The Days of Guns, & Raz's

A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s

Ch. 18

By the start of 87, The Wild were also long gone from their Gardner Street studio. All the cool 24/7 parties moved to Orange Street, right around the corner from the iconic Chinese Theater. A recent building boom had produced several mostly-wheelchair-accessible, poorly built, half-occupied, future-overpriced-slum apartment complexes on the block. There they waited for rockers, strippers, and drug slingers to rent them. Ole and his generous girlfriend lived in a sparsely furnished place – futon, tables, record player, guitars, and bedroom set – serving as my rock ‘n’ roll home base and pre-buzz central.

There were scores of other neighbors from Hell on that block who took turns hosting parties for several night-day-nights. One night, I ran into Steven Adler at someone’s party and invited him over to Ole’s pad for a smoke-out. When I asked how his album was coming along, he left me with an impression he believed they might not ever get a record done. He told of his drum tracks long since completed, and with the advance money long gone, he was broke. Steven complained, “I should have bought a van with my advance money,” adding something or another about a place to sleep and the ability to haul his drums around.

None of that shit mattered to me, because I got slap-happy when The Cult put out their new, beyond-kick-ass record. Rick Rubin can do no wrong, and it seemed like honest-to-goodness heavy rock ‘n’ roll came a-rumbling back with Electric. Ole’s drummer, Mickey, and me saw The Cult open for Billy Idol at the Fabulous Forum. During the show, we became possessed, and then went on to speak in tongues for months – “Ya-yeah!”

I went to lots of great concerts that summer. One of the more memorable gigs was Whitesnake and Deep Purple at Irvine Meadows. On our drive home from a spectacular show, we made a pit-stop at Jack in the Box. As we groggily grubbed, I heard alarmed shouts from the backseat. Looking back, I saw an almost-chest-high flame shoot up through my buddy’s crotch. As everyone bailed out, I yelled, “Get my chair from the trunk, fuckers.” Lesson: Don’t buy a car with the battery located under the back seat.

By the end of spring, G N’ R members were a rare sight around Hollywood. I’d still talk to Axl on the phone every few weeks. He actually checked in a few days after the single “It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone” was released. But I hadn’t heard it yet, so couldn’t offer an opinion. Axl promised he’d get me an album as soon as they were available. Within a week of that call, Guns N’ Roses was featured on a couple of major rock magazine covers. I was quite stoked to see the promo machine crank up for my buddy’s band.

Then, the week before Appetite for Destruction got released, Axl gave me an LP with the awesome, frowned-upon-by-the-PMRC Robert Williams cover. It was a hot day, so several neighbors and I were out by the pool sipping moonshine and Coke when Joe showed up with the record. He proceeded to drag my speakers outside, then plopped the disc on the turntable and cranked that shit to an appropriate volume. My seventy-year-old property manager understood an entirely different definition of appropriate, so we hauled those speakers back inside to finish our white-lightning LP-listening.

I must have played the fucker five times in a row, while making cassettes for friends, each time getting blown away discovering new things going on in the mix. The entire time, I remained awed by the tunes’ evolution since the last time I heard them played live. Duff’s smooth-pounding pace, married with Steven’s solid raw drumming, surprised me with how much complexity fit into the straightforward driving, slamming of G N’ R’s thumping metal heart. I’m a big fan of Axl’s Marlboro-and-bourbon-cured vocal-cord shredding style, but until that day was unaware of how brilliant his lower register sounded. Then there was Slash’s amazing performance. I always knew he was great, but in the year-plus since the band was signed, his skills improved ten-fold to put him near top of the all-time heap. I did wish Izzy’s parts were a little more prominent in the mix, but my only real complaint was “Why isn’t ‘Don’t Cry’ on there?”

Joe told me the label wanted a guaranteed radio-friendly power ballad for the next record, and “Sweet Child” was a better song. I thought it was a mistake, and said, “What do those fools know?” Well, obviously more than me.

Guns N’ Roses threw a record release party at the Coconut Teaser. A few days before the event, we received some very sad news. A close friend, Todd Crew, who everyone loved, had passed away. What should have been a celebration turned somber when the party became a tribute performance for Todd’s random act of mortality. G N’ R added the heartfelt “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” to their repertoire, delivered with such a staggering depth of raw passion that whenever I play it back in my mind’s ear, it still elicits chills. The sheer emotion brought about by love for a fallen comrade produced one of the greatest Guns N’ Roses shows ever witnessed. To me, the most astounding thing about their performance, with the Teaser’s challenging acoustics and crappy PA, was that it was near impossible to sound good at that place.

Finally, during the third week of July, 1987, Appetite for Destruction was unleashed on the rock world like a rabid mutt cuckoo for Cujo-puffs. The sea change was not immediately clear to the old guard. A stuck-in-the-past L.A. Times music critic lumped G N’ R together with Faster Pussycat into a combined review. Then, after trashing Faster Pussycat, the writer basically said G N’ R wasn’t as bad. I believe the reviewer’s statement was, “Less flash, more panache.” I almost wrote a letter to that Times jackass, to hip him to what an idiot he was. But that’s not unusual. I’ve almost written hundreds of letters. Hell, it took me thirty years to write this shit.

