Slash says controversy integral part of rock ’n’ roll
- Jon Bream, Star Tribune
“Axl is a magnet for problems,” said Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, explaining the band’s controversial lead singer, Axl Rose.
Slash has taken on the responsibility of explaining Axl, 29, and the much revered, much reviled rock band to the media. Slash plays Keith Richards to Axl’s Mick Jagger. Slash writes the music, Axl the lyrics. His guitar playing is so highly regarded that Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Lenny Kravitz and others have invited him to play on their records.
Slash is all too familiar with the articles on Axl; He was arrested for hitting a neighbor with a wine bottle; he lashed out at his band mates onstage for being junkies; he caused a riot at a concert in St. Louis by fighting with fans and security guards; he called his hometown of Lafayette, Inc., a concentration camp when he was performing in Indianapolis; he has blasted critics and others from the concert stage, even people who work for his own record company; he has written lyrics that have been labeled sexist, racist and homophobic.
Compared to Axl, Slash seems like the calm before the storm.
To be sure, Slash, 26, has had his problems: addictions to heroin and saying the “F” word on live television, to name a couple. He’ll tell you it’s part of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and attitude that Guns N’ Roses embodies. But during a 75-minute telephone conversation Saturday from a Twin Cities hotel, Slash seemed level-headed, even-tempered, soft-spoken and frank. The topics included Axl’s recently injured hand, how Slash got his nickname, how he feels about swearing on TV and what he’s been doing in Minneapolis before the band’s concerts tonight and Wednesday at Target Center.
The seemingly shy Slash, who hides behind a guitar and cascading black curls, didn’t dodge any questions. He did use words (maybe 10 or 12 times) that this newspaper seldom prints.
Axls’ injured hand / The lead singer slashed his hand when a part on a microphone fell off during a performance last week in Dayton, Ohio. “It happened at the beginning of the set and he made it through the whole show,” Slash said. “It was making everybody nervous. I didn’t’ want anything to happen to the hand. I just wanted him to get it checked out to make sure it was OK. He was a trooper.”
Slash doesn’t know how many stitches the singer received, but said he’s “fine.” GNR canceled its next two concerts scheduled for Detroit and came to the Twin Cities Thursday. Slash said he hung out and went to strip joints until his girlfriend joined him over the weekend.
Why GNR concerts start so late / The concerts are advertised as starting at 9 p.m., with opening act Soundgarden. At some recent performances, GNR did not hit the stage until after midnight and the group has been know to play as late as 3:45 a.m.
“We’re a club band basically and we’re used to going on at, like, midnight,” said Slash. “We have a couple of entertainment factors between sets (after the opening band) where we have video screens and we videotape the crowd and we have close-ups of girls and they get off on that. We also have killer intermission music to listen to. All things considered, I think it would be better if we do a really good show as opposed to rushing into it when we’re not mentally and physically prepared.”
Why GNR is so popular / The group’s 1987 debut, “Appetite For Destruction,” which sold 14 million copies, is the largest-selling debut album in history. The ensuing “GNR Lies” sold 6 million and last year’s “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II” have sold 2 and 3 million, respectively. Almost all of the band’s recent concerts have been sold out.
“One of the reasons we’re so popular - I never try and sit here and analyze it - is because we unabashedly talk about subjects that people in normal life are forced to keep quiet,” Slash said, referring not to specific subjects, but to the “rock n’ roll attitude, sex, drugs. We talk about relationships gone awry. We blast out against authority. It’s sort of that rebellious, teenage sort of way.”
The whole concept of punk rock has been carefree and rebellious, as Slash sees it. “The music business isn’t something I agree with seriously. That may be one of the reasons we seem so shocking.”
Why GNR is misunderstood / “From Day 1, we were controversial. It’s one of these things that isn’t necessarily going to go away. You can try to battle it on an intelligent level that people cannot argue with.
“Axl’s amazingly misunderstood. I’ve known him for a long time and we’ve gone through a dozen different plateaus in the relationship. It took me a long time to understand him. We’re so different as far as personalities go. He’s highly complex; I’m very black-and-white. So we have a lot of run-ins. But we’re really close.”
Slash doesn’t always agree with what Axl writes, says or does, but he will back him up, he said.
