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SoulMonster

One In A Million

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One In A Million

Post by Soulmonster on Thu Aug 05, 2010 8:31 am


ONE IN A MILLION
Album:
Lies, track no. 8.

Written by:
Lyrics: Axl Rose.
Music: Axl Rose.

Musicians:
Vocals: Axl Rose
Lead guitar: Slash
Rhythm guitars: Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan
Bass: Duff McKagan
Drums: Steven Adler.

Live performances:
This song was played for the first time October 30, 1987, at an acoustic gig at the CBGB's, USA. It was later played at the Limelight, USA, on January 31, 1988, in Cleveland on May 5, 1988, and in Mears in July 30, 1988. In total it has, as of {UPDATEDATE}, at least been played {ONEINAMILLIONSONGS} times.
Lyrics:
Guess I needed
Sometime to get away
I needed some peace of mind
Some peace of mind that'll stay
So I thumbed it
Down to sixth and L.A.
Maybe your greyhound
Could be my way

Police and niggers
That's right
Get out of my way
Don't need to buy none of your
Goldchains today
I don't need no bracelets
Clamped in front of my back
Just need my ticket till then
Won't you cut me some slack

You're one in a million
Yeah, that's what you are
You're one in a million, babe
You are a shooting star
Maybe someday we see you
Before you make us cry
You know we tried to reach you
But you were much too high
Much too high
Much too high
Much too high

Immigrants and faggots
They make no sense to me
They come to your country
And think they do as they please
Like start a mini Iran
Or spread some fucking disease
They talk so many goddamn ways
It's all Greek to me

Well some say I'm lazy
And other say that's just me
Some say I'm crazy
I guess I'll always be
But it been such a long time
Since I knew right from wrong
It's all the means to an end, I,
I keep on movin' along

You're one in a million
Yeah, that's what you are
You're one in a million, babe
You are a shooting star
Maybe someday we see you
Before you make us cry
You know we tried to reach you
But you were much too high
Much too high
Much too high
Much too high

Radicals and racists
Don't point your finger at me
I'm a small town white boy
Just tryin' to make ends meet
Don't need your religion
Don't watch that much TV
Just makin' my livin', baby,
Well that's enough for me
   
You're one in a million
Yeah, that's what you are
You're one in a million, babe
You are a shooting star
Maybe someday we see you
Before you make us cry
You know we tried to reach you
But you were much too high
Much too high
Much too high
Much too high


Information:
Guns N' Roses' most controversial song because of its lyrical content. The song's lyrics caused great controversy among many different groups, and accusations of homophobia, nativism, and racism were leveled against Axl Rose.

