A SLASHING DEFENSE OF GUNS N' ROSES
- Steve Morse, Boston Globe, 12.5.91
Slash, born Saul Hudson, is the blood 'n' guts behind Guns N' Roses. The rock/metal band's notoriety often stems from singer Axl Rose, who's angered many social groups with his tart tongue, quick temper and dirty song lyrics. But it's Slash who, like Keith Richards in the Rolling Stones, is widely viewed as keeping Guns in gear.
As a guitarist, the aptly-named, chord-crunching Slash is in demand by Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan for studio sessions. With Guns, he not only provides the musical roar, but has become the band's expert at damage control, for which there's been a hefty need in recent years.
Guns -- and the wagon of controversy that's always hitched to the band -- play sellout shows at the Worcester Centrum tonight and tomorrow. No one knows what mood the explosive Axl will be in, but chances are good that Slash will be there to mediate and throw a positive spin on all events.
"The best way of putting it is that his (Axl's) image gets blown way out of proportion," Slash says in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. ''Some of the things are true, but some are blown way out of proportion. And then there are complete falsehoods -- and even those are blown out of proportion from the first time they came out."
Slash, who was born in England but grew up in Los Angeles, is not about to let anyone tear down the L.A.-based Guns, no matter how many people they've angered with occasional tough-minded lyrics about women ("Back Off Bitch"), minority groups ("One in a Million") and rock 'n' roll critics ("Get in the Ring").
Rose handles most of the lyrics, but Slash & Co. add input. "It's only come up twice in the band's history where I had questions about whether a song's lyrics would be offensive," says Slash. "If it's like a little bit offensive and just makes the short hairs on the back of your neck stand up, that's all right. But there were only a couple that I thought might really be offensive. But, of course, we did them anyway.
"One of the songs was 'One in a Million,' " he says, referring to a 1988 song perceived by some as homophobic. "But at this point, it's like so much water under the bridge, I don't want to get into it. We don't do it on purpose. We just write stuff that we feel like writing and it means something to us because it's all true to us. Therefore, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be able to write it and then put it out.
"I don't see why there should be any rules or regulations on it. If you don't want to buy it, don't buy it. If it bothers you that much, don't listen to it."
Guns N' Roses foster strong feelings -- none stronger than in St. Louis this summer, when a riot ensued after Rose dove into the crowd to subdue a flashbulb-popping photographer. When Rose finally got back on stage, he then walked off, followed by a fan riot that saw much stage equipment destroyed. Rose is now facing an assault charge that carries a maximum $1,000 fine and one-year jail sentence, as well as a property damage charge carrying up to a $500 fine and six months in jail.
"I don't know what's going to happen with it at this point," says Slash. Asked to assess the band's damage, he adds, "I didn't lose any guitars, but we lost amps and parts of the drum kit. And we lost the monitor system, parts of the lighting truss and keyboards. The aftermath was something. It was pretty unsettling to look at.
"That show had to have been some sort of a fluke, because what went down wasn't anywhere near as major as how it ended up. But it just showed us how powerful this whole thing is. When we go out there on stage, there's a kind of responsibility we have on our hands."
Guns N' Roses have become so popular that they sold 1.5 million copies of their "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II" albums in their first week of release this fall. And they've become so controversial that a love/hate relationship with the press has been a obligatory sidelight, dating back to 1987's " Appetite for Destruction" (the alltime best-selling debut album) and the 1988 EP, "GN'R Lies: The Sex, The Drugs, The Violence, The Shocking Truth."
Guns got so flustered by their meat-grinder press treatment that they instituted a contract during the Rock In Rio festival last winter that demanded prior knowledge of questions for interviews and control over photos. The move didn't endear the group to freedom of speech advocates, but Slash defends it.
"It got to the point a couple of years ago where we were like press scapegoats," says Slash. "We were being used as the story of the week -- something to fill space. And we just got sick and tired of it. The press pulled a lot of head trips with us, pulled out a lot of lies that dug pretty deep sometimes. Finally, we did go head-to-head with them and just said, 'Look, we don't have to do press anymore because the kids don't really want to hear it and anybody who does read it, the problem is that they believe what they read because that's all they have to go on. So a band can work their butts off to put something together as far as a record is concerned, but it won't matter . . . So we said: We're not doing any more press unless you sign a contract or something. Because if you're going to be honest, then we won't have a problem. But you mean to screw us around, then obviously, we're sick of it."