GNR as sexists / People have accused Guns N’ Roses of being sexist, from the lyrics of some of their songs to their onstage horn section of women clad in G-strings.
“Am I sexist? The answer is no,” said Slash. “We’re talking about stuff everyone goes through. It’s not that we’re trying to make a bold statement. Every song is about experience.
He said the all-female horn section was his idea. “It’s like seeing a girl driving a Ferrari,” he said. “It’s something you don’t expect to see, but it’s cool when you do.” He said the horn players wear whatever they want, and they opted for lingerie.
The lyrics of “One In A Million” / The lyrics to this 1988 song denigrate “niggers,” “faggots” and immigrants. Rose has explained that the song was his reaction to being hassled when he moved from Indiana to Los Angeles in 1980.
Slash said the backlash about the song, which GNR has never performed in concert, has died down. But it is something he knows he will have to explain time and again, especially because his mother is black.
“It wasn’t a racial comment,” Slash said, “but I can understand how people think that. When I first heard the lyric, I was, like, ‘Axl, I know what you’re saying, but I don’t think people are going to take it right. I know my family isn’t going to take it right.’”
No one would have noticed if GNR hadn’t become such a successful band, Slash said. “I never saw us as being a band that was highly influential or making any kind of statements. So it’s sort of strange to be some sort of role models for younger kids.” GNR’s only message is to “honestly express yourself without any barriers.” Slash said.
Slash’s background / Born Saul Hudson, Slash has lived in Los Angeles since his parents moved there from England in the early 1970s. His mother is a costume designer who has worked with John Lennon, Diana Ross and the Pointer Sisters. His father has designed album covers for Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Drawing was young Hudson’s first interest; he illustrated an unpublished book of verse by Mitchell, one of Hudson’s neighbors.
After his parents divorced, his mom dated David Bowie, with whom Slash remains close.
“He’s like family,” Slash said of Bowie. “He really helped when I was going through the down part of the heavy drug period. Having been through it himself, he was sort of a help. He’s someone that I genuinely respect and admire.
Axl’s background / “I’m almost from the entertainment business,” Slash said. “I lived in Hollywood all my life - nothing shocks me - whereas Axl’s coming from the Midwest, coming from a constricted background. To move from that into Los Angeles, where everything’s going on at once, he’s coming from a completely different viewpoint.
“I came from a cool family. Axl came from a very repressed upbringing. That’s why he’s so fiery. When he sees something that he doesn’t like, his knuckles are all over it.
Slash’s nickname / When he was 14 or 15, Slash got his nickname from actor Seymour Cassel (who played Sam Ketchum in “Dick Tracy”), the father of one of his best friends, who called him that because he was a “skinny, wiry kid always in a rush.” His parents call him Slash, too.
Working with Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan / Slash’s recording with Jackson took only one night, “but over a period of a year, if that makes any sense.” The guitarist recorded tracks for “Black or White” and a year later he was called back to record “Give Into Me,” which Jackson said he wouldn’t record unless Slash was involved.
“I was really flattered that he called,” Slash said. “But I can’t tell you I sit around and… he’s not my choice of style of music to listen to.”
People have put forth countless ideas about what Jackson is like as a person, but “having gone through being judged and misrepresented, I wasn’t about to do that to him,” Slash said. “He was easy to work with. He’s pretty humble. It was a nice experience.
“Dylan? I hated it. He was impossible to work with. He was impossible to talk to. He was absolutely no fun to be around. He had no idea what was going on, as far as I could tell. I did a really good solo for him and he took it off at the very last minute. He said , ‘It sounded too much like Guns N’ Roses.’ Well, why did you call me?”
Using vulgar language on live TV / Slash admits to having been drinking wine when he was at the American Music Awards in 1990. When he arrived at the podium to accept and award, he said the forbidden “F” word.
“I think it was the funniest thing that happened during the whole show. It was a really stiff awards show. It was really a bore. I tried to make it a good time. It slipped out. I was a little nervous,” he said. “They called me up and asked me to do the awards again this year.”
TV executives need not worry: Slash will tape his appearance because GNR will be on tour.
GNR’s legacy / It Guns N’ Roses ended today, how would Slash like the group to be remembered?
”As being for real, as being really true to our art, and being true to what’s great about rock ‘n’ roll, one of the good ones. I’d like to be remembered - period.”