A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s
After months of relentless touring, G N’ R earned themselves a little time off. At the start of 1988, they returned to Hollywood as conquering heroes and were without a doubt the new band with the biggest buzz in the business. But in a flash, they were on the road again for most of February, headlining large theaters and earning far more money than opening for arena acts.
But in those days, a band’s real goal was selling records, and so newer bands opened up for arena headliners. Sure, they got raped on cash, stage size, and PA usage, but they were exposed to maybe ten thousand people per show who otherwise might not have ever heard the band. To that end, in the spring, G N’ R hit the road with Iron Maiden. I’m a huge Maiden fan, but they were old and tired by 1988, and I’d bet what remains of my left nut that Guns N’ Roses blew Maiden off the stage four out of every five shows. The grueling pace caught up with Axl, and because of an injury to his vocal cords, he wisely shut it down before doing any further career-threatening damage. But there’s an old saying about journalists: “They never report that a plane landed safely.” The truth is, “If it bleeds, it leads,” so those highly ethical rock “journalists” had a field day conjuring up several contradictory “real reasons” G N’ R had departed the Iron Maiden tour early.
Each week, I’d free-read Billboard the moment it hit the newsstand, so I remained keenly aware of AFD’s chart position. Over the course of a week or two, it slipped a few notches. I figured it had peaked and would creep its way back down the charts. Which led me to conclude that G N’ R’s support of their debut album was likely done. It just seemed the normal course of business for the guys to get back to writing tunes, then head into the motherfucking studio to record another motherfucking album and keep their motherfucking momentum mounting. That’s how new bands did it; they opened for big acts, left a good impression, then hurried back into the studio to get a second record in stores before people forgot about them or the next big thing came along to squash yesterday’s news. All the while getting schmoozed along the road by promoters who knew they needed to build a good relationship with the up-and-comers.
AFD’s late-winter chart reversal was slight, and even shorter lived. Week after week, all through spring, it steadily climbed up the Billboard Charts. The release of their single “Sweet Child,” days before their support of Iron Maiden abruptly ended, quickly accelerated that chart rise. For every schoolgirl, choirboy, outcast, reject, or delinquent, the siren’s song of Appetite for Destruction was far too compelling to ignore. Until gangster rap arrived a few years later, G N’ R was the only truly dangerous band accurately reporting from the streets. Grand Master Flash had told the world, “It’s like a jungle,” but G N’ R rolled out the welcome mat. Unlike other bands posing as outlaws, Guns N’ Roses were the real deal and proudly practiced without pretentious preaching. I do love me some alliterations.
One of the coolest things about gaining popularity and respect was the opportunity it provided to perform with one’s heroes. Not long after Guns N’ Roses inked the contract to join Aerosmith on tour, Axl called to let me know the long-hoped-for pairing would actually happen. Such a compelling bill was a dream tour for me, and most likely two or three other true rock fans. Sidetrack: I just thought of something. If I were Axl Rose, back in 83, I would have gone with “Compelling Bill” as my chosen stage name.
A few days later, I called W. Axl Rose – man, he’s got the best initials, W.A.R. – to tell him I heard Deep Purple on “Rockline.” During the interview, Purple mentioned a concert in New York, with Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses at Giants Stadium, sometime later that summer. I told Axl the only thing better would be having Ted Nugent’s original band on the show. But more importantly, I hadn’t caught the exact date. It was news to Axl, so he said he’d find out the details and let me know.
When I didn’t hear back from Axl for a month, I figured he forgot and the show had passed. But within days of that thought, he rang me up. After chatting for a while, he told me that indeed they would play a show with Deep Purple at Giants Stadium a few weeks down the line. I told him I’d call him back after checking on hotels and flights, so he could put me on the guest list if need be. I hadn’t realized he was calling me from Cincinnati. I was even more surprised when he gave me their travel agent’s number so I could pick up my complimentary plane tickets. Five days, later Appetite for Destruction hit # 1 on the Billboard charts for the first time.
I was super stoked when I packed way too much shit for a three-day trip. Ma drove me to LAX and, as customary, we smoked pot along the way. She usually scored mediocre to low-grade Mexican, requiring hours of laborious deseeding just to cobble a joint’s worth of headache, but that evening it was some bomb-shit. Me likey. So we burned a couple doobies along the way. There was only one problem – that dope got me way too fucking paranoid. Upon arrival to the terminal of impending doom, several emergency vehicles parked curbside with red lights flashing had me conjuring up worst-case scenarios. I mentally braced for the coming firestorm.