But if I would have written a cheesy review back in the day, it might have gone something like this:

And a one, and a two… It is universally accepted the rose represents true beauty, and to a patriot the individual liberty guaranteed by a gun is stunningly lovely in its own right. While the current crop of hard-rock bands sing of lipstick, liquor, and lap-dancing lovers, this Guns N’ Roses lyrical portrait, Appetite for Destruction, is an all-American tale of lust-dreams, love-struggles, pain, conquest, and the ultimate triumph of resolve. A collection of fiercely elegant songs about how it is, not tunes of what should be. Appetite’s overarching attitude offers a tantalizing cinematic glimpse from deep within the outsider, delivering a supersonic, hammering celebration from capitalisms’ jack-bootstraps straight to the teeth of lesser-metal men who must then run to hide their unworthiness.

But I didn’t write a cheesy review. Well, not until the paragraph right above this one. Though I likely realized most of that fluff back in the day, for sure there’s some viewing through Guns N’ Rose-colored hindsight glasses. Speaking of hindsight, there is a case to be made of AFD being the last great rock vinyl LP record. You see, at the time of its release, compact discs had not yet fully dominated the market. We also had cassette tapes, thus splitting format choices into three. But the 33 & 1/3 rpm long-playing vinyl record remained the nostalgic king of the heap. So artists entered the recording studio focused on producing an LP record, with its total time length limited by physical grooves. Therefore, unless it was a double album, at the absolute maximum fifty-ish minutes’ worth of music was all a fan got. Bands were forced to self-edit their weaker material to fit those constraints. Unless their music was so outstanding it became impossible to decide what to dump, music lovers got truly great products such as Exile on Main St. and Goodbye Yellow Dicked Toad.

With an album in stores and a chip on their shoulders, the So-Cal menaces hit the road to terrorize stages across the globe. Almost overnight, Izzy, Axl, Slash, Duff, and Steven became every hungry stripper’s pride and joy, and never was it more important for governors, mayors, and police chiefs to lock up their daughters. When I first heard they were going on the road with The Cult, I was ecstatic. Two of my favorite bands would be touring together, plus I’d be at that motherfucking show partying like a rock star’s younger dumber brother. A few days before those acts were set to ignite the Long Beach Arena, Ole and me took a road trip to Sacramento to grab Mickey so he could see his new favorite band, and favorite new band.

Before hitting the highway, we made a quick stop to grab a case of Budweiser. Immediately after Ole slammed his door shut, he popped open a Bud and passed it to me. On a hundred-degree day, cold beer was never refused. But I’ve only got one good hand, so I clawed the wheel with my off hand, slammed down an ice-cold brew, then handed Ole my empty before we even made the top of the on-ramp across from 7-11. That’s musician talk for pass me another. And though I’m not a musician, I do play one at AA. So I consumed eight beers in the same manner. After number eight, I held onto my empty so as not to be required to drink another.

I hated getting slowed down by the Grapevine’s ultra-steep grade, so my approach usually included a 90 MPH running start. Next thing I knew, it was foot-to-floor climbing the treacherous slope, weaving in and out of traffic, passing cars like they were standing still as three hundred watts of G N’ R blasted from my Chevelle’s speakers. On the other side of the mountain, my Chevy gave out just south of Wasco. By the time we got it all sorted out, it was past midnight. All I wanted was to go home and sleep it off. And Mickey was shit out of luck.

About an hour before the Long Beach Arena show, I ran into Izzy in the pisser backstage and told him of me and Ole’s adventure. I mentioned jokingly his band bore some responsibility – seeing as I was listening to AFD at the time – and inquired about reimbursement for the tow.

Izzy laughed and told me, “Were not responsible for blown engines, or ear drums.”

I followed him back to where the free beer lived its brief existence, and hung backstage until showtime. When they were ready to rock, I rolled alongside the guys toward the stage until stairs requiring climbing skills halted my advance. There I was, at the very venue where I experienced some of the best rock shows of my life, waiting for my friends’ band to kick it into high gear. I sat stage left and watched with much anticipation as Steven positioned his kit and the guys received their guitars from techs. In the blink of an eye, the boys went to work.

About two thirds into Guns N’ Roses’ set, the free Heinekens caught up with me. I stashed my current Heineken on top of a stack of Peavey power amps and headed for the pisser. Just as I exited the restroom, the music stopped on a dime. Except for the murmuring crowd, the house was silent. I hurried back to the stage and almost bashed into an ultra-pissed Axl as he hit the bottom step. After he stormed past me, the rest of the guys were not far behind. I asked someone, “What happened?” Apparently the PA had quit. Later, I heard someone from the crew guessing that a jealous Cult had ordered the sound guy to shut G N’ R down.

