Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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    Getting Personal With Bret Michaels

    By on May 3, 2013 in Writing with No Comments

    It’s Labor Day weekend in Pittsburgh, just outside of the Steelers’ Heinz Field, and the Bret Michaels Band has come home for some hard-driving rock and roll. The 20,000 screaming fans are a generational mix, shrieking 16-year-old girls side-by-side with moms and dads who have temporarily abandoned their parental roles to dance, sing the familiar words to “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” and howl into the nighttime air. On stage is Bret Michaels, the boy from Butler, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town just an hour north.

    Bret with longtime girlfriend Kristi Gibson and their daughters Raine and Jorja. Photo courtesy of Michaels Entertainment Group / Carrie Reiser.

    Bret with longtime girlfriend Kristi Gibson and their daughters Raine and Jorja. Photo courtesy of Michaels Entertainment Group / Carrie Reiser.

    Clad in his signature bandanna and cowboy hat, Michaels is holding the microphone in both hands and seductively singing to a woman in the front rows. Then he’s off to the opposite side of the stage, pointing to a couple farther back waving the Steelers’ well-known gold and black “Terrible Towels.” He runs to the center, leaps onto the platform where drummer Chuck Fanslau sits, turns toward the audience, and launches himself into the air just as bass player Ray Scheuring and guitarist Pete Evick begin rotating in circles on either side of him. Right on cue, Michaels lands at the same time that his band mates come out of their spins, ending the hit song on a powerful downbeat. The crowd explodes with more screams and applause, cameras flash, and a sweat-drenched Michaels takes a bow. Even people out for an evening stroll along Pittsburgh’s nearby Riverwalk stop to applaud.

    Then, illuminated with a spotlight that sets his blue mohawk hair glowing, Fanslau spins a drumstick and begins a drum solo. The crowd is right with him, clapping in time as Michaels steps away from the microphone and slips behind his hard-working drummer. A drum solo is part of every band’s set list, but there’s another reason that this one is happening now. Michaels’ assistant Brian is standing backstage with a glucose meter and an open bottle of orange juice mixed with a few drops of honey. The drum solo is built into the band’s routine because years earlier, Michael had a low blood sugar just six songs into his first show as Poison’s front man at Madison Square Garden. He collapsed onstage and woke up in the hospital. There’s a second break built in later on, a guitar solo by Pete Evick, for the same reason. Michaels quickly tests his blood sugar, takes a long swig of juice, and nods to Brian that he’s in shape to go back to work.

    Bret Michaels

    Bret Michaels

    Diabetes has always been a teacher for this rock and roller, and he’s learned from his missteps that these breaks are crucial. “Sometimes if I know I’m totally good, I’ll stay up there,” he says as he relaxes in his tour bus before the show. The bus is emblazoned with the words “Bret Michaels Wants to Stop Diabetes” and a shirtless photo of him promoting the “Roses & Thorn” tour that will continue for another four months. “It looks like it’s part of the show when Pete starts playing the blues, and I’ll just walk back, and then I come back out with a different guitar. I’ll stay out there if I know I’m running at 150. But the guys in the band can see if something’s not right. They know what to look for. My eyes get a little glossy, or they’ll say ‘you have that distant look.’ I’m told it can look like I’m just daydreaming, or my skin looks a little washed out, but they know. There have been times when I feel it happening, and I’ll turn and look at Pete and say ‘I’m low,’ and we’ll go into the solo a little earlier. I’ve learned how life can catch up to me.”

    Life is always in motion around Michaels. Consider the events of just the past year: Last May, Michaels won Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” (donating the $300,000 prize to the American Diabetes Association). In August, he co-hosted the Miss Universe contest with NBC’s Natalie Morales. For three years, he was the central player in VH1’s highly rated “Rock of Love,” which has transformed into a behind-the-scenes look at his world in “Life As I Know It” (on VH1 since last October). At the same time, the Bret Michaels Band has been on tour for a year promoting their new album “Custom Built.” Next month, on his 48th birthday, Michaels’ autobiography Roses & Thorn is scheduled for publication.

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