I remember the album. It was an old cassette tape. Back then CDs, although increasingly common, were not yet ubiquitous. Above all others, this was the album that got me into rock music. As a socially awkward 14-year old, I spent hours upon hours listening to that tape. Full volume of course. You can’t listen to hard rock any other way! Is it any wonder I sometimes think my hearing isn’t as good as it should be? Funny enough, I don’t think my parents were as crazy about the record as I was. No matter. I knew best. Teenagers aren’t known for their consideration, are they? The album in question was Appetite for Destruction. When asked about my favourite album of all-time, I find it hard not to yell Appetite as a reflex. There’s The Beatles of course, but in defining rock perfection, Appetite for Destruction is hard to surpass. I saw a concert on tv the other night where Slash was performing some of the back catalogue in his native Stoke. Of course there were songs from Snakepit and Velvet Revolver in his set, but that’s not why I was watching. I wanted to hear G N’ R. Those mighty songs still resonate the most. Especially ones from Appetite for Destruction. To this day, whenever I hear those songs, it sparks something inside me. I know every note, every riff, every lyric. Hours and hours of teenage obsession does that to you!
My favourite song was Nightrain. It’s worth a look on YouTube if you don’t know it. It’s as anthemic as it gets. A real crowd- pleaser. I used to think the song was a generic rock anthem, describing the hedonistic, touring lifestyle of a young band. That’s until a saw an interview with Slash a few years ago. The mystery was solved. Here, the guitarist explained the origins of Nightrain. He recounted the early days of the band as an up-and-coming outfit in LA. They were totally broke, penniless at the time. Despite that, the band had an image to live up to, a lifestyle to maintain. Slash revealed that the only liquor they could afford in that period was something called Nighttrain wine. It was incredibly cheap, but very strong stuff, he said. Not exactly vintage, though. Apparently it was very popular among the destitute of southern California. Nighttrain consumption became a backdrop to the recording of those early songs, therefore. Legend has it that the song’s lyrics were composed by all five band members improvising on the streets of LA, while sharing a bottle of Nighttrain. I love that story!
I suppose the feeling that Appetite arouses most is nostalgia. Youngsters of today have no idea what bands like G N’ R meant. But I can tell them, they meant everything! In those days, there were no I-Phones, I-Pads or Playstations. There was no Pokemon Go. We didn’t even have mobile phones for goodness sake! We were the MTV generation. Pre-internet, MTV was the currency of the youth. And the station didn’t show weird reality shows in those days. Even the Real World, the original reality television show, had yet to be televised. MTV showed music. And lots of it. Bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and Nirvana were played wall to wall. They were everywhere. I was never into grunge that much, but Nirvana were undoubtedly important. Everyone had a favourite band, though. You had to choose. Sitting on the fence wasn’t an option. My favourite band was Guns N’ Roses. No question. They had everything. The songs were fantastic. The image was cool. And they entertained us. This was a band that spent more on their videos than Hollywood studios spent on summer blockbusters. The Trilogy. Older readers will understand what I’m on about! G N’ R certainly had the image. Nevertheless, you knew they were real. The hell-raising wasn’t an act. Guns N’ Roses lived it, they practised what they preached.
And then in a flash they were gone. They biggest band in the world just vanished. They disappeared. It was devastating. For the MTV generation, this meant as much as the break-up of The Beatles to the baby boomers. There was one key difference, though. When The Beatles imploded amid a crescendo of recrimination, they left 13 original albums and countless other recordings behind them. When Guns N’ Roses left us abruptly, they had completed only four albums: Appetite, the epic double album Use Your Illusion, Lies, and the unfortunate covers album The Spaghetti Incident. What a waste! They could have done so much. The overriding feeling among fans was that this was a band with the world at their feet, but then lost it. The reasons for the break-up of the original incarnation are well-documented, and don’t need retelling here. Needless to say, the relationship between singer Axl Rose and lead guitarist Slash wasn’t always a harmonious one. Rose negotiated the rights to the Guns N’ Roses name before the end, and vowed to carry on without the others. But it wasn’t the same. I haven’t listened to 2008’s Chinese Democracy and I doubt I will. It could be fantastic. But it’s not Axl and Slash. That’s where the magic was.
And now they’re back. Axl, Slash, and bassist Duff McKagan are currently touring together for the first time in 23 years. It’s called the “Not in This Lifetime…Tour.”. The reference to the band’s infamously fractious relationship is neat, because this is indeed the tour no-one expected to see. It’s a busy time for Rose. The charismatic front man is also stepping in as a touring vocalist for AC/DC following the departure of their front-man, Brian Johnson. Heaven for us nineties rock fans! I don’t usually like reunions, though. There’s something intrinsically fake about them. They’re so anti-rock n’ roll. Watching ageing versions of childhood heroes strutting around a stage isn’t my cup of tea. But the lure of the reunion usually gets the most stubborn of rockers in the end. While it’s nice to see your idols touring again, there’s an underlying feeling of: “It’s not the same, they’re just not as good as they used to be.”
John Lennon’s premature and tragic death spared us ever seeing The Beatles compromise their legacy in this way. That all said, I’m prepared to give the G N’ R reunion a chance. Why? Because it’s Guns N’ Roses. G N’ R are one of the most important bands of all-time and they deserve a chance to show us they still have the magic we remember. If they manage to get round to recording new material, it’ll be fascinating to hear what they produce. However, the fact they’re back together is the biggest miracle of all. That in itself is something to be celebrated. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but it’s always fantastic to be transported back to a special time. I’m on the Nightrain, are you?
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