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1989.05.31 - Circus Magazine - An Appetite for Controversy (Axl, Slash)

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Thanks to @Euchre for sending us this interview!


Guns N' Roses: An Appetite for Controversy
by Paul Galotta

We've got to keep busy. That's the main thing. Once we stop touring and go home, we've all got to find things to do. If we don't, we get bored real easy, and that's when we get into trouble."

Guns N' Roses' manic guitarist Slash shouldn't have too much to worry about. After a year that saw his band rocket into the big leagues with a fury not seen since the days when the New Yardbirds became Led Zeppelin, Guns N' Roses remain unquestionably the hottest band in the music business. When GN7? Lies peaked at #4 last January, the Gunners became the first hard rock band to place two records in the Top 5 since Iron Butterfly did it. with Ball and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida back in April of 1969. In addition, their debut Lp, Appetite for Destruction, was still clinging tenaciously to the Top 10 at press time, more than a year and a half after its release.

With sales of seven million and still climbing, Appetite looks like a serious contender for the best-selling "metal" album of all time (a title currently held by Def Leppard's Hysteria, presently at nine million plus). And when you con-sider that Appetite was only a debut album and that most of the songs on it can't be played on the radio, you have to wonder exactly what Guns N' Roses might accomplish if they toned down their approach. Fortunately (or, as the case may be, unfortunately) wondering is all GN'R fans will be able to do.

"I'm sorry, I'm not catering to the masses," stresses a barely apologetic W. Axl Rose. "We're in this band for ourselves, and if everybody else likes it, that's cool too, and that adds to it. But we're playing what we want to hear. The main trick will be to come off not sounding like such pompous assholes."

While that might not be a problem for the ever-increasing horde of Guns N' Roses fanatics, it's important to remember that not everyone falls into that rock-loving camp. Renowned Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once noted, "The secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people; " that's one philosophy that Axl, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler seem to have taken to heart. Almost from their inception, just mentioning their name in a crowd-ed room seemed sufficient to incite some violently conflicting opinions.

The controversy began almost immediately, with the Robert Williams painting, "Appetite for Destruction," which graced the original jacket of the debut Lp of the same name. Depicting what some see as a robotic post-rape scenario, the illustration prompted many major record chains to refuse the the album, spurring GN'R's label, Gef-fen Records, to create a new cover.

"Big deal," deadpans Rose. "We liked the artwork, but it wasn't something that we felt so strongly about that we'd die for it. After the first few thousand copies, it was changed to our logo."

But even that wasn't enough for some people. New Iberia, Louisiana recently passed an emergency ordinance that would subject any retailers who display the album to both jail time and a fine. At press time, the town council was trying to make it a state-wide ordinance.

In addition to the commotion stirred up by Appetite, there were the stories surrounding the band members them-selves. Some true, most not, they ranged from inter-band conflicts to accusations of rape and alleged over-doses. And now, with the runaway success of GN'R Lies (whose tabloid-style cover was inspired by those rumors), comes a whole new volume of controversy.

There's the track "Used to Love Her," whose lyrics didn't win the Gunners any brownie points with feminists who were initially rankled over Appetite's original artwork and its depiction of violence against women.

Rose doesn't understand what the "big deal" is about, "[It'll just a song. It was done very tongue-in-cheek, we never meant for anyone to take it seriously. It is just a fucking song." Another track that has rankled the band's detractors—and some fans as well (see letters column, page 6)—is "One in a Million." Axl's first-person account of a "small-town white boy" and his somewhat narrow view of L.A. street life, the song has come under fire from a wide range of people due to its diatribes against police, blacks, immigrants and homosexuals.

"I've been asking a lot of people how they took that," responds Slash, who is half black himself. "It is real important to me that that whole thing was made clear.. . I didn't want anybody to take offense at all. That wasn't how it was meant to be taken. It is not a prejudicial statement or anything like that at all."

Rose notes that by "immigrants" he was refering to "those people who work at [drive-up stores who never bothered to learn English and try to rip you off." He add that "even Alan [Niven, Guns N' Roses' British-born manager] got on my case about that." (Presumably, Niven was all too aware that the United States was founded by immigrants.—Ed.) Still, true to GN'R's let-it-all-hang-out style, the cut remained on the Ep.

