Sunday Old School: Guns N’ Roses
Band Photo: Guns N Roses (?)
With over 100 million worldwide albums sold, Guns N' Roses gave heavy metal a much needed kick in the ass when they burst upon the scene. Sex, drugs, riots, racism, fights...the band has been involved in anything you can think of, earning Guns N’ Roses the label of “world’s most dangerous band.” Watch the video for “Welcome to The Jungle” and you begin to understand the initial stigma of Axl Rose and Guns N’ Roses. Rose and company let fans and critics into their lives through music and videos (this changed over the years as communication came more via rants, letters to the media, and court issued documents). A Midwest boy exploring Hollywood for all of its worth: part-relishing, part-horrified. Axl Rose was later rumored to be diagnosed as bi-polar. Watch the video; it was always right in front of our eyes.
Formed in Los Angeles, California by W. Axl Rose (vocals), Izzy Stradlin' (guitar), Tracii Guns (guitar), Duff McKagan (bass) and Steven Adler (drums). Guns would leave to form L.A. Guns and Slash would take his spot in the band. Their 1986 EP, “Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide,” was released on the band's own independent album, but it wouldn't be long until a major label (Geffen) would sign the band. Their first full-length album, “Appetite For Destruction,” would become the best selling debut in music history (fueled by hits and a new sound in addition to the massive publicity their antics received in the press). The debut was near perfect. Most songs would never be played on the radio due to language, but that didn’t stop denim clad teens from blasting “It’s So Easy,” “Nightrain,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “You’re Crazy,” and “Rocket Queen” through their Sony walkmans and street corner boom boxes. This was an album with NO filler. The band released three singles from “Appetite For Destruction”: “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and “Paradise City.” According to Rose, the inspiration for the “Welcome To The Jungle” lyrics were from an encounter with a homeless man in New York City. While trying to scare away young runaways the man screamed “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby; you’re gonna die!” The ballad-like, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” reached number one on the Billboard charts. The song was a poem written by Axl for his girlfriend at the time, Erin Everly. Once “Sweet Child O’ Mine” peaked, EVERYTHING got bigger. For the next decade, this survival-of-the-fittest rock-blues-punk inspired club band became one of the biggest arena headlining rock acts in the world.
The band toured relentlessly to support their debut album. They opened for Aerosmith, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, and many others. By the end of their tour, fans were coming to see the opening band more than the headliner. In 1988 the band released “G N’R Lies,” a recording of the four tracks from their original EP as well as four acoustic tracks. The song “One in a Million,” laced with homophobic and racist lyrics brought a lot of bad media attention to Axl and the band. Guns N’ Roses seemed to have a knack for this type of attention.
The 1980s Guns concerts also attracted a lot of trouble and negative press. In 1987 Rose assaulted a security guard in Atlanta, riots nearly broke out during two August 1988 shows in New York State, and at England’s Monsters Of Rock festival two fans were crushed to their death. In 1989, while opening for the Rolling Stones, Rose announced that it would be their last show if certain members didn’t stop “dancing with Mr. Brownstone,” a reference to heroin. Slash would stop his heroin habit within a year, but Adler wouldn’t be so lucky.
In 1990 the band went back to the studio to begin work on the “Use Your Illusion” albums. Steven Adler was unable to perform due to his struggles with heroin. Adler was fired and replace by Matt Sorum. It was around this time Dizzy Reed also joined as a keyboardist, becoming the sixth member of Guns N’ Roses. In 1991 the band released “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II.” The albums debuted at number one and two, becoming the first group to achieve this feat. Both albums featured a mix of hard rock, ballads, and covers. “Use Your Illusion I” was the heavier of the two albums, with a B-Side loaded with songs “Garden Of Eden”, “Don’t Damn Me”, “Dead Horse”, and “Coma”; “Use Your Illusion II” was more melodic (see: “Civil War”, “Yesterdays”, “Estranged”) and had more pianos. The albums would spend 108 weeks on the Billboard charts. The band embarked on a grand “Use Your Illusion” tour (actually started prior to the release of the double albums). The tour was not without its drama. A few notable highlights…
- 1991, Saratoga, Axl Rose requested the crowd shout “Get In The Ring!” It was recorded for the song by the same name on ‘Use Your Illusion II.’
