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A Fascination With Destruction: The Enduring Appeal Of Guns N' Roses' Finest Hour

Tuesday, 25 July 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

The year was 1987 and, for many, rock ‘n’ roll was truly fucked. The reason? A hairspray-soaked posse of posturing pretty boys who had set up shop with a commercially-charged, overproduced pop sound full of empty hedonistic abandon. Any notions of authenticity, rebellion and anarchy were superseded by a relentless desire to party hard and get laid. Until one band, and one record, woke everyone up.

In July 1987, Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Appetite For Destruction’ arrived as a timely antidote to all things hair metal and gave voice to anger, frustration and fear. Raw, dangerous, thrillingly anti-social and intensely cool, the gang’s streetwise volatility was stamped all over a primal barrage of anthems as accessible as they were offensive and challenging.

There’s no point regurgitating the obvious reasons why ‘Appetite For Destruction’ was a certified phenomenon that defibrillated the ‘80s rock scene. Enough has been written on that subject. What’s more intriguing is why the record, three decades down the line, continues to seduce and inspire successive generations with its patented brand of mayhem. After all, it didn’t become the best-selling debut album of all time overnight.  

By 2008, it was estimated to have sold 28 million copies worldwide. Today, that figure has shifted north of 30 million. Considering that increase occurred during a time period when most acts, particularly modern rockers, haven’t come close to achieving such numbers, the album’s ability to strike a chord is still there 30 years after it first whipped up a storm of Tipper Gore-baiting controversy.

Every classic record was conceived from a confluence of characters, interpersonal dynamics, individual and collective experiences and, consciously or not, the socio-political climate of the day. And a large part of the record’s enduring appeal stems from how it still indignantly spits in the face of the prevailing status quo. It offers escapism from sterile modern popular culture and still stands as a damning indictment of society.

Today we’re surrounded by reality TV stars with the personality and intelligence of mannequins, obnoxious political correctness, auto-tuned pop puppets, worthless talent shows exploiting and humiliating people and the vigorous airbrushing of anything that isn’t deemed perfect by self-appointed, faceless tastemakers.  

There’s seemingly never been a more vapid, facile and offensively inoffensive time to be alive, so it’s little wonder ‘Appetite For Destruction’ continues to attract new devotees. Whether it’s fiery rockers like Out Ta Get Me, the confrontational punk-pugilism of It’s So Easy, Paradise City’s powerhouse anthemics or Sweet Child O’ Mine’s beloved balladry, each cut on ‘Appetite For Destruction’ encapsulates unapologetic expressiveness and candour.

Throughout, art isn’t so much imitating life as chronicling it in all its seedy, unvarnished, taboo-busting explicitness. From opening number Welcome To The Jungle’s menacing account of Los Angeles’ dark underbelly to the live sex recorded for Rocket Queen, we are under no illusion that Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler lived every single second of this album.

“The Beatles and the Rolling Stones started off in suits and then came the mythology of drugs and money, but Guns N’ Roses were like that before they even got signed,” rock critic Mick Wall told GQ while promoting his book Last of the Giants. “Slash was in rehab before they’d recorded a note, Axl had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard were drinking mineral water to preserve their voices or going down the gym, whereas Slash was drinking Jack Daniels and using heroin first thing in the morning.”

You only have to look at some of the many incidents that transpired before and after the band became famous to understand why ‘Appetite For Destruction’ sounds so convincingly combustible. Rose’s volcanic mood swings, for example, saw him constantly storm off stage and show up for gigs hours late, leading to fraught situations and even full scale rioting. He would also explode at the drop of a hat, physically attacking members of the audience, security guards and chastising his bandmates on stage.  

Added to this was the Herculean drug and alcohol intake of Rose’s bandmates - see Slash briefly dying from an overdose, McKagan’s pancreas exploding - yet they weren’t merely a dysfunctional cast of hooligans. To label them as such would ignore the complexity that was part of their DNA from the get go. They possessed a single-minded sense of integrity that only enhanced the  verisimilitude of ‘Appetite...’.

When the band were on the brink of being signed by Geffen Records, for example, they deliberately hid Slash’s childhood links to label boss David Geffen. They didn’t want to capitalise on that for fear of how such a ‘favour’ may be perceived. It’s hard to imagine many hair metal acts doing the same. When Paul Stanley of Kiss was desperate to land the role of producer on ‘Appetite…’ they knocked him back, too, due to his desire to interfere with their writing. Most aspiring ‘80s musicians would have sold their mothers for that opportunity.

“We did nothing to court acceptance and we shunned easy success,” Slash recalled in his autobiography. “There was no concern for the proper poses or goofy choruses that might spell pop-chart success; which ultimately guaranteed endless hot chicks. That type of calculated rebellion wasn’t an option for us; we were too rabid a pack of musically like-minded gutter rats. We were passionate, with a common goal and a very distinct sense of identity.”

Viewed through a contemporary lens, and with 2017’s bland musical superstars very much in mind, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how a group like that were signed, let alone became massively successful. They could either collapse spectacularly or perform the greatest gig of all time; they weren’t so much a car crash as a brutal pile up you couldn’t help but stare at. They weren’t pulling shameless PR stunts; they didn’t give a fuck. That’s why ‘Appetite…’ offers the kind of magnetic rock 'n’ roll aesthetic that, it’s sad to say, is very much an endangered species in this day and age.

