Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Can a Poor Boy Do?

There was a time when I believed that Guns N’ Roses, and most specifically its front man, Axl Rose, just might save the world. Or at least rock and roll. In the two-point-five-second-long interim between the decline of the ‘80s Aqua Net bands and the palate-cleansing onslaught of grunge, in slipped Guns N' Roses, who held high for one brief moment the banner of good old-fashioned rock and roll excess. Which, okay, may not have saved the world, but it was still a heck of a lot of fun.

I don’t know if all rock stars need this particular formula to thrive, but it seems to have worked for Axl Rose: one part abusive childhood mixed with one part savant-like I.Q. slowly simmered with one part culturally flat-lined suburban backdrop against which to rebel. Wait out the early teen years and you have a temperament designed to assert itself as loudly as possible in as many ways as possible to as many people as possible. Not as a musician but as a rock star. And if something musically significant happens along the way, well, then, cool.

Which, strangely enough, it did.

The thing about Guns N’ Roses is that it’s members could play and Axl Rose could sing. Thanks to a youth spent messing with his choir teachers, he managed to cultivate a range that could go from baritone to falsetto in the three minutes flat it took him to welcome you to his jungle. Most importantly, though, Axl Rose could front. On stage, he radiated a sibilant, sinewy sexuality of the kind not seen since Mick Jagger and which caused even smart girls in it only for the music (ah-hem) to puddle themselves senseless in his presence. Off stage, Rose was a predictably royal pain in the ass, with a big mouth and requisite misogynist streak, which at first came off as tongue-in cheek (who can forget the hilarious “I Used to Love Her”?), then not so much (his nasty public bitch slapping sessions with Courtney Love, for instance), and then just downright sad given über model and fiancé Stephanie Seymour’s charges of physical abuse.

Still, you couldn’t deny the power of the music. Appetite for Destruction was as near perfect a rock and roll album as it gets and it has never dulled. Admit it. You still grab an imaginary Bic lighter and pump both fists in the air whenever “Paradise City” comes on the radio. The follow up EP, GN’R Lies, was similarly compelling. But by the time most of us got around to both Use Your Illusion albums and survived the full eight bazillion minutes of “November Rain” without going postal on our neighbors, we were flagging. I know I was. Not even a brilliantly menacing rendition of Wings’ “Live and Let Die” could revive me.

Although, I did purchase tickets for their 1992 Stadium Tour, a tripartite effort that included Faith No More and Metallica. Guns N’ Roses outshone them both. The day the music both lived and died for me? A few minutes after midnight, August 27, 1992, when the last notes of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” drifted out into the dark desert skies over Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces.

I haven’t idolized a rock star since. At least not in the same way. Sure, interesting things followed. Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain, for one, but for all their exceptional musicality – don’t me wrong, I’m fans of both – were way too sensitive/serious to be dangerous. Chris Cornell, lead singer for Soundgarden, was probably the most gorgeous man to ever stand in front of a microphone, but at the end of the day he went home to his wife of a bazillion years and their passel of Schitzus. Admirable? Sure. Fodder for fantasy? Uh, no. Besides, grunge had arrived. The world was no longer neon pink or raging red. It was gray. And plaid. The party was over.

Sure, great music has been made since Axl Rose pulled a Howard Hughes at his Malibu mansion, some of it much more sublime than anything produced by Guns N’ Roses. But with the exception of maybe Courtney Love, few rock stars have asserted themselves in the band’s wake. At least none as gleefully over the top, as wild, as downright unbiddable. Even Marilyn Manson comes off as way more corporate-calculated rather than $hocking and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were welcome dinnertime companionship in most of today’s homes, we’ve become that tolerant. No thanks. When I was in high school and I brought boys like Axl home? I wanted my parents to be upset. Not sit them down over appetizers and a nice Cab Sav.

