The year is 1987. The world is awash with hair metal. You know, the whole, one ballad, one rocker, endless cycle of mascara and hair spray filled videos and accompanying albums. Then one day, you are watching MTV and ‘Paradise City’ comes on. You stop and take notice. Maybe it’s another hair metal band. Then you see THEM. Everything a hard rock band should look like. No mascara, just sweaty tee’s and jeans (or shorts) and one epic hat. Maybe they weren’t just another hair band.
Like Nirvana snuffed out hair metal once and for all, Guns N’ Roses served notice that new outfit was in town and had nothing to do with ‘Every Rose Has A Thorn’. I like to say ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ announced that a new generation was here to pay eulogies to big hair, who by then, had moved on to tasteful acoustic versions of their biggest hits.
Guns N’ Roses, though? They were from that generation of Arena Rock and it showed. Everything about them was like a throwback band by way of Mars. They were paying homage to their forebears. Slashing guitar from someone appropriately named Slash. Axl screeching out in defiance of his contemporaries flaccid lyrics. Izzy, Duff and Steven playing heavy rhythm to the musical mayhem that made G n’ R.
Guns N’ Roses was an enema to the state of Rock and Roll. Sure, there was lavish rock star lives. Sex, drugs and rock n roll was in full force. Guns N’ Rose took that to the next level, too. Fuck having an acoustic ballad. Guns N’ Roses were going to rock the house, take your girl, and burn the house down afterwards. They had the one thing that hair metal lacked. Authenticity.
Except for Axl Rose. I am not saying he wasn’t genuine, but every band has the enigmatic one. He was authentically a star. Mercurial, exacting, exciting, and, in his mind, the heart of the band. He did and said things that were controversial to be sure, but behind all that rock star bluster was a guy at odds with the hard partying of his band mates. It made the whole band dynamic bigger than life, recalling the band feuds of Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones (and later Oasis, which I have no defense for). They were a rock and roll pyre.
I suppose the G n’ R phenomena was bound to flash out as quickly as it came. It was like an incoming tidal wave, overwhelming every generic rock star before it. When it receded and was replaced with grunge, the eighties were officially over. Axl Rose’s voice became a siren call of Arena Rock that the ship finally crashed on.
Being thrust into rock and roll godhood would fuck with anybody, let alone someone as capricious as Axl. It took 10 years after the band imploded for Axl to produce a new album. Even longer for them to all reunite and tour. Hopefully they’re all a little wiser and mature now.
Did Axl’s brilliance make him crazy? Or did being crazy make him brilliant? Does being a little crazy make great art? Put on ‘Chinese Democracy’ and you decide. Better yet, put on ‘Appetite For Destruction’ and listen to the big, beautiful , booming rock n roll being played, unironically, at 11. Then you get it. Welcome to Paradise City.