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SoulMonster

1987.06.06 - Melody Maker - The Subterraneans

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1987.06.06 - Melody Maker - The Subterraneans

Post by Soulmonster on Wed Apr 11, 2018 1:20 am

Something's crawling from the gutters of Los Angeles, something bright and proud and bad, something making claims on setting a scene. Jonh Wilde took a trip down the sleazy side of Sunset Boulevard and discovered Guns N' Roses.

THERE'S ALL THIS HAIR, that's the first thing that occurs to you. At LA's infamous Scream Club, it's Friday night and the air is heavily-laden with conceit. This is the place that Martin Amis described as "the city of narcissists". He wasn't pulling your leg either.
I lean over and attempt to draw a man called Chuck (21) into a debate about long hair, Aerosmith, glam-rock, American rock 'n' roll, heroin, Guns N' Roses, oral sex and Brett Easton Ellis. He believes passionately in the first to the seventh but he's never heard of the eighth. Nobody in LA reads Brett Easton Ellis.
"At one time," he explains, "LA was haunted, by dead people and dead places. Now, it's coming alive again. We've got our clubs, our bands, our drugs. But, most of all, we've got ourselves. In the face of all the tensions, AIDS especially, LA people are learning to love themselves again. It's something that's always been a part of LA but now it's more exaggerated, more blown out of proportion."
He takes me to the third floor of the club where the main dance floor is surrounded by these vast mirrors. The crowds arrive at 11 pm, leave at 4am and all night they dance in front of these mirrors, watching their reflections, seduced by their own images and contortions. Chuck, a cross between Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Sixties Nico and Sweet's Brian Connolly, explains that it's all about survival really.
"LA's really learning to start turning in on itself in every way possible and it's producing great rock 'n' roll and great night life. It's like some kind of crazy group masturbation scene, y'know?"
On the floor below, crowds slouch in the club's video room, soaking up as much Cult, Hendrix and Zeppelin as time will allow. Beneath that, local glam-tarts Jet Boy go through their paces, posing and pouting to their rather starchy but quite endearing brand of sleaze-trash rock 'n' roll. Wherever you look, it's long hair and self-applause.
Four nights previous, it was happening at The Cat House, even more anachronistic in its own way. I ask some rakish rock casualty when Aerosmith "came back" to LA and he gives me this puzzled look.
"Aerosmith never went away, maan. Aerosmith are great rock 'n' roll. They'll never go away."
*
Sometime during the week, I meet up with Mio Vukovic and Michael Stewart, two of the scene's most colourful and influential characters. The contrasts between them are startling, Mio with his crew cut and hilariously deadpan demeanour, Michael with flamboyant long hair and more extravagant gestures.
"LA's never been particularly known or recognized for nightlife and clublife," they say. "Now, that's beginning to change and it's seen as viable. New York was always the club town but Chicago's taken over almost completely. LA parties the most though. If anyone's having a better time than us, we want to know about it."
They single out Power Tools and Fetish as the clubs that shaped the currently booming rock club scene. Two years ago, the DJ at Power Tools would slip on Aerosmith in the middle of a funk set and the reaction was startling. Across town, Fetish was introducing Bauhaus and Sisters Of Mercy to the club set with overwhelming success. Michael was previously a dance DJ at Seven Seas, a big factor in the club market at one time, one that fervently championed the new wave of LA music. When that club disappeared, others opened up and played an erratic mixture of punk, goth or death rock and American rock 'n' roll.
Enterprisingly, he opened his own club, Scream, which, he claims, "brought everything back to together, because I'd play everything. It grew surprisingly fast, moved from Mondays to weekends, expanded in size, started putting live bands on… rapidly, it started to become the crucial part of the entire scene."
Mio hooked up with him on the second night of Scream, left his job at Slash Records and started DJing himself. Later, he would start his own label to seize an opportunity that nobody else had tapped into. His idea was a compilation LP which would represent all the best bands that had played at Scream, the quintessential LA bands in his mind. Before long, Geffen Records would show interest in the project and agree to distribute it. Due for completion in a month or so, the record aims at showcasing the most promising of the local bands, demonstrating the diversity in the music and the attitudes to music in the city.
"But it's going to be more sophisticated than 'this is an LA record'," Mio hopes. "All the bands on the record have gone to, or are in the process of going to a major label. We've established that these groups have some calibre. The scene here has been growing for a while now and most of the bands on the record have been around for at least two or three years. Suddenly, it seemed as though every band in town was a great band.
