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1988.05.31 - Circus - One-on-one with Guns N' Roses' Slash

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by Paul Galotta

Less than a year ago, the enigmatic character called Slash was practically un-known outside of the Southern California club circuit. But since the release of Guns N' Roses' soon-to-be-platinum debut Lp (the appropriately titled Appetite for Destruction), the British-born guitarist has been ele-vated to near-legendary status by the headbanging faithful. Unfortunately, his mystique is comprised of equal parts infamy, misinformation and truth. His propensity for guzzling Jack Daniels and trashing hotel rooms seems to be as much a part of the 22-year old guitar hero as his trade-mark top hat and the curly black hair that threatens to permanently hide his eyes.

The truth is, Slash is not nearly the over-hyped excess machine that many would have us believe. He is actually soft-spoken and shy, preferring to keep to himself rather than deal with the trappings of success. The son of an English graphic artist who used to design album covers and an American mother who designed clothes for musicians, Slash just might be the most misunderstood guitar hero in rock. While Guns N' Roses were in New York City recently to film an MTV concert special, Slash gave us a special glimpse at the man who has spawned more myths in just under a year than most musicians with an over-imaginative publicist could manage in a career.

Shortly after this interview, Guns left for dates in the Southwest, where events took a sudden turn for the worse. W. Axl Rose, the band's lead singer, collapsed on stage during a Valentine's Day show in Phoenix, Arizona. After a group huddle, Rose, Slash, guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff "Rose" McKagan and drummer Steve Adler decided to relinquish their opening slot on David Lee Roth's trek and take a six-week breather before returning to the road with AC/DC.

During this hiatus, the entire band was given a personal invitation from the Mayor of Carmel, California (Clint Eastwood, to the rest of us) to appear in the next Dirty Harry sequel. Watch for the band in the funeral sequence of Death Pool, scheduled to be released next month.

In the meantime, additional problems developed. A disagreement be-tween AC/DC's management and Guns N' Roses' led the L.A. rockers to drop their tour with the Anglo-Australian blues-metal legends. Guns rebounded quickly, however, when Iron Maiden tapped them to open for their North American spin.

Are people surprised when they meet you?
It depends on what mood I'm in, 'cause sometimes I can be really rude and obnoxious. Basically, I'm not an asshole, but I can be one to people who don't give me a certain amount of respect.

You mean the rock press?
(Nods) What pisses me off about the press is I don't think that any individual has the right to shove their own opinions down the throats of anyone else. The catch is, publicity and press is 50% of what it's all about.

Does it ever bother you that people think the band will self-destruct?
(Groans) I knew that was coming. Fuck that! We didn't set out to be this way, but we are what we are. My whole philosophy is that I want to have the best time in the time allotted to me. If the way I live now cuts my lifeline shorter, then at least I haven't lived worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow. I just want to have a good time and do as much as I can now, not tomorrow.

Do you consider yourself to be self-destructive?
Basically, we've been out on the road since last July with the Cult. We have to be on the road a lot. We're the epitome of self-destructiveness when we're at home. We just spent a month in L.A. that I really thought was going to be the end of me. I have to keep moving because it isn't healthy for me to stop. I haven't had any place to live for a long time, especially now with the new status—this whole rock star thing is new to us. Not that we are rock stars now but all of a sudden we're more popular than we were before.

I've suddenly got a lot more friends now than I did before. I've never been one to be real close to people in general, so on the whole, I don't find people trustworthy and I don't hang out with a lot of them. That's probably why I drink so much, 'cause it brings me out of my shell.

Do you think people make a bigger deal out of your drinking than it really is?
Realistically, it's not the wisest thing .. . to drink yourself into the ground. People don't give me too much shit about it because they know what my reaction is going to be. I don't like being told what to do I make my own decisions. If I decide I want to be an idiot, then I'll be an idiot on my own accord. But I never get drunk before a show.

What about the acoustic set you played at the Limelight in New York? Halfway through the set you were flat on your back and Axl walked off.
(Grimaces) I hate to say it, but that was more of a money thing—we had this gig at the Limelight for $7,500 for 45 minutes. So we said O.K., but my heart wasn't into it. I didn't want to do it because . . . my major problem with acoustic stuff is that we've never sat down and arranged any acoustic material. Those songs weren't written as Guns N' Roses rock & roll. No one's really got their own parts; Axl sings, the rest of us just wing it. I got really drunk before we went on stage, which is something I never do.

What were you like as a kid?
Pretty much the same way I am now, only smaller.

Did you graduate from high school?

No . . . I started getting involved with the guitar when I was about 14, 15 years old. The more I played it, the more I got into it. I would just show up at school and then go to the bleachersand play guitar all day. I wasn't what you'd call an ideal student. My last grade was the 11th grade. I quit school to work full time so I could support my guitar addiction (laughs).

What did you do?
Everything. I worked in theatres, newsstands, I worked in a place that made clocks .. . .

How old were you when Guns N' Roses came into the picture?
I'm 22 now, so that would make it about three years ago.

How did this come about?
I met Steve [Adler] first, when I was in junior high—we used to hang out and I'd play guitar. I went and saw Axl [Rose] and Izzy [Stradlin] in a band called Rose at Gazzari's, a club in L.A. And at the time, I really needed a singer badly because I'd keep starting all these bands and we couldn't find a good singer. We finally hooked up with Izzy and Axl, and then Izzy split to join London, which was a band I was in.

Axl was a bit temperamental, a bit moody, so we had a falling out and we split—he went on to join L.A. Guns. [I remember] my first impression of him was that he was a good guy, a good singer, but very particular . . . I don't know how to put it . . . he likes to get things his own way. He's a singer, what do you want? (laughs) There's a certain mentality you have to have as a singer.

Do Guns N' Roses have bodyguards?
Yeah, most of the time. I know that may sound stupid, but there was a point where me and Axl had death threats, so we got two security guards. Now we just have one guy who keeps an eye on us. It's not like we're in fear for our lives or anything, but it's kinda necessary. Especially if you have someone like me who's always getting drunk and into fights all of the time.

We may give the impression of being hard-edged, and maybe we aren't the nicest people in the world, but we are all basically nice guys. You have to understand that we've gone completely against the grain for the time period we're in. We've had to claw and scratch our way to get to where we are now We've always had opposition.

Do you have any hobbies?
I'm 110% basically takes up all of my free time. [If I have a hobby] it's drawing. My grandmother was a painter and my father was into graphic arts, so drawing is in my background. I designed our first t-shirt and I'll probably design the next one as well. But guitar playing and the band is such an engrossing thing, it takes up almost all of my time.
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