Band members talking about the song:
...a backpack, a piece of steel in one hand and a can of maize in the other. And guys were trying to sell me joints everywhere, and some black guy turned me on to the bus station. So, I found the bus station. And there'll be a song about the bus station on our EP called "One In A Million" [Interview with Axl and Slash, 1988]
I think each individual has to interpret it as they like. As for me? I think it's kinda funny! It's real life, and this band has never minced words when it comes to real life. The song is basically Axl's view of coming to downtown L.A. for the first time. He was from Indiana, he was real green--and L.A. blew his mind. [...] You have to remember--we've lived all this stuff. When you saw these dirty white-trash (expletive) guys on Hollywood Boulevard--hey, that was us! [...] I'm sure it'll bother some people--and I can understand that. But the song is a way of describing what happened to us, not making any value judgments. [...] If you're just exposing aspects of life that are already out there, what's the problem with that? When I was 14, I thought Sid Vicious was cool, but I knew that didn't mean I had to OD on heroin. This is just our song--and we're not asking for everyone to like it. I don't think we have to be responsible for everybody else's opinion [Guns N' Roses Living Up to Notoriety, Los Angeles Times, December 1988]
I started writing about wanting to get out of LA , getting away for a little while. I'd been down to the downtown-L.A. Greyhound bus station. If you haven't been there, you can't say shit to me about what goes on and about my point of view. There are a large number of black men selling stolen jewelry, crack, heroin and pot, and most of the drugs are bogus. Rip-off artists selling parking spaces to parking lots that there's no charge for. Trying to misguide every kid that gets off the bus and doesn't quite know where he's at or where to go, trying to take the person for whatever they've got. That's how I hit town. The thing with 'One in a Million' is, basically, we're all one in a million, we're all here on this earth. We're one fish in a sea. Let's quit fucking with each other, fucking with me [The Rolling Stone Interview With Axl Rose" Del James, Rolling Stone August 1989]
'One in a million' is about...... I went back and forth from Indiana eight times my first year in Hollywood. I wrote it about being dropped off at the bus station and everything that was going on. I'd never been in a city this big and was fortunate enough to have this black dude help me find my way. He guided me to the RTD station and showed me what bus to take, because I couldn't get a straight answer out of anybody. He wasn't after my money or anything. It was more like, "Here's a new kid in town, and he looks like he might get into trouble down here. Lemme help him get on his way." People kept coming up trying to sell me joints and stuff. In downtown L.A the joints are usually bogus, or they'll sell you drugs that can kill you. It's a really ugly scene. The song's not about him, but you could kinda say he was one in a million. When I sat down after walking in circles for three hours, the cops told me to get off the streets. The cops down there have seen so much slime that they figure if you have long hair, you're probably slime also. The black guys trying to sell you jewelry and drugs is where the line 'Police and niggers, get out of my way' comes from. I've seen these huge black dudes pull Bowie knives on people for their boom boxes and shit. It's ugly (...) I don't have anything against someone coming here from another country and trying to better themselves. What I don't dig is some 7-11 worker acting as though you don't belong here, or acting like they don't understand you while they're trying to rip you off. [Axl mimics an Iranian] "Wot? I no understand you". I'm saying "I gave you a 20, and I want my $15 change!" I threatened to blow up their gas station, and then they gave me my change. I don't need that. I don't know what to think about gays. They're in a world of their own. I'm not too happy about AIDS. When I say I'm a small-town white boy, I'm just saying I'm no better than anyone else I've described. I'm just trying to get through life, that's all. [The world according to W. Axl Rose by Del James; RIP April 1989]
I used words like police and niggers because you're not allowed to use the word nigger. Why can black people go up to each other and say, "Nigger," but when a white guy does it all of a sudden it's a big put-down. I don't like boundaries of any kind. I don't like being told what I can and what I can't say. I used the word nigger because it's a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word nigger doesn't necessarily mean black. Doesn't John Lennon have a song 'Woman Is the Nigger of the World'? There's a rap group, N.W.A., Niggers with Attitude. I mean, they're proud of that word. More power to them. Guns N' Roses ain't bad. . . . N.W.A. is baad! Mr. Bob Goldthwait said the only reason we put these lyrics on the record was because it would cause controversy and we'd sell a million albums. Fuck him! Why'd he put us in his skit? We don't just do something to get the controversy, the press [The Rolling Stone Interview With Axl Rose" Del James, Rolling Stone August 1989]
