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SoulMonster

1991-10-DD - Interview with Izzy

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1991-10-DD - Interview with Izzy

Post by Soulmonster on Fri Jun 17, 2011 11:52 pm

Guns N' Roses are undoubtedly the biggest noise in rock. But for how long? Would you buy two simultaneously released LP's at full price? Will the band self-destruct professionally and literally? Nick Kent - no stranger to rock 'n' roll excesses - discovers what Use Your Illusion I & II is all about, and talks Wild Turkey with the last (just) living rock rebel in rock. George Chin shoots from the hip.

It's one of those deceptively perfect afternoons all across the Golden State. Members of Guns N' Roses start to arrive - in separate clumps, of course - and head towards their personal 'little village' of a backstage area, here at the Shoreline Amphitheatre just outside San Francisco. Five miles away lies the site where the nuclear bomb was first tested. From reading all the tabloid reports itemizing 'riots', 'drugs' and 'terrible mood-swings' that circulate the news-stands in every faceless mall from here to San Jose, you'd be forgiven for fearing that this controversial band's first headlining stadium gig in their adopted state of California might precipitate something in the same league of a catastrophe.

Not that the group seem vexed by such rank prophecies. At six o'clock, everyone - miracle of miracles - is already accounted for; although, as is the custom nowadays, they prefer to segregate themselves in separate little environments so as best to ready themselves for the evening's exertions. To this end, Axl Rose is currently locked away in his own trailer, feverishly pedaling his Exercycle. This is the very same device he took with him - along with a bed - when he decided to move into an LA studio to record all 36 vocals for the group's Use Your Illusion project: two albums, Volume One and Volume Two, to be released simultaneously. (He never left the place for a month.) In an adjacent building, guitarist Slash can be found sheepishly lurking beneath his hair, tentatively patting the head of fellow guitarist Izzy Stradlin's large Alsatian dog Treader. His hands are shaking - presumably the after-effects of today's hangover. But not to worry: the bottle by his left sneaker is setting him well on the way to tomorrow's morning sickness.

Next door to Slash lurks the gangly bassist Michael 'Duff' McKagan, resplendent in a Ramones T-shirt, and bearing a complexion more unsettling pale than even the tint of his bleached-white busby of hair. Duff is trying to focus two bloodshot eyes on a large photograph of himself standing, somewhat uncertainly, in front of what appears to be the debris of bass amplification equipment. "At first, they had it all set up neat and shit and they wanted me to stand there all straight. I just said 'fuck that!'." Under the photo is a large caption that reads 'Duff's Rig' in big letters. It refers to the bass cabinet in the background, but as the word 'rig' in GN'R parlance means either 'syringe' or 'penis', the rest of the group have a good hoot when Duff staggers round to show the picture to each of them.

Outside, the two new recruits to the group, drummer Matt Sorum, and keyboard player Dizzy Reed, take the air and generally do their best not to be mistaken for GN'R roadies. Sorum is, at 31, the oldest in the group, though he still looks to be the healthiest and seems to be settling here. Dizzy, unfortunately, still looks a bit lost in the midst of it all.

In a third building, filled with several guitars, the smell of incense and the sound of vintage Thin Lizzy, guitarist Izzy Stradlin, currently the only drug-and-alcohol-free member of Guns N' Roses, tilts the shade to tentatively stare out at the window at his confreres. Then he quickly lights another cigarette and decides to talk about what's really going on around here.

"We've just gotten to the point where everyone's back and finally coherent enough to be able to play together. That's what the deal is here. It's been such a trip from having no money and notoriety to havin' all this money, and notoriety, all these drug connections and bullshit.

"Axl, I think… Now he's pretty much… He understands responsibility a lot more. Before, he used to be one of those guys who, if he even thought someone was looking at him weird, would just haul of and smack 'em. And sometimes, y'know, the people he went for weren't even looking at him.

