photo manipulation by nacrowe
i have to start off by mentioning (again) that with the exception of seeing PRINCE at MADISON SQUARE GARDEN in 2001, witnessing GUNS N ROSES at METLIFE STADIUM in 2016 was probably the best ROCK N ROLL show ive come across. it was a definite, holy shit, "SLASH is the real deal, he is the truth" moment. so im openly admitting that im providing this review from a place of admiration.
SLASH: RAISED ON THE SUNSET STRIP (GUITAR CENTER FILMS, 2014) is less a documentary and more a commercial for his then-current CONSPIRATORS project. it makes sense given that it was produced by a musical instruments retailer. sure there are interviews with current and past bandmates like DUFF MCKAGAN, STEVEN ADLER, MATT SORUM and MYLES KENNEDY as well as heavyweights like the late LEMMY KILMISTER (MOTORHEAD), ALICE COOPER, JOE PERRY (AEROSMITH), JERRY CANTRELL (ALICE IN CHAINS), STEVE LUKATHER, NIKKI SIXX (MOTLEY CRUE), DAVE GROHL (NIRVANA / FOO FIGHTERS) and DAVE MUSTAINE (MEGADETH), but it feels very much like a mutual admiration society.
which is odd.
GUNS N ROSES were and still are one of the last celebrated and relevant ROCK N ROLL bands. they have a controversial past with plenty of career peaks and just dismal, debilitating lows. im not saying that this film should have done something as tried and stale as a VH1 BEHIND THE MUSIC-esque narrative, but at least there should have been provided some counterpoint or hardship in what comes off like a charmed life. SLASH was the son of music industry insiders, his parents being involved with the art and costume design of major playors during the 1970s like DAVID BOWIE, JOHN LENNON, NEIL YOUNG, ALICE COOPER and THE POINTER SISTERS among many others. mostly raised between his parents in LAUREL CANYON, you really get the sense that he was raised to live and breathe the ROCK N ROLL lifestyle.
and all of that is cool to know, but what is really interesting about his life are the hardships and not the charmed aspects. what was it like growing up BRITISH and BIRACIAL? how did GUNS N ROSES form? what was collaborating with IZZY STRADLIN like? how did they get a record deal? what was his relationship like with AXL ROSE at the time of filming? how did he conquer his drug addiction? most of all, what drew him to the guitar?
in some ways this film feels like a lost opportunity, but i suspect that it was designed to be a lightweight commercial meant to drive up interest in guitar-playing in general. SLASH is no doubt a unique figure in ROCK N ROLL history and savant at his instrument, but this idea that somehow plucking a string or banging a drum makes you more authentic as a musician is a flawed premise. when i think of truly innovative musicians i think of APHEX TWIN or even TRENT REZNOR, people that are truly pushing the limits of music production and the very vocabulary of recorded sound. SLASH is very much in a box that was paved long before by DELTA and CHICAGO BLUES players and their offspring in CHUCK BERRY and LITTLE RICHARD, as well as later BRITISH acolytes in JEFF BECK, ERIC CLAPTON, JIMMY PAGE and the like. he is part of a tradition of great guitar players and for that should be celebrated. but lionizing guitar-playing over other forms of music as more real is just annoying and self-serving a bigger commercial agenda here. and its obvious, which is unfortunate.
SLASH deserved better.
photo & text by nacrowe
back in the mid 90s when i was living in NIGERIA i had a copy of USE YOUR ILLUSION II (GEFFEN, 1991) by GUNS N' ROSES that i taped off a friend's CD. it's funny because the first record i knew in depth by GUNS N' ROSES was this record, not their seminal debut APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION (GEFFEN, 1987). previously growing up in SOUTHER CALIFORNIA you couldnt help but hear "WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE" or "PARADISE CITY" on regular rotation on 106.7FM KROQ, but strangely i have no memory of ever hearing anything off of either USE YOUR ILLUSION records.
i distinctively remember listening to my tape of USE YOUR ILLUSION II on a family trip to COTE D'IVOIRE. i can remember flying through the clouds when first hearing the epic multi-part track "CIVIL WAR" as well as the sublime heroics of SLASH's guitar solo on "YOU COULD BE MINE." and to be honest, at least in terms of their recordings, my love of GUNS N' ROSES is really based on an appreciation of their rhythm section. DUFF MCKAGAN's bass-playing absolutely rips, especially on tracks "LOCOMOTIVE" and "PRETTY TIED UP." dude is absolutely underrated. he is definitely from the FUNK school of bass playing, providing a propulsive, kinetic groove for SLASH to launch himself into outer space upon.