There's a line on the 'GN'R Lies' EP, in a song called 'One In A Million,' where it says: 'Police and niggers'...And that was a line I really didn't want Axl to sing, but, you know, Axl's the kind of person who will sing whatever it is he feels like singing...And I knew it was gonna come out and finally it did come out. What that line was supposed to mean, though, was 'niggers' in the sense of...not necessarily talking just about the black race. He was more or less talking about the general sort of street thugs that you run into in LA. Especially if you're a Midwestern, naive young kid just coming to the city for the first time, and there's these guys trying to pawn this on you and push this on you, and all that. It's a heavily intimidating kind of thing for someone like that. I've been living in Hollywood for so long, I'm used to it...But I didn't want it to be taken wrongly. Which always happens. I decided once or twice that I was gonna do a sort of international press release to explain what all that was supposed to mean. And then I thought, no, fuck, you know, that's a waste of time. [...] That kind of thing bothers me in particular because, you know, I'm part black...and I don't have anything against black individuals at all. And what else bothers me is that one of the nice things about Guns N' Roses is that we've always been a people's band, and we never really segregated - is that the right word for it? - our fans. [...]. I mean, it doesn't even have to be about the blacks; the term 'nigger' goes for Chinese, Caucasians, Mexicans, whatever...It's about a type of people, not a race. [...] I don't think that statement should have been made. I think that should have been kept at bay. But...Axl has a strong feeling about it and he wanted to say whet he wanted to say, y'know? But God forbid any of us should get arrested and end up in County Jail, and someone wants to go, 'Yeah, that's the guy who wrote that song,' y'know? You could be in some serious fucking truble then, boy...And it's a shame because 'One In A Million' is a great track...at least I think it is. But now everybody's homing in on that one line, and I can't complain because I understand why [Kerrang!, April 1989]
When I use the word immigrants, what I'm talking about is going to a 7-11 or Village pantries - a lot of people from countries like Iran, Pakistan, China, Japan et cetera, get jobs in these convenience stores and gas stations. Then they treat you as if you don't belong here. I've been chased out of a store with Slash by a six-foot-tall Iranian with a butcher knife because he didn't like the way we were dressed. Scared me to death. All I could see in my mind was a picture of my arm on the ground, blood going everywhere. When I get scared, I get mad. I grabbed the top of one of these big orange garbage cans and went back at him with this shield, going, "Come on!" I didn't want to back down from this guy. Anyway that's why I wrote about immigrants. Maybe I should have been more specific and said, "Joe Schmoladoo at the 7-11 and faggots make no sense to me." That's ridiculous! I summed it up simply and said, "Immigrants." [The Rolling Stone Interview With Axl Rose" Del James, Rolling Stone August 1989]
That whole thing’s such a bunch of crap, man. Slash is half black. I come from a family that’s a quarter black. And if you [assumes a bullhorn voice] READERS OUT THERE, if you listen to all the lyrics, you might learn something. Axl was a fuckin’ wet behind the ears white boy in LA for the first time and he was scared to death! That’s what the song is about. People are just gonna have to take it whichever way they think is right. I mean, I don’t even like talking about it anymore. All it is, is a tale about a certain part of town. Yes, the story is told by a white kid, but that’s his story. And Axl’s got such a reputation now, he’s so well know, that of course they’re gonna jump all over his fucking ass. He said that dirty word. I mean, tell me about it. I’ve been an uncle since I was two. It was my older sister’s first child and it was a black kid. When I was growing up I was surrounded by nieces and nephews and cousins that were black, plus my own immediate family, who were white of course. Until I started school, I didn’t know there was a difference in black and white. That was the first time I heard anybody call somebody a nigger. I didn’t even know what the word meant. I still don’t. So I feel strongly about this. The bottom line is, Axl is not prejudiced. There is no prejudice in this band. It’s just a tale of what happened to a kid from Indiana, okay? And just being scared off his fucking ass by what he finds in the big city. [...] That song was that song. I can’t see us ever doing a song like that again. Not because we’re chicken shit to do it, just because that was then. There’s nothing left in our lives like that [Kerrang, March 1990]