Rolling toward my gate, I couldn’t have worried more. Even if I were about to hop the red eye aboard a solar-powered airplane overloaded with obese folks. But I’m a professional – worry and weed are kissin’ cousins – so I motored ahead, confident my wholly justifiable paranoia would wear off shortly. Instead, it became five hours of terrifying terror while high in the sky. Seemingly every ten minutes, the plane’s captain abruptly banked that fucking death-jet hard left. Which every damn time freaked me the fuck out, while I thought to myself “Oh fuck, this is it.”
Because you’re reading this, you might have figured out – and I’m happy to report – the plane landed safely in Newark, New Jersey. Just before seven in the morning, as we taxied to the terminal, our stunt-pilot came over the intercom and I heard the day’s weather forecast for 85 degrees with 85 percent humidity. As soon as the muggy smacked me in the face while deplaning, I realized the pilot meant “right now.” That shit just ain’t right!
As mentioned above, I brought a stupid amount of luggage. It teetered high on my lap, requiring me to peek around it as I slow-rolled my way through the terminal in search of the rental car counter. I asked several passersby for directions, but was repeatedly ignored. After the fifth ignorant fuck gave me the brush off, I yelled, “Fuck you!”
He stopped abruptly, spun around to face me, and then very politely said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you need some help?”
I thought to myself, “Got to love New Jersey, fuck you is hello.”
I headed out on the highway toward Teaneck and a room at the Lowes Glenpointe ready and waiting for me. The guys were still aboard a tour bus, with its busted air conditioner, motoring their sticky, sweaty way from Detroit. After a long nap, I drove my rental car to grab a bite and then took in the sites around Jersey, the whole time keeping my eyes peeled for a good place to catch some air in a car I’d never see again. After dinner, I checked my messages and found out the guys were in a downstairs conference room readying for a photo shoot. I hurried down, eager to find Steven because it’d been hours since I smoked pot.
Axl was there with road manager Doug, who eventually became their business manager. When we were introduced, he said to me, “Raz, good to finally meet you.” He paused momentarily, seemingly pondering something, and then said, “You know who was asking about you the other day?” I perked up, feeling important about him knowing who I was, and that folks were talking about me. But he just chuckled and said, “No one.” At some point during my trip, Doug pointed out something that ruined some of my most cherished private moments. He said, “You know what I hate most? Those phone sex ads in the back of Hustler – the little ones with thirty on the page – I hate that they always sneak in one or two gay phone sex ads.”
I had never noticed that before. Now, I can’t not notice.
The rest of the band began meandering into the conference room about a half an hour after I got there. I think their minds were blown, as was mine, upon hearing the photo shoot was for the “Cover of the Rolling Stone.” The magazine was still relevant, and everyone was fully aware of how big a deal the cover was. Naturally, we were all thrilled, and goofed around while sporadically singing Dr. Hook. After me and Steven returned from upstairs, photographer Timothy White fine-tuned his lighting by having G N’ R pose for a few Polaroid test shots. A little more than four years after seeing Izzy and Axl’s band at Madame Wong’s West, I sat in a conference room at the Lowes Glenpointe in Teaneck, New Jersey, sipping cocktails while my buddies posed for the cover of Rolling Stone.
After Timothy got his cover shot, he still needed a few more photos for the meat of the feature story. But the guys put him on hold so they could get something to eat. I hung around with Doug and some east-coast record-exec chick as Timothy tried selling his idea of taking some photos at a place he liked in Asbury Park, sixty-five miles away. The exec told him it was kind of far, but she’d see if Axl was willing. That’s when Timothy said, “We’ll just make Axl think it was his idea.”
A short while later, when presented with the choice, we were all stunned when Axl instantly agreed to do it. He told me later it was a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation. Even by then, he had been smeared, exaggerated about, and painted in several unflattering lights by other music publications. Those factors combined with Axl’s respect for the magazine’s reach and credibility, as well as the honor of being featured on Rolling Stone’s cover, had him agree to Timothy’s suggested location without a second thought.