my favorite song on the record has long since my teen years been "ESTRANGED" which has some of the most lyrical soloing of SLASH's career to date. as ive mentioned numerous times before in this blog, i had the pleasure to see GUNS N' ROSES play METLIFE STADIUM a few years ago and they were incredible. seeing him pull off "ESTRANGED" on that scale took me back to surreptitiously listening to this record in my middle school library during lunchtime. again, the only way i can describe it is sublime. the video is also one of the most ridiculously bloated ego-trips of all time and is highly entertaining. especially all those dolphin special effects.
regarding AXL ROSE, the dude is an acquired taste. he is a legendary frontman and a massively talented yet still oddly underrated songwriter. i think some of his best work is on USE YOUR ILLUSION II which sadly also marked the transition period whereby thereafter he went into complete egomania that led to the demise of the core of the original lineup as a working, touring outfit. im glad that in recent years theyve pulled together again and my hope is that the new record theyve been working on take off where this record only hinted at.
i wouldnt count them out.
photo & text by nacrowe
for all the sex and drugs rolled out in his eponymous titled memoir SLASH (HARPERCOLLINS, 2007), the guitarist SAUL HUDSON provides an unexpected narrative that highlights the value of family. written more than a decade before his reunion with GUNS N' ROSES and resolving his differences with singer AXL ROSE, this memoir outlines the dissolution of the band.
its interesting, success for GUNS N' ROSES had an inverse effect on the internal relationships within the band, which ultimately resulted in the departure of HUDSON in 1996. at the outset, long before they had any chart success (people forget that "SWEET CHILD O MINE" propelled the album a year after its release), they were struggling. HUDSON goes into detail about a hastily booked early tour, in true PUNK ROCK fashion, utilizing DUFF MCKAGAN's contacts back in his hometown of SEATTLE to open a house party for THE FASTBACKS. on the way the van broke down and they had to hitchhike. it was a trial by fire, as the band members that survived the trip and didn't quite had a sense of fierce camaraderie that survived the early years of their existence.
it was because this internal bond was so tight among the members, almost like a gang in its intensity, that when things began to unravel through the battle of attrition that was touring life, drugs, firings, departures and internal power shifts; it feels rather traumatic for HUDSON.
First drummer STEVEN ADLER was fired for his drug abuse in 1990, which is laughable. Getting fired for substance abuse in GUNS N' ROSES. seems like an oxymoron. Guitarist IZZY STRADLIN departed shortly thereafter in 1991 for business reasons, citing an unequal share of recording royalties. ROSE, MCKAGAN & HUDSON in essence where the remaining core original members and during the USE YOUR ILLUSION sessions ROSE took creative control, expanding the sonic palette of the band to incorporate piano ballads (a la ELTON JOHN) and long, multi-layered epics that came from god knows where. i like the albums but its a departure from the meat and potatoes badass-ness of their debauched debut album. it was like the scion of all things THE STOOGES decided they wanted to be QUEEN instead. just odd.
before the next tour AXL made the remaining members legally sign away their claim to the GUNS N' ROSES name and copyrights as requisite for his involvement. this power grab sealed the death of the band, which took a few years to manifest. what i read in this book is a sense of bitterness and betrayal at ROSE's willingness to dismantle not only a legendary band still on the ascent, but the brotherhood that undergirded it. all of this in the name of ego and hubris.
