Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Guns N' Roses — Maybe The Only Great Band Of The '80s (from SPIN; December, 1988)

(One of the great advantages of living in LA in the 1980s, especially if you were West Coast Editor of SPIN or Vogue or Details — or hell, even if you weren't — was the whole hilarious buzzing hive of hair-bands swarming the Sunset Strip at night.  Not that almost any of the bands were any good, by my lights (always, always, always with the exception of Guns N' Roses, who were magnificent in decay long before they had been around long enough to decay, or won any actual success to destroy).  No, what mattered was the scene! The glorious unorganized scene blocking traffic on Sunset, the litter and the glitter and the purple spandex, the ripped jeans and the ripped fishnets under the skimpiest of skirts, the high-flying gravity-defying hair and underneath it all, paving the way by paying-to-play, a cluttered shag-carpet of flyers, of pastel gig posters. Literally — the sidewalk was solid flyers on any decent night, spilling and splattering across the westbound lanes of Sunset, which was pretty much at a complete halt anyway. The two ideal accessories any dude in a band aspired to posesss were a stripper girlfriend and a buddy who worked at Kinko's.)

In just the last few months, Axl has died of AIDS, OD'd on junk, and committed plain old simple suicide.  The kids who keep track of each fresh version of his demise are desperate, determined to believe in his death.  No matter how badly last week's rumor failed, they know this week's death-and-destruction story must be true.  If not, next week's is a sure thing.

A generation of kids raised to shut up and succeed hear Guns N' Roses as a whole new way to just say no.  They're right.  Guns N' Roses are the great band of the '80s, maybe the only great band of the '80s.  It looks to be okay with them if rock'n'roll is cemetary-bound, just as long as they can crash the after-party.

Placing style far in front of substance — exactly where it belongs — Guns N'R Roses flaunt a flash that jets them bast their peers. They look cooler onstage than everybody else, Axl dances way better than all the rest of the hair-rockers, Slash has that stupid stoned sheepdog thing of his cranked up past cartoonishness the original album cover offends everybody who can work up an excuse to be pissed off over it, their tattoos are a step above everybody else's, they spill liquor and cigarette ashes, they reek of sex and drugs and unspeakable acts.  They're personal friends of Traci Lords.

It would be infinitely stupid if it didn't work.  By rights, nothing should be as dopey as one more set of hairspray rockers, gang-banging all the usual cliches.  It may even be infinitely stupid, but their huge audience can feel just how powerfully these guys believe the cliches, how intent they are to live their lives by them, how ravenous their appetite for destruction really is.  The other bands of their ilk never seem to transcend their creepy need to please, never manage to seem much m ore than leather-clad yup-rockers, obsessed with record deals and management and Making It.  Guns N' Roses seem obsessed with Fucking It, whatever it may be.

Style counts big, make no mistake.  But let's say what hasn't been said: These guys are greater than style alone would allow, because the music is so wicked, so strong, so raw, so right.  Axl is a wiser singer than all the rest of his generation; the band swallows their influences whole.  Style counts big; something substantial lurks beneath.  "Welcome to the Jungle" is a grim definiton of the city thata defies descripton, as dead-on as the Doors' "LA Woman."  Raymond Chandler would have recognized its horror but there are no private dicks in this Hollywood.  "Sweet Child O' Mine," on the other hand, is the high-sucrose doggerel that teenage girls hope the cute boy from biology will be inspired to scrawl in their yearbook on the last day of school just before vanishing into dreamy summer — and as such, as doggerel and pap and powerful true sentiment, it's brilliant, moving, an unimpeachable hit, the song that will define the summer of '88 in ten million hearts.

If it's amazing that the great band of the '80s should arrive ion the guise of that great empty vessel of the '80s, the long-haired hard-rocker, it's only all the more surprising all the more fitting.  It's a little bit as though the Sex Pistols waited until everybody had short spikey hair and played fast and sloppy and wore ripped clothes with slogans and then, once things were locked in place and predeictable, emerged full-blown, fully-bloomed, terrible in their beauty and elegant in the absence of limits.  Every time Guns N' Roses llaunches into another commercial possiblility and then Axl shouts its chances right off the radio with one more "fuck off," with one more boast about drinking and driving, with all the band's will to be better than everybody else dat being bad, Guns N' Roses looks like all that's left of rock'n'roll.  And that's a lot.