- 1991, Philadelphia, Rose gets into a fight with a fan that kicked a camera out of the hands of his photographer.
- 1991, Maryland Heights, Missouri, Rose spots a spectator recording the concert and jumps into the audience after him. When security refused to apprehend the man, Rose walks off the stage and a riot erupts. Sixty fans were injured.
- 1991, Los Angeles, Guns N’ Roses played the longest show of the tour. It lasted three and a half hours.
- 1991, Wembley Stadium, after the show Izzy Stradlin quits the band; Gilby Clarke replaces Stradlin.
- 1992, the band performs the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert.
- 1992, Montreal, Metallica front man, James Hetfield’s arm is burned and has to leave the stage. Guns N’ Roses are late and then Axl storms off stage due to audio problems. A huge riot erupts, spilling into the streets.
-1992, Venezuela, the band performs in front of 45,000. Two days later, the Air Force launches a failed military coup, making it impossible for half of the band and their equipment to leave.
-1992, Chile, the band performs in front of 85,535 people. Axl attacked a reporter and injured a camera man. Axl arrived two hours late; people threw bottles to the stage and Rose stopped the show. The concert ended with many arrests and a teenage fan with several injuries, dying two days later.
- 1993, Argentina, the band plays in front of 80,000 people. It was the last show for the line-up of Slash, McKagan, Sorum, Reed, and Clarke.
During the Use Your Illusion tour, Guns N’ Roses released personal videos in the form of a trilogy. The videos for the songs “Don’t Cry”, “November Rain”, and “Estranged” would tell a story of jealousy, violence, and a penchant for over the top wedding drama. “Don’t Cry” begins with a baby floating to the top of water. The baby has blue eyes. Logically, the video cuts to Axl Rose who is caught in a Buffalo winter-like-blizzard. He is in a kilt and holding a gun. Ladies and gentlemen this is your setup to ‘The Trilogy.’ Cut to Axl in his residence and holding a gun (apparently contemplating suicide). His girl (played by then girl friend Stephanie Seymour), wrestles the gun away, but not before Axl throws her against the wall; angry that his model girlfriend stopped him from killing himself. Next scene we are at a cemetery where Axl and his girl are having a picnic. Cut to the band playing on top of a skyscraper building. All members of the band have decided to carry bandanas that hang out of their back pocket, except for Matt Sorum (who replaced their original drummer Steven Adler) who is wearing his on his head. Axl is wearing a flannel shirt that is probably his way distancing himself from the backlash of hair bands that was beginning during this time. Axl does the “airplane” run from one side of the building to the other. This doesn’t appear safe. Back to the drama, we have Duff and Slash separately having fights with their girls. Duff is outside a club/bar and Slash is out driving. It appears Duff tells his girl off while Slash decides to drive the girl off a cliff. I picture Slash and Duff in a bar later that night. DUFF: So I just said “Fuck You!” and that was it. SLASH: I drove my girl off a cliff. DUFF: Oh. The video escalates with Axl in a hospital room that is probably an insane asylum. While Rose lies there in a gown another image of Axl wearing a kilt appears and then one wearing a blazer appears and then leaves. Back in the hospital and Axl’s hand’s are shaking and he’s making this strange look like “see I told you” to the doctor who doesn’t seem very interested in what is happening. Next scene we are back in the cemetery and the grave has the name Axl Rose engraved on it with the ending year of 1990 which is because (as Axl later stated) a very suicidal year for him. Below the grave a green demon like Axl is looking up then we cut to a baby again coming up from the water. This time the eyes are green….and…..CUT!
