For Our Next (Cheap) Trick

Seeing as

how they hail from Rockford, Illinois, a Stone's throw from Chicago, the home

of Michael Jordan, it seems appropriate that people are saying Cheap Trick are

back. Like the incessant use of the phrase when Jordan returned to the Bulls

last season (he's back, he's not, he might be), Cheap Trick are enjoying

somewhat of an unexpected renaissance. Oddly, the re-birth is courtesy not of

one of the band's trademark power-pop powder kegs, but of the John Lennon song

"Cold Turkey," which the band recorded for the Lennon tribute Working Class

Hero. Rick Nielsen, he of the many customized guitars and braided goatee,

says, "It makes sense that we would do such a great version of this song,

because when Bun E. [Carlos, Cheap Trick drummer] and I worked with him

[Lennon] on the Double Fantasy record he said to me, 'Rick I wish I

would have had you on 'Cold Turkey,' because Clapton choked up.'" Nielsen

admits that the band "was not anybody's first choice for the tribute." In their

defense he says, "But we sure know how to play it, don't we?" The Tricked up

version of the song, with searing vocals from singer Robin Zander and equally

fiery licks from Nielsen, has become an unlikely hit single and has led to a

spate of work for the band, which is currently without a recording deal.

Recent gigs include: a homecoming of sorts, opening for the Smashing Pumpkins

on October 23rd, the eve of the release of Melon Collie and the Infinite

Sadness, an all-star benefit for Bosnian relief in New York (on the same

night a peace agreement was signed, no credit taken), an oft-repeated VH1

special with Heart and Edwin McCain from the Hard Rock in Las Vegas and an

appearance on the Conan O'Brien show, where they performed the Lennon song

and their ace-in-the-hole "Surrender" to the delight of a visibly jacked-up

O'Brien.

Additionally, the band were the only group asked to shoot a video for the

Lennon tribute, for which Hollywood Records had not originally intended to

shoot any (or release any singles). The video, a stark portrayal of the

song's junk-kicking theme, was shot in Big East River Park on the Lower East

Side of New York by hot Kids director Larry Clark. Intercutting

footage of the band (who've taken to wearing dignified black and gray suits,

being elder statesmen and all) performing in a graffiti-scarred band shell,

tattooed street thugs on Avenue A slinging junk and dramatic withdrawal

footage featuring Kids actor Harold Hunter as a white-collar junkie,

the harsh video will begin airing on MTV and VH1 if, according to one source,

the "song becomes a big hit."

"Don't call it a comeback," says Nielsen. "We've had more records than

Woke Up With a Monster (their first and last disc for Warner Brothers)

fail and we're still working. Sure, we've had ups and downs, but I think what

we're doing still fits in to the scene. It's not everybody's cup of tea, it's

not what you want to hear 24-hours-a-day, but it's welcome relief

occasionally." Nielsen credits their longevity and influence, with everyone

from Nirvana (Cobain wanted them on Lollapalooza) to Sugar to Urge Overkill

unabashedly name-checking them in print, to one simple factor. "We're a

band's band," he says. "We have real songs, real players, real problems. Real

ups, real downs. Not this inflated circus with drug dependency, inflated

riches beyond belief and hype. It's the real thing. Warts and all, here we

are."