An exclusive extract from my new book, out this weekend, Last Of The Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses.
In This Lifetime
After 30 years, many millions of words have been written about Guns N’ Roses, old line-up, new line-up, whichever one you might be thinking of most. But the fact is none of them ever really got to the truth. Which is this: Guns N’ Roses has always been a band out of time, the Last of the Giants. That solid gold, easy-action thing that every rock band since the Rolling Stones has purported to and nearly always failed to be: dangerous. Looking- for-trouble creatures from another realm, here to steal our souls, suck our blood. Fuck us.
They’ve never denied it. Not even in the 1980s, when they were just starting out, these watch-yourself, flash-ass, tattooed love boys from the LA strip that said ‘fuck’ in their very first single. These neon-addicted freaks who refused to play by the rules. You had to look twice because you couldn’t quite believe your eyes. That at a time when smiling, MTV-friendly, safe-sex, just-say-no Bon Jovi was the biggest band in the world, here was a band that seemed to have leapt straight out of the blood-spiked, coke-smothered pages of the original, golden-age, late-sixties rock scene; a time when magical-mystical-musical acts like Led Zeppelin, The Doors and the Stones were writing their own rules, drawing maps to a world of weird dreams and forbidden fantasies. It didn’t seem possible but nothing about Axl Rose, Slash, Duff and Izzy (where did they even get those names?) seemed possible. Which is why, in the end, we fell for them so hard. And why we so want them to bring that feeling back again now – when we need it even more.
A mission statement more direct than crystal meth: Guns N’ Roses weren’t looking for a career. They weren’t begging for your love. They didn’t need to become rock stars first to have heroin habits, didn’t require the consent of the rock press to piss up your leg. Weren’t asking for permission, fuck you very much.
And then the most wonderfully startling thing of all: the music. Axl and Slash and Duff and the gang may have looked like Mötley Crüe, but they always sounded like something else. Like Elton John meets the New York Dolls. Like Queen sharing a ride with Iggy and The Stooges. You heard ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and you knew you’d just turned a wrong corner into the very worst part of the neighbourhood. ‘We got everything you want,’ wheezed Axl as Slash flicked open his guitar like a switchblade, ‘Honey we know the names . . .’ And you shuddered to think of it, knowing it was true. Then you heard ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’, with that Disney-esque, carnival riff, Axl sweet-talking you suddenly, chillingly, felling you with pure poetry: ‘Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place where as a child I’d hide’, and you’d think: holy shit, Axl was once a child? Which means that all this is somehow . . . real?
Yes. Hard to believe but… yes. It was all true.
And that’s what this book has been about. Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with that song, though it is still one of the great- est putdown songs of all time, right next to ‘Positively Fourth Street’ by Bob Dylan and ‘How Do You Sleep?’ by John Lennon. But you know that. That is old news.
What this book has been about is what happened when a gang of no-plan-B kids who would do anything not to be part of the so-called real world got together and, at no surprise at all to them, overnight became the biggest, greatest rock band of them all. A one-way ticket back to those times before heavy metal, before punk, before any of the pure stuff had been divvied up and stepped on and sold back to us as so-called good-time rock. The kind that made us sick to our boots in the Eighties, and has left us trembling feebly with withdrawal symptoms ever since.
Most of all, Guns N’ Roses mattered because at a time when it looked like it was over for this kind of devil-don’t-care, sure-thing deal, along came this utterly impossible band that stood for the kind of no-prisoners revolution in the head we hadn’t known since 1969. Guns N’ Roses brought the bad times back again and for that they won the black hearts of the entire bad-boy, cool-chick world. Even the straights loved Guns N’ Roses, knew there was something real going on, even as it felt the bruises.
So this book is something new. Written with the clear head that 25 years later brings you, if you can just live long enough; the same deep mindfulness that now sees Axl and Slash and Duff – and Steven and, who knows, later maybe even Izzy – back together. One last time, before the glory daze effects finally wear off. Before it’s just too fucked up and too fucking late, dude. And while it can still be told with mad love and deep affection, with peace, love and understanding, no invisible strings attached.
Because when Guns N’ Roses do finally go, so will the golden age of rock, gone for ever, no encores. When they go so will we, those generations of us that rejoiced in allowing our lives to become identified with this music, this message, this meaning. Those of us that recognise, finally, when all is said and done, that Axl Rose really is that thing we so desperately want him to be: the last of the truly extraordinary, all-time great, no-apologies, no- explanations, no-quarter-given rock stars. The last of his kind.
I hope he turns up late for every show on the rest of the reun- ion tour. I hope he gives everyone hell with every big-deal step he takes. Because that’s who he is, the Great I Am. And that’s why people love him more than ever. The authenticity, the risk taking, the sheer guts. Few ever really had it even in the 1960s. No one else has it now.
This ain’t Mick Jagger, there’s no growing old gracefully for Axl Rose. And Guns N’ Roses is not Metallica, the corporate franchise skilfully plotting their next move. And this certainly isn’t Black Sabbath, a tinker toy idea wound up by a big key in the back. A piggy bank.
This is Guns N’ Fuckin’ Roses, baby. And, like the song says, they will never, ever come down.