An hour or so later, we all piled into limo vans and high-tailed it along the Jersey Turnpike as the guys grumbled and bitched; something about giving Timothy “the corn.” On the road with Aerosmith for a month, and after riding all day on a bus with no air conditioning, the following day’s itinerary clearly promised a “Day Off.” But NYC is the world’s media hub, and their day off got filled with work as everyone tugged at them from all directions. Meaning they had to get up super early the next morning and head into NYC to shoot scenes for the “Paradise City” video, and then afterwards do countless interviews. Instead of chilling in the hotel bar after the cover shoot, and then resting up for an early morning, some punk motherfucker photographer took them on a trek to a faraway bar as a present for his friends to open.
The bar, Mrs. Jay’s, sat right next door to the legendary Stone Pony club. Everyone was super cool to us, and without a doubt, a good time was had by all. The place was closed, but about fifty cool biker regulars remained within. Even though I repeatedly asked random strangers, “You got any hard drugs?” unfortunately no one had any blow to share. After all the travel, trouble, and Timothy touting the unique backgrounds that Mrs. Jay’s provided, the Rolling Stone spread only used two close-up shots from the location: one of Axl, and another of Slash on a pool table. Who knew there were no pool tables in Teaneck, New Jersey?
It was four in the morning. We had just finished the photo shoot at Mrs. Jay’s. There we were, sitting in a limo van out front, waiting to make sure we had everyone, when Axl saw a fresh young cutie in the gathered crowd, pointed her out, and said, “You think she’s old enough?”
I said, “Probably.”
Axl sent an assistant, Todd, to ask her if she wanted to ride back to the hotel and hang out. A half second after Todd got to talking with the babe, her face lit up brighter than a lighthouse getting hit with an H-bomb. And I read her lips – “Me?” – as she almost jumped out of her shoes and started toward the van. But the older woman at her side grabbed an arm, preventing launch. The cutie tugged and said, “But, Mom.”
They argued back and forth, while Todd waited patiently with arms crossed. A few minutes later, he came to the window to report, “Her mom won’t let her.” I bet she’s still pissed off at her mother.
The fame and millions I can live without, but I truly envy those guys’ rock star problems of every schoolgirl and her twin being simultaneously sexually available. The girls they scored when playing Hollywood clubs were hot and tasty sluts, but the world-class whores ladies they frequently enjoyed since hitting the top of the charts were truly awe inspiring. Supermodels’ cuter, younger sisters, and pampered daughters of the rich and powerful all clawed over one another just to be that special one in a million. When G N’ R rocked the Hollywood clubs, at after-parties, chicks were fair game to all in attendance. If cards were played correctly – cocaine – most were readily available for fluid exchange. Unfortunately for me, hanging out backstage with mega rock stars, 99 percent of the talent was there for the band, or an occasional crewmember that might-could get sucked into introducing them to their favorite gun.
We didn’t get back to the hotel until five in the morning, and even though I asked Steven to wake me before they went into NYC for the “Paradise City” video shoot, when he rang me up at whenever, it was way too fucking early and I slept in. Steven was returning to his room just as I headed out to explore a nearby mall and get some grub. We hung out for ten minutes in his room before he booted me to get some much-needed rest. Then I saw Duff, but he wasn’t interested in exploring Jersey with me. In the elevator, I met an old dude who worked with Aerosmith, Tom. He rode along to the mall with me, and bought me lunch for the ride.
It was mid-afternoon when I got back. Axl was awake by then, and after he did a few phone interviews, we basically just hung out all day in his room with his brother, Stuart, who was taking a lifetime of semesters off from law school. Since injuring his voice earlier in the year, and his future’s uncertainty while recuperating, Axl was all business. No “champagne and cocaine” rock star lifestyle, at least while I was around. Wahhhhhhh! Believe it or not, Aerosmith were a good influence on G N’ R, who had agreed to substance-ly change their behavior when the Aero boys were present. Whatever the reason, Axl was attempting to live as healthy a lifestyle as the road would permit, all the while valiantly attempting to get adequate rest between performances.
It was cool to get caught up, talk music, and hear tales of rock ‘n’ road. A few years earlier, Axl had declined an offer to go see Queensrÿche with me. The band just wasn’t his cup of tea. So that afternoon, when he recommended Operation Mindcrime, I knew it must be good. He also touted George Michael’s Faith and insisted The Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll was mind-blowingly great on compact disc, as opposed to the LP I already owned. No matter what anyone ever says about Axl Rose, you can never take away his penchant for knowing what music lovers will like to hear. I still love and listen to all three of those albums quite often.
