Network Magazine, Canada September 1991

 

 Bryan Adams & the case of the sleeping neighbors


 
It was about 10 in the morning, mid-June, with the sun not shining and a look of hard, wet rain in the clearness of the coastal range. I was neat, clean, bearded and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed feelance journalist ought to be.

 I was calling on Bryan Adams. He wasn't answering.
Getting the unlisted number for his Vancouver home required cunning and smarts. Cash too, but that's expected in a cold world where money - hot, naked money - can loosen the tightest lips.
  As I suspected, Adams wasn't home. Hadn't been for a while. Years, really. He'd effectively disappeared from sight in early 1988. Into the Fire he'd titled his last album, the one many thought had made him duck and cover. Into the Dumpster was more like it. So what if it was a courageous artistic progression? It meant nada to the bean counters, especially when the sales curve plummeted like a high-wire artist felled by a stiff breeze.
  Reports of a new studio album had been circulating for two years. It was scheduled for release in September, 1990, then progressively bumped back to January, March and the early summer. Now the magic date was September 23, 1991.
  It's title was the one solid thing about it: Waking Up the Neighbours. Well, the neighbors were soundly snoozing. It was my mission to find out why.
  I had no axe to grind. It was a job, that's all, one I needed. Bad. Effie, who came by once a month to clean up the empties, had made herself scarce. My business partner, Miles, had ended a beautiful friendship. I'd spent the rent on cheap gin and the James Brown box set.
  So when a rap sounded at my door some weeks earlier, I expected a bill collector, not salvation.
  It was a dame. Cute. Redheaded. With a high-voltage smile that could stampede a businessman's lunch. Her calling card told me she edited Network.
  "We want the low-down on Adams."
  "Ansel?" I asked. "Oleta?"
  Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking.
  "The boy wonder, stupid. Find out what you can about the album. Report back when you've got something we can use." We haggled over my fee. I lost and she left, trailing a cloud of perfume. The kind Cher wears, I figured. Effie would know.
  The basics were easy. Adams was big-time, not an MVP like Jacko or Madonna, but a .300 hitter with gold-glove talent. His stats did the talking. Worldwide, he'd sold more than 15 million albums, 10 million for Reckless alone. He'd scored nine top-20 hits in America. Factor in the T-shirt sales and tour receipts, and his lifetime take-home pay had reportedly topped $35 million.
  "If you want the glory and the money, you got to be hard," asserted my poolroom pal Fast Eddie Felson. Adams was no soft touch. He'd reached for the brass ring in 1976 when he joined one-hit wonder Sweeney Todd. And he'd kept right after it with the drive of a Mary Kay Cosmetics peddler who dreams of a fleet of pink caddies.
  No way Adams was on the grift. Rock'n'roll was is one true obsession. The "junior Springsteen" with the Joe Average looks didn't skimp on energy, passion or commitment, and his fans loved him for it. Adams understood that kids wanna rock, but he knew he was the one kid in 10 million who could rock.
  Which perhaps he forgot circa Into the Fire. He'd hung with the wrong crowd: Peter Gabriel, Sting, the Amnesty International bunch. At 26 he wanted to reveal a more contemplative, socially-aware dimension. Hindsight tells us he was caught in the backlash against all things Politically Correct. Now Adams was 31, and that was a world of difference. Inquiring minds wanted to know just how different.
  The phone is my friend despite its tendency to talk back. I rang the offices of Bruce Allen Talent. Adams' manager comes off like a street tough, but the pit bull demeanor hides the pussycat within, his associates say. Wealthy after years of slugging it out with Bachman Turner Overdrive and Loverboy, Allen diversified into pro sports (auto racing, wrestling) and fashion (Chip'n'Pepper, for Chrissakes). Adams is his boy, though. "The kid," he calls him.
  My call was routed to publicist Kim Blake. Distributes information like a dentist hands out lollipops: sparingly and after the fact. The boss wasn't in the mood to talk. And there would be no Adams interviews before August, long after my deadline.
  Case closed? Not likely. Kitty Kelly wannabees everywhere know the golden rule: if at first you don't succeed, pry, pry again.
  Greasing palms and calling in favors, I learned Adams hadn't kicked back and taken it easy in recent years. Legend has it he was once ordered to take a holiday, two weeks of sun and Mai Tais in Hawaii. He lasted three days. His idea of a break since 1988 was one-off stadium gigs in Denmark, Calgary, Buenos Aires and Santiago, or guest appearances at The Wall spectacular in Berlin and London's Nelson Mandela birthday bash.
  Music rules his life the way deadlines rule mine. That and the operation of the nerve centre of his empire, Adams Communications Ltd., run by his mother, Jane Clark. What else does he do? Adams is passionate about Indian food. He loves to putter with the pruning shears. He likes to do battle with the rose bushes surrounding his modest, Tudor-styled two-bedroom home (list price: $250,000 in the mid-'80's, a bargain in exclusive West Vancouver). He campaigns to save Vancouver's few remaining heritage buildings. As for his romantic life, it is as private as it should be. The Fleet Street hacks have in the past linked him, absurdly, to Tina Turner and Princess Di (strictly because he'd penned "Diana"). He courts Vicki Russell, daughter of barking-mad filmmaker Ken (burning crosses and naked nuns a specialty), but that relationship runs hot and cold.
  Perhaps Bryan shares my view that work, women and survival are all that matter. The difficult part is putting them in the right order.
  I contacted Larry LeBlanc in Toronto. A crusty rock journalist and archivist, he's covered the scene since the '60s, currently for Billboard magazine. More to the point, he's been slugging away for years, trying to scratch out the definitive Adams biography. Whereas Adams has barely muttered a word to the press since 1987, he'd jawed with LeBlanc on dozens of occasions.
  LeBlanc summarized Adams' recent past in Canadian Composer magazine. Seems he and collaborator Jim Vallance spent 1988 demo-ing and writing tunes. Twice Adams recorded the resultant material, first with Pogues/U2 ace producer Steve Lillywhite, then Reckless pilot Bob Clearmountain. Both sessions, to Adams' thinking, lacked the right stuff.
  By July, 1989, he was ready to start from scratch. Vallance, choked at having wasted a year, ended the 11-year partnership. "It was a rough break," LeBlanc wrote. " They didn't part as friends."
  Enter Robert John "Mutt" Lange. Bad nickname 'cause this guy is no pooch when it comes to hard-rock production. AC/DC's Back in Black, Foreigner 4, Def Leppard's Hysteria - each a Godzilla of the genre. In 1976, Lange slapped down Graham Parker's Heat Treatment in a matter of weeks. Over time he had become a clinical hyper-perfectionist, requiring three years to record the hour-long Hysteria.
  Fed up with marathon studio projects, Lange agreed only to be Adams' new songwriting sidekick. They worked up a dozen tunes using several Adams/Vallance efforts as a starting point. Adams took an abortive stab at recording them himself, then convinced Lange to strap himself back into the producer's chair.
  LeBlanc confirmed all this, but no amount of baksheesh could make him connect the dots and reveal the backstage intrigue. "Wait for the book like everybody else," he insisted, saying he hoped for a publication date sometime next year. He signed off with one prediction: "Adams has horseshoes up the ass. He's got skill, talent and personal drive and right now he's as confident as I've seen him. I think he's going to hit one right out of the box with this album."
  Feeling as sorry for myself as Jimmy Hoffa did the day he was fitted with cement overshoes, I tracked down a source close to Bob clearmountain, the fix-it-in-the-mix genius who already this year has been hired by Springsteen, Crowded House and Guns'N'Roses. Clearmountain was cloistered with Lange and Adams at London's Battery Studio. And apparently Lange was as Felix Unger-picky as ever. One example: He spent days laboriously removing every hissy 's' from a vocal track everyone else believed perfect. When he'd finished, Adams sounded as human as Robocop, so those pesky sibilants had to be painstakingly replaced. Mutt, old man, get a life!
  Next on the agenda was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It featured "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You," the first Adams single since " Victim of love" stiffed October, 1987. Two hours after the curtain rose, only the ushers and I remained to swoon when the ballad swelled to life over the latte