"And Slash, well, let's say he can pronounce his syllables better now. He was pretty bad though. Fuck, he was a mess. He's a great guy an' all, but he can't monitor his own intake, with the result that he's always fuckin' up big-time. Like leaving dope hanging out on the table when the police come to call; nodding out into his food in restaurants - shit like that. I love the guy a lot, but the fact is, man, Slash is not what you'd call your thinkin' man's drug-user. He's real careless, doing really shitty things like OD-ing a lot in other people's apartments. A lot.

"Fuck, I sometimes wonder how the other guys get away with some of the shit they pull with the police and everything. Like, about a year and a half ago, Slash got pulled over in LA for drunk driving and this was when he was using a lot of heroin, right? Anyway, I was staying in a hotel in Venice and he showed up at four in the morning, fucked out of his mind. How he managed to drive there will always remain a mystery to me! So I let him spend the night. The next morning I find two rigs (syringes) hidden in my closet. I told him: 'Listen, fucker, I got problems and I just can't have this shit around,' 'cos I was on probation for six months at the time. And I had to do drug testing - fuckin' involuntary piss-tests almost every day for about a month as well.

"Right now Slash is a lot better. But these guys, they still drink, they still party. Probably way too much for their own good. Fuck, these guys like to trash the fuck out of themselves." He shakes his head and laughs to himself. "They really haven't changed much."

Welcome to the wild and wooly world of Guns N' Roses and their Get In The Ring, Motherfucker tour of America (and beyond) in 1991. The title is self-explanatory - stop pussying around and deliver the goods - and perfectly apt for this, the most popular rock band in the world. For certainly rock 'n' roll in the '90s has more in common with the 'sweet science' of boxing than anything more romantic or artistically high-falutin'. One rock icon - I forget which - summed it up when he told me that 'nowadays, rock music is all about going out there, kicking ass and still managing to look pretty at the end of it all". Well "kicking ass" and "looking pretty" are two things Guns N' Roses are particularly adept at. But they're better known for drug taking, being exceedingly antisocial and inciting the most twisted behavior from American concert-going audiences since the rowdy days of early Elvis and alcoholic Jim Morrison.
Take, for example, the first date of this mighty sprawling odyssey. Over 80,000 young Americans rolled up for the show in Wisconsin. Once on-stage, the band managed to focus themselves away from the ominous explosions of rowdiness emanating from certain sections of the crowd until at least one member of the band started seeing what he thought was "a bunch of dead raccoons landing on the stage. It was dark and I saw this big hairy thing hit Slash's mic stand. It was a huge lump of sod. The audience had torn up the whole hillside in the back of the auditorium and tried to throw it onstage. The crazy fuckers!"

Then came St. Louis. "St. Louis - that was really gnarly," Stradlin muses. 'Gnarly' is a word which the Gunners use to define the very outer limits of 'fucked-upness'. Finding your old drummer crawling around smoking your carpet in the hope of inhaling some of the cocaine he spilt over the previous three days and nights on an endless free-base binge - that's gnarly. But St. Louis was even 'gnarlier' than that. It nearly stopped the group's live career.

Abruptly terminating a 90-minute performance, Axl Rose forced his band off-stage after leaping into the audience to restrain a local biker called Strump from taking photographs of him. Twenty minutes later, approximately 3,000 short-changed 'fans' rioted, doing over a quarter million dollars' worth of damage to the venue, and destroying all of the groups stage equipment. Police attempting to stop the carnage were repelled for over two hours. After the riot, over 60 people were badly injured and in need of hospitalization. In the aftermath everyone - police, promoters, group, the media - pointed accusing fingers in different directions. In fact, it now looks like bad security was the cause. But that hasn't prevented Rose taking the lion's share of the blame.

"After the media had shish-kebabed Axl over that riot in St. Louis and being late and just everything, it really got to him and he said something weird at one of our gigs - 'a lot less pressure killed Jim Morrison'," says Stradlin. "Axl's just naturally late. It can get pretty tense at times, particularly when you're supposed to be on-stage and you're sitting there, literally counting the seconds, thinking 'man, we've just had a riot in St. Louis. Now we're in Texas. What the fuck is going to happen here?'"

