Blasting rumours of a split, the uncompromising GUNS N’ ROSES have shot to the top with their hardbitten sound. PAUL ELLIOTT gets a taste of the band’s addiction to touring and discovers their appetite for success.
A YEAR down the road from then-first LP release, Appetite For Destruction, and the gutter folklore and gut rock ‘n’ roll of Guns N’ Roses is doing a whole lot more than keep them in liquor.
Having skulked around America’s Billboard Top Ten for weeks going into months, Appetite suddenly gained a second wind.
A fortnight ago, Guns shot to number one… with a bullet!
Raw and uncompromising, from the hobo groove and smack rap of ‘Mr Brownstone’ to the bad attitude and Pistol riff of ‘It’s So Easy’, to the self-destruction amphetamine blues of ‘My Michelle’, Appetite For Destruction is an unlikely number one.
The record’s success in itself isn’t surprising; Guns N’ Roses are primal, uninhibited rock ‘n’ roll at its most intuitive, inspired and, ultimately, most intoxicating.
The shock lies in the sheer scale and speed of that success.
While platinum is habitually traded for rock of the most slick, sour and knuckleheaded kind, where safety is a premium, Guns N’ Roses have sold upwards of three million copies of an album that’s unapologetically hardbitten, sharp, loud, seedy and kicking.
“It’s completely against the industry,” asserts lead guitarist Slash. “What this industry’s about in the ’80s is pretty obvious — trying to polish everything up. Everything’s like technopop, even heavy metal stuff.
“We go against every standard of this industry. Even when we play live — we’re like a club band when we play to, like, 20,000 people. We do whatever we feel like doing. That’s just the way it is, and if people come expecting us to play hit after hit it just ain’t gonna happen.”
SLASH, A DAY past 23 (‘HAPPY F***IN BIRTHDAY, YOU F***ER!’ spat the message on his cake), lean and deep-tanned in tattered shorts, and rhythm guitarist Izzy, a little drawn and languid in kung-fu pants, talk in the one available place that’s cool and quiet; a toilet, backstage at Dallas’ new Starplex arena.
Around the outdoor stage, pre-show rigging isn’t slowed by 100-degree heat. In the connecting dressing room, bass player Duff is crowing Texan jive and strutting about like a rooster in cowboy boots, shorts, ugly knees and stetson. Drummer Steven Adler slurps vials of royal jelly.
“Builds up cum in yer balls!” he beams.
Singer Axl shows up 20 minutes before the band take to the stage. He psyches himself up to a loud playback of Queensryche’s ‘The Needle Lies’.
Guns N’ Roses are a handful of dates into a tour supporting Aerosmith, which they’ll pick up again after their Donington festival appearance this weekend.
Texas greets Guns N’ Roses like old friends. Patently, Aerosmith’s audience is their own.
“This is like the first rock ‘n’ roll tour we’ve done,” says Slash. “The Mötley tour was fun, but this is the most compatible. The vibe between the two bands is great.
“These guys are around their thirties or forties, they’ve been through a lotta shit and we have a lotta respect for them. We grew up listening to their music; this and the Stones and AC/DC, that’s what sorta formed what we are. That’s the only way you get any kinda personality — through influences.”
Guitarist Joe Perry’s Toxic Twins T-shirt is Aerosmith’s only throwback to their mid-’70s chemical haze.
While Slash slugs bourbon between songs, Perry (a good 15 years his senior) swigs from a bottle of mineral water.
Clean, lean but still mean, Aerosmith have applied the brakes and hung up their wild years. Guns N’ Roses are still pumping the gas.
“It’s funny,” grins Slash. “They like to talk about drugs. They don’t do drugs, they just like to talk about them! It’s cool to be around that.”
“You drag yer ass into the gig sometimes,” laughs Izzy, “and you see these guys and you think, Awww, f***!”
“They’re eating watermelon and drinking tea,” Slash continues. “They love to ask you about what you did last night and how f***ed up you got.
“They go, Man, I’ve been up since nine o’clock this morning, and you say, What drugs are you doing? They say, No, I just been up since nine!”
Few believed that Guns N’ Roses would stand up to 14 months’ touring like they have done.
“They didn’t expect us to last a week!” snorts Izzy. “Touring really doesn’t faze you. If you get twisted backstage, the walk to the bus is only a few yards, y’know? But, yeah, if you get twisted every night, you start draggin’.”
“Touring has its downfalls,” admits Slash. “It’s a distorted kind of reality but, I swear to God, that 45 minutes makes it all worth it. When you’re not touring you’re always looking for something to fulfil that buzz.”
“It’s more addictive than any drug I could imagine,” adds Izzy.
And for that reason, despite his taste for road-hoggery of all persuasions, Slash still feels that he’s more a danger to himself during breaks in touring, when there’s too much time and temptation on his hands.
“Ozzy Osbourne is someone I can relate to. His life is so rock ‘n’ roll orientated. He doesn’t have anything else. That’s the way I feel; I live and breathe this. That’s why it’s f***ing terrible coming off the road.”
“You come down real hard,” sighs Izzy. “It’s like the world stops moving.”
The last time Guns N’ Roses’ world stopped moving was a couple of months ago when Axl’s voice gave in and the band were forced to abandon a slot on Iron Maiden’s ongoing US tour.
Holed up in LA, with itchy fingers and bad cold turkey vibes, Slash wound up so wasted that the band’s management, anxious over reports of wild and escalating self-abuse, packed him off on a purging Hawaiian vacation.
“All in all I can’t say that it hurt me. I took vitamins for, like, eight days, didn’t drink that much, got a suntan. I hadn’t been out of a pair of black jeans since I was about 14! I was getting ingrowing hairs on my legs!”
