LOOSE GUNS STRIKE IRREVERENT CHORD ROSES RESURRECT ANGER, ENERGY OF ROCK
- Dean Rhodes, The Arizona Republic, 1.31.92
Taking pot shots at Guns N' Roses is easy.
The ruling bad boys of rock 'n' roll have supplied critics with enough ammunition to rearm the Iraqi army.
Some of their headline-grabbing antics include, but certainly are not limited to:
--> Lead singer Axl Rose jumps into the audience at the Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Mo., in July 1991. An ensuing riot causes $200,000 damage to the brand-new facility.
--> In November 1990, Rose argues with a female neighbor, eventually bopping her over the head with a wine bottle. He's arrested. After passing a lie detector test, charges are dropped.
--> Guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan appear on the January 1990 American Music Awards and utter the ultimate obscenity several times during an acceptance speech. It's a live telecast.
--> In August 1989, guitarist Izzy Stradlin loses his patience while waiting in a long bathroom line aboard a plane. He urinates in the galley and is arrested when the plane lands in Phoenix.
--> On the 1988 release ''Lies,'' Guns N' Roses perform ''One In A Million,'' which rails against blacks and homosexuals, using inflammatory slang. Rose is labeled homophobic and racist.
Criticizing Guns N' Roses is easy; explaining the band's success isn't.
Like much of today's superficial style (or lack thereof) over substance coverage, Guns N' Roses' controversial run-ins overshadow the band's ultimate achievement.
In three albums and one EP -- 1987's ''Appetite for Destruction,'' ''Lies,'' and 1991's ''Use Your Illusion I'' and ''II'' -- Guns N' Roses resurrects the passionate defiance of convention that has been missing in rock since the Sex Pistols self-destructed.
Guns N' Roses have established themselves as inheritors of rock's rebellious spirit started by Elvis Presley in the 1950s and continued by the Rolling Stones in the '60s and the Sex Pistols in the '70s.
''The best rock 'n' roll encapsulates a certain high energy, an angriness,'' Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger once said. ''Rock 'n' roll is only rock 'n' roll if it's not safe. Violence and energy -- that's what rock 'n' roll is all about.''
Energy and anger -- an apt description of Guns N' Roses.
Real, real, real
Unlike many rock bands that crawled out of the gritty talent pool that is the crowded, cutthroat Los Angeles club scene, Guns N' Roses feels authentic. Real. Believable.
Although band members sport hackneyed tough-guy accouterments -- tattoos, bandanas, black leather pants and cowboy boots -- Guns N' Roses aren't poseurs who have adopted a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends machismo merely for commercial gain.
''Their lifestyles are reflected in so many of their songs -- not necessarily celebrated, but presented without apology still the same,'' writes Danny Sugerman in his unofficial biography, ''Appetite for Destruction: The Days of Guns N' Roses.'' ''They walk it like they talk it.''
Guns N' Roses' songs, love 'em or hate 'em, are honestly autobiographical, inspired by band members' experiences growing up in broken homes, moving West to throw off restrictive Midwestern values and battling drug and alcohol addiction.
''Guns N' Roses are the bruised angry heart howl of a generation malled-in, cinemaplexed, media-manipulated, undereducated, spiritually undernourished, self-disgusted and cut off from the wellspring of a dynamic inner life,'' Sugerman writes.
And Guns N' Roses' appeal cuts a wide swath.
The debut ''Appetite for Destruction'' sold more than 14 million copies. ''Lies'' notched sales of 6 million and the ''Use Your Illusion'' albums debuted at No. 1 and 2 on the Billboard album chart in October, selling a combined 1.5 million copies in their first week. To date, both ''Use Your Illusion'' albums have sold more than 3 million copies.
Fans worrying Guns N' Roses might lose its firepower during a three-year hiatus were bolstered by the ''Use Your Illusion'' albums, which remained defiantly empowered, rebelling against the fishbowl examination their lives became subject to, telling the press in particular to ''get in the ring.''
Out of the abyss
Guns N' Roses coalesced in 1985 when former Pentecostal Sunday school teacher Axl Rose (born Bill B. Bailey in Lafayette, Ind.) hooked up with guitarist Slash (Saul Hudson), bassist Duff McKagan (Michael McKagan), guitarist Izzy Stradlin (Jeff Isabelle) and drummer Steven Adler.
