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May 2005
Look What the Cat Dragged In!
The Satya Interview with Rikki Rockett

 

Rikki Rockett
Photo courtesy of Rikki Rockett

As the lipstick-wearing kings of LA glam metal, Poison has embodied the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll image for almost 20 years. With a string of smash hits including “Talk Dirty to Me,” “Unskinny Bop,” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Poison have made a career out of debauchery that’s lasted far longer than most of their fans’ Aqua Net hairspray, or for that matter, hair.

Yet, out of this decadent world comes Poison’s drummer Rikki Rockett, one of the most dedicated animal activists you’ll ever meet. Working with groups such as LA’s Last Chance For Animals, Rikki has used his celebrity to bring the message of compassion and animal rights into the world of rock ‘n’ roll and beyond. In the process he has smashed the stereotype of the narcissistic, self-absorbed rock star who cares little for the world or, for that matter, animals.

As an artist who is involved with music, painting and filmmaking (Rikki is currently producing and directing Hooligan, a documentary on motorcycle “Rocker” culture), Rikki is a virtual renaissance man. Whether he’s pounding his (non-animal) drum skins in Poison or trying to save the animals from being skinned, Rikki Rockett lives his passions as both an artist and an activist.

Eric Weiss recently spoke with Rikki Rockett about all things rock, celebrity and the state of the animal rights movement.

When I think of the music scene and Poison, what comes to mind is sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and definitely not animal rights. How did someone so immersed in a scene that’s all about debauchery come to care so much for animals?
There’re a lot of reasons for it, but one thing that bothers me about rock ‘n’ roll, or my genre of rock, is that it is very self indulgent most of the time. It pisses me off. It’s fed by MTV and stuff. I watched VH1’s The Greatest: 40 Least Metal Moments and they had this top list of stuff that didn’t fit into the sex, drugs, and debauchery thing. I’m surprised they didn’t have me in there talking about how I’m ‘un-metal’ for feeling this way about the animals—mass slaughter of animals, how ‘metal’ is that? Is that cool? It does bother me. But I’m an individual. I feel things and certain things have changed me over time. It didn’t all happen at once, but it did sort of landslide at one point, and it brought me to the place where I am.

What was that landslide moment for you?
In high school I had been involved with anti-vivisection. I was going to be a biology major, and then I started to see what was happening with dissection. I did a pro/con project and took the side of an anti-vivisectionist. I began to understand that whole side of animal rights, but I wasn’t vegetarian and there were all these other things I didn’t connect the dots with.

But about 13 years ago, I was asked by a small grassroots [animal rights] group to be involved in a fundraiser. I said that’s fine, but don’t pull me into the vegetarian stuff because I don’t feel that. If it’s about vivisection, I’m there; if it isn’t, I’m not. [Then] I basically sat with this one person for about eight hours who patiently answered every single question I ever had about animal rights and absolutely put me into a spin for at least two weeks because I finally connected the dots. That’s kind of what changed me. It wasn’t that I got brain-washed—I had specific questions. I was coming from the place of a guy growing up in Pennsylvania who took the hunter’s safety course when I was 12 and had steak every Sunday. And I hammered this poor girl for hours asking what if this? or what if that?—with all the typical arguments a layman would give. She was just completely patient and answered every one one them, one by one. It didn’t become a battle of semantics. I aspired to have that effect on at least one other person. I’m still not that good. I still get spirited.

I think that’s such an important point because I think it’s such a logical issue but also such an emotional one. For so many activists, it’s hard not to get spirited. It’s good to find out that you spoke with someone who maintained her calm and was able to speak to you in the most effective way.
The opposition will come at us and say ‘you are just being emotional.’ I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think that’s entirely bad. It seems believing that feeling is the truth. If something visual is stimulating or you hear about something that is happening to cats and you react to it, why is that such a bad thing? I understand their point, because you can get to a point where you are not looking at something in a rational way. Yes, we need to be rational, but I don’t think you can separate the emotional part of the plight of animals. It is the thing that drives us.

You’ve had celebrity status for some years now, and I’m wondering what your view is on using famous artists and celebrities to further the cause of animal rights. Specifically, do you think it helps the movement and gets people truly interested? Or do you think the movement has been focusing too much on celebrities, almost style over substance?
I think that if people didn’t believe in the fantasy of celebrity culture, I probably wouldn’t be anywhere. But looking from the outside in, I think the emphasis we put on celebrities and what they think is completely absurd. We do the same thing with sports stars. Because somebody can put a ball through a hoop, we want to hear his opinion on apartheid, and it just drives me crazy.