There was a lot going on in Axl Rose’s life at the time. You might have heard, barely a week earlier, his band’s record had climbed to number one on the Billboard charts. It was kind of a big deal. I wish I would have asked him, but I’d bet three bucks Axl called his mother to say, “Your son made it, Mama. He’s a success.”
I told him that when I first listened to AFD, I thought they “should have named it G N’ R’s Greatest Hits.”
Axl gave me a sly grin and said, “We actually joked about that.” He added, “Might have been more appropriate, huh?”
Axl expressed genuine surprise that an album with some twenty-seven “fucks” crammed tightly between its grooves could climb to number one. I think that was the fuck tally he got, but I’m not going to go count every fucking one. Some youngsters might not realize it, but in 1988, it was completely unheard of for a commercially successful record to overflow with fucking obscenities. Unlike nowadays, where more fucks can be found in some nursery rhymes. Probably because so many things rhyme with fuck, and I tend to write such dirty-kiddy limericks.
It’s an absolute stone-cold-fact that I might be remembering this wrong, but originally, AFD was mastered as an LP, with the first CD mastering a mere afterthought. At some point, the record company agreed to re-master the CD. Axl had one of those newer, better-sounding CDs in his boombox. He reportedly listened to AFD almost daily and tripped out on “how great my band is.” It was more than a passing comment, he actually went into great detail about his love and respect for his bandmates’ talents and was amazed he actually sang for such a great group.
Axl almost hadn’t hung around this planet long enough to witness his record top the charts. Not long before that muggy summer day in New Jersey, he had arrived in an emergency room on the verge of experiencing an untimely death by misadventure. As he lay atop the gurney, fearing the end was nigh while fighting loss of consciousness, he sang to himself, “Axl ‘made a record, went straight up to’ number four.” He then thought, “Whoa… I can’t die like this.” So he gathered the will to fight on and finish what he’d begun. Plus, the E.R. folks probably gave him a shot of something to send him in a different direction, and he was not twenty-seven.
I told him, “You know how selfish that was? You just devalued all my memorabilia.” I still think he owes me an apology for that shit.
Even though G N’ R owned the number-one album in all the land, they remained cash poor. It took a lot of record company investment to get the band to that point. And even though G N’ R were still technically in the red, the leech class knew that a quarterly pay period or two in the future, the guys would be ready for some financial bloodletting. I clearly remember Axl’s lament: “You think that you had it rough when you got money; once you got a million, the professional vultures come out.”
If music is the only freedom you’ve ever known, what happens when your freedom turns to gold? All of a sudden, every asshole and idiot was bringing lawsuits for even the most minor bullshit. Former “managers” claimed they were responsible for getting the guys their record deal, or a handful of cops will sue for the same incident while making an arrest – of you. The list went on. A person had two choices in those situations: proudly fight for what’s right, or take the much cheaper option of a quickie negotiated settlement. A wise person will choose to rub their neck and write ’em a check so they go the fuck away. One then thinks twice before decking someone, because it’ll cost twenty, thirty, or way more thousands of dollars to punch someone who righteously deserves some two-fisted feedback. As someone who lost the ability to bash idiots’ teeth in years earlier, I understood all too well how sorely missed bloodying them there knuckles can be.
I have no idea how often Axl read reviews, or any of the things written about him. I imagine it could be infuriating at times. That kind of stress is not something I’d ever care to experience. There’s also the relentless touring, where you’re not permitted to have a bad night. If you do, you’re just a fake or phony that relied on “studio tricks.” One can be nice and appreciative to a hundred fans in a row encountered out in the world while traveling from point A to point B. Then, Mr. Hundred One gets pissed off because you really have somewhere else to be. So they tell everyone, including you, what an asshole you are.
A band goes into the studio to lay down parts over and over until it is close enough to the rock ‘n’ roll they heard in their head. And then, a very select few must back their shit up for decades. There’s no doubt about it, G N’ R was an incredible live band – most of the time. At their best, I doubt any gang of rock ‘n’ rollers could have blown them off the stage. In the real world, everyone has a bad night every now and then. But a year earlier, that one crappy show had at most only a few hundred witnesses. In the blink of an eye, the whole world watched.
