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1991.08.DD - The Age/Independent on Sunday - The terrifying new face of rock 'n' roll (Slash)

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1991.08.DD - The Age/Independent on Sunday - The terrifying new face of rock 'n' roll (Slash)

Post by Blackstar on Wed Apr 04, 2018 7:39 am

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GUNS N’ ROSES
The terrifying new face of rock ‘n’ roll

 
By Simon Garfield
 
SLASH, a young man with an electric guitar, made more than a million dollars in 1988 and 1989, and much of it went on drink and drugs. In the next 12 months he could earn five million. How will he spend it this time round?
 
"I'll buy another house. More houses! But," he meditates, "how many houses can one buy? Sometimes I think it’s best just to keep it in the bank. Or ..." and here he looks up and through his thick matted curls: "... or in my body."
 
We are backstage at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, 60 kilometres from San Francisco. Slash drinks from a large plastic mug, a 4:1 mix of Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola. He tried to give it up, not least when wide black lines appeared on his tongue and gave it the look of grilled sirloin. But he found vodka too bland: he needed two bot­tles of Stollchnaya to get the same effect he got from one of Jack Daniels, and this was "inefficient”.
 
Slash, whose real name is Saul Hudson and who was born In Stoke-on-Trent 26 years ago, is the lead guitarist with Guns N' Roses, America's biggest rock band. They have released only one full-length album, but that one sold 16 million copies — four times more than the last studio album by the Rolling Stones, within hailing distance of the Michael Jackson stratosphere.
 
With Guns N’ Roses, every comparative becomes a superlative; every description ends with "... in the world": the most vul­gar, the crudest, the loudest. Particularly the loudest. Guns N’ Roses is a very loud band. So loud that when the US Marines blasted General Noriega out of his Vatican embassy In Panama by playing full-volume rock, it was Guns Ν' Roses songs they turned to first.
 
And the noise — a coarse mix of Sex Pistols, 'Terminator' soundtrack, Led Zep­pelin, and workmen digging holes in roads — is compelling. The fans love this stuff; they love it so much that they will take great personal risk to get close to it.
 
The last time Guns Ν' Roses appeared in Britain was at the Castle Donnington rock festival in 1988. They were fifth on the bill, below Kiss and Megadeth. But it was during their brief performance that the crowd reached the point of hysteria and crushed the life out of two young fans. "It’s always at the back of your mind," says Slash, “but if you let it freak you out, you'd never play a big show again."
 
At the Shoreline Amphitheatre, the band is eight weeks into what Slash promises will be the longest tour in rock history — a two-year trek that may take them to the slopes of Nepal if the merchandising prospects look good. But after two months, the chances of even making it to the next date in Sacramento seem slender. The band's incident-to-song ratio is running about 1:1.
 
On a warm-up date In New York, Axl Rose, the lead singer, jumped off a speaker cabinet and landed in hospital; for the next show he had to wear a large-sole orthopae­dic boot and splint. On the first official date of their tour, in Wisconsin, Guns N’ Roses inspired a large-scale mud fight which led to four fans being hospitalised with "turf poisoning". On 2 July, a St Louis show ended in a riot which caused $200,000 worth of damage and injuries to 60 fans and police.
 
The St Louis County Prosecutor issued a warrant for Rose's arrest, on charges of as­sault and property damage. It was one of many brushes with the law: Axl was charged with smashing a wine bottle over a "loud” neighbor in Los Angeles; the band’s rhythm guitarist, Izzy Stradlln, was arrested for relieving himself In a kitchen sink on board an aeroplane.
 
All this is good for business. The band has an image to protect: among the superlatives, its members welcome descriptions of themselves as “the most dangerous band in the world”. Not for them Mick Jagger's fitness programs and protein drinks. "As amazing as it seems in this drug-free, exercise and health age,” Slash says, "there’s a bunch of us who are still clinging fast to the late Sixties and early Seventies."
 