The band has since backed off such restrictions. "We were just trying to get everyone to know we were serious," says Slash, who's upset the band isn't given more credit for outright positive messages in such songs as "Civil War," with its anti-war scream: "What's so civil about war anyway?"
For now, Guns are just back on the road, seeking to build fresh momentum. They need some, since they just underwent a personnel change. They replaced charter guitarist Izzy Stradlin (who reportedly tired of touring but will still contribute in the studio) with Gilby Clarke, who played in various Hollywood club groups at the time Guns was coming up in the mid-'80s. Slash prefers to remain mum on Clarke ("all will become clear in Worcester"), but says that Guns have also added three horn players (two of whom will sing backup) for this leg of the tour.
"We've used horns in clubs before, but that's it," he says. "And they're just for certain songs . . . We're just trying to do whatever we can to make the band sound as cool as possible."
The band also has a chiropractor and a masseuse on tour. "You know all the dirt, don't you?" says Slash. "But it definitely helps to have these people out with us." (The chiropractor is for Slash, who has his back aligned before each show to prepare him for the stress of jumping off stage ramps.)
Future plans include a world tour and a punk-oriented EP, which would show that side of the band's roots in contrast to the '60s side on the "Illusion" albums, seen through cover songs of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die."
"By the time the punk thing got to L.A., it was a fad, so it wasn't as cool as what the whole British punk scene was about," says Slash. "But there were still some great bands in L.A., like Fear. We're covering one of their songs. It was a lot of fun back then, especially for a kid my age. I was like 13 or 14 years old at the time. It was a great way to grow up."
UPCOMING SHOWS: Worcester Centrum tonight and tomorrow.
BAND MEMBERS: Axl Rose, vocals; Slash, lead guitar; Duff McKagan, bass; Matt Sorum, drums; Gilby Clarke, guitar.
HIT SONGS: 'Welcome to the Jungle,' 'Paradise City,' 'Sweet Child O' Mine,' 'Don't Cry.'
IN PRAISE OF AEROSMITH: Guns N' Roses opened a summer tour for Aerosmith three years ago. 'There's something irreplaceable about those guys,' says Slash. 'I was brought into rock 'n' roll around the time they were out there. And there's just a certain kind of rock 'n' roll attitude they had that I used to really dig. I didn't sense it in any other band besides -- not to put them together -- the Stones. It was like a personal, seedy attitude; and it was a case of not letting anyone else into your world. You just talk about what you want to talk about. And you can't get into their private lives because there's sort of a wall up around them. You just can't get inside. It's really hard to put in words. But I just thought Aerosmith was really cool and always had a great groove.'
ON FAMILY ROOTS: Slash's father designed album covers for Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, among others. His mother designed clothes for the likes of David Bowie and John Lennon.
ON RECORDING WITH MICHAEL JACKSON FOR 'BLACK OR WHITE': 'I only played on the intro thing where that Macaulay Culkin kid, or whatever his name is, plays air guitar in the beginning of the video. So I'm on that, but when it goes into the actual song, that's not me. That doesn't sound anything like me. So I was a little pissed off, after all the work we'd done in getting together, when I realized (Michael) was promoting it as such.' Jackson helped make it up by having Slash play for the entire song last week on MTV's 10th anniversary special. An overall opinion of Jackson? 'He works really hard, which is something I can appreciate because I don't like to fool around and waste time. He's real personable -- and we got the stuff done. It was actually probably easier than anything we do in Guns.'
ON RECORDING WITH DYLAN: 'The guy was impossible to work with. No matter how amiable I might be, Dylan was just impossible to relate to, to communicate with. I couldn't figure out whether he knew what he was talking about or not. I played on a track that was really good -- I wouldn't say it was good if it wasn't -- and then he took it off at the last minute. It was really sort of perturbing, you know? It's not like I tried to do it for the money.'