To appreciate the humour in our work you gotta be able to relate to a lot of different things. And not everybody does. Not everybody can. With ‘One in a million’, I used a word - it’s part of the English language whether it’s a good word or not. It’s a derogatory word, it’s a negative word. It’s not meant to sum up the entire black race, but it was directed towards black people in those situations. I was robbed, I was ripped-off, I had my life threatened! And it’s like, I described it in one word. And not only that, but I wanted to see the effect of a racial joke. I wanted to see what effect that would have on the world. Slash was into it.... I mean, the song says « Don’t wanna buy none of your gold chains today ». Now a black person on the Oprah Winfrey show who goes « Oh, they’re putting down black people! » is going to fuckin’ take one of these guys at the bus stop home and feed him and take care of him and let him babysit the kids? They ain’t gonna be near the guy ! I don’t think every black person is a nigger. I don’t care. I consider myself kinda green and from another planet or something, you know? I’ve never felt I fit into any group, so to speak. A black person has this 300 years of whatever on his shoulders. OK. But I ain’t got nothing to do with that. It bores me too. There’s such a thing as too sensitive. You can watch a movie about someone blowing all the crap outta all these people, but you could be the most anti-violent person in the world. But you get off on this movie, like, yeah! He deserved it, you know, the bad guy got shot... Something I’ve noticed that’s really weird about ‘One in a million’ is the whole song coming together took me by surprise. I wrote the song as a joke. West (Arkeen, co-lyricist of ‘It’s so easy’ amongst other songs) just got robbed by two black guys on Christmas night, a few years back. He went out to play on Hollywood boulevard and he’s standing there playing in front of the band and he gets robbed at knife point for 78 cents. A couple of days later we’re all sittin’ around watchin’ TV - there’s Duff and West and a couple other guys - and we’re all bummed out, hungover and this and that. And I’m sitting there with no money, no job, feelin’ guilty for being at West’s house all the time suckin’ up the oxygen, you know? And I picked up this guitar, and I can only play like the top two strings, and I ended up fuckin’ around with this little riff. It was the only thing I could play on the guitar at the time. And then I started ad-libbing some words to it as a joke. And we had just watched Sam Kinison or somethin’ on the video, you know, and I guess the humour was just sorta leanin’ that way anyway or somethin’. I don’t know. But we just started writing this thing, and when I sang « police and niggers, that’s right », that was to fuck with West’s head, cos he couldn’t believe I would write that! And it came out like that....then later on the chorus came about because I was like getting really far away, like ‘Rocket man’, Elton John. I was thinking about my friends and family in Indiana, and I realized those people have no concept of who I am anymore. Even the ones I was close to. Since then I’ve flown people out here, had’em hang out here, I’ve paid for everything. But there was no joy in it for them. I was smashin’ shit, going fuckin’ crazy. And yet, trying to work. And they were going, « Man, I don’t wanna be a rocker any more, not if you go through this ». But at the same time, I brought’em out, you know, and we just hung out for a couple of months - wrote songs together, had serious talks, it was almost like bein’ on acid cos we’d talk about the family and life and stuff, and we’d get really heavy and get to know each all over again. It’s hard to try and replace eight years of knowing each other every day, and then all of a sudden I’m in this new world. Back there I was a street kid with a skateboard and no money dreamin’ ‘bout being in a rock band, and now all of a sudden I’m here. And it’s weird for them to see their friends putting up Axl posters, you know? And it’s weird for me too. So anyway, all of a sudden I came up with this chorus « You’re one in a million », you know, and « we tried to reach you but you were much too high .... »(...) So that’s like, « we tried to reach you but you were much too high », I was picturing ‘em trying to call me if, like, I disappeared or died or something. And « you’re one in a million », someone said that to me real sarcastically, it wasn’t like an ego thing. But that’s the good thing, you use that « I’m one in a million » positively to make yourself get things done. But originally, it was kinda like someone went, « Yeah, you’re just fuckin’ one in a million, aren’t ya? », and it stuck with me. Then we go in the studio, and Duff plays the guitar much more aggressively than I did. Slash made it too tight and concise, and I wanted it a bit rawer. Then Izzy comes up with this electric guitar thing. I was pushing him to come up with a cool tone, and all of a sudden he’s comin’up with this aggressive thing. It just happened. So suddenly it didn’t work to sing the song in a low funny voice any more. We tried and it didn’t work, didn’t sound right, it didn’t fit. And the guitar parts were so cool, I had to sing it like.....HURRHHHH ! so that I sound like I’m totally into this [Stick To Your Guns by Mick Wall; Kerrang, 21st and 28th of April 1990]