"It's undoubtedly the biggest explosion of bands we've had in LA since five years ago. A lot of the bands then were more hardcore because that was the scene at that time. It wasn't so rock 'n' roll based. The bands that were hard-core lived and died by that time period. Hopefully, the bands that have come out of this scene will last and evolve. This time, it doesn't have a label on it. Each band seems unique in its own way. This record will have ten different flavours."
Aside from Guns N' Roses, LA's most potentially huge concern, the record's most notable hailstorms are Human Drama and Jane's Addiction, the former offering a ravishing kind of melodic rock while the latter (to be interviewed in a forthcoming issue), mobilize the combined forces of rap, funk, metal, hardcore and Christ-knows-what-else to make up their mutiliated noise. Other contenders include Rock City Angels, the aforementioned Jet Boy, Thrill Train Tricks and Faster Pussycat.
"Between most of the bands, there's a good sense of community," Michael explains. "They go out partying together, very much into the idea of the scene. Then there's a couple of bands that don't fit in because they don't really want to. Jane's Addiction are definitely of that attitude, outsiders of the scene. Most of the r'n'r bands are straight down the line rock 'n' roll and don't aspire to anything beyond that but Perry from Jane's Addiction has always been an offbeat sort of guy, with more of anarty approach to his music.
"There's also certain bands who are very LA in their character, especially Jane's Addiction and Rock City Angels. A band like Guns N' Roses could have come from anywhere in America really."
I wondered about the Aerosmith/Zeppelin influence in much of LA's new music. Do people see the absurdity in these mannerisms, just how hackneyed and outmoded those looks and sounds are? Are people taking the piss out of themselves?
"Not at all," Michael smiles. "It's cool to like again because a lot of the English bands started to take it to heart again — the early Seventies rock-blues style, the long hair, the hats, the whole style. It was unfashionable to like all that during the punk period but it never completely went away from LA. Zep's presence has never really left here."
Fuelled by "good old American sex" and the usual variety of stimulants ("the big drugs are heroin, acid and coke, hardly ever amphetamine"), LA's club scene possesses a fanatical conviction about its own power and influence, one that sometimes borders on the defensive.
"Sure, we need to show people outside LA what's going on," Mio and Michael agree. "That's one of the most important reasons for the Scream LP, the only way we can properly document or immortalise what's gone on in the club and the scene for the last year. A lot of people have been really down on the city, felt that our scene wasn't as happening as theirs. We hope this record legitimizes where we live and how we live. It should alleviate the bad attitudes to LA that have become customary."
Tuesday night at Cat House, I'm cornered by a British expatriate called Denzil, a shambles of a man who informs me that "it's great to hear a Cockney accent again", and before falling over in front of me finds sufficient presence of mind to explain: "For LA, this is like punk rock all over again, a whole style and a whole way of life. Some people are going through it for the second time, but, for those of us who missed out on punk, this is the grooviest thing that ever happened. We're not re-living the Seventies, just re-inventing them. This is how the Seventies should have been, faster and more aware than it was."
Everyone I talk to refers to the pace and momentum of what's going on, only vaguely acknowledging that it's just as likely to burn itself out as fast. Ironically, just when the Scream compilation arrives, the bands will have outgrown LA clubs, already moved on to bigger things.
"It's already happening," Michael sighs, slightly exasperated. "Few of these groups are actually playing the clubs anymore. They're signed up, recording or touring with bigger bands. They're moving away from LA which is a sad thing because it leaves a huge gap. That's becoming evident already. Now, we're waiting to see if new bands are going to pop up to take their place. There's certainly more bands forming at this point. Whether they'll move to the forefront remains to be seen."
One near inevitability that they foresee is a shift, clubwise, from the fusty old rock currently hogging the turntables, to dance-oriented material. One quite radical change that might itself do damage to rock's chances of fluorescence in the city.
"It seems likely that the rock clubs will run their course," Michael nods. "I don't think the live scene is going to flourish so easily. We might just have to wait for the newer bands to gel, wait their time and pay their dues, define what they want to go for. In the interim, the emphasis on live music isn't going to be so heavy. It'll still be here, it's always been here. It won't go back to how dead it used to be."
