They are rock & roll stars with a gift for mayhem. THey are young, talented, and every parent’s nightmare. As fans await a new abum — and the latst police report from their raucous tour — we wonder: Are these boys built to last?
”Thank you, Dallas, f— you, St. Louis, and God bless America.”
With those cheery, climactic words, delivered to 20,000 howlingly appreciative Texas fans, Axl Rose, lead singer of the most popular rock & roll band in the world, closed his July 8 performance. By Guns N’ Roses’ standard, it had not been an unusual show. The band arrived onstage two hours late, and Rose had something to tell his expectant and impatient audience. ”We apologize if the sound isn’t up to par,” the singer announced eventually, ”but if you have a problem with that, you can talk to f—ing St. Louis.” They knew what he meant: Most of the band’s sound gear was new, hastily acquired to replace equipment demolished or stolen a week earlier when Rose dived into the audience during a performance near St. Louis to stop a fan from taking unauthorized photographs. The resulting melee had caused some $200,000 in damage and left more than 60 people injured, with accusatory fingers pointing in every direction.
That in almost any other band’s history would be its most infamous night, but it was merely a blip in Guns N’ Roses’ chaotic career. For W. Axl Rose (born William Bailey, 29), guitarists Slash (Saul Hudson, 26) and Izzy Stradlin (Jeff Isabell, 29), bassist Duff (Michael McKagan, 27), and now-departed drummer Steven Adler (26), controversy and uproar have been intrinsic parts of the package from Day One. Since forming the band in 1985, they have contended with their own serious overindulgence in drugs and alcohol, squabbles with other bands and within their own, fistfights, lawsuits, arrests, concert cancellations — and now the St. Louis riot. Since late May, when they began the first leg of a planned two-year world tour — their first as headliners after uncomfortable treks as openers for, among other groups, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, and INXS — the group has, among other things, been fined for violating curfew laws in Indiana, come onstage 2 1/2 hours late (publicly blaming their record label and an extended magazine photo shoot) in New York, and ordered the ejection of an audience member whom Rose said was flipping him the bird in Colorado.
If you think Guns N’ Roses are making a mess of things, you’re entirely correct. But — and here’s the kicker — it makes absolutely no difference. In an age when rock & roll heroes stand in line to tout sneakers and soda pop, Guns N’ Roses’ aura of real danger carries an enormous wallop. The few — very few — records the band has released have sold in staggering quantities: 13 million copies of a debut album, Appetite for Destruction, and 4 million of a low-key follow-up, GN’R Lies, a casual compendium of acoustic songs and rare pre-Appetite tracks offered, as Geffen Records, the band’s label, said, not as a full-fledged second album but as a stopgap to keep fans happy. Even critics have embraced the group’s searing hard rock, a genre disdained by sophisticated listeners for nearly two decades despite a popular resurgence late in the ’80s that Guns N’ Roses themselves helped spark. Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times, for instance, notes the ”thematic intelligence and honesty” of the band’s material, especially in songs like ”Welcome to the Jungle” and ”Mr. Brownstone,” its harrowing depiction of heroin usage. Hilburn calls Rose ”the most compelling and combustible American hard rocker since Jim Morrison.”