Everybody on the black side of my family was like, 'What is your' problem? My old girlfriend said, 'You could have stopped it.' What am I supposed to say? Axl and I don't stop each other from doing things. Hopefully, if something is really bad, you stop it yourself. It was something he really wanted to put out to explain his story, which is what the song is about. Axl is a naive while boy from Indiana who came to Hollywood, was brought up in a totally Caucasian society, and it was his way of saying how scared he was and this and that. Maybe somewhere in there he does harbor some sort of [bigoted) feelings because of the way he was brought up. At the same time, it wasn't malicious. I can't sit here with a clear conscience and say, 'It's okay that it came out.' I don't condone it. But it happened, and now Axl is being condemned for it, and he takes it really personally. All can say, really, is that it's a lesson learned [Musician, December 1990]
noteaxl"]
I'll get lambasted and filleted all over the place over that song. Dave Marsh will be writing about this 'We Are The World' consciousness, but Dave, I don't know where you were doing your 'We Are The World' consciousness, but we were getting robbed at knifepoint at that time in our lives. 'One In A Million' brought out the fact that racism does exist so let's do something about it. Since that song, a lot of people may hate Guns N' Roses, but they think about their racism now. And they weren't thinking about that during 'We Are the World.' 'We Are the World' was like a Hallmark card [There's A Riot Going On! Musician, September 1991]
However that song makes them feel, they think that must be what the song means. If they hate blacks, and they hear my lines and hate blacks even more, I'm sorry, but that's not how l meant it. Our songs affect people, and that scares a lot of people. l think that song, more than any other song in a long time, brought certain issues to the surface and brought up discussion as to how fucked things really are. But when read somewhere that l said something last night before we performed "One in a Million," it pisses me off. We don't perform "One in a Million" ["I, Axl" Del James, RIP Magazine - 1992]
I have a big problem with that lyric. I've talked to Axl many times about his lyrics. 'You don't need to say that, Axl. You're a fuckin' immigrant yourself. Everyone's a fuckin' immigrant in America. Don't you see you're putting down the whole of fuckin' America? And if they faggots, well so what?' Axl... is very... confused. But I was pissed off. I was very against that shit going on our record. 'Why'd you have to say that, Axl. It's hard enough just gettin' by.' [Pauses] But at the same time, y'know, this is just fuckin' rock 'n' roll music. When it's fucked up, it's more interesting. Whoever said this was responsible music, y'know? We're not fuckin' role models. At all. But 'One in a Million' is just flat-out racist. Like that about niggers trying to sell you gold chains [The Face, 1990]
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 [The Vox, 1991]
That's a song that the whole band says: 'Don't put that on there. You're white, you've got red hair, don't use it.' You know? 'Fuck you! I'm gonna do it cos I'm Axl!' OK, go ahead, it's your fucking head. Of course, you're guilty by association. [But] what are you gonna do? He's out of control and I'm just the fucking guitar player...[Classic Rock, 2001]
My opinion is, the majority of the public can't be trusted with that song. It inspires thoughts and reactions that cause people to have to deal with their own feelings on racism, prejudice and sexuality["I, Axl" Del James, RIP Magazine - 1992]
[...] and a song Axl brought in lyrics for called 'One In A Million.' when he first showed them to us, I cringed at some of the words - especially 'niggers.' It wasn't that I thought Axl held racist views - there was never any question on that front. I realized Axl's lyrics represented a third-person observation about what Reagen-era America had become: a nation of name-callers, a land of fear. It was just a word my mouth would not form. Among my earliest memories as a child was my mom pulling me out of kindergarten to march in a peace rally after Martin Luther King was shot and killed. But Axl was bold. And nobody at the label seemed concerned [Duff's autobiography, "It's So Easy", 2011, p. 131]
When Axl first came up with the song and really wanted to do it, I said I didn't think it was very cool... I don't regret doing 'One in a Million,' I just regret what we've been through because of it and the way people have perceived our personal feelings ["Slash: The Rolling Stone interview" Jeffrey Ressner with Lonn M. Friend, Rolling Stone, February 1991]
