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LAist Interview: Marc Canter, Author and Best Friend of Guns n' Roses

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LAist recently got the opportunity to sit down with Marc Canter, author of "Reckless Road; Guns n' Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction." Not only is he still best friends with Slash, but his family owns the infamous Canter's Deli on Fairfax. Over a cup of coffee and some delicious treats from the bakery, we talked with Marc for almost three hours about L.A. in the 80's, his amazing collection of memorabilia, and the rise of one of the best rock bands to come out of Los Angeles.

LAist: So how did this all start?
Marc: I grew up as a big Aerosmith fan. I decided that I would document Slash the way I would document Aerosmith because I saw he had the talent and everything else. I always knew he would make it as a guitarist, I would tape record the performances even before GNR, just because I wanted them. If he goes and plays a party, he’ll play and it’ll be gone, so if you record it, you’ve got it.

So for a dollar, you put a tape in, you got it. Taking pictures was just a fun thing that I learned how to do. I saw how it started to mold especially after we met Axl, and I saw more of the same coming from different sources. Then I knew if that if they would stay together they would make it. Now I got stuff or myself and for the world, because I wish someone would do for Aerosmith.

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LAist: Did you know that you would eventually bring all of this material together?
Marc: I didn’t know that I would make a book, but I was collecting flyers and recording shows/ memorabilia just the way I would for Aerosmith. After they started to get big, (like gold record big) then I realized that at some point id put out a scrap book. So I started project in 1994 and ittook me 15 months to do. I worked on it from11am to 4 am, and I only went to sleep after I finished a particular section. I’d order a pizza at 3:30am, so I didn’t install a doorbell in my house so when it rings, it wont ring in my wife or kids rooms.

So at that point I re-developed all the photos and laid them all out. My goal was to give the publisher a perfect manuscript so they would say “wow, there’s something here.” I wanted the photos the right color and everything; when you shoot on negatives, nothings the right color, its how you develop it.

LAist:What kind of camera were you shooting on?
Marc:My sisters camera, it was an A1…I didn’t know how to use it that well. If you asked me to do a photo shoot it would totally come out over or underexposed. I never really understood how photography worked.

So I put this thing together and shopped it around but my agent got very greedy, he wanted like a 1$00,000 advance, and this was right around the time the band was falling apart, (around the beginning of 95) and I said put it out for free. So I took it away from him, took it to William Morris, and they got greedy; they wouldn’t listen to me. So I just put it in my shelf, at the time it was 380 pages, and then about 3 years went by and I decided to self publish. I Financed the money by selling my magazine collection – Hit Paraders, Creams, Circuses – I had collected them from swap meets and flea markets, all the good ones from ’71 and ‘72. I was really excited about them, but I wanted someone else to have them. So I eBay’d them and I knew they went to people who wanted them, so they was reassuring.

So the first thing I did was cut it down to 270 pgs and redeveloped a few picturess to black and white to save money. Then I bumped into some people by accident. This guy Jason calls me. Canter’s is in a book called “America’s Great Deli’s, which is enhanced online. In it, there’s this interview with me and my brother, and this guy Jason called me to see if I wanted to put a link to Canters on the enhanced site. I said wow, because we don’t sell anything online for Canters so who cares? So I said when I ever get ready to publish this book ill be looking for you, because I have al this stuff that would make for a killer project. He said he had relatives in LA, so he would come down in 6 or 7 weeks and say hello. He came, saw, said “Wow, I wasn’t a big GNR fan but I’ve seen what you’ve done and you’ve done something special!”

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GNR still sells about 5,000 records a week so we knew that there are some people who would be interested in this. We would raise some money since Jason’s company was new, and he calls me back 6 weeks later, saying that they raised the money and they want to make a deal. So I told him how I wanted to run it, and we did it.

LAist: That’s awesome. So to change the subject a little, what was the scene like in LA at the time?
Marc: Punk was hot in 81, 82 and then it started to disappear. By the times ‘84 came, punk was dead. Motley Crue may have been the only one left making rock, Stones weren’t doing anything, neither was Zeppelin or Aerosmith. And these guys were listening to all those bands, a 70’s with a bit of 60’s influence.

LAist: So did the guys consider GNR a metal band?
Marc: They considered themselves an Aersomith/ Zeppelin / Stones type of band just doing their version of that. Slash has these dimensions that he can see, like 12 bars into the future. The first time you hear the lead from Welcome to the Jungle or Paradise City, it’s the same as the record. How could that possibly be? He would hear the song and come up with a solo just like that. It would end up being on the record the exact same way as the first. His guitar sings. There’s something about the sound; some people thought it was a special amp. Twice he played here (at Canters) where he just came up and plugged in with the band. Within 15 seconds he’d warm up and you’d hear that it was Slash. But it wasn’t him that made the band. You needed everyone involved to make what it was. You know they were young 21-23, living on the streets, some of them angry, tough, so they had things to write about. Not only did they have talent, but they had the lyrics. Later, they weren’t writing about the hard times on the streets so you lost something just based on the fact that they have houses and aren’t writing in the same room.

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LAist: Right, like in your book you mentioned the fact that they thrived off the ambiguity of life to make their music.

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Marc:But now they’re doing it all separately and bringing it together to record; they can still make great music but its just not the same. Later it would be like someone would write a song and bring it to the band and each one would add their own part. It just wasn’t that same team of assassins as you had for Appetite. And that’s what made it so special, and that’s why I made it the focus on the book.