And, in spite of Axl's homophobic comments in that song, Guns N' Roses were the first band to sign up to play the Rock in a Hard Place concert at New York City's Radio City Music Hall next month. Proceeds from the show will benefit AIDS care organizations like Gay Men's Health Crisis. "It's something [record company president] David Geffen is putting together," explains the vocalist. "Or at least [he's] involved with, and he asked us if we would do it, and we said yes.

"We're against AIDS," he continues, "and we just want to help out because as soon as it hits the rock crowd, it's over. Once one guy gets it, everybody is going down. Maybe that's why people are getting it, everybody's going down-hill." (Editor's note: As Circus went to press, the GMHC withdrew its invitation for Guns to perform after 75 of its volunteers threatened to quit. They had read the lyrics to "One in a Million.")

The potency and popularity of Guns N' Roses' juggernaut is one thing which doesn't appear to be headed on a downhill path. In its 77th week, Appetite for Destruction displaced Bobby Brown's Don't Be Cruel as the #1 album in the country, making it the oldest album to top the charts since Peter, Paul and Mary did it in 1963. Its third single, "Paradise City," clocking in at six minutes and 46 seconds, was a Top 10 single, an almost unheard-of accomplishment for a song of that length. (The Beatles' legendary "Hey Jude," another exception, ran seven minutes, 11 seconds).

Suddenly, LA's baddest in a long line of bad boys have become a hot commodity for lending their talents to outside projects. Axl and Slash turned in a guest rap on the recently released track, "Rainbow Bar and Girls," by the duo Black and White. Rose also sang on a track on former Eagles' drummer Don Henley's new album, and Henley returned the favor by sitting in with GN'R when the band played the American Music Awards telecast. (There are no drums on the song they performed, "Patience," so, according to the band's management, Steve Adler made other commitments. When the band realized they needed a drummer as a visual timekeeper, they called on Henley.)

Slash also lent his talents to a demo by young actress Tracy Lords, but the British-born guitarist negates any rumors of the two being an item, noting, "We've since not gotten along at all and she changed her number and I changed mine. I don't think anything is going to go on having to do with me and her record."

In addition to recording album #2 (tentatively slated for an early sum-mer release), other band plans include resurrecting their old Uzi-Suicide label, originally created for the release of their Live Like a Suicide Ep.

"We're definitely going to sign West Arkeen, long-time friend of the band and co-writer of "It's So Easy" off Appetite) and possibly some other acts," notes Slash. "I think I'm going to do an exercise video on it. I'm going to do my Slash-aerobics on it."

And while the world might be anxiously awaiting the sight of Slash doing jumping jacks in black tights, the guitarist says we'll just have to be patient if we're looking for any other type of solo project.

"I plan on doing one one day. I'm sure [Axl] does as well. But right now, we have another record to do and that is Guns N' Roses. At this point, it's nobody's business," he adds. "So they should stop worrying about it. There's an album coming out, a full-length Guns N' Roses record. And after that, we'll do whatever we feel like. We don't like being asked what we'll be doing five years in the future."

The as-yet untitled follow-up to Appetite for Destruction will reflect Guns' meteoric rise and lyrically, it could present something of a departure for the band. Axl explains that "unless it's a song we wrote a few years ago, I don't want to be singing about starving on the streets, because I'm. not. [The new songs will be] as real as possible in the world we live in now. "

Axl dismisses critics of his lyrics' subject matter as people who just want attention.

"We don't want to come off sounding like pompous assholes, but we also realize that a lot of people just talk out their ass anyway, just to get some kind of claim to fame.

"How many TV shows are there bagging the President? They don't care if its good or not, they're just gonna bag on the President 'cause people are gonna watch and it's gonna be funny. People just like to bag on somebody else. Hopefully, we will be able to write our lyrics [so] that people won't have such an easy access to cutting us down."

Still, one can assume that whatever it is that Guns N' Roses is doing (aerobics videos aside), it will no doubt add to their growing horde of fans . .. and detractors.
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