Hair Metal Arrives at the Smithsonian
Hair metal band Nova Rex landed on the Sunset Strip at the height of the cock rock craze but, despite the requisite feminine duds and sexual conquests, didn't achieve wide fame. Their lead singer Kenny Wilkerson moved back to his native Indiana in 1991, and eventually bought some tanning salons in Florida.
Nova Rex gear headed for the Smithsonian
But two decades later the group is back, aware of nostalgia for the period and quite willing to mock their Aqua Net ways. In fact, this fall, their outfits will be on display at the Smithsonian -- no seriously -- and the group has a documentary called Nova Rex: Ain't Easy Being Cheesy. Ahead of their show Saturday at the Whisky A Go-Go -- as part of Hollywood Cruefest, to benefit the Skylar Neil Foundation for cancer research -- we talked with Wilkerson, now 46, about his the group's heyday, and whether or not he's still living the dream.
See also: Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time
Outside of Orlando, but the rest of Nova Rex is in L.A., Huntington Beach.
Did you ever imagine that hair metal would be something that would be part of the Smithsonian?
No. I sent them our DVD, but they didn't know what to do with it because it was contemporary. I said, "I've got leather chaps, a bunch of stuff I can't wear anymore." They acquired a zoot suit, some other stuff, and it's part of an exhibit [also spotlighting other eras] called "Flamboyant Youth." It will be on display in October.
What kind of work do you mainly do now?
I own three tanning salons. I've been doing it 17 years. I needed a day job, and it's hot babes, whatever. I first got into it back in L.A. Across the street from the "Rockin'" Ralphs on Sunset there was a tanning salon, called Sunset Tan, and I worked there during the day.
Where were your haunts when you were in L.A.?
The Strip. I was in L.A. from '87 to '91, and the first half I lived in Hollywood, and the second half in Marina Del Rey. Gazzari's was the biggest, by far, as far as the clubs. And the Rainbow, the Whisky. Our main thing was staying busy, trying to get signed, like everyone else. It was hard to get those gigs.
Any popular misconceptions about that era?
No. No, it was totally like that. The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II, it was just like that. I was boning chicks in the hallway, the elevator, behind the bar. It was excess everything. I was a baby at the time, 19 years old.
Did you think you'd won the lottery?
My mom still has letters I used to write to her in Indiana, "Oh my god, I'm making it big!" I signed with a [big deal] management company. I wasn't there a month and ASCAP picked me up in a limo, and I was sitting behind Stevie Wonder in an ASCAP meeting. Even though I barely had gas money to drive my car to the show.