MCKAGAN in his memoir IT'S SO EASY: AND OTHER LIES (review linked HERE) takes a slightly less strident approach to his indictment of ROSE, instead feeling rather sorry for him. MCKAGAN had independently got his life back together, kicked hard drugs, went back to school, trained his body manically, started a family and essentially saw ROSE as an isolated figure who squandered his heyday. i didn't get that vibe off of HUDSON, despite having a similar personal trajectory as MCKAGAN, losing GUNS N' ROSES deprived him an identity that was only partially revived with VELVET REVOLVER, only to be squandered by another erratic singer, SCOTT WEILAND.
having seen them on their reunion tour and having read his memoir, i'm glad GUNS N' ROSES are a touring and recording unit again, only because one of the great ROCK & ROLL guitar players still feels he has something to prove.
and that is a gift to all of us.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
arguably the greatest parody film of all-time and the most painful for touring musicians to watch. i can't even count the amount of musicians in interviews i've read who namecheck this film as the most painful thing they've ever seen. SLASH himself said that THIS IS SPINAL TAP (MGM, 1984) ruined an entire GUNS N' ROSES tour for him since it hit the mark with such precision.
where this film excels is in its mocking of the utter ridiculousness of nearly all forward-facing aspects of ROCK N ROLL, everything from album covers, lyrics, gear, stage set design to JESUS-complex surrounding musicians that drank the kool-aid on their image.
in my estimation all the classic lines of this film have that core ribbing as its moral center. i remember once GENE SIMMONS saying that all bands (at the time he was referencing the then-current GRUNGE bands out of SEATTLE) were in the KISS business. they all sold records and merchandise. such is true. no matter how "serious" or "artistic" your band is and no matter how respected they are by those whose opinion carries sway, at the end of the day you are a product that is being sold. THIS IS SPINAL TAP showcases a band that didn't get that memo and seemingly trample over every fault-line a band has to negotiate throughout their recording and touring cycles. having been around musicians in studios to some extent, the ridiculous nature of it all has never been lost on me. that is what makes it compelling and not part of the straight world.
the music is also classic. its obvious they are mocking specifically post-OZZY BLACK SABBATH and DEEP PURPLE and late 70s/early 80s METAL in general with their silly set designs and focus on the macabre. but my favorite song in the movie is their send-up of BRITISH INVASION-era songwriting in "GIMME SOME MONEY." never fails to make me smile.
classic movie with classic lines that still stings its subjects. quite an accomplishment.
art by nacrowe
greatest music video moment ever? that part in the GUNS N' ROSES "Estranged" video when SLASH plays a ripping solo after AXL ROSE swims with the dolphins after inexplicably jumping off an oil tanker.
don't believe me? watch it below (starts at 8:02 mark):
thing i appreciate the most about SLASH and GUNS N' ROSES is there lack of boundaries. having boundaries isn't necessarily a bad thing, some things you probably shouldn't do, like having your guitarist rise from an ocean jesus-style because you obviously didn't think out your video well in advance. listen, im not complaining, OBVIOUSLY I LOVE THAT video and especially that part (as well as that other part at 6:15 during the video when SLASH levitates down the SUNSET STRIP passing the RAINBOW and other clubs while a dolphin swims in the street).
when others say no, GUNS N' ROSES say yes and then some, regardless if its byeond moronic.
when i look at bands today everything seems very contained and safe. SLASH's playing in particular reminds me a lot of JOE PERRY from AEROSMITH in that if you've ever watched live footage of the dude, it seems like he is riffing off and in his own world when playing live. he's exploring his own musicality and isn't too concerned with presenting a note-for-note performance of a memorable solo on wax. i love that. i love when musicians are going for it. SLASH did that in spades and in the tradition of JOE PERRY, JIMMY PAGE and of course JEFF BECK.
SLASH is a blues-based rock guitar player, but within that box he experiments like crazy. now my personal taste leans more towards the artier, indie side of bands from that late 80s period, my hands-down favorite being JANE'S ADDICTION. guitarist DAVE NAVARRO similarly shares the same influences (with some post-punk sprinkled in) and a predilection to experiment live, but SLASH for me is the more INTENSE musician. i only came to that conclusion after seeing both live.
years ago i saw GUNS N' ROSES play the new GIANTS STADIUM (or whatever they call it now) when a friend from VENEZUELA was in town and needed somebody to take him. i didn't go into it expecting much, but i have to say without embarrassment, best rock show i have ever seen aside from the time i saw PRINCE at MADISON SQURE GARDEN. i've seen JANE'S ADDICTION several times live and while their music means more to me, GUNS N' ROSES was almost a religious experience. it was boogie, it was sloppy, it was sweaty, it was amazing.
yes lots of their lyrics are misogynist and yeah AXL ROSE is a total backwater hick. but all that being acknowledged. they're an amazing live band.