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March 17th, 2004
Welcome To The Jungle
Kerrang! March 17, 2004
By Ian Winwood

Even for the most dishevelled, chaotic and exciting young rock band in the world, the day was a very big deal. Guns N' Roses were in New York, to meet with Tim Collins, then manager of Aerosmith, to discuss the possibility of GN'R opening for the band on their 1988 summer US stadium tour.

Aerosmith were newly clean and reinvigorated, their album 'Permanent Vacation' recapturing the glories of their wasted youth. Guns N' Roses themselves were about to explode, with 'Appetite For Destruction; their debut album, climbing into the top 10 of the US Billboard album chart in April of that year. The album would not dislodge itself until it had sold eight million copies on that side of the world, with a further seven million sales, at the time, coming from other parts of the globe.

Guns N' Roses sharing a ticket with Aerosmith was a dream bill (for band and audience) both musically and philosophically - the one-time Toxic Twins of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry taking to the road with a brand new, white hot Fucked Up Five. Herein lay a problem. After years of detailed substance and alcohol abuse, Aerosmith were riding the wagon and were very much enjoying a second lease of life, both in a creative and a commercial sense. Guns N' Roses were new to this and were enjoying the pleasures of the circus with enough energy to have already earned themselves a fearsome reputation: for drinking, for drugs, for trouble. And today, in a meeting with Tim Collins in an expensive hotel suite in New York City, the band needed to create a good impression.

The first thing they did when the Aerosmith manager stepped out of the room was to order $1,000 worth of drinks on his room service tab.

SOMEHOW, THOUGH, Guns N' Roses secured the tour; the opening slot on what was, by any measure, a bill of dreams. During the tour 'Appetite For Destruction' climbed up to the Number One slot on the US album chart. The headline act may have been legends, but the support band was now the hottest property in the world. They visited arenas, amphitheatres and stadiums with an ever-growing momentum and swagger. Though they had already toured with The Cult, Motley Cre and Iron Maiden, it was this summer tour with Aerosmith that Guns N' Roses truly earned the adjective 'phenomenon'.

"That tour was crazy;' says Slash today. "First of all, there were a lot of nerves around the Aerosmith camp, not from the band themselves but from the people around them. They didn't want their cleaned up band, their newly cleaned up band, associating too closely with us, in case they slipped back into their old ways. So our dressing room would always be at the opposite end of the building to theirs. But Aerosmith themselves were great to us, treated us well. And we had a lot of respect for that band, so it wasn't really a problem. I wouldn't be wandering into their dressing room with my open bottle of Jack Daniel's or anything. And I remember playing and seeing Joe Perry watching me from the side of the stage, with a smile on his face, watching this wiry topless kid running around all over the place. That tour was the first time that we'd walk onstage - and I'm talking about playing to at least 20,000 people a night - and every single person in the crowd would know every word to all of our songs. It felt like we'd arrived."

WHAT GUNS N' Roses had to distinguish them from, say, Metallica was instant gratification - they may have dressed in Slayer shirts, but their sound was accessible, albeit in a ragged and unclean way. It was this rawness that set the group apart from the gormless opportunists of the Los Angeles cock rock community around them. And it was this that made life difficult for Guns N'Roses, at first, forcing them to butt heads with the tousled conformists of a deeply stagnant scene. Axl Rose said at the time that it took three full years before the coterie of the Sunset scene would accept the band on their own terms. Slash spoke of Poison guitarist CC Deville threatening to kill him if he didn't remove the top hat he was wearing, mocking them for affecting to ride motorcycles, saying how they would "piss themselves" were they ever to step inside a real biker's bar.

"We were a band from LA;' says Slash. "But we weren't like the Los Angeles bands of the time. That was very important to us, and it was very clear to us. We didn't look like them, and we didn't sound like them. We liked the Stones, we liked Aerosmith, we liked the Sex Pistols. We were not a glam band, and we stood out from that scene.'

"Guns N'Roses had that look about them, that look of hunger;' says music journalist Sylvie Simmons, who worked at the time for Kerrang! and was the first European writer to interview the band (so early in their career, in fact, that their singer still spelled his first name 'Axel'). "They looked like they would do anything to succeed. The LA rock scene at the time was very much Jacuzzi'd out, it was coked out, and here came this band who were clearly different, who weren't just about glam rock, or about a look. They were obviously for real."

