Shane West: Shane Gets Stripped
Ever heard of the band Jonny Was? Nope, me neither. They were a punk band headed by actor Shane West. Fifteen years ago, West was best-known for the TV show Once and Again as well as the movie A Walk to Remember. He was also starring opposite Sean Connery in the comic boom adaptation, A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The comic book was exceptionally smart and British, so of course the movie was loud, stupid and created a major role for an American character played by West.
This article has very little to do with the movie in which West was appearing. It comes from the July 2002 issue of Movieline magazine. This was a pivotal issue for the publication in that it marked a change in direction. Like a lot of magazine, Movieline was struggling to make ends meet in the digital age. Before finally closing shop, the magazine reinvented itself as a lifestyle magazine called Hollywood Life. This issue, which still bore the name Movieline, was the first to include the Hollywood Life name on the cover.
The change is reflected in the issue’s focus on music. Beyonce Knowles (back when she used her surname) graced the cover which proclaimed in big letters that it was the music issue. In this profile on West, who was better-known for acting than being in a band, Dennis Hensley toured the Sunset Strip with the members of Jonny Was.
Shane West joins his Jonny Was bandmates for a guided tour of L.A.’s famed Sunset Strip, where The Doors once broke on through and stars like Brad Pitt take in shows today.
For decades, the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles has been the place where aspiring rock bands go to get discovered. A few–The Doors, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses–succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Others have fun trying. Still others totally crash and burn. Among the middle group–for now, at least–is Jonny Was, a punk-tinged “power pop” trio headed up by actor Shane West, best known for the TV series “Once and Again,” in which he played the sweet screwup Eli Sammler, and his big-screen breakthrough A Walk to Remember. He’ll soon be seen in the action film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is based on a comic book and stars Sean Connery and Monica Bellucci.
The 23-year-old Louisiana-born actor, who plays guitar and is the lead singer of the band, joined forces with his friends Ben Gould (bass and backing vocals) and Jerry Fitzgerald (drums) to form Jonny Was nearly three years ago. Since then, they’ve recorded a four-song demo; played Eli’s garage band, Anti-Inflammatory, on “Once and Again”; landed a song on the soundtrack for A Walk to Remember, and gigged at various clubs around the city.
At the moment, West, Gould and Fitzgerald are holding up the bar at The Roxy, stop one on our whirlwind tour of the Sunset Strip. “Our first-ever show was here,” recalls West of the club that on this particular Wednesday night features a lineup of unsigned local acts. They’re still a bit starstruck when they think of the legends who have preceded them on the Roxy stage. “The last time we played, I remember looking at these pictures,” says Fitzgerald, pointing out photos of Tenacious D, George Clinton and Jane’s Addiction, “and then, here we were. That was pretty wild.”
After their first performance, the band went next door to celebrate over pizza at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, the 30-year-old music industry hangout that has served slices to everyone from Elton John to the Rolling Stones to John Belushi. Tonight, we do the same, taking a table on the patio so we can keep an eye out for famous faces.
“Holy shit, Ron Jeremy just pulled up in a Saturn!” marvels the Sacramento-born Gould, as the porn luminary, wearing a T-shirt that says “Decadence,” hands his car keys to the valet. “That’s so awesome.” Jeremy is followed in short order by everyone’s favorite fuchsia-headed teenage malcontent, Kelly Osbourne of MTV’s “The Osbournes,” who holds court in an inside booth with a gaggle of friends.
Our next stop is the Key Club, formerly known as Billboard Live, and before that Gazzari’s, where we crash a wrap party being thrown by a special effects company in the downstairs VIP Plush Room. We order beers, then listen raptly as Skip Buccola, one of the club’s managers, recounts his various adventures in celebrity-sitting. “The best star I’ve ever dealt with here is Dennis Rodman,” he tells us. “He’s one of the few people in the limelight who really treats the employees well.”
“Any not-so-nice celebrity encounters?” I ask.
“You mean besides kicking Shannen Doherty out of here?” he asks.
“Not you, too,” I say with a sigh.
“Let’s just say I’ve had a couple of run-ins with her,” Skip says, proving that though nightclubs can change and evolve, some things on the Sunset Strip remain constant.
Next up is the House of Blues, a great place to catch big names, both onstage and in the audience. (The last time I was here, for a John Mayer concert, I rubbed elbows with Jackson Browne, Hanson and an Olsen twin, though I’m not sure which one.) Tonight, with a lineup of unknowns on the bill, is another story, though we do manage to worm our way into the cozy and exclusive Foundation Room upstairs. “When I first moved to L.A., The Pharcyde played here,” the Boston-born Fitzgerald recalls. “I brought a girl but I didn’t have any money. I noticed there was a door that nobody was standing by, so we opened it, went downstairs and the next thing you know, we were in the club.”
We don’t do much talking at our fifth stop, the legendary Whisky A Go-Go, as we’re too busy steering clear of the ever-shifting mosh pit while taking in a rap/rock/hip-hop outfit called the F.I.L.T.H.E.E. Immigrants. Like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin before them, the men of Jonny Was eventually bid adieu to the 38-year-old Whisky, then walk down the Boulevard toward our sixth and final stop, The Viper Room, which is part-owned by Johnny Depp. On the way, we happen upon a perky blonde girl who Gould dated in the past. They exchange pleasantries, then we resume walking. “If you wanted to pick up a hot chick on the strip, what club would you go to?” I ask the guys.
“House of Blues, probably,” says the currently single West. “It’s bigger, so there’s better odds.”
It’s after midnight when we arrive at the Viper Room, where A-listers from Tom Hanks to Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt to Drew Barrymore have dropped by for a show.
Tonight’s headliner, former New Kid on the Block Joey Mclntyre, has already finished his set, so the boys of Jonny Was, who’ve played the club before themselves, opt to do a little people-watching on the sidewalk.
“That’s where Ben and I got our tattoos,” West says, pointing to a shop across the street called Tattoo Mania. He pulls up the back of his shirt to reveal a Celtic symbol for Gemini on his upper back, then adds, “We went on a double date there with our ex-girlfriends.”
“Is it romantic to get tattooed on a date?” I ask.
“Not when I puke,” says West, laughing.
As the Joey Mclntyre fans file out and the cars whiz by, I ask the band what images come to mind when they daydream about the future of Jonny Was. “I just want to see ‘Behind the Music: Jonny Was,'” says Gould, “you know, with heroin addiction and cocaine use beyond belief and us in hotel rooms gluing furniture to the ceiling and vomiting on ourselves.”
“When we see that,” concludes West, “we’ll know we made it.”
Dennis Hensley is the author of Screening Party, coming this September from Alyson Books.