“Guns N’ Roses really are the last of the last of the giant megalithic rock bands,” claimed Wall. “I’m even more convinced now than I was then that a band like that can never happen again. In terms of a giant rock band that lives within its own world for good or ill, that’s gone and never coming back. Once Axl and Slash go, the book is closed on that kind of band.”

The combination of Guns N’ Roses’ all-round appeal – superb songs and musicianship, incendiary live performances, bona fide bad boy rock stars, captivating extra-curricular shenanigans – and the lack of a genuine heir to their throne will always draw new fans to the band and their finest recorded statement.

There are good modern groups making enjoyable rock music, but with the Foo Fighters being too nice, Muse being a trio of geeks and Nickelback being, well, Nickelback, where else can those craving such a dangerous concoction go for satisfaction?

Not that ‘Appetite For Destruction’ is flawless, of course. Only a fool would argue Anything Goes should be on the record instead of You Could Be Mine, which finally appeared on ‘Use Your Illusion II’. Time has also done little to soften its disturbingly misogynistic lyrics or dismiss accusations of glamourising potentially fatal lifestyle choices.

But if we espouse freedom of speech and demand sincere expression instead of self-censorship, we have to accept the outcome will likely prove attractive and repulsive in equal measure. Besides, if you approach this record expecting to hear complete perfection or something sanitised, you really haven’t been paying attention.

Guns N' Roses Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu July 27 2017 - ST LOUIS - Dome at America's Center (USA)
Sun July 30 2017 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - US Bank Stadium (USA)
Wed August 02 2017 - DENVER Colorado - Sports Authority Field At Mile High (USA)
Sat August 05 2017 - LITTLE ROCK Arkansas - War Memorial Stadium (Little Rock) (USA)
Tue August 08 2017 - MIAMI Florida - Marlins Park (USA)
Fri August 11 2017 - WINSTON SALEM - BB&T Field (USA)
Sun August 13 2017 - HERSHEY Pennsylvania - Hersheypark Stadium (USA)
Wed August 16 2017 - ORCHARD PARK New York - New Era Field (USA)
Sat August 19 2017 - MONTREAL PQ - Parc Jean-Drapeau (Canada)
Mon August 21 2017 - OTTAWA Ontario - TD Place Stadium (Canada)
Thu August 24 2017 - WINNIPEG Manitoba - Investors Group Field (Canada)
Sun August 27 2017 - REGINA Saskatchewan - Mosaic Stadium (Canada)
Wed August 30 2017 - EDMONTON Alberta - Commonwealth Stadium - Edmonton (Canada)
Fri September 01 2017 - VANCOUVER British Columbia - BC Place Stadium (Canada)
Sat September 02 2017 - GEORGE Washington - Gorge Amphitheatre (USA)
Sun September 03 2017 - GEORGE Washington - Gorge Amphitheatre (USA)
Wed September 06 2017 - EL PASO Texas - Sun Bowl Stadium (USA)
Fri September 08 2017 - SAN ANTONIO Texas - Alamodome (USA)
Sun October 08 2017 - PHILADELPHIA - Wells Fargo Center Philadelphia (USA)
Wed October 11 2017 - NEW YORK New York - Madison Square Garden (USA)
Thu October 12 2017 - NEWARK New Jersey - Prudential Center (USA)
Sun October 15 2017 - NEW YORK New York - Madison Square Garden (USA)
Mon October 16 2017 - NEW YORK New York - Madison Square Garden (USA)
Thu October 19 2017 - WASHINGTON District of Columbia - Verizon Center (USA)
Sun October 22 2017 - BOSTON Massachusetts - TD Garden (USA)
Mon October 23 2017 - HARTFORD Connecticut - XL Center (USA)
Thu October 26 2017 - CLEVELAND Ohio - Quicken Loans Arena (USA)
Sun October 29 2017 - TORONTO Ontario - Air Canada Centre (Canada)
Mon October 30 2017 - TORONTO Ontario - Air Canada Centre (Canada)
Thu November 02 2017 - DETROIT Michigan - Little Caesars Arena (USA)
Fri November 03 2017 - LOUISVILLE Kentucky - KFC Yum! Center (USA)
Mon November 06 2017 - CHICAGO Illinois - United Center (USA)
Tue November 07 2017 - MILWAUKEE Wisconsin - BMO Harris Bradley Center (USA)
Fri November 10 2017 - HOUSTON Texas - Toyota Center (USA)
Mon November 13 2017 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Bridgestone Arena (USA)
Tue November 14 2017 - TULSA Oklahoma - BOK Center (USA)
Fri November 17 2017 - LAS VEGAS Nevada - T-Mobile Arena (USA)
Sat November 18 2017 - SACRAMENTO California - Golden 1 Center (USA)
Tue November 21 2017 - OAKLAND California - Oracle Arena (USA)
Fri November 24 2017 - LOS ANGELES California - Staples Center (USA)
Sat November 25 2017 - LOS ANGELES California - Forum Los Angeles (USA)
Tue November 28 2017 - SAN DIEGO California - Valley View Casino Center (USA)
Wed November 29 2017 - LOS ANGELES California - Forum-CA (USA)

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