Four years ago I had called on Slash at the Hellhouse, a blitzed suburban bungalow in West Hollywood. Guns N’ Roses were vir­tually unknown, but they had just signed a bigger deal with Geffen Records, and were beginning to cause ripples on the thriving LA club scene.
 
At the Hellhouse, he was sprawled on a filthy mattress surrounded by empty beer bottles, garden furniture and much trash. His first words to me were: "Hi, man, I’m Slash," and he proceeded to define the band’s mentality: "You get warned that when you go on the road, people will try and push drugs and booze on you. In this in­stance, we're going to push it on them."
 
Axl, whose real name is William Bailey, explained his songwriting technique: "Sometimes six lines take two years,” he said. “It’s just got to say exactly what I mean. Sometimes I write some great words, and then I hear this fabulous music in my head, and I think, ‘Wow! This is really hap­pening and put on a record and I realise, shit, it was Led Zeppelin."
 
Slash doesn’t remember our first meet­ing. In fact, he doesn't recall a lot of his recent past. "The drugs were pretty bad," he says. "I'm surprised I’m still here.”
 
Though nobody in Guns Ν' Roses still has a heroin habit, all but Duff McKagan, the bass guitarist, have experimented with the drug in the past three years. Slash and Ste­ven Adler (the former drummer) experimented so much that they both spent time in rehabilitation centres. Slash, who liked to claim that his guitar-playing occasionally sounded better when he was "out of his gourd", pulled through. But a drummer's life is harder, and Steven Adler's sense of rhythm deserted him: sometimes he speed­ed up the beat, sometimes he slowed down and sometimes he couldn't find the drum kit.
 
The band sacked him last year, claiming he was too far gone, even for them. From rehab, Steven Adler has issued a writ: his lawsuit accuses the band of encouraging him to use heroin, and then abandoning him when he tried to break the habit.
 
"It's always been around," Slash reasons. "There was money and nothing to do. We'd just come off these huge tours (supporting the Rolling Stones and Aerosmlth), and when you come down from that routine and that high, and you have to face the real world, it’s hard and you get bored and you look for something else." Slash says he is "quite a timid person", not very good in a crowd.
 
"It sounds like I’m complaining, but I have no regrets. I did some great drugs and I've got some great memories." Could he recall some? "I don't like to. Well, there was ... there was ... it’s not that clear, y’know? Also, I wouldn't want to influence people."
 
Like the American counter-culture jour­nalist Hunter S. Thompson, Slash wouldn't advocate heinous chemicals for anyone, but they always worked for him. His favorite phrase may be “Just Say Yo". He still takes drugs, albeit at a less devastating rate. "I’m no angel, y'know? I just stopped going over­board. The habit is just not major any more."
 
Backstage, I ask a member of the Guns Ν' Roses crew whether he thinks Slash will sue if I write that he still indulges. He replies: "He'll probably sue if you don’t."
 
"What people think of us is the least of our worries," Slash says. "We do this only for ourselves and our fans."
 
One of the band's problems is its relation­ship with the music press. In February the band and their management drew up a two-page contract which they required all jour­nalists to sign before they would even consider granting interviews. Guns Ν' Roses would retain approval and copyright ownership of any "article, story, transcript or recording" connected with the interview, have a veto over any promotion of the story, and be indemnified from any damages or liabilities resulting from it. The band would also own any photographs taken of the band. In essence, Guns Ν' Roses would be the first rock band to write their own his­tory. Hey, said the 'Los Angeles Times' and 'Rolling Stone' magazine (both of whom re­fused to sign the deal), why didn't the band go all the way and buy a printing press?
 
"We did It because we just got f..... around all the time”, Slash explains. "Everyone’s taken potshots at us and made up stories. They've picked on us. So we thought, f... you, we really don’t need you any more. So if you're going to be cool, then sign the contract. If you're not, then f... off". The problem was, no one would sign it. “We modified it", he admits, "when we rea­lised there were certain people we wanted to talk to after all.
 
