At one point during the Guns n Roses show last Tuesday, a chubby Axl Rose approached the public at the section in front of the stage and asked them to ‘Please take one step back. Some people are getting crushed here at the front’.
A few minutes after that, the West Valley mayor suddenly enters the stage and handles the key to the city to Axl. The camera focus on Axl, his face on the big screen now. He can barely look straight under his huge cowboy hat and you can see a little smirk hidden partially by the handlebar moustache. That’s it, I thought. He is going to throw the key to the side and punch this guy (wearing a suit!) in the face. It will be mayhem! Let me grab my wife by the arm so we can run away from here!
Instead, the smirk turns into a smile. The now subdued cowboy lowers his head, thanks the stupid looking politician a few times, looks at the key for a bit and makes a little joke about when would the bar would close. You know, a mormon joke.
1991 was an unusual year for music. We had the explosion of the Grunge bands, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, all release their hit albums. At the same time, the previous generation bands also put out very successful albums. Metallica release the Black album. Guns n Roses released Use Your Illusion.
I was 17 years old back then, and I was in heaven. I had no problem enjoying all these bands. I would alternate the tapes on my Walkman like there was no tomorrow. It made high school much more bearable.
But I always had a soft spot for GnR. I remember clearly the day I first heard them. It was 1998 and for whatever reason, I got the “G N’ R Lies” album before I got “Appetite for Destruction”. I remember being by myself at home and listening to “Reckless Life” as loud as my old stereo would go. If there was one time in my life that I was blown away by anything, that was it.
Back in 91, I remember that there was a lot of speculation about Use Your Illusion. People were saying that it was soft. The band was supposedly falling apart. It sounds funny now, but they were being criticized for taking 3 years to release a new album. I was nervous.
It was a Sunday night when one of the radio stations in Brazil first played the album through and through (it would take a few extra months to get the actual LP on the stores – ah, the joys of the pre-internet world). My cassette recorder and I were wide awake when the show began at midnight. “Right Next Door to Hell” started and I thought, “It’s ok. It’s going to be ok”.
Kids do the strangest things. Sounds silly now, but one major challenge for someone in Brazil listening to any American band back in the 80s was to understand the lyrics. Very few bands included them as part of the material in the albums. Trying to actually understand what they were saying was impossible. I’d asked many English teachers of mine (including my mom) to help me translate songs and it was useless. I suspect my mom did this on purpose.
Because of that, I started to learn English above and beyond what school required. I would write down words I could get, hit the dictionary, listen closely for that next word I couldn’t understand until I could.
For a good while, GnR was not only my favorite band but they were my ‘heroes’. Sounds completely stupid now, but that was it. I remember me and my friends sharing the cost of magazines about GnR just to read a bit more about their lives. In a country were only soccer players and samba groups were revered, we were trying hard to imitate those weird dudes with long hair and tattoos.
Use Your Illusion was good but the band did start dying that year. They were fantastic in Rock in Rio 2 but you could feel that it was the beginning of the end. Axl was a prima donna now. Matt Sorum was good but we missed Steven Adler. Slash was looking bored. Two years later came “The Spaghetti Incident?” and I knew it was over.
Moving back to 2011, I look around and see a half-empty Maverik center waiting for Axl and his band of subs. Listen, I am not a purist in any way. I still paid my 80 something bucks and faced the 28 degrees outside to be here. I know this was not GnR. I’ve seen videos of how Axl looked now, and how bad he sounded. But I actually enjoyed “Chinese Democracy”. I could hear a little glimpse, a little anger hiding under the new softer lyrics. Maybe I could see some of that tonight?
Before the show starts I can’t help and I think to myself: Why is he still doing this? Salt Lake City, Tuesday, mid-December. Chinese Democracy came out 2 years ago… There are no new songs on the play list, or any hope really for a new album any time soon. He is almost 50 years old… Does he need the money? Is this still fun for him?
The show starts and it is not bad. There is a lot of talent there. They start strong with “Chinese Democracy” followed by “Welcome to the Jungle”. Even Axl’s voice was better than what I expected. Maybe he lost a couple of pounds. At one point I told my wife “He doesn’t look that bad”. But then she looks at me and says “How do you know it’s him? I can barely see his face”.
Hmm. A few songs later they started to play “Street of Dreams”. The big screen behind the band was showing a clip of a ballerina dancing.
“I am done” I told my wife. Let’s go home. Enough memories were killed tonight.