January 19, 1992. Seemingly a typical 12:20 bum rush to the Uptown Bar for some Leinenkugel's. I hustled to the restroom, leaving Joel alone. I was standing in the men's room taking care of business when Joel burst in and said "Slash is out here!" I glanced at him in disbelief. "I'm serious," he said, then repeated, "Slash is out here!"
I attempted to finish the business at hand, but this Slash thing had to be checked out. Wandering out towards the bar, Joel and I lined up by the coffee maker. Joel pointed to some folks sitting at the bar, he was convinced one of the dudes - sporting a leather jacket and long curly dark hair - was Slash. I wasn't quite sure. Maybe Joel - in from out-of-town for the weekend - was overwhelmed by the seedy rock 'n' roll atmosphere of the Uptown? "I'm tellin' ya - it's him, Bill," Joel said. I looked a bit longer, then something about it rang true. "You're right, it is him," I declared. As if it needed my blessing.
We hurriedly worked out a game plan. We would not mob him, but if he walked by we'd say hi. Joel went to the other part of the bar where the bands played to check out if any other Gunners were in the bar. I kept my eye on Slash. Shortly after Joel left, Slash walked by me on the way to the men's room. I froze. A member of the biggest and one of my favorite rock 'n' roll bands in the world, he's one of my favorite guitarists, he's right in front of me, and I froze. The old choke-ola. Typical.
Joel returned, I told him what happened. He laughed, seeming to understand. Suddenly, in a dead-calm voice, he said "Duff McKagan." The Guns n' Roses bass player was standing just a few short feet away, tall and thin with unkempt blond hair and leather jacket on.
"Duff!" Joel and I said loudly, almost simultaneously. He turned to face us, saying "hi" and putting his hand out to shake mine, then Joel's. He was wearing leather gloves. We mumbled things about how much we liked his music, he said thanks and chatted for a little bit. A true class act, and didn't look all stoned-out like he did in the videos.
After Duff walked on, we had just scant moments to celebrate our brush with greatness when Slash walked by. "Slash!" Joel said, then I followed with the same cry. He kept walking. I was convinced he was going to blow us off when he finally turned around. I put my hand out, he ignored it. "I just wanna say thanks," I said, which was a pretty stupid thing to say. Slash got close to me, kind of in my face. The ugliest dude in the bar, easily, now that I could see his face and those teeth. I marveled at the wonders of video, 'cause he didn't look too bad when on MTV. Slash said "thanks for what?", a smart-ass tone to his voice. "For all your music, it's great, I really love it," I said.
Suddenly, Slash was not interested in me or my conversation. He put his arm out, grabbing Joel's flannel shirt. "Hey, can I have this shirt?" he asked as he fondled it. "Yeah, if I can have that leather jacket," was Joel's immediate, ultimate-cool response. Slash was wearing an awesome black leather jacket over a flannel shirt that looked like it came straight from Sears. He wouldn't go for that deal, but continued to fondle Joel's shirt, making some comment about its double-sewn quality. It was readily apparent that Slash had quantities of mood-altering substances in him this night, though he was doing a great job of keeping his balance.
"You better hang on to that," he said, then walked away.
Wow. We could hardly contain ourselves. We whooped it up, all the while not trying to look like dorks while celebrating. DUFF AND SLASH BOTH TALKED TO US!
The band got done playing and people started to notice the presence of genuine rock stars. Some went up and said hi, some kept their Uptown Cool and stayed silent, smirking. GNR's new rhythm guitarist, Gilby Clarke was there, so was new keyboard player Dizzy Reed. There was also some sort of entourage, complete with chubby bodyguards who wore Zubaz and some guy with a video camera.
We wandered down the bar, watching the members of Guns n' Roses, all the while trying to keep our cool. As the bouncers began to hustle folks out of the bar, Duff walked by us again. He glanced at me, then smiled saying "hey" as if we were actual acquaintances. "Play a good show on Tuesday," I said. (I would going to their Tuesday show at Target Center.) "Well, alright" he replied, then reached over to give me a friendly tap on the elbow.