Remember that Heineken I set on those power amps? Don’t ever do that shit, because it might get knocked over. If beer spills into a power amplifier, not only must you procure more beer, a protect circuit will shut it down. From the stage monitor’s failure onward, it was all a chain reaction toward a total PA failure. I almost fessed up later during a little after-show get-together inside an Embassy Suites room, but didn’t want the party supplies cut off. Besides, G N’ R were almost finished with their kick-ass set before… Oops! For those of you who attended the show, no worries. I managed to find another beer.

As G N’ R’s success grew, Ole became more and more downbeat. Up until that point in time, he never said a word to me about departing the band. But on the ride home from Long Beach, he was totally bummed when asking, “Why am I not in that band? I should be getting my dick sucked in twenty different languages right now.”

I told him, “Dude, you made a decision you thought best at the time. It is what it is.”

He strongly disagreed that he decided anything. Although tired of Tracii’s shit, he wanted Axl as his singer enough to put up with him. Ole had no idea his tenure was even slightly in jeopardy. Then, within days of getting booted from G N’ R, Ole went to Wilpower Studios to grab his gear and ran into Slash, who at the time played in Black Sheep. Soon, he, Slash, and Steven were jamming together semi-regularly. Right up until those two joined G N’ R. So in Ole’s mind, he had actually lost out twice.

Within a year of our ride home from the Cult show, G N’ R was the biggest band in the world, and not too long after that, some piece of shit stole Ole’s beloved Music Man bass. It was the absolute last straw for his mental state, and he returned to Denmark suffering from a deep depression. Through the miracles of ancient brew science and classic movie endings, Ole managed to fully cure his sadness with some late-night swim therapy.

Once the Cult tour was complete, the boy’s hit Europe for a few headlining weeks. Then they swooped into New York City to tear up the MTV “Headbanger’s Ball” set, right after some clueless doofus interviewer asked a bunch of lame questions. It was ultra-cheesy but funny and awesome seeing them on MTV. Soon after their MTV appearance, G N’ R hit the road opening up for Mötley Crüe on a leg of their Girls, Girls, Girls tour.

The next time I heard from Axl was when he called and said, “If you don’t come to my show, I’m going to put a stick in your spokes.” The show(s) were at Perkin’s Palace in Pasadena, about a week before an eventful year’s end. Steven’s arm in a cast meant Fred Curry of Cinderella sat in on drums. The band was still great, but lacked a bit of their incendiary magic. Backstage after the show, hometown hero David Lee Roth waited patiently in the hall until Axl was ready for company in his dressing room. Roth came in and congratulated Axl on a great show. Sitting there listening to them chat, I sensed the torch being passed.

When Axl couch-toured my house, or whenever we spoke, the discussion of lyrics was a frequent topic. At the time, a person couldn’t just look shit up on the internet, mainly due to lack of computers and the World-Wide Spider barely beginning to spin its web. We were the last generation forced to figure out lyrics by crowd decipher. That’s when a group of friends pieced together whatever they thought they heard in a song, and then it was gospel set in stone that Elton John longed for the safe embrace of Tony Danza.

Aerosmith lyrics were particularly difficult, owing to Steven Tyler’s rapid flow of sweet nonsensical rhymes with blues-harp-riff pacing. Whenever we couldn’t figure out what he be singing, we’d seek clarification from the Oracle of Aerosmith: Slash. Try as we might, none of us could ever figure out the high scream-wailing part in “Draw the Line,” other than “Checkmate, don’t be late…” So when label-mate Steven Tyler phoned Axl Rose to cuss him out for making such a great album, naturally Axl inquired about the lyrics to the high part of “Draw the Line.” Tyler claimed to not recall the precise wording, due to improvisation and a tall glass of strong beer.

Backstage after one of those Perkin’s Palace shows, Alice Cooper’s manager played a cassette of Alice and Axl singing “Under my Wheels” live, which sounded brilliant. Then, Robert John took photos for Rip Magazine. The whole band posed for several shots before Robert informed them of Rip only wanting Axl and Slash for the cover. At first, there was a little push-back, but Steven eventually accepted the “two guys make a better composition for selling magazines” argument. Of all the magazines, Rip seemed to have the most integrity. But I soon became completely disillusioned by most rock magazines. I once believed stories about my favorite rock stars were the product of a journalist reporting things they actually witnessed, and contained quotes a reporter personally gathered during an interview. But I soon found out most articles merely rehashed, made-up, factually incorrect garbage pulled from other rag-azines or disgruntled cunts.

People around the Hollywood rock scene were aware I knew G N’ R. I would get calls out of the blue from folks I hadn’t seen or spoken to in months. They’d be like, “Hi, Raz. How have you been?” Then after an ever-so-brief amount of small talk, they’d ask, “Is it true that, Insert latest G N’ R rumor?”

It got pretty pathetic. After the first few of those, I’d sense it coming and head those idiots off at the pass. It went like this: A minor acquaintance would ring me up and start into some bullshit chitchat, and I’d interject with something like, “Sorry, can’t talk right now. The plane crash has me bummed out and I must go identify the charred remains,” or, “I don’t even think Duff likes eleven-year-old Asian boys dressed up as young Asian girls.” It was fun fucking with people, but a new number was far easier.