People grow up these days not wanting to educate or culture themselves; they want to figure out how they can win the latest version of American Idol. That bums me out. This is the problem with the media right now. [Yet], if I call the media about a demonstration about something that isn’t fair, generally, if it’s animal rights they won’t even respond. But if, say, Brad Pitt is going to be there, then I can get some media. But I’m not so sure that kind of media is the best. It is great to get the attention, but when that happens I’m not so sure the attention stays focused on the issue. With ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur,’ I don’t even know if people are looking at the message, except to see if the girl is hot or not. I don’t know how effective it is. But I don’t know how to be effective in this changing culture. It’s getting harder to fight.

When you are a celebrity it’s tough, because everyone is looking to ridicule you, not necessarily to hear what you have to say. Unfortunately, a lot of times I don’t feel that effective, and almost feel that if I was more anonymous I could get more done. People want to focus in on everything I may or may not do right. I had someone jump all over me because I had a 50 year-old leather jacket on when I was riding my motorcycle. They want to focus on one little thing over the thousands of positive things I do for the animals.

How has it been with your band mates? Have you had any influence on them or are they just like ‘what the hell has happened to you Rikki?’
They are not disrespectful of me and I was quite surprised about that. There have been times when I’ve woken up on the tour bus and we are stopped at an Arby’s and [the food] is on the bus and I have to smell it. But generally speaking they are pretty cool. We have to live together. I can’t live in a glass house. I went through a phase where I couldn’t even be around meat-eaters. I just can’t do that anymore, I have friends who are meat-eaters. I’m more effective just setting an example, to tell you the truth, rather than segregating myself.

Speaking of tours, when we spoke awhile back you mentioned talking with Ted Nugent about animal rights when he was on tour with Poison. Now he hosts hunting tours, runs a hunting camp for kids and delights in tormenting both animals and animal activists on his reality TV show Surviving Nugent. I’m wondering what it’s like to talk to the guy. Do you feel like you’ve gotten through to him at all?
No, I don’t. He’s gotten worse over the years too. He was with Damn Yankees at the time and they opened for us. Generally, he wasn’t around—he’d go hunting or run off somewhere and wouldn’t come in until the last minute to play the show. I didn’t see much of him, but when I did there was just a line of stuff that he went through. He’ll say his piece and walk away. He’ll never listen to what you have to say.

The main thing I said to him was by being an animal rights activist, I don’t get one cent (in fact if it does anything, it creates other issues in my professional life). But you make money off of your abuse—you sell stuff. You are making money off it; I’m not making one dime. Let’s see who has got the validity here.

As someone who has been involved in the animal rights movement for some years, what is your take on the movement? Where do you think it is succeeding and where is it failing?
It’s a huge question. For one thing, I don’t like to be judgmental of groups in the movement. But I wish that each group would find their niche, stick to it and be effective in that area. There are too many groups trying to do too many things and they don’t get any one thing done. And the media will go to what they consider to be the nuttiest thing. We need to manipulate the media better. I think the animal rights movement needs to be promoted like a rock band. It needs to be marketed because it’s not effective any other way. Either that or not even worry about getting in the media anymore and just do it on the grassroots level and be happy with that and maybe we’ll be just as effective.

We’re not taken seriously. That’s the problem. When you are talking about vivisection and somebody comes out in a bunny suit—when you are talking about children starving in other countries, you don’t have someone in a bunny suit hopping [around]. When you have any serious issue, it should be approached seriously. And what we are doing is using anything to get the word out there. Just like the old saying that any publicity is good publicity. I don’t agree with that. We live in a different world now. The media is looking to find somebody goofy in our movement and there are plenty—there are in any movement.

I think we need to unite more on how we want people to see us. It’s the trickiest thing in the world because everyone wants to express themselves, and I respect and completely understand that. I just hope more people will look at the consequences of how they express themselves before they do it.

Do you think that wearing your politics on your sleeve has influenced many die-hard Poison fans? Is there a legion of vegan Poison fans out there wearing faux snakeskin boots and faux leather pants?
It has been effective. It’s funny how animal rights, animal rescue, animal welfare are three different topics, but the public at large looks at them the same. They kind of put them all together. I say I’m involved in animal rights, and they say ‘we just love our puppy.’ They just don’t understand. I kind of get a smattering of all of it. There have been some people who have gone to my website and then on the Internet and have become hard-core animal rights activists. That really makes me happy that I’ve had that influence. Not everyone is going to be influenced to that degree. My goal is not for someone to do it because of me. My goal is to just expose someone to it, and out of their own consciousness, they explore it and want to do it.

To learn more, visit www.rikkirockett.com.


 


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