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Band members are Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar), born Jeff Isabelle, c. 1962; Axl Rose (lead singer), born Bill Rose, c. 1962; Slash (lead guitar), born c. 1965 in England; Duff McKagan (bass), born c. 1964; Steven Adler (drums), born c. 1965.
With sales of more than eight million albums in less than two years, Guns n' Roses has become the latest heavy-metal phenomenon. Rolling Stone contributor Rob Tannenbaum calls the group "the world's most exciting hard-rock band ... young, foolhardy, stubborn, cynical, proud, uncompromising, insolent, conflicted and very candid about their faults." A generation of teens has flocked to the Guns n' Roses banner, celebrating the group's fiery, belligerent, and cynical music and the members' frankly self-destructive lifestyles. "There's always an audience for wild-eyed hellions with electric guitars," writes John Milward in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The Guns n' Roses difference is that youths somehow sense that these guys' raucous sounds are more genuine than those of their heavy-metal peers. They're reckless kids who have stumbled onto a career, and they seem so out of control that you can't help believing the most scandalous stories. They're stupid enough to live out each and every rock-and-roll cliche but talented enough to spike their best songs with that same 80-proof energy."
Tannenbaum notes that "the Gunners" engage in antics "revolving around booze, drugs and women; they trumpet their music as 'rebellious'; and they claim to play for 'the kids.'" However, unlike other metal bands, whose older members base their images on fantasy rather than the daily reality of adolescence, Guns n' Roses draws frankly on "the unfocused rage and pervasive doubt, the insecurity and cockiness, the horniness and fear" of the teen years. Tannenbaum concludes: "The Gunners' songs don't hide the fact that they're confused and screwed up." This darkly honest look at adolescence stems from the youth of the band members themselves--all are under twenty-eight, and all have undergone their own personal periods of manic behavior. "Our attitude epitomizes what rock & roll is all about," said lead guitarist, Slash. "We ... bleed and sweat for it, you know? We do a lot of things where other bands will be, like, 'Get the stunt guy to do it.'"
Guns n' Roses came together in the scruffy hard-rock scene of Los Angeles early in 1985. Two of the founding members, singer Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin, grew up together in Lafayette, Indiana, where Rose in particular had a reputation for violence and juvenile delinquency. They were joined in Los Angeles by Slash, a native of Great Britain whose artist parents worked in Hollywood, and Duff "Rose" McKagan, a former resident of Seattle. The group was rounded out by drummer Steven Adler, the only married member. According to Tannenbaum, once the members met in California, "they played, they fought, they got high, they toyed with the idea of forming bands with names like Heads of Amazon and AIDS. They finally settled on Guns n' Roses, combining the names of two bands that various members had been involved in, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose."
Club ads for Guns n' Roses shows often read "FRESH FROM DETOX" or "ADDICTED: ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE." The group members lived together in a tiny studio apartment, with no bathroom, shower, or kitchen; most of the money that came in was spent on drugs and alcohol. In 1986 they signed a contract with Geffen Records, but for many months thereafter they could find neither a manager nor a producer--even among those working with other heavy-metal bands. Finally Mike Clink, an engineer who had worked with Heart and Eddie Money, agreed to produce a Guns n' Roses album. Appetite for Destruction was released in 1987, promptly drawing criticism for its violent lyrics and its sexually graphic cover. The band found it difficult to get airtime on Top 40 radio and MTV until one of the album cuts, "Sweet Child o' Mine," got grass-roots support from rock fans. Guns n' Roses drew further attention when they opened for Aerosmith on a 1987 national tour. By the time the tour ended--almost a year after Appetite for Destruction had been released, the album went platinum and hit the Billboard Top Five.
"No law says that rock and rollers have to be good role models," writes Milward, "but the blue-noses of the Parents Resource Music Committee couldn't have dreamed up a group with such exploitative bad attitudes as Guns n' Roses. Appetite for Destruction unspools like a cheesy movie about the Hollywood lowlife ... [portraying] a wicked, corrupting world and [suggesting] that it only makes sense to have some fun on your way to hell." The same theme runs through G n' R Lies, a more recent album; its best-known cut, "Used to Love Her, but I Had to Kill Her," has drawn protests from numerous fronts. The members of Guns n' Roses certainly face a dilemma when they perform--while proud of their own violent antics, they try not to incite their audiences to similar behavior. "I guess we are playing with fire," Duff told Rolling Stone. "I would seriously hate for anything to happen [to the fans], but we're not the kind of guys to really change our ways."
Tannenbaum describes Guns n' Roses as "a musical sawed-off shotgun, with great power but erratic aim.... They ... bring to mind the early Rolling Stones, who won a similar notoriety for singing about spite and hostility. And if the Gunners go beyond what the Stones sang about, it's because times are rougher; they are a brutal band for brutal times. Unlike the Stones, they don't keep an ironic distance between them and their songs." Admitting to alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual excesses, and violent brawling, the members of Guns n' Roses see their lifestyles as "part of the energy we put out," to quote Slash in Rolling Stone. Milward observes that the group has never apologized for a reputation "that embraces sex and drugs and rock and roll with a casual abandon that makes earlier rock decadents seem responsible." The critic concludes: "Years ago, the Who sang of a 'teenage wasteland,' but they saw it from a distance. Not so Guns n' Roses--they were born there, and that's why the kids accept them as their own."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Guns n' Roses's Career
Formed band Guns n' Roses in Los Angeles, Calif., 1985; signed with Geffen Records, 1986. Released debut album, Appetite for Destruction, 1987. Featured band in several American and European tours.
- Selective Works
- Live Like a Suicide (EP), Geffen Records, 1986.
- Appetite for Destruction Geffen Records, 1987.
- G n' R Lies (contains cuts from Live Like a Suicide) Geffen Records, 1988.
March 15, 2004: A judge denied former lead singer Axl Rose's request for a restraining order against Geffen Records and allowed the company to go forward with its plans to release a Guns N' Roses greatest hits album. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, March 16, 2004.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, February 16, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, November 17, 1988.
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