At any rate, did you hear? Guns N’ Roses, who never officially broke up, has finally managed to release Chinese Democracy, a recording that took, what, 14 million years to make? Moi’s prognosis after a cursory listen is, sad to say, meh. Although, I’m happy to report that Axl, despite the persistence of those weird-ass corn rows, remains in astonishingly fine vocal shape.

Still, though: someone, anyone, please. Take me back to paradise city.


h said...

My sources say he's in fine vocal shape for about 5 minutes per day and could never stand up to the rigors of a concert tour.

Since you're smart, your parents probably are too. So, they'd prolly secretly be happy if you brought Axl home as they'd see he was basically a harmless poser. Someone who's scrawny arms you could break if need be.

Think they'd be FAR LESS happy if you brought home an authentic Bad-Boy from that era. Can you spell Tommy Lee? Or Bon Scott?

Heck, the "Country Outlaws" of that era were all MUCH badder-boys in real-life than little Axl, as well.

Myself, I kind of like the Alice Cooper/Chris Connell/Brian Johnson model front-man who have normal lives and interests.

Brian lives near Troll Island and I've been trying to get him to write a guest post on this very topic.

Doris Rose said...

Great Blog, Moi. A wonderful description of a genre that completely skipped by me without notice. Ah the joy of diversity. Thanks for providing your story.

sparringK9 said...

axel needs to EAT. agree with troll on chris cornell i loved soundgarden. was never huge guns and roses gal but i do agree ther is a dearth of authentic rock and roll. theres hip hop and rap, theres pop, theres emo and theres country. rock isnt really embraced by these new kids. pity for them. have a happy thanksgiving!

Jenny said...

I never got into Guns N'Roses, I went down the punk road in my yout....Elvis Costello and The Ramones were the music I followed.

And I agree with Troll on Alice Cooper - the Dude did his thing and then went home. Still doing it.

Happy Happy Thanksgiving Moi!!

Gnomeself Be True said... and I...not much in common in the taste department.
I'm going to hang out with AB instead.

Most of those rockers look like posers to me...even the ones that manage to fuck themselves up on drugs.

Big deal. You can scream and make horrible life choices. Any 2 year old does the same thing on a daily basis...with a load of poop in their pants to weigh them down.

I've just never been attracted to the culture aspect. I want music.

Happy Thanksgiving Moi.
I'm still bummed that I'm not going to be the offical photographer to the first female pres.

moi said...

Troll: Ooooo, once Axl returns Moi's phone calls, I'll have him give you a ringy dingy :o) Seriously, though, that would be cool if you had Brian Johnson over to your blob.

DorisRose: It was a time . . .

K9: Soundgarden is one of my most fave bands of all time. Very crunchy. You hit the nail on the head re today's music. Static X is NOT rock and roll, y'all!

A.B.: I was punk, too. I still miss that darn Mohawk. Minimal upkeep.

Iamnot: Except, I have adored Aimee Mann for forever and ev-ah and have worn out a million copies of I'm With Stupid, so what do you think about that, huh, huh? And one of these days, you WILL see the beauty of Beck. (I'm bummed, too. I need a good head shot.)

NYD said...

I, like the boxer, missed out on Guns and roses.
Now if the Clash would get their shit together and put out an album I might just "puddle".

Aunty Belle said...

Oh Bother...I cain't even comment--can somebody give me a tutorial please? Wait...I does agree ain't no real rock anymore....but then, I ain't got much learnin' in music, but has anybody written a great symphony in the last 25 years? Mebbe music is in a slump? Killed by rap and hip hop?

the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

when you have a moment, go and surf "richard cheese" and his guns n roses covers of 'welcome to the jungle' on youtube. I never fail to just about pee my pants with that.

(he also does a cover of baby got back that slays me)

moi said...

NYD: Me, too. Alas, Joe Strummer is dead.

Aunty: Yup, and to your comment I would add: Phillip Glass is not a "musical" composer, y'all!

Pirate: Hilarious. I didn't pee, but I did spit coffee!