|by Steve Sutherland
The most debauched band ever to have existed are on the brink of a comeback (well, we hope). Guns N’Roses we salute you.....with this litany of never-been-told grossness commited by various Gunners through the years.
So Duff - he’s the bass player - is convinced that Steven - he’s the drummer, or at least he had been the drummer until he was sacked for being too smacked out to play drums - has been kidnapped by dealers. Duff says that Steven - who Duff says he last saw a couple of days ago, sitting in the gutter on Melrose wearing only one shoe - must have owed these dealers some money or something. As Duff sees it, the situation is pretty clear. These dealers just can’t afford to be letting a member, or even an ex-member, of the biggest band in the world, be owing them money. It’s not about the money per se, you understand. It’s just that if they let Steven get away with it, the next thing you know, all that Hollywood rock-movie trash will be blowing off their debts and where does that leave an honest, hard-working dealer? Up shit creek, that’s where.
Anyway, so they’ve kidnapped Steven, and they’re gonna take an arm or a leg or something, y’ know, in repayment. So Duff says he’s gotta go get him back. Duff is telling all this to a friend. The friend knows Duff real well so says, OK, she’ll take him to find Steven. Not that she believes Duff, you understand; it’s just that at least if she goes with him she can keep an eye on him. So Duff says, ‘Great, let’s go’ and they pile into the friend’s convertible and head up onto Sunset where Duff says he just needs to swing by home for a minute. So the friend drives Duff home and a few minutes later he gets back in the car and in his hands he has a shotgun.
Uh, OK. Now this is getting pretty fucking weird. Not to say dangerous. I mean, this guy, Duff, is probably one of the five most famous people hanging around Hollywood right now and it just won’t be good news if he gets banged up for roaming the streets in a convertible quite literally riding shotgun.
So the friend tries to talk Duff into not swinging the fucking gun around in full view of every Tom, Dick and Tracy on the street. But Duff is getting more and more excited and he’s waving that fucker around like it’s, I dunno, just some French loaf or something. And then he says they gotta head out to the Valley. So off they go, out to the Valley, Duff scoping the verdant lawns and porches of sun-kissed suburbia until he shouts : ‘Stop! Over there!’ The friend pulls over and Duff leaps outta the car and heads up the path to this house which looks, let’s face it, much like any other house. The friend just catches up with him as the door is opened to Duff’s insistent pounding. What the friend sees is this pensioner - 80 if he’s a day - clutch at his heart and fall backwards into the arms of his equally doddery wife and Duff, brandishing his piece, sweeps past them, crashing into all the rooms wanting to know, at the top of his voice, what the fuck they’ve done with Steven.
The friend rushes in after him and, confronting Duff’s wide-eyed, trembling glare, persuades him, uh, maybe this is the wrong house, dude. Duff finally agrees and legs it back out to the car with the friend in tow. He doesn’t seem to have even noticed the old guy, palpitating back there in the hallway.
The friend fires up the car and they knob off out of there a bit sharpish, the friend freaked-out, Duff still scoping suburbia. « There! » he shouts. « That’s the one! ». The friend enquires if Duff is really sure this time as, uh, that house looks pretty much like the last one, and, y’know, dude, Steven wasn’t exactly at the last one now, was he?
« No, » shouts Duff. « That’s the one! ». And he’s off again, striding through the sprinklers over the lawn, bashing at the door. A very nice Vietnamese lady answers. At least, she is very nice until she sees the shooter and starts screaming. Duff ignores her, starts shouting for Steven and barges into the house. The friend follows, trying to calm down the Vietnamese lady but, let’s face it, what you gonna say? The best thing, she decides, is just to get Duff the fuck out before someone calls the cops. But where the fuck is he? She looks in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen....ah, the kitchen. There he is. Duff is frantically opening all the cupboards above the sink and rummaging through the contents. At this point it dawns upon the friend that Duff, bless his caring heart, has actually forgotten what the fuck he is looking for and is just, y’know....looking!
She grabs him by the shirt, ripping the sleeve in the process, pushes him into the car and roars off. The last thing she sees is the Vietnamese woman yammering into the phone.
« Fuck it », says Duff, mildly bemused. He tosses the rifle onto the backseat. « Let’s get a beer. »
Duff and Steven, by the way, are generally regarded as the least two interesting members of Guns N’Roses. Did I say are ? I should have said were, but we’ll get to that. The story was told to me by the friend when I was on the road with Guns N’Roses in Seattle in the early-90s. As far as I know, it’s never been in told in print before and I have every reason to believe it’s true.
As true as the friend’s story about Slash. Now Slash was one of the two most famous Gunners as we affectionately called them in the mid-80s. Everyone knew how he liked to keep snakes and how he drank himself unconscious nearly every night and how he wore the top hat and how, amazingly, he’d been born in Stoke and how he could play the guitar like a bird could sing, and how he had a taste for the smack. Slash, you see, was the new Keef.