We left the bar and saw Guns n' Roses' big limo parked outside. We got back to my apartment and cracked victory beers, calling and waking people to tell them all about our experience. The next morning, we both were up at 7:30, still high-fiving and whooping. We watched MTV and scoffed at every band. "Are they as big as Guns n' Roses??" "Are they as good as Guns n' Roses??" "If you saw these guys in a bar, would you even care??"
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Okay, I hear you thinking: "Big deal! It doesn't take that much effort for a rock star to shake a hand and chat a fan up for a bit." Yeah, well tell it to Prince. Less than sixth months after the above incident, I ended up sharing an elevator with him. And that pretentious little stuck-up fucker does not chat, trust me.
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During '92, I was rarely hungry - lunch was sometimes frozen yogurt with M&M's on it; supper generally consisted of peanut butter toast, Fritos, and three Old Mil longnecks. By summer, I weighed 123 pounds and thought I was looking good. Not many agreed - some friends told me I was too thin, one friend pointed out the rings around my eyes. This was the year I discovered that serious hangovers could be alleviated by taking some of my hot-pink antihistamines in the morning (by lunch, everything in my head ended up leveling out - it was fucking cruise control!) By fall, I found myself in the back-to-school young men's department in JC Penney's, trying to find jeans that would fit me.
Somewhere around this time, I read in Musician where Izzy Stradlin, post-GNR and post-heroin, had moved back to Indiana to live with his mom while recuperating. He weighed 105 pounds. Outweighing Izzy by damn near twenty pounds must be a sign of health, so went the thinking.
1993 - 1994
In the fall of '93, Guns n' Roses released The Spaghetti Incident?, an album of mostly punk covers. Defenders of the punk faith went into a tizzy, all the usual evil-metal-bands-shouldn't-do-this stuff. The album wasn't that great, Appetite for Destruction was more "punk" than this one was. But then again, Appetite was more "punk" than 1994's Dookie or Smash. Appetite was probably more "punk" than Nevermind, too - though Nevermind and especially In Utero, were more "metal" than any Guns n' Roses albums. But that's only if you judge music on how it sounds, not on how it looks. You can get a severe headache if you think about it for too long.
My favorite song on The Spaghetti Incident? is the beautiful opener "Since I Don't Have You," originally an R&B-flavored hit in 1959. No punker ever - although Iggy could give it a hell of a try - would have Axl's pipes to pull this one off.
The year after the release of The Spaghetti Incident?, a bunch of alternative bands released an album of covers of Carpenters songs. The Carpenters were a lame MOR band in the seventies, contemporaries of abominations like John Denver and Barry Manilow. It probably goes without saying that this album was fawned over.
In the nineties, U2 dropped their quest to be American. Instead, they pretended to be rock stars. They were stars and millionaires who made rock music, and they pretended to be rock stars. This allowed them to make Interesting Comments on show business. Har har.
Guns n' Roses disappeared, dissolved, whatever. Their comeback - with Axl as the only original remaining member - is imminent. Even as I write this, I dread it. I picture an overweight Axl, his paunch straining to reach over the waistline of his leather pants, wearing a backwards baseball hat in order to cover his thinning hairline, fronting a bunch of Hollywood studio hacks ... his voice shot, no Adler and Duff to keep things swinging, no Izzy and Slash wrapping killer guitar riffs around each other, no songs written on the run and two weeks to record them. I dread it, I truly do.
Izzy had fessed up Guns n' Roses back on Illusion II's "Pretty Tied Up": Once there was this rock 'n' roll band rollin' on the streets / time went by and it became a joke.
He was probably right. All I know is that the loveliest girls are always in my GNR LP.
Everything written by me, except where noted.
Thanks to: Tim Berg (for 'smith-fronted-by-Joplin riff), Chuck Eddy (for Adler insights plus all the other stuff I stole), My Michele (just for being you), Joel McElhany (for loaning me Appetite back in '88 and all other things GNR-related), Randy Tuomala (for dead-on Stones analogy.)
I got the Hanoi Rocks photo here
I got the GNR photo here
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