Guns N' Roses: Are They Still The Most Dangerous Band In The World?
They were ready to crash and burn. Guns N’ Roses exploded onto the Hollywood rock milieu and grabbed the scene by the balls like a nasty clan of renegades. Their outsized appetite for excess and destruction, and their venomously sexy style combined to make them rock gods beyond anything the genre had seen. Taking cues from The Clash and Aerosmith, their gloriously ferocious debut, 1987’s Appetite for Destruction, added poisonous fuel to hard rock as they told relentless tales of living life on the edge. They would solidify their rep as The Most Dangerous Band in the World and become notorious for equally arousing riotous assemblies and religious devotion amongst their fervid fanbase. Three decades later, this catastrophic, rippling effect of their formidable impact is still felt today.
Axl, 1992. (Getty)
The original Appetite lineup of titans Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, and Izzy Stradlin, disbanded from the stage in 1993 due to constant feuds, ego trips, and drug abuse. Since then, Axl has swapped through multiple lineup changes, and eventually released the mediocre Chinese Democracy in 2008; meanwhile, the rest reformed into various configurations (Velvet Revolver, Slash’s Snakepit, Adler’s Appetite). So when the meteoric news hit that Axl, Slash, and Duff would reunite for Coachella 2016 prior to a North American tour, it was utterly unreal, particularly for any hard rock lover, as if the second coming of Jesus and Armageddon were among us. Today, Hollywood may not be “scaffolding and urine” as it once was, but a place “now full of high-end hotels and a cheesier House of Blues,” as described by Colby Veil, Adler’s Appetite ex-member and current Hollywood Roses leader. “There’s just magic here,” he muses, despite the passing of time.
Indeed, Hollywood in the ‘80s was a no-holds-barred punk haven with hardcore groups like The Bags, Black Flag, and X dominating Sunset Strip. Feel-good heroes The Eagles had previously held the fort down as stadium rockers, repping pure L.A. vibes in the ‘70s, but went through a break up by the 1980s. Meanwhile the hardcore scene began to die off when Germs frontman Darby Crash committed suicide in an intentional heroine overdose. So an outlandish vibe resurged and rock got blithely with the morally loose flamboyance of hair spay bands like Ratt and Nitro. Shortly after, glammed-out troupe Mötley Crüe burst onto the scene and captivated it with their outrageous party antics and thirst for girls, girls, girls. It’d only be a matter of time before the angel-faced yet devilish boys of GN’R would mesmerize America and the world.
Armed with a wicked screech and fuming power chords, Axl and Izzy relocated from Lafayette, Indiana to the City of Angels. Together, they formed Hollywood Rose in 1983 along with second guitarist Chris Weber and live drummer Johnny Kreis. They recorded a howling five-track demo in 1985, and some cuts would make it to Appetite for Destruction. Weber and Kreis were soon replaced by Slash and Steven Adler, and Duff McKagan joined in as bassist—a deadly combo that boasted maddening riffage and a fierce rhythm section, thus spawning Guns N’ Roses.
Welcome to the Jungle video shoot. Their manager Alan Niven told Rolling Stone he "came up with the idea of stealing from three movies: Midnight Cowboy, The Man Who Fell to Earth and A Clockwork Orange."
Kicking hair metal to the curb, GN’R built their rep around their badassery and killer prowess. Their incendiary onstage theatrics and lax ethics combined to rescue the genre from hair metal’s increasing cheese factor. “We weren’t part of that scene, we were the antithesis of it—Poison, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, and all that,” Slash once said in an early ‘90s interview. While the neon-clad Poison and Van Halen frolicked around wearing make-up and tons of Aqua Net, GN’R were praised for their vices.