The band gelled, bonds cemented playing nasty clubs and living together in a west Hollywood hovel measuring 4 feet by 12 feet. Friendships formed from shared survival on Los Angeles' mean streets fostered an in-your-face attitude impossible to feign.
In March 1986, Guns N' Roses' growing reputation garnered a contract with Geffen Records. The band recorded ''Appetite for Destruction,'' which languished in the lower reaches of the album chart for 10 months.
''We thought we'd made a record that might do as well as Motorhead,'' Slash has been quoted as saying. ''As far as we were concerned, it was totally uncommercial. No one wanted to know about it. Really.''
But tours opening for The Cult, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden and Aerosmith helped build a fan base.
And the video for ''Welcome to the Jungle,'' played in heavy rotation by MTV, jump-started Guns N' Roses.
Quickly, ''Welcome to the Jungle'' moved up the singles chart and ''Appetite for Destruction'' leapfrogged to No. 1 on the album chart.
But, as the adage goes, sometimes the gods punish you by giving you what you want. The hard-fought rags-to-riches rise almost killed the band.
Road woes at home
After touring, the quintet returned to Los Angeles. Band members, with new-found fame and burgeoning bank accounts, went their separate ways, each forming drug and alcohol addictions.
'The thing that (expletive) me up personally was not having really lived anywhere for so long, but having been on the road; and a feeling of abandonment once we had all the money, and then we were dropped off at the airport, and I'm like, 'Where do I go now?' '' Slash said in a Geffen Records press release.
Drugs eventually led to Rose's highly publicized stage condemnation during an opening set for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles. He threatened to quit.
Slash was taking heroin while other band members were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. In a January 1991 interview with Rolling Stone, Slash says his lowest point occurred in Phoenix.
''I flipped out on coke, destroyed a hotel room and was all bloody, running around the hotel naked,'' Slash says. ''Some people tried to press charges, and the cops and paramedics came, but fortunately I lied my way out of it.''
He also kicked his habit.
Adler wasn't as lucky. In and out of detox centers, he was unable to shake his dependency and became so debilitated that the band replaced him in the summer of 1990 with Matt Sorum.
After conquering their demons and adding keyboardist Dizzy Reed, Guns N' Roses returned to the studio in 1990. The resulting dual ''Use Your Illusion'' releases are a sprawling 30-song effort that cements the band's reputation as a risk well-taken.
The two albums span rock genres effortlessly, ranging from power ballads to radio rock to hyperspeed punk rap to covers of Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan.
''Since we put out 'Appetite for Destruction,' I've watched a lot of bands put out two albums to four albums,'' Rose told Rolling Stone magazine in September. ''And who cares? They went out, they did a big tour, they were big rock stars for that period of time. That's what everybody is used to now -- the record companies push that. But I want no part of that. We weren't just throwing something together to be rock stars. We wanted to put something together that meant everything to us.''
The question now haunting Guns N' Roses, after surviving drugs and alcohol, is can the band survive success? With millions in the bank -- in 1990-91, Guns N' Roses earned $25 million -- can the band retain a street-wise, anti-establishment attitude? It's the ultimate rock 'n' roll paradox.
''We've always done everything in our power to stay away from the norm,'' Slash tells Guitar World in its February issue. ''But then all of a sudden we became the norm. 'Appetite' took off . . . We were real frustrated with being so acceptable. We're not gonna do something that appears a little bit dangerous so we can sell records.''
Guns N' Roses also took a hit, losing tour-weary Stradlin, who contributed substantially to the ''Use Your Illusion'' albums, replacing him with Gilby Clarke.
Guns N' Roses are back where they feel at home, on the road. They play Compton Terrace tonight and Saturday.
Remaining true to their muses, Guns N' Roses instill their concerts with an edgy, spontaneous ambience absent from today's predictable corporate-sponsored tours. The band juggles the playlist nightly and ''What will Axl do?'' is still question No. 1.
Surviving what they have, Guns N' Roses appears poised to dominate the rock scene of the 1990s.
As Slash told Guitar Player in December, ''After everything we've been through -- all the changes, the stress, the drugs -- we managed to put out a record and realize that no matter what happens, we are really into our music and we're not some (expletive) pop band.''