Talk to enough people about Axl Rose while studying his behavior at close range and a picture emerges. He has two sides. One is apparently thoughtful and sensitive: a lively mind determined to educate himself with as much reading and experience as he can muster; an extremely (some argue over-zealously) loyal friend to those he trusts and someone who stays true to his standards. This is the side of Rose that has drummer Sorum, for one, positively raving: "Axl's so fuckin' great. Anything he does or says, it's just because that's the way he really is. He's beyond real, ya know. I've never seen anyone dare to talk shit to him, ever. I love that."

Others in the band who've had to continually put up with the other, darker side of their singers personal and professional struggle to never "kiss ass" in this ruthless world - his frightening mood-swings, weird bouts of petulance and his zealous bid to totally control Guns N' Roses - are less enamoured. Not that there's much they can do about it. As one member admitted: "Nowadays we just let Axl do pretty much what he feels, 'cos he'll only do it anyway."

Axl Rose runs the group. Consequently, everything has to be done pretty much his way. The never-ending new albums are of an unwieldy length because "Axl was pretty gung-ho about so much material coming out". (Axl has gotten very angry about people writing that the albums are delayed," the group's American PR Bryn Bridenthal recently told Entertainment Weekly. "Because in his mind, there is absolutely no delay. Because the albums have never been finished.") Skid Row are the support group only because Axl is a personal friend of their lead singer Sebastian Bach. Several of the Gunners can't stomach them. Even the choice of music piped through the PA before the group hits the stage is dictated by Rose.

Rose's craving for control reached its apparent zenith a month before this tour when he called for the resignation of Alan Niven, the group's New Zealand-born manager for the past five years, accusing him, from at least one stage on tour, of excessive greed. Several of the band won't be drawn into commenting on the break-up. Neither will Niven. Izzy Stradlin, however, "felt really bad about it, because I'm still friends with Alan. I felt I had to choose between him and the band. He was kinda like the sixth member of the group for a while. And he really helped put us where we are now. I still think he's a great manager. "But Axl and he finally had too much of a clash of personalities. Alan has his way of doing things which is more like a military strategy. Axl wants to do stuff his way, at his pace, in his time."

Into Niven's place stepped his former partner Doug Goldstein, and amiable, compact figure who dresses like an aging surfer and who was the group's road manager for the last tour. "Dougie's done a lot of stuff in the last couple of years," Stradlin avows, before chuckling darkly. "He's the guy who now gets to go over to Axl's at six in the morning when his piano's hanging out at the window of his house. All kind of shit like that. Now we get these fuckin' calls - 'You hear what happened?' No, what now? 'Axl just smashed his $50,000 grand piano out the fuckin' picture-window of his new house.' That's nice, Dougie. You just take care of it. Call me when it's all over."

So, let's return to scenic San Francisco, a city that has cast many a spell on a vast array of leading musical talents. Some have left their hearts there, others have felt compelled to place flowers in their hair. The Gunners, however, have no real attachment. "We always had a problem when we played here before," Stradlin says, "'cos we'd try to cop this China White heroin and end up paying ungodly prices for fuckin' nothing."

I first met Izzy Stradlin two years ago when he was aimlessly travelling through Europe, trying to avoid getting back to LA and partaking in the gnarly business of getting to grips with that difficult second album. Three months had already been wasted in Chicago, three months that culminated in Axl destroying the group's apartment building there and staying in the rubble while the rest returned west in disgust. Stradlin talked a lot about how he hoped the recording could be completed without any one of the group's lives being turned into "absolute shit". Since that time, sacked drummer Steven Adler's life has turned to utter ruin, and the records still have no firm release date. But Stradlin has miraculously managed to straighten himself out.

"I've been straight for a year and a half now. No booze, no weed, no nothing. I just stopped cold. I said 'Fuck, I should give this a shot.' At first it was real hard. When I finally stopped and then started going out, just riding around on a fuckin' bicycle, I thought 'Wow, this is really cool. How did I forget all this simple shit?'"

The last time he took a drink was a special night for Izzy, because it was the night he and Axl lived out their mutual childhood fantasy of performing a song on-stage with their quintessential bad-assed heroes, The Rolling Stones. Both parties learned something from the collaboration. Izzy and Axl learned "so much. It gave us both an incredible insight into what our band could be like in ten years time - if were still alive, that is." The Stones learned the addresses of several good tattoo parlors, and experienced the potential heart failure of working with Axl Rose.