Anyway, Slash found it legendarily hard to wind down between tours so when he got back to LA, he’d either live with this friend or go stay in a hotel. So this one time the friend hasn’t seen Slash in a couple of weeks which is unusual because she knows he’s in town and usually someone would have called her by now to go pick him up because, well, she put notes in his pocket so that, when he passes out, if anyone finds him, they can call this number and she will go pick him up. The last time that happened, she recalled, Slash had passed out in the lift of the Hyatt - Led Zep’s old ‘Riot House’ - and had been slumped on the floor going up and down for God knows how many hours until one kindly soul went through his pockets, found the note and called her.
Anyway, she hasn’t heard from Slash for a while when the phone rings. New Year’s Eve. Seven o’clock in the evening. It’s Slash and he’s barely coherent. What she deciphers from his mumblings is something like this. Slash is in a hotel downtown with Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe and some other dudes. They’ve been sitting around doing not much of anything, on the nod probably, when Nikki’d said he was just gonna go to his room to get his guitar or something so that they could do this song. Or something. Slash can’t remember. Anyway, Nikki disappears and Slash forgets about it for, like, an hour or something when it suddenly occurs to him, like, what the fuck happened to Nikki? So Slash opens his door with the intention of sloping down the hall to Nikki’s room to find out what’s up when he nearly falls over Nikki who is lying prone outside Slash’s doorway. Oh, and Nikki’s blue. OD, dude. OD.
So Slash does what anyone would do in the circumstances and, uh, calls the friend. Fuck! Slash can’t afford to be caught around an OD with his track record so the friend rushes downtown to the hotel, grabs Slash, dials 911 for an ambulance for Nikki and gets Slash the fuck outta here. Back at her place, all she can think of is, “What if Nikki croaks? Alibi. Gotta have an alibi.” So she starts ringing round. “Gunners party, my place. Slash is here. Get yer ass over!”
And what she does next is the sort of genius that is only born of desperation. She sets all the clocks in the house back a couple of hours so that, by the time the revellers start to arrive, she can greet them on the doorstep with a “Wow! Half-seven. You got over here fast” etc. In other words, an alibi. Slash, by the way, is in full party swing, already oblivious to all the earlier shenanigans. And Nikki’s in the pauper’s hospital, getting a change of blood or whatever it is they do to OD’d junkies. This is the same Nikki Sixx, by the way, who credits Steven with saving his life. Nikki turned blue again on some other occasion - or maybe even the same one - and Steven shoved him in the shower and slapped him round the face to keep him somewhere within the regions of the land of the living until the paramedics arrived. Trouble was, Steven’s arm was in plaster at the time and Nikki rang him the next day and said : “Dude, what happened? My face is killing me.” True story.
As is, so far as I know, the Slash story because I can find no good reason not to believe it. Put alongside the stories documented about the other members of Guns N’Roses, it rings dead true.
Take Izzy. Izzy was the other Gunners guitarist. Then he wasn’t. Then he was again. Before he finally quit, he took to touring in a camper van with just his dog, his bicycle and a bunch of model aeroplanes for company, turning up before each show, taking the stage with hardly a howdy to his partners, then disappearing off into the night with the last notes of the set still ringing around the auditoriums.
Izzy it was, you may recall, in August 1989, who needed a piss on that flight to L.A but just couldn’t be arsed to get out of his seat so he took a leak where he was and as a result was arrested when the plane touched down for urinating in public. Izzy finally left the band when he could no longer work with the madness that was Axl. Ah, Axl...
Now this is where the tale gets really interesting. There’s so much weirdness about Axl that you really do have to start at the start. He was born William Bruce Rose in Lafayette, Indiana. Then his name was changed to William Bailey when his mother remarried. Then he changed it back when he was 17 upon finding out for the first time that the man who he thought of as Dad was really his stepdad. But he hated the name William so he just changed it to W and made up Axl. W. Axl Rose. Axl. Acronym : war. Anagram : oral sex. Got it?
About that stepdad. He was Billy fucking bonkers. Some kinda religious nut who Axl swears he once heard sing in fluent Japanese, even though he didn’t know the language, while driving a car at 100 miles per hour down the freeway with his eyes closed. This same stepfather brought Axl up in the ways of the Pentecostal church (“Filled with self-righteous hypocrites who were child molesters and child abusers”),would slug Axl for looking at girls and chuck TVs outta the house because they were evil. Real Night of the Hunter stuff by the sounds of it. Axl later reckoned he was sexually abused by his natural father. He arrived at that conclusion through regressive therapy, more of which later.