I don’t know how someone in that situation could get any sleep at all. But at nine in the morning, ten minutes after you’ve finally crashed out after trying to all night, asshole hotel maids ignore your “Do Not Disturb” sign and are then shocked by screamed obscenities and heavy objects hurling toward the door. Then you must pay someone to sit in a chair outside the room to shoo them away, simply because they’re too fucking stupid to realize “Do Not Disturb” has no other definition.
After a day of catching up, I went to my room eager and excited for the next day’s show. Sometime after two in the morning, I was awakened by a call from Axl, hitting me up for the sleeping aids I offered earlier. Once I’m asleep in bed, unless there’s a fire, it’s a slow process for me to get up and into my wheelchair. So even though the dude sported my trip, lazy me asked him to send someone down to the front desk for the key to my room.
Ten minutes later, I heard a key enter my door’s lock, but I had engaged the security latch. So I yelled, “Here I come!”
About halfway to the door, I heard a bellowed “FUUUUUUUUCK!” followed by smashing glass, a slight delay, then a distant splash. Apparently, after Axl had returned to his room, someone hurled a table through the plate glass window to end up in a swimming pool twenty floors below.
Security arrived as I was surveying the damage. As a quadriplegic, I had a great fucking true-ish alibi. I had been in my buddies’ room, and we ordered so much God damned Chinese food that we needed a table from my room to set it all out. Then afterward, someone left that same table by my door. “How was I to know that vandals would throw it through the window?”
By the time I awoke the next morning, there was a board on the window, and Todd was keeping watch by Axl’s door. I gave a quick wave before entering Steven’s room. We ordered room service breakfast and, before he kicked me out to spend time with his wife, we might have smoked an ever-so-small amount of high-grade marijuana. I saw Slash in the hall for the first time since the photo shoot. He was on his way to the bar, and I declined an invitation to join in on the daytime drinking. With hours till sound check, there was nothing to do. Thoroughly bored, I went and watched TV in my room till it was time to head to the stadium.
Duff rode along with me to the venue. In the elevator on the way down was the guy, Tom, who had tagged along with me to the mall the prior day. I offered him a ride to the stadium, but he already had a car coming. As we continued toward valet, Duff asked, “How do you know Tom?” I was kind of shocked when Duff pointed out that Tom Hamilton, bassist from one of my all-time favorite bands, bought me lunch the day before.
We got to Giants Stadium a few hours before sound check. I already had an all-access Guns N’ Roses laminate pass that I made myself using the cover from an AFD cassette’s artwork. But lots of people had realized that scam since I last went to a show, and so they designed new laminates consisting of Slash’s Sharpie drawing of two retarded dogs fucking. Actually, I can’t remember the image, because I never got one of those. Instead, I got one specific to that gig, with logos of Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and G N’ R. We were the first ones there, so Duff took me for a golf-cart tour of the parking lot. We zoomed around for a while until someone recognized him. Then, everyone recognized him and we hightailed it back behind the safety of the storm fence. Duff rewarded those fans who ran all the way to the gate by chatting, thanking people for the love, and signing a bunch of autographs.
Backstage, Duff hipped me about my laminate meaning lunch was free in the cafeteria. Pay attention, this is very important information. If you are ever backstage, don’t eat from the deli trays on tables in hallways unless you saw it arrive with the plastic wrap still protecting it. Then, before letting it out of your sight, get whatever you want the first time. But I was safe, because cafeteria meals get to your palate unmolested by pranksters and loogie-free. I took my free lunch and sat with Steven while, at another table, Duff talked things over with his tech. A few minutes later, Steven began chatting drum set-up with a guy that I pissed off by asking if he was Steven’s roadie.
He snapped back, “I’m a tech.”
I was surprised to learn the road crew stayed at a different hotel, miles away, and thought to myself, “Probably way more fun stuff going on over there.” I acted as though I hadn’t heard Steven’s tech, and asked, “What hotel do you roadies stay at?” He glared angrily then left without answering.
When G N’ R headed for the stage to sound check and shoot a few “Paradise City” scenes, I set off to explore Giants Stadium. I met a wild cutie-pie who worked in food services, and truly wish I would have had a few more days for deal-sealing. After some smooching, I found my way to the luxury boxes. I don’t know if it would be considered a luxury box nowadays, but it was an air-conditioned room high above the stage with a bitchin’ viewing angle. As I rolled along the corridor, I noticed several doors had signs with people’s names written on them. A quick talk with the floor’s security manager, and the slide of a twenty, got my name on a door. A couple people poked their heads into my suite, and the ones with pot were welcomed with open lungs. They’d even go grab cocktails if I requested. After sound check, I put in a drink order and went backstage.
