For a few short years in the late 80′s and early 90′s, there was one band that could legitimately claim to be the biggest metal band in the world … before it all so slowly fell apart.
Guns N’ Roses hit the music scene more like a hurricane than a bolt of lightning in 1987. Their album had been out for months but was still sitting on shelves all over the country until David Geffen personally intervened with MTV to get the first GN’R video some airplay on the all-music network.
MTV played the debut single – once- at 4 in the morning on a Sunday. It was enough. Metal fans started requesting the song over and over until MTV made it a regular part of the playlist, and “Welcome to the Jungle” became a career maker for the band.
“Mr Brownstone” was never released officially as a single in the U.S., but it became a concert staple for the band’s relatively short run in their mad dash to the top and slow fizzle into disillusion and break-up.
If ever a band was stitched together with irony, Gun N’ Roses is it. They made their name with amazingly compelling tunes that were harder than anyone else that could actually get on MTV or the radio at the time. Metallica were legends, but they were not on MTV. Accept, Megadeth, Slayer all had huge followings, but they were outside the mainstream just enough that they were shunned by radio and MTV, which also meant that their success was severely limited from lack of exposure. GN’R was never really a thrash band, nor did they try to be. What they did do was take that wild, no-holds-barred attitude and give it some melody.
What they also did was live the life.
“Mr Brownstone” is a slang for heroin, and GN’R guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin wrote the song as a picture of their typical day at the time.
“I get up around seven, get out of bed around nine,
And I don’t worry about nothing no ‘
Cause worrying’s a waste of my…time.
The show usually starts around seven, we go on stage around nine,
Get on the bus about eleven, sipping a drink and feeling fine.”
The life of a head-banging musician in those days…
“I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it so a little got more and more.
I just keep trying to get a little better said a little better than before.”
As Guns N’ Roses became the biggest band in the world, for a few years, they also were falling apart from drug abuse and all the pressures of being on the road and in the studio constantly.
With the titles of their first two releases, Appetite For Destruction followed by the seminal Use Your Illusion I and II, GN’R were living all too close to the edge and really living what they were playing.
Drummer Steven Adler was fired soon into the Use Your Illusion sessions as he was so deep into the lifestyle he could no longer play at a level acceptable to the rest of the band. Lead singer Axl Rose was pushing all the members to clean up, and over time they slowly did. But while Rose was pushing the members toward sobriety, he became increasingly erratic and imperious.
Izzy Stradlin had left the band during the ending days of the Use Your Illusion tour, citing Rose’s behavior and the increased pressures inside the band, as he was the first to get cleaned up. After the ill-fated release of a cover songs album titled The Spaghetti Incident? Guns N’ Roses were a spent force.
While Slash, Duff McKagan, and Adler’s replacement as drummer, Matt Sorum, all made the slow journey to sobriety, Rose was nearly always late for performances and famously would walk off stage and leave at the slightest provocation, actually leading to riots by disappointed fans on a few occasions.
With the other members having made their way to a sober life, the band fell apart completely, leaving Rose with ownership of the name and a new legacy: a a band that was once the best there ever was and is now a rather sad joke.
Slash, McKagan, and Sorum went on to form Velvet Revolver and had a good run of success with former Stone Temple Pilot’s lead vocalist Scott Weiland until Weiland’s own difficulties became a problem for the band.
Rose would release the album Chinese Democracy using the GN’R moniker in 2008, after one of the longest and most difficult recording processes of all time in the music industry — to yawning reviews. After so much anticipation the, project was a dud. My own opinion? It’s not bad but it has nothing compelling about it either. It’s just kind of there.
So, while Rose pushed for the band to get cleaned up — and they did — Rose himself traveled further and further into erratic and often bizarre behavior and ultimately into irrelevance.