Also what made this interesting was that the guy that designed the book didn’t know a thing about GNR. The only reason he did it was that he had a background in design. He thought, let me give it a poke. So he laid out one or two of the shows. I said that “you don’t have to be a fan but you have to understand what you’re doing.” I said you gotta listen to the songs and you gotta look at the pics, and he didn’t listen to me. So he became bored. He had to find what the average fan saw and say “whoa look what you got!” So he had to make it better than it actually was. But he definitely knew how to make it great artistically. He was about ¾ through the book when he became curious, and started listening to the shows and fell in love. Then he wanted to redesign the book! So he watched one of the live shows from the Roxy and understood what this was all about. He would see Axl’s veins popping, every muscle in his body showing, he would see Slash lead in and just rips it out. You couldn’t get this from the pictures unless you knew what it looked like.

LAist: So were you into the partying scene with the band at all?
Marc: Not at all. Slash was always a drinker; there were a couple of them fooling around with stuff that they shouldn’t have. I mean once you fool around with them you’re married. They took a dark path down for a while. The funny thing was, whatever Axl experimented with, he was done with in 4 or 5 months. By June of 86, he was completely done. He just did it because everyone else was doing it. So it wasn’t like they were a bunch of drug addicts, but they did go out and have a good time.

LAist: I know that you were around all the time documenting the group, but how did the band deal with the real media?
Marc: They dealt with it. But for me, after they made it big, I still recorded their shows. Right around when they started touring with Metallica was when I stopped. I had what I wanted and the band had been captured. I just wanted to watch and enjoy the show.

LAist:Well being a young person born and raised in LA, its really great to be able to see what the scene was like.
Marc:It was totally an exciting thing because they started their own scene. Suddenly everyone started looking like they did. Everyone had that glam going on while they played rock and roll. There were always flyers all over the street. It just kind of took off. I mean at the time they had very little air play. But then MTV was ready to play Welcome to the Jungle one time at like 4 in the morning on a Sunday night, and the switchboard blew up. All the sudden Slash calls me and says that they’re in the top 10! Jungle stayed in the top 10 for months, then Sweet Child o’ Mine came out, and they showed what they could do as a rock band as well as show their softer side, which went onto the radio and TV. That’s what set them a mile ahead of everyone else. We have another Zeppelin, we thought, not just some band that would make one album and then disappear.

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LAist:Which is what some of the Geffen people were starting to see, at this point.
Marc: Yeah they were late though, I saw that they had what it took at the first Street Scene when they were opening up for Social Distortion. Nobody knew who they were, they came there with makeup and so forth, looking like the New York Dolls. People were spitting on them, throwing beer, but they maintained the stage. They only played 4 or 5 songs but they finally broke through. That was when I saw the power of the band. Every time I saw them play I would get butterflies in my stomach. However, every time I went to a show to take pictures, you lose a little something.

LAistL So you basically made a sacrifice for all the fans. We should be thanking you for it!
Marc At the time I didn’t see it that way because I couldn’t believe no one else was taping the shows. I just didn’t let it go. There was only one show that I missed. (Points to a map in the book) And this map will be online, where you can roll over the different spots and look at the history. The whole point is that I want this book to be relevant 100 years from now.

LAist: Well now that Velvet Revolver is around, are you doing the same sort of thing?

Marc: In terms of the book, I didn’t want to mention Velvet Revolver because I didn’t want to take the reader out of the moment. I mean I may mention that the band ended up in VR or something, but this book is mostly about the rise of the band, and mentioning VR would sort of take you out of the time capsule. So you know I’d take a few shots of the Whiskey even though it would say Velvet Revolver on the sign, but I didn’t include it in the book. But in terms of the Strip, I do have some great shots of Axl sleeping under the stairway at Tower Records (on Sunset, where he worked) Every now and then he’d crash there when he didn’t have a place to stay.

So for the website for the book, we’ll have about four photos from each show going up there. I think this will change the way people read, you know, if they can get more immersed in the content than they already are. I think when it gets out and it goes big, it’ll be like a Time magazine story, just based on the blending of books and internet.

LAist: Especially now in LA, there’s a huge nostalgia for that period.
Marc: Right. Everyone that sees the book goes crazy! I took it to Book Soup one time and the owner wasn’t there. I just said I wanted to give you 5 or 6 on consignment, and if you sell them, just buy more. I was there for 1 minute and someone flipped through it and bought it!

LAist: No way!
Marc: So we have a few to sell here at Canters. We sold 10 books on Christmas day. Now for me it’s like a little project. I can stand near the register and see what kinds of people flip through the book and eventually they’ll just spring for it. I get a pleasure to watch somebody come here and unexpectedly walk out with a book. The people that come in have no idea that they’ll leave here with a book. That’s the way I know I completed my goal. All the hours and hours and hours I spent doing this book, that’s the best reward.

So people now see Slash’s book where he thanks me, and it points to my book and that’s how people start knowing about it. You know its marketing itself. And I have a Myspace and everything, and people email me and tell me how much they love the book. So it makes my endorphins race in my body when something like that happens. Its my drug to make someone happy. It makes me happy when I look at it, so knowing that it makes other people happy is my drug. I get chills when I hear this stuff.

You can check out more from "Reckless Road" at Enhanced Books.com

Image courtesy of p0pi via flickr and Amazon.com