A short while after catering delivered our meals, Slash advised me to grab any leftover rider items before they disappeared. The hours between sound check and rock ‘n’ roll show are generally pretty mellow. Most times, artists try to get a good, decent buzz, while avoiding the sloppy point. The overarching goal being to saddle up next to invincibility, while trying to forget about the thousands with performance expectations soaring higher than Icarus. Usually it’s just a beer or four, some wine, a few puffs and/or sniffs, with the goal of destroying boredom and lessening the anticipation that might reveal one’s anxiety. New York is a media super-hub, so there was also that to dwell on if you didn’t feel like it. At some point, set lists got passed around, and there were no issues, so they were sent off to be duct taped onto the stage near expected locations.
Even though each guy had a private dressing room, most everyone hung out in a biggish room and we shot the shit while pre-buzzing. I went and popped my head into Axl’s dressing room. Usually, it’s quite obvious if he doesn’t want company, but he waved me right in. He was in good spirits and stoked about the show as we chatted about topical subjects to avoid dwellable thoughts.
I didn’t know how into Deep Purple Axl was, or if he was aware of how incredible a live act they were. I saw that Mark II lineup – Blackmore, Gillan, Lord, Glover, and Paice – several times and, without a doubt, they were probably the best group of all-around great musicians to jam their era’s heavy metal. Add their catalog bristling with iconic tunes, and it meant if you only saw one band that year, you would never regret your Purple decision. When I spoke glowingly of my love for the band, and Ian Gillan’s sarcastically wise lyrics, Axl told me he was well aware, and that sometimes before a show he warmed up to House of Blue Light. It must have reminded him of the need to warm up, shower, and get his stage duds on. So away I went.
I found Izzy hanging out right off the main room. He was sitting three-quarters facing the ceramic-tiled corner of a huge public shower, plucking away on his guitar while semi-chain smoking Marlboros. I asked him if it was alright to film him, and when he said okay, I grabbed my Super-8 camera and exposed a whole role. Unlike the film of the Rolling Stone photo shoot, I still have that Izzy footage. I wasn’t alone in the motion-picture-capture department; besides the music video crew, Stuart Bailey and a few other friends and family members videotape-documented lots of Guns N’ Roses’ movements during the days I was there.
About half an hour before scheduled showtime, Axl returned fully decked out in the white leather outfit and kicks that were captured for all time in the “Paradise City” video.
Upon seeing the custom clothing, plastered with G N’ R logos and W. Axl Rose written across the breast on one side of his jacket, I joked, “If you forget your name, you can always look at your jacket.” I do not believe he found it humorous, but right now, I just chuckled again. In any case, the last thing I wanted to do was cause Axl to change moods prior to a performance, so I wished everyone broken limbs and set out to mingle with the commoners.
Ever since they began playing large auditoriums and arenas, I usually spent all my time backstage and watched shows from side-stage. The Giants Stadium stage sat so high above ground level that I couldn’t get a good vantage point. I decided to venture out past the barricades and tooled around the sparse crowd. For some reason, security had not begun letting in fans until about an hour before G N’ R was due to hit the stage. Maybe it was to get the time-lapse scenes for the “Paradise City” video. But either way, at their scheduled time, the stadium was only half full. So to allow more fans time to get in, G N’ R hit the stage almost an hour later than planned. A grass field, covered with tarps, made it tough travel for me, so after about fifty yards of on-field adventure, I headed back to the easy-rolling concrete of backstage tunnels and on up the elevator to the club level.
I arrived to my luxury box just as the boys kicked in with “It’s So Easy.” A oppressively hot and muggy day meant Axl must’ve been burning up in his leather outfit, but was forced to stick it out for at least a couple of tunes so they could capture enough live footage for the “Paradise City” video. Axl constantly wiped away sweat and picked hair from teeth after every headbang. It was after this show that a hat, bandana, or some sort of headband became a staple of his stage wear. It’s something I realized when watching images shot three days later – the black-and-white footage of the sea of pulsating humanity during the song’s double-time part – at Castle Donnington, England. I have no way of knowing for sure, but the Giants Stadium gig might have been the first time Guns N’ Roses ever played a stadium. It was for sure the first time I heard “Used to Love Her.” Either way, the band rocked a good set, but not even close to the best show I had seen from them.