THAT THEY were. The five members of Guns N' Roses did not come from LA - Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin were born in Lafayette, Indiana, bassist Duff McKagan moved south from Seattle, drummer Steven Adler came from Cleveland and Slash, surprisingly, was born in Stoke On Trent - but it's difficult to imagine this story in any other city. LA has a rawness and ambition that pulses through its streets, a desperation surmised in songs such as 'Welcome To The Jungle~ As much as the sound of the music, Guns N' Roses were able to infuse their songs with the stench of the city they lived in; the nihilism and remove of 'It's So Easy' ('turn around bitch I've got a use for you, besides you ain't got nothing better to do, and I'm bored) and the cruelty and disregard of 'Paradise City'.

Guns N' Roses themselves took time to come together, the members flitting in and out of a handful of the thousands of bands that litter the city. When they did, in 1985, it was the chaos of chemistry - good music, bad vibrations. They lived with groupies, with a woman who attempted to manage them, five to a room, plus a dog ("we destroyed her apartment;' said Rose in 1987. "It was really crazy, really crazy"). They lived in a rehearsal studio (Slash: "No showers, no food, no nothing"). They hitch-hiked to their first show in Seattle - at the Guerrilla Club, on June 6, 1985 after their car broke down en route, and played to 13 people. They released a four-track EP called 'Live Like A Suicide' {in December 1986 on their own label called 'Uzi Suicide: Appropriately, it begins with a roadie screaming, "Hey fuckers, suck on Guns N'fucking Roses': And somehow they were courted and wooed by every major label in Southern California, eventually recording 'Appetite For Destruction' for Geffen. The music sounded desperate, visceral, often unpleasant; the band, pictured on the back sleeve, looked like they needed a wash, looked like they'd steal your purse and use the money to buy heroin and hamburger meat.

"What Guns N' Roses were;' says Sylvie Simmons, "was a word you never really heard at the time. Guns N' Roses were dangerous.'

DANGEROUS AND, at first, unified. Speaking in 1987, Slash told this magazine how he couldn't "continue with this band minus one of these guys': how it was "the basic chemistry that only exists when the five of us climb up on a stage together and let rip that makes this band tick. Whatever it is we've got, it only happens best when it's the five of us, and that's the way it'll always be'.

At the start Guns N' Roses were a gang, a family, albeit a particularly dysfunctional one. But perhaps this shouldn't have been a surprise; after all, Slash had warned how this band's music was about "sexual repression': about how the group had come from 'backgrounds of repression': of "stifled childhoods': It's cliched but what they had was each other, with all the friction and magic that entailed. And suddenly, this band that once had nothing but each other, that came from nothing and that were nothing, had everything. The music was undeniable; the band that made it were not about to be denied either.

Along with the rock 'n' roll came, with incredible appetite, the drugs and the sex. Ask Slash today to calculate how many women he slept with during three years on the road with Guns N' Roses and he'll tell you that he was getting laid" about 16 times each month, with a different girl a night, and that doesn't count doubles': Ask him for a ballpark figure and he'll say, "probably around 500'. It was symptomatic of his growing fame, but it was also something he worried about with the growing prevalence of AIDS. In fact he was astonished he and other rock stars hadn't caught the disease, because they were "all sleeping with the same chicks. If one goes down we'll all go down'.

It didn't stop him, though, and it didn't stop the band beginning to live out their rock star fantasies, of not just being at the right parties but being the right party. The debauchery was almost constant: Izzy Stradlin being arrested for pissing on the floor of an aeroplane, Izzy Stradlin again being punched by Vince Neil, Vince Neil challenging Axl Rose to a fight, marriages and annulments, spousal abuse, onstage walk outs... the list goes on. The alcohol was piling up, though, and worryingly the drugs were beginning to get a firmer grip. In fact it was Guns N' Roses who were credited, if that's the word, with bringing heroin back into vogue for the musical sheep of the Sunset Strip. Away from the dubious 'fashion' credibility it brought them it was causing deep problems.

Onstage supporting the Rolling Stones in October 1989, Axl Rose threatened to quit the group if certain members of the band didn't stop "dancing with Mr Brownstone': Slash was using heroin, Izzy Stradlin was using heroin and Steven Adler was using so much heroin that his face became blotchy and pink, hastening his removal from the ranks in July 1990.

The picture, by now, was clear - the band that had everything was losing control. There was only one member, Axl Rose, who was keeping it together and very much gaining control, his focus sharpening in inverse proportion to the sloth that surrounded him. Bit by bit Guns N' Roses became Axl Rose's band. Moment by moment, Guns N' Roses became Axl Rose.

THE FRONTMAN was always a star, albeit a petulant one. Onstage at the Monsters Of Rock festival at Donington Park in 1988 (where two fans in the 107,000 crowd lost their lives in the crush that greeted the band's set) he had the charisma and the confidence to halt the show for up to 10 minutes as security attempted to manage the melee before them, talking to the crowd with natural ease and even charm.

