By now, you’ve more than likely heard of Nissan’s recruitment of Poison frontman Bret Michaels to lend his particular brand of innocuous rock-Godliness to its ad campaign for daycare vehicles. You’ve maybe even seen the spots themselves, where Bret croons a bad karaoke version of “Endless Love” through gauzy lighting while a bespectacled faux-engineer looks on wantingly. The ads are definitely funny, they are definitely successful, and I hate them.
It’s here where I should probably clarify that I don’t at all hate Bret Michaels. And how could I?
His guy-linered cowboy-chic aesthetic, while certainly owing a sizeable debt to Jon Bon Jovi and late-period “Woody”-from-Toy-Story, is downright adorable. Meanwhile, his songs are essential, at least to me: ”Talk Dirty to Me” is my preferred strip club serenade, and I’ve certainly had The Sex to “Every Rose Has its Thorn” enough times to consider it my sonic wingman.
So, no, I don’t hate Bret Michaels. But that’s only because he started it.
Years ago–before Rock of Love, before the cash-grabby covers compilations, before writing the career roadmap that Adam Levine would soon follow–he was set to perform at a concert at my college. However, this wasn’t to be a show with Poison as you and I know Poison; this was Bret with a few spare parts cosplaying as Poison. The original lineup would occasionally reunite for summer tours of state fairs and the like, but not for something so ridiculous as a campus show in the winter hellscape of Grand Forks, ND. The effort required to pull CC Deville from between the coke-covered naughty bits of someone with no discernable father figure proved to be too great, so Bret Michaels and a risible troop of nobodies was what we received instead.
The week prior to the show, I was to interview Bret–excuse me, Mr. Michaels–for the arts section of our plucky student publication, and I was stoked. A real, live rock icon. Finally, after doing dozens of quasi-mocking interviews with local bar bands who would give straight-faced answers to existential questions as though they were the Grateful fucking Dead, I finally got to interview someone worthwhile. I might even get crazy and actually write down his quotes.
The day of the interview came, and my editor called. I could hear the gloom-and-doom in his greeting. “I just talked to Poison’s press people, Bret read something disparaging you wrote about him a while ago. Sorry, man, gotta pull you off the interview.” Turns out, weeks prior when the concert was announced, I’d written an opinion piece which included one throwaway joke–”Pois-in? More like ‘Pois-out!’”–that he or one of his people had discovered. For a man who wears headbands with wigs stitched into them, I had expected a better sense of humor, I suppose.
“You’re joking, right?” I pleaded. “Can’t I just apologize or something?”
“Sorry, Ty. They said it was the principle of the whole thing.”
Oh, the principle of the whole thing. Right.
These words still ring like gunshots all these years later. And watching his latest advertisement for, of all fucking things, a Nissan NV passenger van, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I’d had it right all along. I understand that rock stars shit on their legacies all the time–Jagger and Bowie making “Dancing in the Street,” or Bob Dylan making Jakob Dylan, for example. Yet, the reality that a man singing a Lionel Richie song–and poorly–taught me all I’ll ever need to know about principle also tells me all I’ll ever need to know about Nissan’s line of commercial vans.
So say it with me, people: Nissan N-V? More like ‘“N-O.”
It’s just the principle of the whole thing.