After Guns N’ Roses finished their rocking, I rolled backstage to hang with the guys for a bit and then scurried back to my box to catch Deep Purple’s jam. When I opened the door, it was packed, so I told the security dude that, except for insanely hot chicks, we were at capacity. I tried making my way toward the front, but in my desired spot, some obnoxious bitch refused to move even an inch to the right and allow me to see. After a few polite requests, I ordered her to scoot over.
She came back at me with, “This isn’t your suite. You can’t tell me what to do.”
A minute later, as security dragged her whining and bitching punk-ass from my box, I told her, “All you had to do was move to the right a little bit.”
Of the three bands on the bill, Deep Purple was the group I most wanted to see. Richie Blackmore is one of my all-time favorite guitarists, and not just because he’s fluid, tasty, and soulful. At times, he’ll play the simplest lick that any kid with a beat-up six-string could easily imitate, but then will unleash a fiery torrent of shred, leaving even the most masterful player baffled by years of fruitless attempts at mimic. Up front was Ian Gillan, the ultimate long-haired, classic metal power vocalist, owner of an impressive vocal range that starts as low, warm tones before moving on up through full-throated, perfect-pitch, ultra-high screams. The best wicked laugh that rock ‘n’ roll has ever known is merely icing on the cake. John Lord was an incredible keyboardist with lightning-fast fingers, and undoubtedly deserves much credit for the band’s unique sound and artistic vision. Bringing up the rear, pounding out the dirty bottom, Paice and Glover unquestionably belong right alongside the likes of Bonham/Jones, Moon/Entwistle, Watts/Wyman, Ward/Butler, and Beard/Hill amongst the pantheon of rhythm-section royalty.
Purple hit the Meadowlands stage more than ready to show their 70s classic hard-rock cohorts and those upstart L.A. punks how live music gets done. They immediately began hurling fistfuls of naked thunder to the hungry crowd, then rained down hit after hit for nearly two hours. On Rockline a few months earlier, Ian Gillan said they only performed “Child in Time” about half the time. Something about him needing to be in the right place physically, mentally, and emotionally to give the song its due. Of the several Purple shows I was fortunate enough to attend, I believe they played that brilliant song each time. Giants Stadium was no exception, and they blessed the audience with a chilling rendition lasting more than ten minutes. Time for a study break: Go to YouTube and watch Deep Purple’s 1970 performance of “Child in Time.”
I’ve seen Aerosmith countless times. And although I love their records, live shows were always hit or miss for me – great or God-awful. But that night was the only mediocre show I ever saw them do. Purple set the bar so high, and played so long, Aerosmith never had a chance. They are still one of my all-time favorite bands, and to this day, I frequently listen to the boys in Aerosmith. But with my long day of drinking, plus the heat and humidity, combined with my insatiable weediness, meant that, forty-five minutes into their set, I was haggard. For the next half hour, I wanted to leave, while fearing that if I did, I might miss a little Aero-magic. I finally threw in the towel and headed down to say goodbye to G N’ R. When I got backstage, it was a ghost town, because the guys were aboard buses motoring toward the next city.
I arrived to my hotel room around one in the morning, only to discover that I was locked out. The guys had packed their shit and checked out before leaving for the stadium. My accommodations got lost in the shuffle. So even though I pulled the old “I’m with the band,” they shit did give not. I think the hotel folks were being dicks due to my room’s table taking a twenty-story, glass-shattering dive into their swimming pool the night before. I paid for a day – totally worth it – just to get my stuff and power nap. Two hours later, I headed to the airport and caught my flight home.
Less than a year before, whenever I’d hang out with any of the guys, we’d have a blast. Get two or more of them together, and it was legendary, good-time rock ‘n’ roll fun. When I headed out on the road with the second-most-dangerous band in the world, I fully expected to live it up like we used to do. But sadly, there were no big bags of blow or endless partying. The Rolling Stone photo session and late-night trip to Asbury Park were the most fun I had on the whole trip. Well, except for the concert, that is. And although I left out all the gossip-column-style tell-all dirt, you might have heard that, at times, the guys didn’t get on well. So of course there were a few tense, stressful interactions amongst folks during my visit. Between the tension, boredom, deficit of fun, and my disdain for not being the center of attention, I sure was glad to get home.