*
Guns N' Roses are as tacky, stagey and anachronistic as you'll find in LA but undoubtedly emerge as the most controversial and auspicious of the city's groups. Heir apparents to the Halen/Crue rock garter, they find themselves surrounded by heady expectations and watchful, concerned Geffen executive eyes. Ask anyone in the city about Guns N' Roses and they'll tell you. Junkies, ex-junkies, bums, insatiable womanisers, alcoholics, spongers, sleazeballs to a man. The band, meanwhile, confess all these things without batting an eyelid.
"This band goes to all extremes," says guitarist Slash. "No one gives a shit. There's no 'We've gotta save ourselves' attitude in this group. Every one of this band has had some kind of alcoholism or drug-addiction. It's not that we've got anything against being 35, there's none of that attitude. It just comes down to the pace we've been living. There's been no time to sit down and think about taking care of ourselves, watch what we've been doing.
"At the moment, I'm on three bottles of Jim Beam a day. Yeah, I f***ing know that's a lot. It's a heroin thing, a tapering off from that. The heroin thing in this band is an old thing now but it was bad at one time. Me and Izzy (guitarist) were addicts at one time, even dealing it. You'd be surprised though. We've had and have a lot of integrity. Sure, we have a very loose attitude to things but we also have a very cheeky attitude. We're not stoopid. We're smart enough to be able to put things in perspective. No denying it's a sex 'n' drugs 'n' rock 'n' roll lifestyle but we're not overblown with it.
"Are our lives vacuous? Pointless? Self-destructive? Who f***ing cares! I don't want to be no f***ing Einstein! I don't want to be no Thomas f***ing Edison! You have to take things over the top. We believe in the line, 'Better to burn out than to fade away'. We'd rather die before we get to one point and start to degenerate. There's no death wish though."
I meet the five hairy creatures from Guns N' Roses for an evening of Spinal Tap confab, light-hearted confrontation and whatever else arises. "This is our girlfriends' pad," they greet me. "They strip for a living."
I'm warned about Guns N' Roses beforehand. "The rudest, the most obnoxious, the most foul-mouthed group in LA." That's just their best friends talking. They appear to thrive on their notoriety, though none of this is consciously manufactured. Their image is constantly bolstered by the rumours and smears that seem to follow them around the city. Of the current crop, no they haven't all got AIDS, Izzy hasn't just been found OD'd in the local morgue, two members of the band were up on rape charges, subsequently dropped.
During interviews, they shift from the articulate to the inane with zip-gun velocity, just a little aware of the absurdities abounding in their whole stance. After 30 minutes of warm-up talk, Duff (bass), and Steven Adler (drums) slope off with apparent disinterest while guitarist Izzy Stradlin appears to have fallen asleep in front of me. This seems to be the LA thing to do. Vocalist Axel Rose and guitarist Slash talk enthusiastically and just a little suspiciously.
I'm trying to say that, from where I'm standing, there's maybe not as much self-referential good humour as there might be. People do not readily admit to some of the banalities on display here, the backward references and the entire goofiness of it. Guns N' Roses look at me as though I'm suddenly cracking jokes in Sino-Tibetan slang, as though I've just invited them on the Charlie Chester Show. When you talk about absurdity with Guns N' Roses, you might as well be cleaning your beetle-crushers with spit. I'm not calling you stupid chaps, I'm just pointing out the gauche and witless side of all this.
"I never saw Spinal Tap when it came out," Axel says. "Then, I read an interview where these guys said they wrote it after they read something about Iron Maiden calling themselves troubadours of rock 'n' roll. They thought it was f***ing ridiculous. What do they mean, 'F***ing ridiculous'. These guys are in a band, they tour the f***ing world, they're like a miniature army. That's their job… to go into a city, kick all the kids' asses with their music and f***ing win, overf***ingcome.
"It's real, it's no joke. It's only as absurd as anything you're gonna see on the news or anywhere else. It really pisses me off when people talk about how ridiculous our position is. If we're anything, we're bigger than life and people want that. They want things that are of their reach."
Slash nods his agreement.
"That's a part of the whole mystique of the band, if we have any of that at all. Something you can't reach. We don't really think we're in the Spinal Tap position. The movie's okay though. When I saw the singer stand up and say, 'This is a beautiful ballad called 'Lick My Love Pump', I thought 'Yeah, it's okay after all'."
While we're on the thorny topic of the group's supposed misogynist streak, one of their girlfriends offers, "It's basically the birds and the bees Guns N' Roses style!" What does this mean exactly?
