By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
"I was at a party in Dallas a few years ago," Van Winkle recalls. "I was on some heavy shit and found myself on the floor with my friends dumping ice water on me, trying to keep me from vomiting and convulsing. I came out of it alive, and I was like, 'Whoa.' I made a complete turnaround. I got rid of my old friends and promised God I would never turn around. He's blessed me. Fuck the music--I mean my personal life. He blessed me with a beautiful wife and a 1-year-old girl named Dusty Rain, the love of my life. The music is a gift from God."
And he now likes to tell interviewers that the lies he promulgated during his heysecond were foisted upon him by his label, SBK, and his manager, the Plano-based Tommy Quon, who owned City Lights nightclub during the late '80s and early '90s and signed Van Winkle to his Ultrax label. He says he sold out for money, that he was a willing participant in a shell game run by men offering millions in return for his soul. Van Winkle will forever claim he traded in his credibility for some baggy pants and hair clippers set on ugly. "You would have done the same thing for all that money," he insists.
Van Winkle keeps insisting this new sound--which has been around ever since 1993's Judgment Night soundtrack, which paired Helmet with House of Pain, Slayer and Ice-T, and Sonic Youth with Cypress Hill--is the "real me," something he has been searching for ever since 1994. He found it last year in California, when he hooked up with Korn producer Ross Robinson, borrowed members of Korn and Limp Bizkit, and went into the studio to mimic their baggy-pants rock.
"This whole record is not about financing," Van Winkle says from a studio in Miami, where he and his band are rehearsing before beginning a new tour. "I am set off my first record; I made smart investments. It's more about expressions. This is what I do. I take full, full blame for how I was perceived [in 1990.] I can say, 'Fuck, Vanilla Ice sucks.' When I was with SBK, they were making a lot of decisions for me and manipulating me with money. I was some 'Egyptian Lover' kid hanging out in the West End, a roughneck white kid. They wanted to clean it up and play to some teen market. I played all the black clubs, and all of a sudden it worked--I crossed over. I was like a puppet on a string.
"They would say, 'We want you to wear these baggy pants and clean up your look and release the slow song because Hammer has one.' I said, 'No fucking way, that shit ain't me.' They said, 'Will you do it for a million dollars?' and I said hell yeah, because I was five payments behind on my car. Anybody would have sold out. It worked because we sold 15 million records. It was not what I wanted to do. I got overwhelmed with the money, and I let it influence my decisions. But that's the cool thing about this record, because I have seniority over the decisions. The whole thing behind it is expression."
It's likely Van Winkle has been allowed back in the game because he is novel enough to appeal to the nostalgia-starved and, having copped Korn's sound by borrowing the band's producer and blueprint, his "new sound" will indeed appeal to the white schmucks on dope who listen to this stuff in the first place. What's the difference if it's the Deftones or Korn or Vanilla Ice playing this, er, music? It all sounds the same anyway: It's music for guys who can't play guitar, can't sing, and are mad that their million bucks ain't two million. The personality behind the music is almost meaningless.
That Van Winkle even got to release another record says all you will ever need to know about the music business. One local musician theorizes that Republic Records (a subsidiary of Universal) signed Ice because the industry is so lost and desperate, it's willing to bet everything on a nothing. He reasons that record-label executives are panicking as we stumble toward the year 2000 with no new trends in sight. The days of a punk or hip-hop or grunge or even an electronic-pop revolution are long passed; the future now lies in the recycling of the past. So swing makes a comeback, ska bands sign for millions, a Bob Dylan record recorded in 1966 is hailed as the record of 1998, and a joke named Robert Van Winkle gets yet another shot performing a "revolutionary" brand of music that's five years old now. It's rather astonishing that record buyers still don't believe how much record labels hate them. Oh, that's right--they still go see Berlin and the Fixx and Depeche Mode and even Vanilla Ice when they come through town at places like the Galaxy Club and the Groovy Mule. Forget it.
Van Winkle says he thought, for only a moment, about releasing the new record under his own name instead of Vanilla Ice. Then he reconsidered, knowing he can avoid his past but never completely escape it; hence, the inclusion of "Too Cold," proof that what doesn't kill you only makes you...Vanilla Ice.