Izzy shakes his head and pulls hard on a cigarette.
“You’d really stepped off the edge, though.”
“Yeah,” Slash nods, “and I didn’t want to do anything that’d hurt the band, so I spent eight days in f***in’ hell!”
Are you still prepared to indulge yourself to the full and risk looking like Keith Richards in 20 years’ time?
“I think he’s held up pretty well!” chuckles Izzy.
“Yeah,” Slash agrees, “all things considered.”
RUMOUR IS a shadow that Guns N’ Roses have grown used to.
Fame plus depravity is a mixture ripe for sensationalism, and having unwittingly tickled the Sunday Sports sweaty perversions last year with the live sex sampling on ‘Rocket Queen’, Izzy and Slash are primed for the attentions of America’s scandal sheets, the National Enquirer for one.
However, it’s evident in their response to rumours concerning Axl that a few grains of truth among the bullshit can still rattle their cool.
A split was heavily rumoured a few months back; Axl was sacked following sustained in-fighting, only to be brought back into the band once they’d all cooled off. Slash has heard it all a thousand times.
“That’s been one of the stories that’s gotten bigger than all of us,” he sighs. “And, as little as it was, it’s past tense and it’s not worth talking about cos it doesn’t relate to what’s going on now.”
It doesn’t look so good, though, when your singer rarely socialises, doesn’t soundcheck, and only gets to the gigs a short time before you’re due to play. Is Axl simply desperate for whatever privacy he can get?
Slash: “Oh, yeah. You gotta understand that with this bunch, excess is best an’ all that shit. Axl knows he has to keep from smoking or drinking or doing drugs to maintain his voice.
“He doesn’t hang out that much because the atmosphere that’s created by the other four members of this band is pretty, uh…”
“Conducive to deterioration,” Izzy smiles.
“He just hangs out by himself. He takes it all pretty seriously. I couldn’t do it,” Slash confesses. “He’s doing well to maintain a certain sanity level seeing as he can’t go out cos of his position in the band. If he was doing what we were doing he wouldn’t be able to sing at all!”
When the band came off the Iron Maiden tour it was suspected that nodes were weakening Axl’s vocal chords. This scare was proven unfounded after a series of inspections by four doctors.
Axl sounds great.
“It’s cool,” Izzy smiles. “He’s f***ing kicking ass!”
And he’s not quite the recluse he sometimes seems.
“Axl walked home from a gig the other night. There was, like, 20,000 people. Cars were honking, people were throwing shit at him!”
People haven’t bothered you?
“No, I got a big f***ing bamboo stick!”
AS THEIR popularity snowballs, so the parallels between Guns N’ Roses and the Stones and Aerosmith grow more valid, and almost unavoidable.
Whereas the Stones were perhaps too old to absorb any of the ferocity of the punk and metal that fires Guns N’ Roses, there’s still a tangible similarity; the quality of Guns N’ Roses’ songwriting can hook a varied audience in much the same way that countless Jagger/Richards compositions have done.
While ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ adds a raw thrill to Eastwood’s latest Dirty Harry bloodbath The Dead Pool, the melancholic ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ (now a British single) has seduced America’s mainstream FM stations.
‘Patience’, an unrecorded song close in spirit to their version of Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, could do likewise.
Guns N” Roses make a fine cult metal band, yet more great songs like ‘Patience’ might just make them the most vital and sought after rock ‘n’ roll band of the ’90s.
THE AEROSMITH show is only the second in the Starplex theatre’s history — Rod Stewart deflowered the venue on the previous night.
Izzy checked out the show.
“His wife is f***ing gorgeous,” he laughs. “As far as Rod goes his voice is great. It was very relaxing, like a quaalude. It was cool.”
When you look at Stewart or Jagger, do you worry that you might end up the same way — glitzed-up celebrities who’ve bloated into ridiculous caricatures?
“I respect ’em for the fact that they’re still kickin’ and they’re still touring, y’know, and for anyone to do it that long is f***ing great.
“But, at the same time, I couldn’t see Guns N’ Roses ending up like that. Those two have got hired bands which isn’t like us.”
“Some people totally indulge in success and recognition,” adds Slash. “It’s like alcohol or drugs, you escape the real world. It’s really not an escape that we need.”
Does success breed insecurity?
“You get insecure and then you get successful. I heard the funniest thing on the TV yesterday. Pee Wee Herman goes, People get problems when they’re successful, so you’re successful with problems — it’s better than just having problems!”
DONINGTON IS Guns N Roses’ first UK gig for ten months and their last for maybe double that time.
A sabbatical is scheduled for the end of the Aerosmith tour; a necessity, Izzy explains, for Axl.
Slash, meanwhile, gets the shakes just thinking about it, disappointed too that the Autumn break has shelved a projected UK tour with Metallica.
Some would call it a mismatch, but Guns N’ Roses are one of the few-regular rock ‘n’ roll bands who hold any kind of credibility with a thrash-based audience.
“There’s an element in Metallica that’s the same with us,” Slash agrees. “We couldn’t really go out and do gigs with Slayer, but with Metallica it’s not so much the style of music we play, it’s more an attitude of going out and generating a lotta energy.
“Although,” he grins, “we’re a helluva lot sloppier than Metallica! Rock ‘n’ roll is based on attitude.
“This band is so realistic in what we do and what we play. We never said we were the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world so don’t judge us as that. We just go out and play.”
The best rock ‘n’ roll is always uncontrived.
“Yeah, and that’s the only thing I’ve ever been into.”
© Paul Elliott, Sounds, 20 August 1988