"Women," Axel muses. "I don't take air-headed bullshit from women. I'll meet some girl and she'll be like, 'I'm sleeping with this rock star, where's the cocaine maan?' I'll just tell her to get the f*** out of my bed! I'm not going to kiss any girl's ass. You know where we learnt our attitude to women? From women. Girls are much crueller to the guys than the other way around."
Then there's the sleeve of the band's forthcoming LP to consider. Described to me as, "a picture of a robot raping a half-naked girl," I take a deep breath and ask what this actually, er, means.
"I don't know what it's meant to stand for," mutters Axel. "The artist obviously has his own ideas. It could be that the robot's f***ing mechanical society, destroying innocence. All I know is that the girl looks as though she's been raped, her panties are around her knees. But… y'know, it's just a radical picture and why shouldn't people see it? We're not promoting rape…"
You're not? (almost surprised tone).
"It's a 1990's version of life on Hollywood Boulevard," Slash chimes in. "There's no big statement in there."
The real pity about Guns N' Roses is that they aren't more self-deprecating and less boorish and predictably chauvinistic. They're too quick to bluster and swagger, too keen to adhere to their time-worn clichés. When Slash exclaims, "Do we have substance? Are you kidding? That's the most important thing!" you find it hard to believe.
Musically, they describe themselves as, "35 per cent New York Dolls, part Hanoi, part Pistols, part Nazareth, part Stooges, but mostly Guns N' Roses."
Nothing new really.
"We see ourselves carrying on a tradition that got lost a few years ago. There was Aerosmith who took everything The Stones had but made it twice as loud and twice as powerful. Then no-one carried it on. We came from different places and met up here and it was never our intention of being an LA band as such. As far as living on the streets goes, this was the best place to be. We didn't want to remain in Indiana, playing cover tunes in bars forever. We realized LA was our chance to move in, bring other bands with us and create a whole new thing.
"Then we got signed and, all of a sudden, it petered out in many ways. Other bands took over but never took it as far. I think it's a great time for our first major record to come out 'cus everyone else has opened the doors for us. We don't say we're original at all. As far as creating something new in rock 'n' roll is concerned, that idea's a crock of shit.
"No-one knows what we're doing but we're lumped in with glam bands, HM bands, speed metal, pseudo-punk, thrash… we've got nothing to do with any of it. The only categorisation we want is that we play balls-to-the-wall rock 'n' roll music and rock 'n' roll is whatever's sincere at the moment. People should open their f***ing minds! Don't put no labels on us. Don't plan on hearing the Symphony Orchestra and don't plan on hearing the next Metallica record. Anything between or out on the edges."
'It's So Easy', the follow-up to their independently released debut EP, is relased shortly on Geffen/Warners. It sounds remarkably lame next to some of the speed metal I've involuntarily been exposed to recently, but, hell, it makes me laugh. Whether that's the point, I don't frankly give a monkeys. Full of what I like to call hygenic sleaze, Guns N' Roses are not quite a travesty on record but you can hear the tight, red leather trousers squeaking from here.
Last word to the boys.
"F*** you and suck on Guns N' Roses!"
*
So you're left realising that Guns N' Roses aren't many things. They ain't no teenage rebellion music, nor even pure nihilism, but they might border on some kind of erstaz glam-metal sleaze and that seems to suit them fine. They're not stoopid but they do make for some kind of lurid cartoon. You're left wondering what they are to LA. It's seamy underside? It's dirty indifference? It's Van Halen/Motley Crue video brought to life in all its haggard dumbness? Its ultimate Less Than Zero fantasy band with all the pose and restless disillusion? It's lack of romance? It's no-place-left-to-go response to the Real World, Reagan's despairing Eighties? Perhaps none of that.
"After all," laughs Slash, "we just want to go out there and kick f***ing ass."
Well, they make me laugh.
You don't come away from LA with conclusions, just impressions, thinking not in terms of a thriving scene but maybe in terms of characters and charlatans and something stirring, stirred or about to stare. Brett Easton Ellis doesn't come into it and, yeah, everyone's beautiful and everything's cool, the palm trees cut long shadows and the setting sun burns brilliant red. What else? Oh yeah, it's all kind of exciting and completely vast and empty.
You get home and flick past Kim Fowley's 'Sunset Boulevard', Randy Newman's 'I Love LA', X's 'Sex And Dying In High Society', The Doors' 'LA Woman' and, here it is… Iggy's torrential 'LA Blues' and these thunderous shapes tell you that something here makes a lot of sense.
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