r part of the closing credits. The rest of humankind heard it pumping from any radio within earshot. The tune was a smash, a "Heaven" for the '90s; another cathedral of sound from Lange and more proof that his tinkering pays dividends.
  And what about this September release date? "We'll expect it when we see it," said Ann Forbes, product manager with A&M Records Canada. "Bryan wants to get it right and we respect that." No question, Adams is priority No. 1 for the label. He's a proven blue chipper, all the more so to A&M since Janet Jackson jumped ship and Sting's Soul Cages sank from the weight of its own pretensions.
  Finally, I got the call from Kim Blake. She was tossing this dog a bone. Bruce Allen could space some five minutes.
  "Listen, we're talking about a major, major star here," he thundered from the outset. "This isn't one of those Canadian success stories you - bleeps [rock writers] - are always writing about, where all we hear is how

 great the record is, then nothing when it goes..." His right hand dive-bombed toward the desk, crashing with a thump. "I read that Colin James is going to be a smash... Barney Bentall is great... The Tragically Hip, holy Jesus aren't they exciting?& I'm surprised you people don't print retractions."
  Did Into the Fire harm Adams' career? "It was a very positive move," fixing me with a glare. The pussycat had claws. "People now realize the guy's got more in him than three-minute pop songs and cares about more than just getting laid on a Friday night."
  Allen said he expects the new record to be bigger and sell even more copies than Reckless. "I'd be disappointed if it didn't. We're putting out an album that Bryan is very proud of. It's an up record, very up. And it's chalk full of great songs. Mutt Lange demands that. He wouldn't let a record out that has a bum track."
  On the way back home I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double Scotches. They didn't do me any good. I pondered the words of Spenser, the Boston sleuth:"I take hold of one end of the thread and I keep pulling 'til it's all unraveled." Dammit, I'd tried to do likewise, but was destined to fail. Only plexities of this crazy quilt of a story.
  I decided then and there to just let sleeping neighbors lie. The redhead would have to take it or leave it. Me, I was ready for a long nap, maybe even a big sleep.
  Night all.

Jake Vance, the pseudonym of Vancouver freelance writer Jeff Bateman, offers sincere apologies to Mickey Spillane, Robert B. Parker, Walter Tevis, Dashill Hammet and particularly Raymond Chandler.

(Jake Vance)

From Badfans' Bryan Adams Page

 

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