Off Appetite, the thundering “Mr. Brownstone” tells wicked tales of toying with an opiate dubbed brownstone, and the rabble-rousing “Nightrain” flaunts their bourbon-type bloodline while living in the fast lane. Axl unleashed hypnotic screeches about lusty dreams in the majestic “Paradise City,” and the spellbinding “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is pure love-letter poetry. “They wrote amazing songs and then justified their behavior with talent,” says rhythm guitarist Emmy Wildwood of New York tribute band Guns N’ Hoses. Hard rock torchbearer Archie Cruz and leader of Finland’s Santa Cruz echoes, “When I first heard ‘My Michelle,’ it sounded so dangerous. It wasn’t that heavy like metal and it wasn’t Slayer, but it was edgy and dangerous. It was something I’ve never heard before.”
Guns N' Roses, nominated for MTV video award, 1988. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
Following their phenomenal debut, the band released 1988’s GN’R Lies, a half-live, half-acoustic outing which contained the controversial track “One in a Million,” a powerful ballad with riveting chord changes, yet loaded with racially derogatory lyrics which put the band in question. That seemingly got overshadowed by the time of 1991’s two-disc opus Use Your Illusion—an offering which leaned more towards a symphonic sway and less of a dirty hard sound that’s served straight on the rocks. The bluesy “Bad Obsession” combined southern grit and even a harmonica, and the piano-laced orchestration of “November Rain” along with the unlikely Bob Dylan cover of “Knockin’ on Heavens Door” are simply masterpieces.
These epic releases were received with critical acclaim, and further elevated their legacy in-the-making. However, the rest of the lineup repeatedly criticized Axl—who controlled the artistic direction—during interviews for swimming with dolphins on the “Estranged” video, dressing up as a prince on “Don’t Cry,” and for inviting a grand orchestra on “November Rain”; the latter of which Slash previously stated was the sound to a band breaking up. Unquestionably, Guns’ combustible energy took the world by storm, right before they’d play the biggest role of “a metal soap opera,” as front-woman of Guns N’ Hoses Erin Marsz goes to call it.
During the Use Your Illusion tour, which ran over two years in 27 countries, Axl became notorious for severely delaying gigs, acting like a dick, and having multiple band changes—Adler was replaced by drummer Matt Sorum and keys were added, played by Dizzy Reed. Veil gives his insight on how Adler was kicked out: “Axl seemed to be nice enough to give [Adler] an extra chance. The first time he got fired from the band, [Axl] went to Diana, Adler’s mom. He said, ‘You know, your son has a serious problem with drugs. He is moments away of being fired. You're the only person who can talk some sense into him. Get him into rehab.’ And she said, ‘no, he's fine.’ He didn't want to fire him, but it eventually happened.” Yet nearly all original members claimed to being addicts and having some kind of organ failure—Slash flat-lined three times (that he knows of), Duff’s pancreas nearly exploded, Adler suffered a cocaine-induced stroke, and Izzy landed in a 96-hour coma; Axl Rose lost his lean rock figure.
It would take more than two long decades to see Axl, Slash, and Duff rejoining forces on one stage—something that not even his biggest devotees and rock specialists expected. “Honestly, I thought there was no way in hell that would happen, especially after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing,” states Marsz on Axl’s no-show during GN’R’s 2012 Hall of Fame induction. “I had my doubts to be honest, and who wouldn’t, considering the history of the band. But the minute when Slash posted the pic with the GN’R logo on his Instagram, that’s was the moment I really believed it,” Archie Cruz points out on their reunion. “It's not much of a reunion when you only have three original members,” offers Veil who’s not impressed by the lack of Izzy and Adler.
While it may be true that it’s hardly a reunion, the mighty powers of Axl, Slash, and Duff together, delivering hits from Appetite, Use Your Illusion, and so forth, is still a sight to marvel at—truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you’re lucky enough to experience them live in 2016, because really, how long are they going to stick around?
The old logo came back with the band at Coachella. (Getty)
Isabela Raygoza is an NYC-based Chicana with a fancy for the esoteric, rock 'n' roll, and Latin music. She has written for MTV and Rolling Stone. Follow her on Twitter.