"The Stones were asking me: 'Which song are you doing?' We'd chosen 'Salt of the Earth'. Nobody knew it! And I'm thinking: 'Fuck, you guys wrote it over 20 years ago! You must remember some of it!' So we go back in this little trailer and Mick Jagger's got a tape-player and he's listening to it, with the lyrics written on a piece of paper in front of him. And I'm sitting there playing acoustic guitar with Keith Richards and I'm thinking 'This is sooo cool!' 'Cos we're playing it thru' and Charlie and Bill Wyman are sitting there, listening to it. And I'm just flipping out, thinking 'God, this is sooo wild!' Finally we finished the song. They all turned to me and said: 'So where's your singer?' And I didn't have an answer! Axl was late again. Real late."

The two groups had already performed together on the same bill in Los Angeles two months earlier. "It was the biggest thrill I ever had working with this band, but it was also pretty nerve-wracking, 'cos - we did four gigs in LA, right? - at six the morning of the first one, Axl called me completely hammered, and told me 'I'm quitting'. I told the other guys 'It's gonna be a long four days, fellas'. Then he went on-stage that night and announced he was quitting in front of 80,000 fuckin' people. That's typical of Axl's style, though. Here's a guy who knows how to go the whole nine yards!

"How we managed to get through those gigs, I'll never know. There was so much shit down on us. Axl's mood to quit, the drug problems, the Steven problem, the whole 'One In A Million' controversy - plus I had a court date the morning after the last Stones date, at eight in the morning, for pissing in a trash can on an airplane, and I was facing six months in jail because I had a prior arrest for drug possession (later dropped). So that was a fuckin' major psycho-time."

Stradlin's version of what happened on that fateful flight is as follows: "I was on this plane going to LA to work on the never-ending albums, and I was drunk in the middle of this bunch of senior citizen types. I was smoking, and the stewardess came over. I told her to fuck herself. I was drinking so much I had to take a piss. The people in the bathroom… Man, it seemed like I waited an hour. So I pissed in the trashcan instead. And one stewardess saw me, right? Next thing I know we've landed, I'm walking out and I see ten policemen, and the other passengers are pointing at me, shouting 'He's the guy!' And I remember thinking: 'Uh-oh! I think I fucked up again'."

1989 was Guns N' Roses black year, and it was never blacker than when Axl Rose's lyrics to 'One In A Million' - a song casting aspersions on "niggers" and "faggots" - became a national controversy in America. Rose, as is his wont, refused to distance himself from the song's sentiments, but the rest of the group (both Slash and McKagan come from inter-racial families) were quietly mortified by the affair.

"Living with that 'One In A Million' fall-out was heavy shit. I don't know if Axl learned anything from the experience - I would hope he did. Actually, Slash said the best things about that in some interview he did when he said that Axl's free expression was all well and good but he'd hate to think what would happen to any of the band if they got thrown in jail and had to explain the lyrics to the other guys doing time. 'Cos during that period I ended up in jail in Phoenix for a day. I found out… It was pretty fucked up."

Drugs, the Gunners allege, caused a split with their original drummer Steven 'Popcorn' Adler. According to the band, they agonized long and hard before letting him go. It was their opinion that over-indulgence had affected his playing. After he was sacked, Adler briefly attempted to form a new band with former Hanoi Rocks guitarist Andy McCoy. According to one Gunner "it lasted maybe a couple of weeks, then someone overdosed over at the house and that was that". Now Adler is back in the headlines with a lawsuit calling for an end to Guns N' Roses, accusing them of chief responsibility for his drug problems.

In the same month that Adler was given his marching orders, a new member of Guns N' Roses was suddenly recruited. His name is Dizzy Reed, he'd played keyboards for an LA band called The Wild, and now he was about to do the same for Guns N' Roses. Guess who was behind it?