Axl's lyrics in 'One In A Million' immediately caught attention. The press labelled us things like David Duke's house band; I heard that the KKK - or some faction of the Klan at least - started using the song as a war cry. I stood by my original interpretation of the song and of Axl's intentions. Art gets misunderstood all the time. Still, I found myself uncomfortable as a result of this particular misunderstanding [Duff's autobiography, "It's So Easy", 2011, p. 145]
l wrote a song that was very simple and vague. (...)l think I showed that quite well from where l was at. The song most definitely was a survival mechanism. It was a way for me to express my anger at how vulnerable l felt in certain situations that had gone down in my life. It's not a song l would write now. The song is very generic and generalized, and I apologized for that on the cover of the record. Going back and reading it, it wasn't the best apology but, at the time, it was the best apology I could make.["I, Axl" Del James, RIP Magazine - 1992]
I'm on a fence with that song. It's a very powerful song. l feel, as far as artistic freedom and my responsibility to those beliefs, that the song should exist. That's the only reason l haven't pulled it off the shelves. Freedom and creativity should never be stifled. Had l known that people were going to get hurt because of this song, then l would have been wrong. l was definitely wrong in thinking that the public could handle it ["I, Axl" Del James, RIP Magazine - 1992]
It was originally written as comedy. It was written watching Sam Kinison during one of his first specials. I was sitting around with friends, drunk, with no money. One of my friends had just gotten robbed for seventy-eight cents on Christmas by two black men [Interview Magazine talks to Axl Rose, 1992]
l played it on guitar and it was done very slow and in a different tone of voice and done very humorously. Well, that didn't work out when we recorded it because I had Duff play it on guitar -- because he could play it better and in better time -- and Izzy put this other guitar thing to it, and it evolved into something of its own. We didn't plan that song to be as forceful as it was. We walked into the studio, and boom, it just happened [Interview Magazine talks to Axl Rose, 1992]
And then as far as the whole racist thing is concerned, it had nothing to do with racism, or us speaking out against blacks or anything. I'm half-black, so I was like: "Ok, this is a good one. And we're definitely not homophobic. Axl's view doesn't maybe match with what you're "supposed" to think. But the experiences Axl had of gays when he came to Los Angeles for the first time, you can't take that away from him [Metal Zone, December 1993]
When I first heard 'One In A Million', I asked Axl, 'What the fuck? Is this necessary?' He just said, 'Yeah, it's necessary. I'm letting my feelings out' [The Days of Wine and Roses, Classic Rock, April 2005]
That song was meant, to the best of my knowledge, as a third-person slant on how fucked-up America was in the '80s. I don't know. I wouldn't have used the words, but Axl has been known to be amazingly bold at times [Reverb, July 2010]
'One In A Million' featured the wildly controversial lyrics about "police and niggers" and "immigrants and faggots." I thought that it was a great song that needed strong words. It expressed a heavy sentiment that had to be delivered with no punches pulled. I knew that the words weren't directed to the majority of blacks, gays, or immigrants. It simply described the scumbags of the world. (...) The song explained the shit that Axl, a naive hick from Indiana, had gone through ["My Appetite for Destruction", 2010, pp. 177]
I come from a family that’s multi-racial, Slash is half-black, and “One In A Million,” from where I sat in 1988—and I was convinced of it and still am, and people look at me cross-eyed—to me it was a commentary on America from a third person, and I thought it was the most genius thing ever, and I thought it was pretty bold of Axl to take that stance. We weren’t the huge band we’d become when Lies came out, but people knew who we were, so we knew people were gonna hear this song, but it wasn’t done for the shock value. It was kind of just recorded and done and out, and we were moving on. David Geffen had us on this AIDS benefit in 1989 or ’90, and it was gonna be at Radio City Music Hall, and we were the headliner for this thing. And the Gay Alliance or Rainbow Coalition or something gave David Geffen so much grief that we were kicked off. And it was really like, “Are you fuckin’ serious?” And that’s when it first started to dawn. I remember taking a flight home to Seattle and there was an empty seat next to me, and the flight attendant sat down, and she was a black woman. She said, “So, are you in the band Guns N’ Roses?” “Yeah.” “Are you really a racist?” She wanted to sit down and talk to me and try and turn me from being a racist. She was a nice Seattle chick, and I was a nice Seattle guy, and I just shrank in my seat. I didn’t know what to say [The Onion A.V. Club, May 2011]
Selected videos:
'One In A Million' performed for the first time live at CBGB's, October 30, 1987:



