. He let himself go. I remember him telling me that he drank 64 ounces of water a day, and he seemed like a health enthusiast, really healthy,” Stein says. “He ‘got the girl.’ I would've thought [Lane and Brown] were happy. But who knows what happens in people's relationships? Warrant had this tremendous success, and then I guess grunge came in and everything went topsy-turvy. I often wondered about these guys who had this incredible success — and then all of a sudden, it's gone. You know, what's it like to still be playing now, trying to just keep it going?”
While Lane met a tragic end, “Cherry Pie” still holds up as a classic of a bygone era (with 49 million views on YouTube over the past decade), thanks in no small part to its iconic, if polarizing, music video. “It’s a great pop song. It really is flawless. And the combination of the video and the song makes it bigger than all of us. That's when you have a grand slam,” says Stein. “I always felt our biggest [video] hits complemented the song and made it a little bit bigger than if it were on its own. Some of these songs are remembered because of the videos. I'm not saying that in an egotistical way, but I mean, would this be as big as song without that video? I don't think so.”
And as for the controversy that has dogged the “Cherry Pie” video for three decades (“It would never even come out today; I'd be tarred and feathered and run out on a rail if they ever showed it!” Stein speculates), that is something of which the veteran director — whose credits also include videos for Billy Idol, Frank Zappa, Carly Simon, the Jacksons, Huey Lewis, and Weezer, as well as the Who’s landmark concert film The Kids Are Alright — is still proud.
“I was always creating some controversy along the way,” Stein says, noting that his other famous baked-goods-heavy video, “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” partially inspired Tipper Gore to launch the Parents Music Resource Center. “I think all great rock ‘n’ roll has some controversy in it. … And Warrant was a particular brand of rock ‘n’ roll that I really do enjoy, which is some rock ‘n’ roll laced with a lot of foolishness.
“’Cherry Pie’ was one of those videos that got ‘best of’ and ‘worst of.’ I think we got Worst Video of the Year in Rolling Stone’s critics’ poll. So I think when you can do that, you’ve obviously struck a nerve. To me, something like that is a victory.”
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