Anyway, Axl got the hell out of Indiana when he was 17, arrived by Greyhound in L.A with at least 20 arrests behind him, most for public drunkenness. As a matter of note, Axl always defended himself in court. The lad’s a bit of a freak in L.A, a bit backwoods but he gravitates towards the seedy side of town and falls in and out of associations with local bands L.A Guns and Hollywood Rose until a final line-up settles around snake-hipped Axl with his weird vocal range - grating whine to a waspish rasp, like nails down a blackboard - and the aforementioned Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler. They become known as Guns N’Roses and cause quite a stir around the clubs and hooker joints of West Hollywood with their punked-up take on metal. But their allure is due to more than just their music, which is pretty primitive and hardly original. It’s their aura. They truly are for real, fucked-up street trash out for all they can get. They have shamelessly lived off the wages of strippers and dealers and whores up until this point, in hovels that seldom even had running water. Toilets? Outta the question! Their motto is pretty much : To party hard is the best revenge. Or, as Axl puts it : "We wanted to be the coolest, sexiest, meanest, nastiest, loudest, funniest band. There was a group consciousness of rape, pillage, search and destroy." LA loves them. "Guns N’Roses is like a living organism", says Axl." It is not an act."
They sign to Geffen after a dirty A&R war in which Axl tells one lady A&R person from Chrysalis that the band will sign with her if she’ll walk naked from her office down Sunset to Tower Records. Geffen gets the speedball rolling by releasing the EP Live?!*@ Like A Suicide, on the band’s own Uzi Suicide label, followed by the Appetite for destruction LP in August 1987, the cover of which - a woman being violated by a robot - is moved onto the inner sleeve for fear that record shops might not stock it. The album goes on to sell 20 million copies worldwide and the single Sweet child o’mine is one of the anthems of the 80s, a kinda Freebird for the post-punk generation. Rocket Queen, by the way, features noises taped when Axl has sex with some girl in the studio. The same Axl, by the way, who calls me at the office after I’ve less-than-generously reviewed a gig they’d done the previous week at London’s Marquee. The band are on the way to the airport but would like to call round for a frank exchange of opinions. I take an early lunch.
By now Axl has been fired and rehired by the band. For some reason he’d refused to leave his hotel room in Phoenix when the band were on tour with Mötley Crüe. He’s back out front when the Gunners support Aerosmith around the States, the contract stating that none of the band can drink or do anything druggy within eye or earshot of Steve Tyler and Joe Perry. The Detox Twins are likeky to fall off the wagon given the least encouragement.
The Gunners take a break from the tour to do Monsters of Rock at Donington. The crowd is huge and the band halt their set three times while the audience crush calms down. "Have a good fuckin’ day” announces Axl as the band leave the stage, "and don’t kill yourselves". Two fans are crushed to death in the crowd.
"Nothing really works right for this band", Axl is quoted as saying. "Slash once said that God didn’t want this to happen, and sometimes I believe that".
Not that Axl does much to appease the deity. On the Gunners’ next release, GN’R Lies - essentially the ... Suicide EP and four accoustic tracks - is an Axl song called One in a million which is attacked for its perceived racist and homophobic content after Axl deliberately uses the liberal-baiting terms "niggers" and "faggots". Axl tries to explain it away as a true insight into what it was like for him to arrive tenderfoot in LA and be preyed upon, but it makes him public enemy numero uno anyway and serves to feed his already growing paranoia.
Axl is now convinced he’s about to be assassinated and is withdrawing further and further from the band. The rift comes to a head when the Gunners are supporting the Rolling Stones at the LA Coliseum in October 89 when the singer announces to the crowd this may well be the last time anyone will ever see them because "there are too many people in this band dancing with Mr Brownstone".
The band take time off, Axl gets married to Erin Everly, daughter of Don of the famously feuding Everly Brothers. The marriage lasts a matter of weeks as the couple fight and Axl finds himself on the wrong end of an abuse charge. The band reconvene, Adler’s slung out (His quote : “They said it was drugs….I call that the pot calling the kettle black”), in comes Matt Sorum from The Cult to drum and Dizzy Reed to add keyboards. The Gunners are working on their new LP, which turns out to be Use your illusion but they can’t get it done on schedule so they tour again, Axl just finding time to allegedly smack a neighbour over the head with a bottle after she’d complained about the noise coming fom his house.
The Get in the ring tour hits trouble at the St Louis Riverport Amphitheatre. Axl, who seems more intent on conducting a verbal battle with security than entertaining the crowd, suddenly leaps into the crowd to grab a fan’s camera. When he scrambles back on stage he announces : “Thanks to the lame-ass security, I’m going home.” He has lost a contact lens and slopes off backstage. The rest of the band follow and the crowd riots. The drum set is demolished, 60 fans are injured, 16 arrested and $200,000 worth of damage is done to the Amphitheatre. Axl is sued.