“November Rain” was the second video of the trilogy and is based on the short story, Without You, written by the band’s official biographer, Del James. The inspiration of the story came from Axl Rose’s relationship with former wife, Erin Everly. Axl is sitting on the side of the bed and popping sleeping pills. Cut to a music hall where an orchestra is setting up and Axl Rose is sitting behind a piano and wearing a bandana around his head. Note that Matt Sorum is NOT wearing a bandana. Is there more to the story? Jump to the inside a church for a wedding of Axl and current girlfriend Stephanie Seymour. A quick flashback to The Rainbow Room and then back to the church where Slash and Duff laugh about not being able to find the rings and then Slash leaves, my initial assumption is to go smoke. Instead Slash needs to play a solo and it would be rude to play in front of all the guests. When we return to the wedding Axl and Seymour are leaving the church and everyone is throwing rice. A happy ending for all, oh wait… Back on the stage and there is a shot of Duff moving across the stage. He is wearing a bandana around his neck. Strange scene of Axl walking by a store that reads GUNS and then we are invited to the wedding reception where we get a close-up of Axl’s blue jacket before it rains, red wine spill, and the cake topples over.
So now is where everything goes crazy. We are at a funeral for Stephanie Seymour– now, the part between the reception and death was to be the next video Estranged – I think; however, Axl and Seymour broke up after the second video so instead there are dolphins? You’ll see what I mean in a minute. The video ends with Axl waking from a nightmare, but it’s not a dream. Rose is in the pouring rain, crouched over an open grave as his bride’s bouquet lands on top of the coffin.
“Estranged,” the third (and final installment) shows Axl hiding in a crawl space. Initially it is unclear if it is because he has lost his mind or is still thinking about his decision to wear that blue blazer to the wedding. (Probably a little of both.) Matt Sorum is back to wearing his bandana and women are now watching members of Guns N’ Roses performing on television. Axl is having an out of couch experience that leads to a shower scene (fully clothed) and then he is dressed in white walking around a mental hospital. For those lost already, hold on! On a crazy scale of 1 to 10 we are treading around 3, but are heading to 10! Back to the girls watching the television screens: When not watching Guns N’ Roses perform they are watching dolphins. While this is happening we are on Sunset Boulevard (band actually shut down part of West Hollywood to shoot this video) and Slash is floating through the streets during one of his guitar solos. Is this strange? Not compared to Axl who is walking along streets that have turned into rivers containing dolphins swimming along the side. AND THEN, Axl jumps onto an OIL TANKER, jumps off into the Ocean and sinks. Axl is swimming with the Dolphins as Slash RISES OUT OF THE WATER to play a solo and levitate on top. A HELICOPTER has to come and rescue Rose who loses one of his Converse shoes that actually have the name AXL on them and then the video concludes with a message that reads LOSE YOUR ILLUSIONS. I remember watching this the first time and I have the same reaction today. I have no idea if what I just watched was genius or garbage, but to this day I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
After the “Use Your Illusion” double CD the band put out a covers album titled “The Spaghetti Incident?” The album did not meet the success of others, but was a return to their sleazy punk roots with songs “Black Leather,” “Down On The Farm”, “Ain’t It Fun”, and “I Don’t Care About You.” (Note: Some would argue the cover “Since I Don’t Have You” would negate any punk rock “cred” for the album.) The most notable track (once again for the wrong reasons) was the hidden Charles Manson song, “Look at Your Game Girl.” Rose wore a Charles Manson T-shirt during the “Illusion” tour and apparently had some type of fascination with him.
From 1994 to 1996 the band began writing a new album. With tensions growing, many rumors floated around the Guns camp. Slash officially quit Guns N’ Roses in 1996. In 1997, Matt Sorum was fired and Duff McKagan left the band. All original members were now out of Guns N’ Roses. From 1994 to 2001 Guns N’ Roses (the new Axl led version) did not perform. The band went through several musicians including Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Bryan Mantia, and Buckethead to name a few. During the mid nineties there was a lot of “talk” around “Chinese Democracy” and rumors of what was causing the delays. Two of the more entertaining stories included:
- A record executive sent Rose CDs from potential producers to review (and possibly work with on “Chinese Democracy.”) Axl responded by driving over the CDs with his car.