"…Another thing Axl had been working on. One day Dizzy came down to our rehearsal. He must have had a terrible time, 'cos everyone ignored him for two weeks. I tried to be friendly. I'd say: 'Hey man, how's it going? I don't know what we're doing either! We've just been in this studio for the last two years and we're supposed to be making a record or something. By the way, do you have a keyboard?' - 'cos the guy didn't even own a fuckin' instrument. After a few weeks I said to him: 'Hey man, seeing as we're Guns N' Roses, maybe someone can lend you a keyboard or we can get you an endorsement or something'. In fact, the guy's turned out to be a really cool addition."

The recording of Use Your Illusion finally got under way in July last year, with Appetite For Destruction producer Mike Clink nominally back at the helm. First, Sorum and McKagan laid down their rhythm tracks, followed by the guitarists and sometimes keyboardist Dizzy Reed making their contributions. Then Rose moved in pretty much by himself, Exercycle and bed in tow. After that, a lot of time was wasted while Bob Clearmountain failed to satisfactorily mix 24 of the songs, until Slash came up with Bill Price, the engineer for Never Mind The Bollocks as a viable alternative. Then, after blowing out the original May release date, the group - or more likely Axl - decided to add three new songs to the collection. Stradlin informs me of the history of one of them, after which I don't have the heart to ask about the other two: "Well, one's this song called '14 Years'. Axl phoned me up and said he'd written a song called '14 Years' too, which is a really bizarre coincidence," he laughs. "So when he said that, I told him 'Well maybe we should use mine, 'cos it's already finished and we can get on with these fuckin' albums and get them out sometime in 1991!' So what we ended up doing was he heard mine, we tracked it, then he sang me parts of his song and made them like a bridge or a chorus or something.
"These albums are just so far from me now. Before, when we had it down on tape, it was done. It's gotten to the point now where I don't even ask when they're coming out 'cos every time I ask it's a different date. God, it is just such a fuckin' blur. Trying to pin it down is just hard, man."

To refresh his memory, Goldstein has lent him the only copy of a cassette tape featuring "everything" from the two forth-coming releases. He busies himself inserting the tape into a nearby machine. "Three months ago, I heard some stuff they were mixing," he mutters. "It sounded pretty cool. Other than that, I'm just not up on it at all. They're still mixing - is all I know."

The sound of suitably raucous guitars heralds the beginning of the first track, the delightfully named 'Double Talking Jive Motherfucker', which showcases a performance of rare spleen from Rose who this time chooses to focus his wrath on chubby little Vince Neil, the "plastic-faced, pussy-assed" singer of rival L.A. 'bad attitude' icons Motley Crue. Things haven't been too cozy between the two groups ever since the Crue, in a fit of pique after they were upstaged by the Gunners during an American tour, fooled the hapless Steven Adler (under the impression he was inhaling cocaine) into snorting a large quantity of a leading American brand of toilet disinfectant. Things could only get worse after that - which they did - culminating in Neil punching Stradlin in the mouth backstage at an MTV Awards program, and accusing the guitarist of beating up and trying to rape his wife, a former mud-wrestler named Cherisse. Stradlin is eager to tell his side of the story.

"Three years ago, we played some club one night and I was hangin' out with these girls when she came backstage. I said 'Hey your pussy's hangin' out!' and she fuckin' punched me! So I just lifted my foot and pushed her back. She fell down. Next thing I know, she's got me on a rape charge. So I have to go to court, right, for this bullshit, and she didn't show up. Anyway, Motley Crue are a bunch of lying cocksuckers. It's gonna be interesting to see how they respond to this."

Stradlin starts winding the tape forward in search of a song he can't stop laughing about. "Slash has this song, it's called 'Coma', and it's fuckin' 15 minutes long. And I still don't know it, man. I have to take a special chord chart with me whenever we play it. There's like 50 chords at the end of it and I just can't follow them." Next comes a new version of 'Civil War', which the group donated to the Romanian orphans' foundation last year. Stradlin doesn't even recognize it.

Instead he starts forwarding the tape again, past snatches of 'Live and Let Die', a bludgeoning funk-metal workout entitled 'Locomotive' and yet another new version of 'Knocking On Heaven's Door'. Then he stops the tape.