"The problem with our relationship with music journalists", Slash observes, identify­ing a rare irony in his life, "is that they don't write much about our music”.
 
There is good reason for this: there is little to write about. Although they have been signed to Geffen Records for four years, Guns N’ Roses have only released one full-length studio album ('Appetite for Destruction', 1987) and one compilation of acoustic outtakes and earlier recordings.
 
But at the beginning of this year the mem­bers of the band emerged from the studio, and announced that they had composed 36 songs. Great, said the record company, let's hear them and select the best 12. No, the band said, you don't understand: we've heard them, we like 'em, and we’d like all of them to be released together.
 
Stories suggested that the real reason the band was so keen to release the songs at once was because its members believed they might not be around much longer, and they wanted all their royalties right now. Slash denies this: "Had we released it as a double album it would have cost $30, which is not fair, and seemed a kind of pompous and egotistical attitude from a band who's only had one real record."
 
The albums have yet to appear. Journal­ists have not been sent advance tapes, and the only clue to their quality has emerged on their mid-1991 tour, from which it is possible to ascertain that there are a few ballads, but mostly it's unmitigated scream­ing. The lyrics are, typically for hard rock music, as sexist as the troubled male imagi­nation will allow. But there are some signs of maturity: the new material carries no repetition of the words "nigger" and "fag­got", which caused outrage when they appeared in an earlier song.
 
"Whatever we do,” Slash says, "we create tension. We're not going to change, so we're always going to be victimised for causing violence."
 
In St. Louis last month, the concert had been going well for more than an hour when Axl Rose spotted a biker with a camera in the 17,000 crowd. Against regulations, the fan had been taking photographs. Worse, he was part of a gang that had been intimidat­ing a section of the audience. "Axl was get­ting so wound up by it," Slash remembers. "The security guys were watching the band, not the audience. And so Axl jumped in the crowd to get him. Granted, we jump in the crowd all the time. I don't do it as much as I used to because I don't enjoy getting tram­pled to near-death as much as I used to.
 
"Our security jumped in after Axl, and when he got back onstage be was pissed (angry), and threw his mike down and walked off. I thought: 'The mike's broken — we’re outta here.' Then the police started getting involved. And the crowd — well, I don't know what drugs they were on, but anything they could get hold of they ripped to pieces. We decided the only way we're going to calm this crowd is to continue play­ing. Then we realised the drums had gone and the stage had gone.
 
"They rushed us out of the building and we hid in a van. We had to drive all the way to Chicago — we couldn't take the limo because all those cops were after us for inciting a riot."
 
No charges have yet been brought against the band, although the promoter has prom­ised them a bill for $200,000 in damages. For a band earning at least $500,000 a night, this is something they can live with.
 
Where do Guns Ν' Roses go now? They go to Milwaukee, or Saskatch­ewan, or Poughkeepsie; and, all things permitting, early next year they will come to Australia.
 
To their credit, they do not think too much about next year, which means they can ignore the big question. Like how do you retain credibility when you're a multi­millionaire fast losing touch with the world that inspired you? How long before the lyrics turn from problems with drugs to problems with chauffeurs? Already there are warning signs: two weeks ago, Axl Rose's limousine driver received a police fine for an illegal left turn. The singer threatened to cancel the evening's show un­less it was withdrawn. He got his way.
 
Success "can eat you alive", Axl said last year. "We've been doing business instead of working on songs.” And success can be con­fusing: when Slash found himself with his first real money, he rented a new apartment just off Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Why had he chosen it? "It reminded me of a hotel room."
 
If this seems strange, remember that Axl and Slash move in a strange world. It is a place where young people get crushed lis­tening to their favorite music, where their heroes urinate in airline kitchens. It is not a new world, but it is fairly new to them: and they are probably aware that in a few years their position at its apex will be toppled by younger people promising more danger and greater outrage. Until then, back to the riots.
 
Although no dates have been confirmed, Guns N’ Roses is likely to tour Australia early next year.
 
Independent on Sunday
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