Last edited by Soulmonster on Sun Jun 25, 2017 8:04 am; edited 7 times in total
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Re: One In A Million

Post by Soulmonster on Mon Apr 28, 2014 9:35 pm

According to setlist.fm One In A Million was also played at a July 30, 1987, gig in Mears, USA. The problem is that this gig took place in 1988, not 1987. The setlist for this gig is incomplete so it might be that One In A Million was played on this gig in 1988, but until this is confirmed by a second, independent source, I will not add it to the database.


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Re: One In A Million

Post by Soulmonster on Wed May 07, 2014 1:54 am

It's been confirmed it was played on the show in 1988. First post is updated.
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Re: One In A Million

Post by Soulmonster on Wed May 07, 2014 7:19 am

From Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1989:

Behind the Guns N' Roses Racism Furor : The continuing debate over whether the band's song, 'One in a Million,' promotes bigotry
October 15, 1989|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Rock 'n' roll is in the hot seat again.

Call it media hype or justifiable outrage, but an acrimonious debate is raging over whether hard-rock heavyweights Guns N' Roses--as well as rap idols Public Enemy and speed-metal kings Slayer--are promoting bigotry and hatred.

Guns N' Roses has been under fire for a host of inflammatory lyrics in its song "One in a Million," which uses derogatory epithets to describe blacks and gays. The furor has continued, largely fueled by a Rolling Stone cover story in August. In that article, Guns N' Roses leader Axl Rose deepened the debate by stating: "Why can black people go up to each other and (use racial epithets), but when a white guy does it, all of a sudden it's a big put-down?"

Since then, rock and racism has become a hot story, with Guns N' Roses smack in the bull's-eye:

* A host of media outlets, from the "Today" show to the New York Times, have spotlighted heated reactions to the group's allegedly racist and anti-homosexual lyrics.

* Interviewing Boy George on his talk show, host Arsenio Hall blasted Rose as an "ignorant racist."

* In a letter to the New York Times, actor Sean Penn admiringly defended "One in a Million," comparing it to a Robert Capa war photo, labeling criticism of the band "pseudo-liberal hogwash."

* Parents Music Resource Center founder Tipper Gore also joined the debate, criticizing Guns N' Roses on "Entertainment Tonight" and, in a letter to the New York Times last Sunday, sounding the call for more "concern" and "outrage" about "troubling messages marketed to children through popular music."

In a full-page ad in Hollywood trade papers late last month, the Simon Wiesenthal Center asked the music industry: "Have we, as a nation, grown so apathetic about the racial, religious and sexual bias that is beginning to permeate our society? . . . Isn't it about time (the music industry) takes a firm stand against the immoral spread of hatred and bigotry?"

It's hard to believe that the Rolling Stones outraged parents and TV programmers two decades ago by singing "Let's Spend the Night Together." But now the Shock Rock mantle has been passed to Guns N' Roses, whose "One in a Million" offers a far more graphic--and vulgar--sketch of modern life. The song portrays a small-town boy's first fearful glimpse of grimy, downtown Los Angeles and uses scabrous, streetwise language--unsuitable for publication in this newspaper--replete with slurs against blacks, gays and immigrants.

The rock ballad attracted some initial media scrutiny when it was released late last year. But it didn't emerge as a cause celebre until a commentary published in the Village Voice in late August took the press to task for criticizing Public Enemy for anti-Semitic remarks by one of its members without expressing similar outrage over Rose's lyrics.

(Earlier this year, Prof. Griff, known as Public Enemy's Minister of Information, gave a much-publicized interview claiming that Jews were behind "a majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe." Though the group fired Griff, he was eventually reinstated, even though he refused to retract his remarks; in his most recent interview, he called his statements "100% pure.")

Defending his song in Rolling Stone, Axl Rose said he used a racial epithet because "it's a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. There's a rap group, N.W.A. . . . I mean, they're proud of that word. . . . I've had some very bad experiences with homosexuals. (But am I) anti-homosexual? I'm not against them doing what they do as long as they're not forcing it upon me."

Rose would not comment further, but his management firm issued a statement saying: "Guns N' Roses do not base their career on bigotry. . . . It is an artist's right to comment with honesty on both the beautiful and the ugly."

Are such racial epithets fair game because blacks use them too? Not at all, says Arsenio Hall.

"I never do--ever. And Guns N' Roses' attitude points out the very danger in using it. Because ignorant white people like Axl Rose are going to get the idea that's it's OK to use it too. The difference is very clear. N.W.A uses it in a figurative way, whereas Guns N' Roses uses it in a negative, derogatory way--as a white slavemaster would use it.

"There are rules of the turf. . . . I met several members of Guns N' Roses during the MTV Awards, and they seemed nice and decent. But Axl never said a word to me. And if we ever talk, I'll tell him another rule of the street. If you use that kind of language, you get your (rear-end) whipped. And I hope someone whips his (rear end) so he knows it's a mistake."

One thing is obvious--the debate over ethnic slurs has touched a raw nerve.
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