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1991.08.25 - The Observer - Guns N’ Roses: Danger Lurks Beyond The Doors

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Post by Soulmonster on Sun Sep 02, 2012 8:28 am

No other rock band today provokes such polarised opinions as Guns N' Roses. For some, they are 'the most dangerous band in the world', heirs to the delinquent lineage of the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols.

But for those who believe rock advances by rebelling against the old forms of rebellion as much as against society, Guns N' Roses represent a reactionary return to the bad-boy tantrums that rock 'n' roll should have grown out of by now. Their admirers argue that Guns N' Roses' uncouth spontaneity and untamed egotism have rejuvenated a rock scene dominated (since Live Aid) by altruism and responsibility. Their critics retort that rock may be middle-aged, but that doesn't make Guns N' Roses' puerility anything but trite.

What can't be denied is the band's power: their 1987 debut album Appetite For Destruction has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. 1991's most anticipated release has been their follow-up to Appetite, two simultaneously released albums entitled Use Your Illusion I and II, each containing over 70 minutes of music. The long awaited sequel has been subject to delays, and even now, its scheduled mid-September release date is hypothetical. In five years as a recording band, Guns N' Roses have released a meagre 21 minutes of music per year. This suggests that the group's thrall over their fans' imagination has more to do with their lifestyle and aura than their music. What sold Appetite is Guns N' Roses infamous trail of abusive and self-abusing behaviour: suicidal liquor intake, drug excesses followed by sojourns in rehab clinics, onstage bust-ups among the band, altercations with the police. Some incidents recall the Sex Pistols (guitarist Slash Hudson's televised expletives while accepting a Grammy award), others the Stones (rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin' urinating in an ashtray on an aeroplane).

The aura of chaos and simmering violence that hangs around Guns N' Roses seems intrinsic to their allure. In 1988, when they played low on the bill at Castle Donington, the British heavy metal festival, two fans died in the crush at the front of the stage. During the St Louis date of their current world tour, singer Axl Rose leapt into the crowd to attack a biker who was taking photographs without permission, starting a riot that caused an estimated $200,000 worth of damage. Rose has subsequently been charged with assault and property damage.

Guns N' Roses' volatility seems rooted in Axl Rose's unruly personality. According to some sources, he's a manic depressive who has been prescribed lithium but is too undisciplined to take it regularly. Like the band's music, Rose can shift from angelic tenderness ('Sweet Child O' Mine') to venomous belligerence and paranoia ('Welcome To The Jungle', 'Out Ta Get Me'). In his Guns N' Roses biography Appetite For Destruction (Century), Danny Sugarman portrays Axl as the inheritor of the Dionysiac spirit of Jim Morrison: a shaman who lives out the audience's impossible dreams, seeking enlightenment through oblivion and risking death by living on the edge. The comparison isn't totally preposterous, inasmuch as Rose has admitted that Sugarman's hagiography of Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive had a profound impression on him.

"I see Guns N' Roses and their audience's use of drugs as similar to the way Romantic poets extolled self-indulgence and derangement of the senses during the Industrial Revolution," says Sugarman, himself a former drug abuser. "It's a case of people looking for salvation and refuge from a time of chaos. But visiting Jim Morrison's grave in Paris was a turning point in Axl's life; he decided he didn't want to pursue the life-on-the-edge myth to the point of death. Since then he's begun the process of healing, by cutting down on his chemical intake and going into therapy."

Unlike The Doors, however, Guns N' Roses' drug use is divorced from Sixties mystical ideas about "opening the doors of perception". It seems more to do with blotting out an unbearable reality, searching for anaesthetic and amnesiac release (as in the title of the new album's drug-inspired epic, 'Coma'). If you're looking for a sense of the visionary, you have to turn to another Los Angeles band, Jane's Addiction, as mired in decadence and derangement as Guns N' Roses, but musically far more adventurous.

But then the secret of Guns N' Roses' populist appeal is precisely that their raunchy hard rock lacks originality. Their success is interesting if only for the fact that a band influenced by the Sex Pistols can sell a huge number of records in the era of dance-pop and club culture. (After Use Your Illusion, Guns plan to release an eight-track mini-LP of cover versions of English punk songs). The punk connection may be one of the reasons Guns N' Roses have caught the imagination of disaffected American youth. Far more than most metal groups, Guns N' Roses articulate something of the frustration and alienation of the teenagers in small towns across America; the boredom and claustrophobia; the desperate search for kicks. Axl Rose is a hero to these kids because he knows all about being hassled by the police and rednecks for 'looking like a faggot', but also because he escaped to L.A. and re-invented himself as a star. Songs like 'Welcome To The Jungle' are apolitical, but at least introduce some apocalyptic reality into the fantasy worlds of MTV.

In other respects, however, Guns N' Roses are alarmingly reactionary. 'One In A Million', a track off the group's stopgap mini-LP Lies, caused a furore with its use of homophobic and racist language. There's also a nasty streak of misogyny running through Guns N' Roses material. The original cover for Appetite For Destruction showed a woman just raped by a robot. Slash anticipates that much of the material on Use Your Illusion will enrage feminists, but has offered the typical disclaimer that songs like 'Back Off Bitch' and 'Pretty Tied Up' merely report "what happened". Like many rebel rockers, Axl Rose oscillates between idealising women and denigrating them. He wrote the poignant 'Sweet Child O' Mine' as an ode to his then wife, Erin; after one of the many rows that led to their break-up, he spray-painted a gravestone on the couple's garage: "Erin Rose: RIP Sweet Child O' Die. Slut. You Were One Of Many, nothing special."

Angry but apolitical, anti-authoritarian but illiberal, Guns N' Roses weirdly mix late Sixties excess and punk nihilism. When their world tour reaches Wembley Stadium on Saturday, you can expect spontaneous combustion. "There's a sense of risk and transcendence about Guns live," says Danny Sugarman. "There's a real sense of spontaneity, a potential for chaos. They don't take the steps most bands take to ensure that it's a solid evening's entertainment, like having a set list. They can be sublime or they can be a disaster."
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