It wouldn't always be like this - there was a distinct lack of charm as he quit the stage in Montreal in 1993, while on tour with Metallica, allegedly because his psychic had warned him against cities beginning with the letter 'M'. This was the night that James Hetfield suffered burns from an exploding pyrotechnic and Metallica were forced to cut their set short after an hour. Guns N'Roses' set was even shorter and the audience rioted. The band's equipment was lost in the thrash and the singer was charged with incitement to cause a riot. Walking offstage was something the singer was already notorious for, having stormed from a St Louis, Missouri stage two years earlier because a fan in the crowd was taking photographs. He'd also developed a penchant for arriving onstage late, sometimes up to two or even three hours after their scheduled stage time. Sylvie Simmons describes the singer as being" difficult to get along with': Slash himself, who refuses to throw dirt at his former bandmate, will say that, "if there was one thing about Axl it would be that he didn't really understand the consequences of his actions'.

IT'S DIFFICULT to pinpoint exactly when Guns N' Roses ceased to exist as a collective, as a rock 'n' roll band, but the recording and release of the 'Use Your Illusion' sets - two double albums released on September 16, 1991 - is not a bad place to start. The recording, of course, was prolonged and confused; Steven Adler (yet to be replaced by Matt Sorum) Duff McKagan and Slash were in Chicago for three months, Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin were somewhere unknown. Once the music was finally recorded it took Rose six months to add his vocal parts ("we were just hanging around waiting for him to finish;' says Slash. "It was quite difficult"). It was such a long process that the project was eventually released more than two years after it was conceived. There were squabbles with the record label regarding the release format (the band, or Axl at least, wanted the music to be released in a four CD box set; too expensive, said Geffen) and proposed release dates came and went. If the 'Use Your Illusion' pair aren't quite fantastic albums they are at least fantastically interesting albums. A sprawl of styles often in need of an edit, the music lunges or glides from their original rock kick to wider influences - expansive ballads, songs as rants, faux psychedelia - that clearly belong to Axl Rose. The words, the story, is also largely his - from the violent outburst of 'Get In The Ring' and 'Shotgun Blues' to the whining indulgence of 'Don't Damn Me' or 'Back Off Bitch'. There is evidence of a band at work here, but the momentum, the swing, is clearly with the singer. It almost slips past that Izzy Stradlin contributes the song 'Pretty Tied Up; a virtual letter of resignation, saying how 'once there was this rock 'n' roll band rolling on the street, time went by and it became a joke'. It had clearly become a joke for Izzy Stradlin, Axl's old friend from Lafayette, and he quit the band shortly after (he was replaced by Gilby Clarke). In the video clip for the song 'Don't Cry' the band are filmed without him, with a placard asking, 'Where's Izzy?: It may as well have asked, 'Where are Guns N' Roses?

"The thing was;' says Slash, "that when Izzy left it became impossible. I couldn't deal with Axl on my own and the band stopped being what it originally was. Originally Izzy could deal with Axl, I could deal with Izzy and Duff could deal with me. Steven also played his part. And that's how it was. We all had a way of dealing with each other and it all balanced out. After Izzy left it became something else.

WHAT IT became was what you see now: almost nothing. Guns N'Roses toured 'Use Your Illusion' for more than two years, but as a creative force the group was spent. 'The Spaghetti Incident?' came out certainly, but it was nothing more than a last hurrah, a cover album without heart or intrigue. Save the odd song cropping up on a soundtrack - 'Sympathy For The Devil' on 'Interview With The Vampire' and 'Oh My God' on 'End Of Days' - that was that. It doesn't really matter that somewhere sits a collection of songs that labour beneath the title of 'Chinese Democracy: It doesn't really matter that these songs may or may not be released one day. Or at least it doesn't matter in the sense of Guns N'Roses, now no more than a name for Axl Rose. The songs may be brilliant - and word is good - but they belong to him; they are his, not Guns N'Roses.

If you saw the band at the Leeds Festival or the London Arena in 2002 what you saw was a piece of quite wonderful karaoke, mixed with possible glimpses of Axl Rose's future, should it ever really appear. Again, whether it does or not has nothing whatsoever to do with Guns N'Roses. Because the last thing that really had anything to do with Guns N'Roses came with the final song on the second 'Use Your Illusion' set, an original number that sounds both out of sorts and out of character. The song is an industrial-style ditty called 'My World'. Think about that title, from Axl Rose's point of view. It's his world, not theirs.

From then on in, everything, really, went black.

GUNS N'ROSES' 'GREATEST HITS' IS OUT NOW ON GEFFEN.


Thanks to Laura for the transcription.

 
  

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