GN'R Chronicles Part I - "Guns N' Roses - They're Going Nowhere"
After having spent the past week attending multiple Guns N' Roses concerts, something I never thought I'd do again, it going me thinking about my own history with the band. Appetite for Destruction came out when I was 13, so the entirety of my teenaged years were spent completely fixated on GN'R. I got to thinking how different it was to be a fan of a rock band in the pre-Internet age.
Here's the first of what may be many musings about the mighty GN'FN'R as experienced by a teenaged girl in suburbia.
When my older brother Cory told me he was going to “borrow” Mom’s 1978 Toyota Rabbit to get to a concert on a street corner in Downtown Los Angeles, I figured there was a 50-50 chance of ever seeing him again.
Even though I had grown up roughly 22 miles east in the lazy suburb of Glendora, my knowledge of Downtown was pretty much limited to The Omega Man, and the existence of a Thrifty Drug Store at the Greyhound Bus Station. Sometimes, my middle-management mother would be scheduled to work graveyard there whenever she pissed off members of the upper-management boys’ club. On those nights, my stepdad would personally drive her to the entrance where she would pay off the gruff homeless regulars out front to ensure no one fucked with her.
Therefore, to my twelve-year-old mind, driving Downtown was my brother’s proclamation that he had a death wish. To him, my parents going on yet another getaway without us and leaving the car keys in plain site was practically an invitation to attend the L.A. Street Scene.
The Street Scene was an annual weekend festival of food and music with local bands performing on stages set up near the Civic Center. That year, Poison was going to be performing which was a big deal because they had a record deal and had even released an album. In 1986, the was an impressive feat. If my brother survived the enigmatic black hole of Downtown Los Angeles, he’d probably come home with a good report.
Cory is 5 years older than me, and as much as I hate to give him credit for shaping me in any way, shape, or form, I can’t deny that my teenaged love of metal was because of him. Mom was never particularly thrilled with my love of misogynistic cock rock, but she rolled with it, and usually rolled her eyes when I subjected her to the sweet sounds of Motley Crue or Metallica. However, she drew the line at my attending concerts until I was 13, so I was forced to vicariously experience the joy of live shows through my brother. I’m sure there was a part of him that genuinely enjoyed sharing these experiences with his kid sister, who was stuck at home. At the same time, I also think he loved throwing it in my face, which is why his retellings of concerts would be so detailed. So goes the complicated relationships of siblings.
The weekend of the 1986 Street Scene, I was in Lancaster at the home of a friend’s dad. When I returned that Sunday, I found my brother alive and well and settled in for what I was sure would be a blow-by-blow recap of Poison’s set. Eventually, he would indeed recount how Poison was one of the most entertaining live bands he had ever seen (no joke). It would take him years to admit that when rioting occurred later that night, which would cause Mayor Tom Bradley to abolish the annual festival, he honestly feared for his life. But on that September evening, there was only one band on his mind.
“How was Poison?” I asked.
“They were good.”
“But there was this other band – Guns and Roses.”
“Guns and Roses? That’s a lame name.”
“Right? Man, they-,” he stopped and strained, looking for the right words to describe what he had witnessed.
“They SUCKED! Worst band I’ve ever seen. By far.”
He then went on to give me the complete lowdown on their set. He described the lead singer with the teased out hair who was the “biggest fag” he’d ever seen (if you’ve ever watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you already know this was a word teenagers used liberally in the 1980s). The guy was an asshole to boot and kept yelling at the audience. Then there was the guitarist wearing a T-Rex hat who was kicking people in the front row. The crowd wasn’t impressed, and when the singer screeched, “If you keep acting like this, we’re not going to play,” a bottle was thrown from the audience and almost hit him in the head. At that point, this wiry, “butt white” guy with the big hair and tattoos jumped into the audience to enact his revenge on the bottle hurler, only to be thrown back up on stage like a rag doll by security. When their gear started shorting out, either because of rain or beer being poured on it, I don’t remember which, the band had had enough. Before parting, Mr. Butt White Big Hair screamed, “You guys have fucked everything thing up and we’re not going to play for you anymore.” Before departing, he then raised his middle finger at one person in particular and yelled, “And you? Fuck you!”
They had played less than three songs.
Thirty years later, my memory of the details Cory imparted to me are probably only partially accurate, but the next thing he said I remember as if it were yesterday.
“Guns and Roses. They’re going nowhere”
I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard Cory say something with so much conviction.
It struck me as odd that he spent so much time telling me about a band he thought was terrible. Later on, when we both had become full GN’R converts, I brought that up. He replied by musing, “Maybe they were awful, but I must have seen something special in them.” I’m not sure how true that was, but they certainly made an impression on him.
Soon, they would make their impression on me.