Saturday, January 19, 2008

My 80s Flashback Part 3: Victim #3

So the month prior to the holidays, my life was consumed with Slash, hopelessly sending me further into my 80's flashback from which I'm not sure I have recovered. Oddly, my obsession with Slash's new autobiography was perfect timing with a recent pre-80s-flashback trip to Los Angeles. While there for a conference, I tormented my fellow conference attendees by dragging them up and down the Sunset Strip of Hollywood seeking out the notorious Whisky A Go Go, among other rock n roll landmarks. They hated me by the end of the night. That's what they get for trying to hang with the hard core. :)

Anyway, prior to this trip I had never seen the seedy side of Hollywood that is the primary birthplace of any sort of decent music, but particularly 80s metal. So this trip really set the stage for me when reading Slash's book. He was raised by his music costume design mother up and down the hills of Hollywood. The band members met through the glam rock scene here and sowed their more than wild oats in the sleazy bars and clubs on the strip.

There were several observations that I gained from the book that really changed my outlook on the music and my favorite band. Slash spent every last dime from 1986 to 2006 on some sort of drug, but primarily heroin. The guitar god didn't even own the guitar he recorded Appetite with...what a shame. While glued to the entire book I couldn't help but look at the dates and think of the (decidedly more boring) things I was doing at the time. In 1988, Appetite had been out almost a year and Guns N Roses was still struggling to gain popularity. Traveling the country, touring month after month, the band was gaining momentum. And in the most cliche way, they hit it big overnight. Sheer pre-internet word of mouth carried them to stardom. Traveling Europe and the US, their hardcore way of life made Motley Crue look like boy scouts. Slash even admitted he couldn't believe how much more Motley Crue had their shit together than they did. Read The Dirt, and you'll understand just what that statement means.

I, meanwhile, was in my first year of college. Never leaving the same lame ass state I grew up in, hanging with the same lame ass friends. What the hell was I thinking? The place to be was LA. One time my roommate and her friend loaded up her car with food, drink and an 8 ball of coke and drove straight to LA, on the whim that they might meet Axl. They didn't, but they did manage to track down LA Guns. I was holed up at some GI's apartment and missed the whole adventure.

By 1991, however, Guns N Roses was reaching its last days. Much of the great music they produced was music written in 1986 and even earlier, including much of Use Your Illusion. They had massive charisma in the beginning but their hard lifestyle and personalities ultimately tore them apart. The Use Your Illusion tour was one of the biggest tours of the time and few have been bigger since, but it nearly didn't happen each and every night. From Metallica's pyrotechnics accident to Axl's tirades, concerts were canceled, delayed, and rioted. I just happened to get lucky and see them on a night when they had it together. The weather was right, Axl was happy, and the crowd of 35,000 was great. Personally, no other concert has rivaled it. How big are you when Metallica opens for you? In all actuality, Slash's book revealed that Metallica refused to headline because of Axl's notorious lateness and they would NOT be delayed.

Unfortunately for me, this was not the original GNR. This Epiphany came to me only when I read Slash's story. (Ya, I'm slow sometimes.) I suppose at the time I was aware of it but it didn't really matter to me. There was Axl and there was Slash...what more do you need. Fortunately for me, however, I have a better appreciation for music today and now realize how sad that a band with such command only produced two albums, Appetite and Lies, due to drugs and personality conflicts. How sad that I never saw the original band members because the drummer couldn't even play anymore he was so debilitated. How much better it must have been to see this young scrappy band, fresh from dropping out of high school, in an intimate venue like the Whisky scaring everyone with that hair and top hat, that voice, that mean attitude.

My final observation was that of the relationship between Axl and Slash. My impression had always been that the two hated each other and that Axl was a total dick. (If you happen to read my blog, Axl, I love you.) I think both impressions were very much inaccurate. First, Slash admittedly had a serious drug problem, as did all of the band members. Axl was the only one who had managed to keep his shit together and overcome his addiction. His fight for the rights to the GNR name was rightly so. He watched Steven Adler, the drummer, become a near vegetable and sign away his interests in the band. I believe Axl knew what destruction this band was capable of doing to themselves and wanted to ensure his band was protected. As shitty as this might have seemed at the time, and as much as Slash claims he hated Axl for doing this, Slash couldn't even take care of himself and barely kicked his habit last year, much less take care of his interests in the band.

Second, I think the two really cared for each other. There is a sweet picture of them talking in a hallway after a show and they seem to really have a brotherly relationship. Mostly it was this selection of the book that I found summed up their complex relationship:

Axl is super intelligent, yet at the same time he lives in a place where logic that governs other people does not apply. He doesn't ever realize what an inconvenience his choices might be for others. He means no harm; its just the way he is. Its very hard to try to even explain it. He is as sincere as someone can possibly be, but it comes down to the fact that Axl, regardless of the world around him, insists on existing according to rules that hold true only in the universe that he has created around himself...

I remember being really angry and Izzy felt that same way that night. But as pissed off as we were, sitting there in the bathroom discussing how we were determined to find a new singer, when he showed up, Axl still won us over. Slowly but surely, we found it in our hearts just to let it go.

As Bret Michaels' diabetes and Quiet Riot's Kevin DuBrow's untimely death, Slash suffered from the excesses of the 80s. Years of heroine ruined his heart, requiring a pace-maker to send a shock to his system each time the excitement of the guitar raises his heart rate, something drugs did for him for years. He lost most of his earnings and much of his memorabilia and priceless guitars.

But the real victim was the music. Granted, most great music is written in the haze of drug-induced inspiration. But one must wonder what new levels the Guns N Roses music would have reached had the band had treated their group like a business, much like the Rolling Stones. Axl may not have been so desperate to take control of the GNR empire had the other members acted as if they cared to take ownership of that same empire. Then again, sobriety may have caused less than stellar music. I tend to think they were a good enough band to survive their clarity of reality. Certainly, Slash is revered as one of the greatest riff makers. Velvet Revolver has proven their survivability. I think they were good enough to survive the grunge era that so quickly ran all other hair metal bands out of town. Surely Axl's disturbing outlook could have rivaled anything Kurt Cobain had to say. Guns N Roses grinded the 80s and 90s together musically. As all other metal music wimped out, GNR showed its strength in the double CD of Use Your Illusion that released in 1991. Nirvana's Nevermind album released soon after and is credited with changing the face of music and ushering in the grunge era. But I could debate that with a whole other blog. November Rain was written by Axl before GNR formed, but many new sounds on the UYI album show an evolution within GNR, but it was a place the rest of the band wasn't willing to go. I'm still amazed by the quantity of good music on that CD set. I know alot of people would argue that point with me, but I think it is better than most of the 90s grunge that came out soon after.

Axl says in Locomotive "if love is blind, I guess I'll buy myself a cane." Maybe my loving blindness of the band might skew my opinion. Maybe I'm the real victim.

Gotta go...Bret Michaels Rock of Love 2 is on.

  • When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. ~Hunter S. Thompson