- Axl visited the studio so infrequently in the late '90s that one of his engineers, Billy Howerdel, formed a band with drummer, Josh Freese. The group was called A Perfect Circle, they put out three albums before “Chinese Democracy” was released.
The band returned in 2001 and played shows in Las Vegas, Rio and New York City. In 2002 the band toured North America to support the upcoming “Chinese Democracy,” which had been in the making since 1994. The opening show in Vancouver was canceled when Rose failed to show up and a riot ensued. After a second riot in Philadelphia the remainder of the tour was cancelled. In 2006 demos of some songs from the rumored “Chinese Democracy” album were leaked. During 2007 Guns N’ Roses was made up of Axl Rose, Robin Finck, Ron Thal, Richard Fortus, Tommy Stinson, Dizzy Reed, Chris Pitman, and Frank Ferrer.
In 2008 Dr. Pepper promised to give everyone (except Slash and Buckethead) a free can of soda if the band released “Chinese Democracy” before the end of 2008. What seemed like a safe bet turned out to be a problem (due to heavy volume many did not get their free soda) when the album was officially available in November of 2008. After 14 years, “Chinese Democracy” was available.
The album starts with “Chinese Democracy,” “Shackler’s Revenge,” and “Better.” These three songs incorporate sleazy riffs, soft vocals, and screaming vocals, sometimes all at once. One of the arguments against this album is that EVERY song on Chinese Democracy has EVERYTHING thrown into it. “Street of Dreams” follows, it’s the first ballad and similar to “November Rain”, the surprise is that this is not even the best ballad on the album, and maybe it’s the third best depending if you classify “Sorry” as a ballad. The next song “If the World” confused me the first time I heard it and still confuses me to this day. I don’t understand why this is on the album. I have created a playlist that includes the full album except “If the World.” The sixth track, “There Was a Time”, is an underrated song followed by “Catcher in the Rye”, which is similar to “Yesterday” from ‘Use Your Illusion II.’ Side two (as we used to say) begins with two “heavy” songs “Scraped” and “Riad N’ the Bedouins”, these are both very good, listenable songs, but still do not capture the magic from earlier Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction blazing rock songs. The anger in Chinese Democracy appears to peak with “Sorry” and the next track, “I.R.S.” “This I Love” is the best ballad on the record. This should have been the lead single instead of “Chinese Democracy” and “Better.” The final song is “Prostitute” which somehow just makes sense. In 2009 DJ Ashba joined the band for the “Chinese Democracy World Tour.”
In 2011 it was announced that the classic Guns N’ Roses lineup were to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Axl and Izzy did not attend. The rest of the band accepted and then played live with Myles Kennedy on vocals. In 2012 the current lineup took residency in Las Vegas for a series of shows titled “Appetite For Democracy.”
Today all of the ex-Gunners are busy with their music. In addition to Slash’s Snakepit, Slash has released two solo albums and partnered with Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum on the successful side project, Velvet Revolver. In addition to Velvet Revolver, Duff McKagan leads his band Loaded and plays with the band Walking Papers. Both Slash and Duff have penned autobiographies. Izzy Stradlin and Gilby Clarke have released several solo albums and Steven Adler has started a band named Adler’s Appetite and also has appeared in several season’s of Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab shows.
As for Axl Rose and the current version of Guns N’ Roses? The word “volatile” comes to mind. Rumors have been circulating about another album. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but I also wouldn’t bet my last Dr. Pepper on it either.
Regardless of the current state (or opinions) of Guns N' Roses we will always have “Appetite For Destruction.” Sunday is a perfect day to revisit this classic and relive your childhood, work yourself into a rage, and roll down the windows and scream YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE? YOU'RE IN THE JUNGLE BABY! YOU'RE GONNA DIE!
Welcome To The Jungle
Live at The Ritz 1988 (full concert)
Paradise City – Live (Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert)
Live and Let Die
Rocket Queen – Live in St. Louis (cut short when Axl dives into audience, riot erupts)
Chinese Democracy - Live
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