"There are like 20-30 songs - I saw the list last week, had the piece of paper inside my pocket, but then I lost it. These albums are so far from me now. I mean, the life of these songs for me is in playing 'em every night live. Otherwise, they're just product that's going to be marketed."

Fifty minutes late, Guns N' Roses take the 'Frisco stage. Tonight there's no riot, just 30,000 reasonably behaved young people who've come down to check out this whole Guns N' Roses deal. They generally like what they see, but frequently look on the verge of becoming bored, particularly during the many of the 15 or so new songs. Actually, the sound mix is probably the main offender here: nothing is gelling, every instrument sounds disconnected from the others. Worse still, Rose's Typhoid Mary' shrink of a voice sounds under-miked and often inaudible over the guitars.

As the gig progresses, two suspicions make themselves manifest. The first is that perhaps this group isn't fully ready to make their act work night after night on this large stage. The second is that certain members appear to be too physically worn down from partying to perform a two-and-a-half hour rock gig. Slash, for one, looks dissipated and sounds disappointing. The best musician in the band (before Sorum's arrival anyway) and one of the few genuinely exciting lead guitar players to have come along in the last 15 years (Iggy Pop said last year that Slash was the best guitarist he'd worked with, bar only the Stooges' James Williamson), tonight his solos are either too tentative, too sloppy or too hit-and-miss. And his cohort, the pallid McKagan though he manages to keep his bass-lines erect, has to spend several numbers lying flat-out, his eyes closed, smoking a cigarette.

Even when it's not working musically, it's never boring, because Axl Rose is incredible to behold, working the stage like a young Jerry Lee Lewis performing gnarly thrash-metal anthems - real Devil's music. Tonight he bursts upon the stage clad in a pair of construction workers' boots, white socks, a black cardigan draped around the shoulders of his naked torso, a two-day growth of beard and a large tartan kilt that descends past his knees. Later he'll change and amble back out in an ensemble consisting of just a pair of bicycle shorts, a see-through net top and a huge white plantation owner's hat. For a guy who spends a good portion of his life battling with the theory that the rest of the world is looking at him funny, Axl Rose has a most singular way of dressing for the occasion.

But it's exactly these kind of 'personality' inconsistencies that make him so fascinating. Sometimes as he traverses the stage it becomes apparent why Rose is a perfect all-American hero for the '90s. After all, there's something of the 'pioneering' spirit about him. Like John Wayne or Arnold Schwarzenegger, he's tough, he's crazy, he speaks his mind, he stays fervently true to whatever mangled vision he's started out with, he takes no shit and he never kisses ass. Plus he's a patriot (hell, he even sports the Stars and Stripes on his bike-shorts!). To the mind-set of a country still drunk on the jubilation of "having kicked Arab ass" over in the Gulf, all the above qualities make him a man to be revered - even if certain aspects of his lifestyle and behavior are unsavory. But then again, there is always that other side - the dark side of his increasingly self-destructive 'out-there behavior'; the side that several former acquaintances, amongst them the woman who first got Guns N' Roses signed to Geffen, have defined in one word: "evil".

That side makes a brief startling appearance tonight. Rose, in an absolute frenzy, stalks the stage, smashing three or four mike-stands, one after the other. As his personal mike-stand roadie - a harassed-looking little fellow in Bermudas and a large baseball cap - scurries behind him, reshaping each mangled piece of metal, Axl Rose starts having one of his legendary mood-swings and suddenly doesn't want these fuckin' mike-stands rebuilt. He wants them all laying about the stage like disabled metallic corpses. So he kicks the roadie. Hard. "I said don't pick that mike-stand back up, motherfucker!" he hisses into his hand-mike at the guy, who stands frozen. After all, this is his job: he sees a broken mike-stand, he mends it. The audience, meanwhile, cheers this display of aggression and Rose immediately acknowledges it: "Hey, check it out - I'm having one of those irrational temper tantrums you keep reading about in the press," he chuckles. "Y'know you fuckers shouldn't encourage this sort of shit." As another song starts, he espies a mike-stand newly erect. He picks it up and hurls it like a javelin at the hapless roadie who ducks just in time. The audience watch transfixed. No one can quite believe what they've seen. At the end of the song, Rose refers back to the incident, grins his crazy grin and remarks: "Well, as you can see, being a fuckin' psycho basket-case like me does have its advantages."

