Whether you’re a fan of Axl Rose and the new era Guns N’ Roses or not, you cannot discount the impact or role he and his original bandmates played in the 1980’s hard rock/metal scene. From the moment we first heard the opening notes of “Welcome To The Jungle”, a nation was hooked on the band’s music and imagery. From Slash’s top hat and dangling cigarette to Axl’s serpentine stage antics (which, for the record, were copped from Shark Island frontman Richard Black) we were mesmerized. And with each passing album the legend grew. Twenty-five year’s later we’re still feeding our GnR appetite.
The band’s initial album, Appetite For Destruction, became the best-selling debut album of all time. The record still continues to sell well to this day. The album’s title may have been a prophetic one. Despite the fame and success the band’s notorious offstage behavior clearly took a toll on the quintet. Drugs and alcohol were instrumental in limiting the band’s creative output and ultimate, well, destruction.
The iconic Guns N’ Roses line-up, Axl, Slash, Izzy Stradlin (guitar), Duff McKagan (bass) and Steven Adler (drums) only released that initial studio album together. By the time the band entered the studio, some 5 years later, Adler’s cocaine and heroin addictions led to his replacement by Matt Sorum, formerly of The Cult.
The resulting 2 disc set, Use Your Illusion I & II, would be the band’s only other studio album before disintegration.
A half live, half acoustic album, GnR Lies and a covers album, The Spaghetti Incident, were all they ever released before Axl carried on the name without Slash and Co.
Stradlin quit the band after a near riot in Germany, thanks as usual to Axl’s behavior. Slash officially quit in 1996 after continued failures within the band to coexist and create a new record.
The next Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy, was slated for a 1999 release, featuring Axl and a caravan of new players. The resultant album did not hit the market until 2008, a full 17 years after the band’s last original studio record. Most critics and fans alike consider the album to be a monster flop.
Both Axl and Slash maintain that there will never be a reunion of the original line-up, but fans remain hopeful. While Axl continues to live off his own coattails and the band’s legend, Slash, McKagan and the others have gone on to create music without Axl. Slash, Sorum and McKagan joined forces in Velvet Revolver. Slash has had great success on his own as well. McKagan also formed his own project, Loaded, which released its 5th and newest album, The Taking, last month. Last year he turned up on Izzy Stradlin’s new record Wave of Heat. Stradlin, the band’s principal songwriter on the debut album, started his own band but has remained noticeably off the radar. For his part, Stradlin also felt Sorum’s playing never matched the band’s sound the way Adler’s had. Adler, went on to form his own Adler’s Appetite which has featured a who’s who of 80’s hair band luminary.
Guns N’ Roses is about as iconic as any band in American history, for reasons both positive and negative. The legacy lives on and new chapters are written with each passing year. Last month former member Gilby Clarke talked of his willingness to do a Guns N’ Roses reunion — if Slash participates. As a fan of the band this brought to mind the question–is a reunion even a worthwhile proposition? Before anyone starts calling for my beheading, let’s look at all the facts.
Certainly we’d all love to see the guys back on stage, or better yet, in the studio. But let’s be honest, even on its best day, Guns N’ Roses was a dysfunctional mess. The addition of fame and money to the equation simply made matters worse.
Starting at the top, we have Axl Rose, who while an amazing talent, certainly has a massive ego to match. There exists little belief that he would ever surrender partial control of his “vision” to the other members of the band. Hence he surrounds himself with hired “guns” who do not push or question his decisions and erratic behavior.
Then we have Slash. Is there a need on his part to once again enter the fray with Axl, knowing it will ultimately lead to disaster? He’s had solid success on his own, with Velvet Revolver, and last year’s amazing solo effort. Can we put faith in the idea that Rose would suddenly mellow and open up to working as a team rather than a dictator? Hard to imagine, but not impossible.
Which drummer would this reunion include? Steven Adler or Matt Sorum? Clearly the original is implied, and the logical choice. And if that’s the logic we follow then Gilby Clarke isn’t an original member and therefore not a consideration as part of a reunion anyway–except…
While I have little doubt Duff McKagen would gladly strap his bass back on for such a family get together, Izzy Stradlin is a much larger leap to make. Over the years he’s made it clear he has no desire or intent on reuniting with Axl in any form. That opens the door for Gilby…
For fans it would be an amazing gift to have Axl, Steven, Slash, Izzy and Duff back on stage together. The five created a timeless hard rock masterpiece with Appetite For Destruction, which is as potent today as it was when Axl first stepped off that bus into MTV fame those many decades ago. In fact, it is arguably one of rock’s most (if not the most) seminal albums from the hair metal era.
The current GnR line-up is packed with talent, and maybe it’s time to let go of the past and celebrate the fact that all the original members are still making great music. With guys like Richard Fortus, DJ Ashba and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal in the band, Axl and Co. could certainly turn out another masterpiece for a new era.
A reunion would be a wonderful thing, but like so many fantasies we have, the dream would likely be better than the reality. In the wake of the quasi-breakup, Axl has done little with the band, though other “new” members constantly hail Axl’s brilliance and the dearth of mind-blowing material he has waiting in the wings. The last time we heard that we waited 15 years for Chinese Democracy. Even if you were one of the minority who fully enjoyed said record, it admittedly didn’t offer huge promise for a return to the classic Guns N’ Roses that has so enamored millions of fans.
That said, I’d still buy tickets to be at the show.
How about you?
Dec. 2012 – Update: It’s been a year since this article was written and the questions keep popping up. Yet, in the last year alone, Slash has released his best work to date, and Steven Adler has finally given up the ghost he calls hope, and delivered up his best new work with Adler and “Back From the Dead” What has Axl done? Nothing at all… Guns N’ Roses reunion? I don’t think so.