- Corey Levitan, Circus Magazine, 1990
It's April 7th, 8:15 PM – THE moment of truth. Guns N' Roses have just been announced at Farm Aid IV. Popcorn flies as concession lines tear asunder, young fans sprinting in all directions back to their seats. Those who make it are about to yell all the caulking out of Indiana's Hoosierdome. They're also about to witness whether Steven Adler is still in Guns N' Roses.
For months those “in the know” leaked that he isn't anymore. One major magazine reported that, due to a recurring fascination with drugs, the drummer was booted, replaced by former Pretender, Martin Chambers; another swore Adam Maples of the Sea Hags would back the Gunners at Farm Aid.
Circus tapped a closer source with a different theory. Behind the scenes in Indianapolis, Adler himself scratched his head and proclaimed, “I've been with this band for the last 12 years and everything has been totally cool. Some misguided people have been saying some wrong things about me that aren't true. I'm in this band!”
As if to thumb his nose at the controversy, Steven trods on stage first. Proudly mounting the drum riser, he loses his footing and trips, but Guns N' Roses will make no other mistake tonight. So magnificent is their performance it relegates all scuttlebutt to a distant back seat.
“I'd like to dedicate this to my Uncle Bob who lives in Illinois on his farm,” says W. Axl Rose, sporting shades, shredded jeans, a leather jacket and two days of facial growth. The singer's reddish mane is capped with a cowboy hat to salute the event. “This is something new we got.” The response? Hysterics.
Izzy Stradlin supplies a gentle guitar into, cueing Axl into a slow snake walk. In his famous low register, Rose bemoans the brutality of war, remembering the “Vietnam lie” and the murder of John F. Kennedy. “Civil War” is the song, a brilliant diatribe paced to start out slow and build gradually, not unlike Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Freebird.”
Slash, his face obscured by ever-advancing black curls, bends a leg and milks a juicy solo from his sunburst Gibson Les Paul, the crowd drinking down every lick. Then Axl's demonic falsetto consumes the arena: “I don't want your civil war,” the irresistible melody reverberates. “It feeds the rich while it buries the poor.” One chorus later, even John Denver fans are singing along.
Next, lest the world think Guns N' Roses have gone soft, the affronts begin. “Learning to be a rocker and growing up in the Midwest can get you a lot of critical abuse,” Axl preludes his second number. “So, for humor's sake, since we don't mind and you can take a joke, this is the only farm song we know.” The Indiana native then slips out of his leather and into “Down On The Farm,” a tractor-bashing punk obscurity from Britains's U.K. Subs.
Slash leads off this time, the words on his T-shirt now legible as “Don't be a lemon, don't be a sucker, use a Jiffi [condom], you can fuck her.” Flanked by giant photographs of sad-faced kids and farm animals, Axl leaps down the three-tiered stage to scream, “I can't fall in love with a wheatfield, I can't fall in love with a barn, when everything smells of horseshit down here on the farm!”
It's dangerous farce, yet it's well received by rock fans, most of whom sat sequestered in the Hoosierdome – which allowed no one to re-enter – for nine hours just to arrive at this moment.
Twelve minutes after it began, that moment is history. Steven hurls his sticks into the photo pit as Axl shouts, “Good-fucking night!” slamming his mic stand to the floor. Two giant screens bookending the stage go blank, signaling that somebody's interrupted the live transmission. (No doubt it was Farm Aid producer Dick Clark, also in charge when Slash uttered obscenities on the American Music Awards.)
Off-camera, Axl exits the stage left. Winded from strutting the stage, he collapses onto a trunk and sucks oxygen for at least fifteen minutes. Then he lights a cigarette and walks away. The rest of the band beat a grander retreat. Parting a sea of backstage onlookers, they create an escape route directly from the stage to their tour bus. “It's like Guns N' Moses,” someone jokes. “No pictures, no interviews,” a tried guard warns the 25 paparazzi he's holding at bay. Slash's spangled top hat bobs up and down at the core of an onrushing entourage, and the band is gone.
“It was definitely too short,” said 19-year-old Amy from Clinton, Indiana, who came to hear “Sweet Child O' Mine” and “Patience.” But this was not a rock concert; not even Neil Young or Elton John was allotted more than 10 minutes. This was a telethon shared by 73 rock acts, country musicians and political heavies. Entertaining the assembled audience was a secondary objective; these people came here to direct money and awareness toward a serious problem.
“I think the farm issue should concern everybody,” Tom Keifer told Circus before performing with Joanna Dean. “Most of America is farmland [and] to take care of the land that provides our food is a good cause. That's why I'm here.”
Overcome by high interest rates and farm prices below production costs, family farmers in America are finding themselves without jobs, homes or a way of life. Seven million family farmers worked the land in 1950; now there are two million. During the 14 hours of Farm Aid alone, 100 American farms were lost, most foreclosed to banks who'll sell them to corporate concerns.
Largely due to the drawing power of Guns N' Roses, Farm Aid IV raised $1.3 million to curb this trend. But the battle doesn't end when the houselights come up. Year-round, Farm Aid collects money to fund emergency cash payments, support programs, education and legal assistance for farmers nationwide. If you'd like to help, call 1-800-FARM-AID or send your contributions to Farm Aid, 21 Erie St., Room 20, Cambridge, MA 02139.
- Indianapolis Star, 1990
The ever controversial Guns N' Roses started its set on a polite and cautious note. Singer Axl Rose, a Hoosier, dedicated the new Civil War to his Uncle Bob, and later apologized that the only farm song the band knew was the suggestive Down On The Farm. Rose returned to form, however, when he bid fans farewell with "Good f--ing night!"