Now it's dark, and everything's starting to look a little bit hazy here in the Guns N' Roses compound. An hour earlier, a delegation from Geffen Records had come back-stage to try and obtain a realistic release date for the new albums. They didn't get far. The band clearly get a big kick out of their record label's sense of helplessness.

Strangely enough, even though it's long past the witching hour, all the band are present and correct. ("There's only one photograph of the six of us in existence," Sorum tells me, laughing. "Can you believe that? Getting all the members of Guns N' Roses in the same room at the same time is very difficult.") Even Stradlin - who usually "shows up just half an hour before the gig, plays, then says goodbye, goes back to a different hotel and gets some sleep" - is still around.

Elsewhere, Duff is playing a version he's recorded of Johnny Thunders' 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory' to anyone who'll listen. It may turn up on the album of punk covers the group intends to release after this tour, but will more likely appear on a special Duff McKagan solo album. He's already signed the deal with Geffen, has got Lenny Kravitz involved and says Prince might sing on several tracks. I make the mental note that Slash recently referred to the Minneapolis Enigma as "a faggot" in Rolling Stone and find myself hard-pressed to imagine this combination happening. Slash, meanwhile, appears to be having great difficulty walking straight. I ask Stradlin if it's hard to be surrounded by such wild and crazy guys. "Not really. When I see these guys doing whatever, I know that first they're going to get that rush, that euphoria, and then tomorrow they're going to wake up and feel like shit." "Izzy just doesn't dig it at all anymore," Sorum says in due course. "He don't dig the drinking, even. Me, I like to party. I'm like your typical drummer, I guess. Sometimes I go overboard."

As he speaks, parades of nubile tanned young Bay Area lovelies are being shepherded into the vicinity by Slash's two gently smirking bodyguards. Some just want to say "Hi!" to the group and get their autographs; most have something more intimate in mind. Sorum is in his element. "Every night's a fuckin' party, man. Chicks, beer, you name it. Take any chick you want, man. It's just like being in a candy store."

Stradlin, who's with his girlfriend Anneka for the tour, has his mind set on other things. "After this tour's finished, I'd like to go hang out in Europe, preferably somewhere near the ocean, and just keep writing songs. I think Axl will probably end up living over thereat the end of this tour too. He's talking about getting a place in Europe, in Paris or Spain maybe, 'cos he really liked it over there, even though a bunch of French guys ended up macing him. He phoned me up straight afterwards: 'Izzy, man, I just got into a gnarly fight'. He said these guys were talking shit - though I don't know how he'd know 'cos he doesn't know any French." He pauses. "Maybe they were looking at him funny."

He takes one look at the circus going on around him. Baby bright neon lights flicker all around, the stars are twinkling down from the velvet blanket of sky, and suddenly all the horrendous pressures of the last few weeks seem to vanish. Why, even Axl Rose has ventured out to take the air and schmooze with the cuties for a while. Nights like this can make you feel good you've got a future - if, that is, you've got one.

I think Guns N' Roses will take its natural course," he concludes, choosing his words carefully this time. "Even though it could all end tomorrow night. Still, I think we'll take a long break and then come back and do it again. That's what it feels like could happen. But then again, two years ago I never really thought this tour could happen. Frankly, I don't think any of us would have this much of a future."

"What do I think of Guns N' Roses' chances of surviving? Hey, it's not my gig to weigh up other people's chances of living or dying, baby - that's what people do to me! I used to be number one on the list of the next guy to turn into a zero, so I wouldn't dream of doing it to them. I ain't gonna judge 'em; I wish 'em all the luck in the world. They're good guys. What can I tell you? I really feel for those guys right now 'cos it ain't the Baby Doll Lounge they're playing anymore. Where they're dealing from, it's like Jaws out there every night." - Keith Richards
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