"Guns N’Roses got to the top of a mountain by using every pile of shit that ever happened to us," Axl explains at the time. "We were living that way, living our songs, and it started killing us. It was either die or change."
By now Axl has allegedly insisted that the band sign over all rights to the name Guns N’Roses to him and he is having very little to do with the rest of them. Travels alone. Own dressing room. Sometimes doesn’t arrive at shows until so late that the band, who are wary of breaking too many curfews, have started without him. Matt Sorum is quoted as saying that, on this tour, the Gunners spent $100,000 a night on parties. Or orgies, as the press would have it.
Axl is now deep into therapy. Spends all his spare time regressing, getting all that childhood shit out. This is not making him one happy bunny. The band’s management hides all the reviews because one bad word can set him off for days.
"I started therapy in February", Axl told Rolling Stone at the time, "and Jesus, I’m right in the middle of stuff. I mean, if a heavy emotional issue surfaces and you’ve got a show in four hours, you have to figure out how to get that sorted out really quick before you get onstage so that you’re not in the middle of Jungle and have a breakdown."
Finally Use your illusion is released in September 91 and it is a monument to excess. Not just one album but two. Use your illusion 1 and Use your illusion 2. Two separate albums, released simultaneously. They go to number one and two in the Billboard charts. 2 goes to one and 1 goes to two. Very contrary. Very Gunners. Izzy quits to form his Ju Ju Hounds. He can’t take Axl any more. Some geezer called Gilby Clarke takes his place.
Axl ain’t happy. Trouble is, there’s a new sheriff in town. Some dude called Kurt Cobain is doing this grunge stuff and the kids are going nuts for it. Axl meets Kurt backstage at the 1993 MTV Awards. Kurt is with his big-mouth wife Courtney Love and Axl gets into a very public slanging match with them. Kurt is quoted as saying that, as a joke, Courtney had asked Axl to be godparent to their kid Frances Bean and Axl just flipped. "These were his words", said Cobain. "You shut your bitch up, or I’m taking you down to the pavement."
There is more controversy when, in the absence of any new proper product, Geffen release the Spaghetti Incident in December 93. A collection of punk covers, Axl has chosen to do this song called Look at your game girl. It was written by Charlie Manson. Despite Axl’s pledge to give all proceeds of the recording to the families of Manson’s victims, it leaves a bad taste which is too much for Slash. He fucks off and forms Snakepit. In 1996, Axl announces he is no longer working with Slash because the guitarist had lost his “dive in and find the monkey” attitude.
And that, everyone assumed, was about that. Axl had pretty much alienated or fired the rest of the band but still rumours circulated that he was working on new GN’R material. Trouble is, no one could verify anything. Axl had all but done the perfect disappearing act. "My new thing is : I am the unknown," he told RIP magazine as far back as 1992. And seems like he meant it until, in February last year, he suddenly surfaces. Typically, his public comeback is anything but planned. He is arrested at Phoenix airport after refusing to let security guards examine the contents of his travelling bag.
Since then, Youth, Moby....a long list of top-hole producers are supposed to have trouped through Axl’s studio, unable to extricate a record from the morass. Or, as Spin put it in a recent issue : "With thousands of hours of song fragments and jams on tape, he’s too much the perfectionist to wrap anything up, too much the obsessive to let anything go."
Except....since that Spin story, Guns N’Roses have released Oh my god, a track on the soundtrack to the new Arnie Schwarzenegger film called End of days. And even though it’s just one track, the world - and Axl - deems it such an occasion that it comes accompanied by one mighty fuck-off statement from Axl himself.
It’s a statement which - along with the rather fab technometal Oh my god - suggests that the Gunners story is far from over. It begins with some stunning rubbish, the apparent result of too much therapy : "Emotionally the song contemplates several abstract perspectives….the appropriate expression and vehicles for such emotions and concepts is not something taken for granted...." That’s all right then.
The statement then moves into a typical bout of Axl bitter pettiness : "Former member Duff McKagan as well as former employee Matt Sorum failed to see its potential....". It then goes on to detail exactly who did what on that track as if to say he’s had enough of lawyers, thank you very much. Finally, there’s a kind of warped hymn to the American way and a lot of guff about the gift of freewill and the sign-off from the South Park movie : "Blame Canada. Axl." Even the fuckin’ press release is cool!
Geffen have recently released Live Era 87-93, a double album of concert highlights presumably to serve as a hors d’oeuvres for more new Axl product. If this means that GN’R are really on the way back, I for one reckon that it’s damn good news. We can do with all the drama we can get right now and with Liam busy changing nappies, who better to get psychotic on our ass than good ol’ Axl? He may be the only original Gunner left but, hell, if that recent statement’s anything to go by, he’s got enough piss and vinegar left in him to give it another shot.
Coming soon to a wrecked venue near you. Here’s hoping.
Transcribed by Laura