Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Immortals #92 - Guns N' Roses

Way back in January, the erstwhile co-authors of this site and myself made a road trip from southern California to Las Vegas, Nevada. Each of us being inveterate gamblers (untrue) and borderline problem drinkers (closer to true), the neon capital of the world called to us Hustlers for an off-season weekend of wandering the strip, seeing the sights, and intermittent gaming heightened by the thrill of undeserved "free" drinks carried by Eastern European-born waitresses.

A particularly memorable moment came on our second proper evening in town as we approached the gleaming casinos from our borrowed timeshared condo on the outskirts of tourist-land. Popping a disc into the car stereo, the intro started with an echoed, clanging guitar lick, followed by snaking high-hat... I made sure to carefully time the music with our left hand turn onto Las Vegas Blvd, cruising in time for the climactic "Cha!"

Welcome to the Jungle, baby.

It might have been the highlight of the whole weekend.

Except that it wasn't.
If memory serves, we turned the stereo back down before the first bridge. Why? Because it's 2009 and we're neither strippers nor professional wrestlers- who the fuck wants to listen to Guns N' Roses?

In 1987, it's not too hard to imagine why this was considered "revolutionary." Compared to all the other hair-obsessed pop metal bands popularized by Guns' own hometown Sunset scene, Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy and Steven were about as badass as could be. Never mind that they were themselves just as hair-obsessed and poppy as any of their counterparts- Guns felt different, back then anyway.

To be fair, Slash plays electric guitar quite well, and Izzy/Duff both helped craft several tracks into catchy hits. Axl was surely compelling (if not particularly charismatic.) There's a reason that Appetite for Destruction has been so much longer-lived than albums by Guns' contemporaries. It is, on the whole, a solid 40% better than most of the excrement it can be compared to from its era. It was 1987 and mainstream music sucked. In fact, I could have been a whole lot more fair to Guns and picked the noble failure of Use Your Illusion, with its high points offering glimpses of actual nuance in Rose's persona and- dare I say it?- talent, even. But Appetite is the record they/he will forever be known and celebrated for, plus it sold a a million bajillion copies, so good on them.

And so it was that Guns N' Roses was perhaps the biggest band in the world for a glorious 4 years of excess and undeserved acclaim from people with shitty taste. And then along came Nevermind. Although technically true that Nirvana knocked Michael Jackson's last good record off the top of the charts (Dangerous- RESPECT), it wasn't the end of the King of Pop, who enjoyed another good 5 or so years of absolute peak popularity worldwide. Rather, it was Guns N' Roses who were relegated to a distant 2nd place in the world of rock music, soon to be outpaced by dozens of less-than-Nirvana grunge and grunge-imitators (and then eventually by Nirvana again with Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide.)

During the long wait for (and following the inevitable failure of) Chinese Democracy GN'R became more sideshow than legend. The creatively valid members of the band left and/or got fired, Axl challenged Jacko to a race for who could descend into freaky cult-figure status and social irrelevance the fastest (sadly, Axl lost again- nobody beats the King), and their fanbase waited, dwindled, and eventually realized that Fred Durst was a reasonable enough facsimile for their lost messiah. By the time of Democracy's release late last year, it was little more than an afterthought on a career that all but the douchiest of males had forgotten. The transparency of Rose' cashgrab was almost insulting- you could only buy the record at Best Buy in the US, and there was even a Dr. Pepper tie-in!

Guns feel today like a band that were never more than the sum of their parts: Crazy redheaded controversy magnet, stoner icon with a cheap fashion gimmick, bass player from a "real" music city and not fake-old Los Angeles, a drummer who repped "punk" to people who don't know shit about T.S.O.L., and at least one guitarist with an awesome nickname (I refer, of course, to "Izzy." What kind of name is "Slash?" I mean REALLY...)

That sense of hollowness was only heightened by the decade-plus that Axl Spent bloating its lineup with as many potentially notable names as possible, including actual notables like guitar-noodling demigod Buckethead, session super-man Josh Freese, and Tommy "I Was in the Fucking Replacements!" Stinson. Now you can see Guns N' Roses on their periodic tours for a couple hundred bucks. The venues they play are surely better than whatever state fair Ratt is gigging next summer... but by how much?

Well, they're #92 on the "Immortals" list, so I guess the upside is that I get to take potshots at them for eternity. In fact, the picture for this entry was very nearly one of Kurt Cobain himself, from the famous "Where's Axl" scuffle backstage at the 1992 Video Music Awards (the same telecast that yielded a memorable Guns duet with Elton John on "November Rain.")


Because fuck you, Axl.

You lose again.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

You guys went to vegas without me!!!