A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s
I don’t know if it was something I did or said, but Axl never again called or gave me his phone number. I wasn’t officially blacklisted, and never had an issue getting show tickets and passes. Plus, whenever I ran into Axl, he never seemed unhappy to see me. We’d chat and get caught up small-talk style. But that was about it, kind of an arms-length operation. At first I thought about it a lot, and at times still wonder WTF. I never could actually pinpoint a reason. I’d think back to a conversation we had in New Jersey. Axl told of friends, not seen or spoken to in years, that would show up out of the blue and “act like everything is still the same.”
I agreed by telling him, “Clearly everything is different nowadays.” I wonder – in hindsight – if his was as an allegory directed my way as a cautionary tale to not read too much into our friendship.
Less than a year after my trip to New Jersey, there were Axl Rose and West Arkeen on MTV, sitting in a bar performing “Yesterdays.” It hit me like a slap in the face. I felt like part of those meaningless yesterdays. So every time I hear Skynyrd’s “Coming Home” or “Am I losin’,” I can’t help but contrast the sentiment.
A month after the Giants Stadium show, Aerosmith and G N’ R rocked the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, California. It was the first hint of my downgraded status. Unlike every previous show, I got no phone call or personal invite. I tried calling Axl, but his number had changed. Figuring it an oversight, I drove down to catch the tour’s finale. To my surprise, I wasn’t on the list. I knew enough folks to wrangle my way in, and then found Doug, who gave me a “backstage pass” that only granted access to an area adjacent to stage-right. Before that show, I had always enjoyed unlimited access, but there I was, relegated to second tier.
I did see the guys, and Steven and I smoked a joint that almost got me booted from the venue. It was strange not being able to party backstage at an Aerosmith show. I told Steven, “When I was thirteen, I’d wash down Tylenol fours with Coors while listening to Get Your Wings. Now I can’t even smoke a little pot.”
A few minutes after security put an end to our party, twenty feet from us, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry participated in a meet and greet. I decided to wait in line to score autographs for my little brothers. Not the star-struck type, I bailed from the line after a few minutes. About twenty seconds later, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find Steven Tyler smiling my way. He asked, “What’s the matter, you don’t want my autograph?” I told him I had only wanted them for my little brothers, and he busted my chops. “Sure you do.”
I laughed and shook his hand, then told him I was a huge fan, but didn’t understand autographs unless someone was signing a check made out to me. Tyler laughed and then jogged to his table, and upon his return handed me a tour jersey. “Give this to your brother.”
I thanked him and was so stoked that I didn’t say “brothers,” figuring those little fuckers could cage fight for it.
Guns N’ Roses played an amazing set, as good as or better than I had seen in a very long time. During “Welcome to the Jungle,” a couple of Aerosmith members – if I remember correctly – swung from ropes in gorilla costumes. There were swinging gorillas, but I might have the actors incorrect. During “Mama Kin,” Tyler and Perry joined G N’ R on stage, which was very cool to my inner fanboy. After the show, I found Axl sitting semi-tucked-away within the cubby space under the stage stairs. He seemed displeased about something, so I approached cautiously and asked, “Not a good time?” He nodded that he’d rather be alone.
Aerosmith followed with the greatest performance that I ever saw from them, and a set list jammed chock-full of songs from their iconic 1970s records. The only thing missing was Coors and codeine. Even though Aerosmith removed all drug references from their songs, when the band played “Mama Kin,” Tyler changed the lyric to “Sleeping late and smokin’ WEED!” It might be giving G N’ R far too much credit, but I believe Aerosmith were re-energized by AFD, as well as playing scores of shows with those young bucks in Guns N’ Fucking Roses. Aerosmith’s next album, Get a Grip, was far more aggressive, as well as musically and lyrically superior.
Done touring, Guns N’ Roses went back into the studio to put the finishing touches on what eventually became the EP Lies. One late night, I drove Vinni Stiletto out to Rumba Studios in Canoga Park. Axl had invited him to perform some backup vocals. Because I hadn’t been invited, my plan was to drop off Vinni and then hit the road. But he convinced me to hang out; something about me being a baby. With most of the music already recorded, Axl was there laying down lead and backup vocals for two songs, plus some whistling as well as adding percussion. More cow bell?
So there I am, on other side of the control room glass, while Axl’s laying down vocals for “One in a Million.” I’d never heard it before and was really digging the tune. And there was Axl’s looking right at me when he lets loose with, “Police and ‘neighbors.’”
My expression turned to a “Dude, you can’t say that shit!” beyond-shocked look.
Axl grinned, nodded, then sang, “That’s right.”
Now, whenever I hear the follow-up line, “That’s right,” I still think it was directed at my shock. Ego makes some believe wrong things.
Axl gave me umpteen chances to contribute percussion to a track, but my mental-block kept turning around his preferred beat sequence to click, click-click. Or was it click-click, click? Fuck, I’m useless. Vinni never did get his shot at rockin’ the mic, but Axl added “Valet Parking, Raz Que [sic], Vinni Stiletto” to the album credits as a consolation prize.
The misspelling was due to the fact that I had only recently chosen Cue as my surname. It all began a month prior to that night at Rumba, on a fine Los Angeles fall afternoon. A buddy and me were zooming south along the 10 Freeway, near the big “Praise Jesus” sign downtown, when I spotted an older Volvo with license plate FAUX IQ. I pointed and laughed, “Look, that license plate says ‘Fuck You.’”
My pretentious friend said, “It means ‘False I.Q.’”
After a brief back-and-forth on double meanings, I told him, “Sound it out. It says ‘Fuck you – you only think you’re smart.’” Within days, I was at the DMV ordering FAUX CUE license plates. When that didn’t work out, I went with the narcissistic plate; RAZ CUE. And so Faux Cue came to mean “not really Raz Cue.”
For a time, it seemed like every car I passed was jamming “Sweet Child.” The first time I heard it blaring overhead at my gym, I realized it had become a staple of top-forty radio. I never in a million years would have guessed that Guns N’ Roses would become a pop band. Probably the most mind-blowing thing was that first Sunday when I heard “Welcome to the Jungle” on my TV, firing up the Riverfront Stadium crowd prior to a Cincinnati Bengals game.
Unlike being in the red for album sales, once a single tops the charts, big stacks of publishing money begin rolling in the very next pay period. When that day arrived, the guys were swimming in cash, with enough money and free time to undertake their philanthropic goals of good works and altruistic positive contributions to mankind. With all his well-deserved success and realization of lifelong dreams – “The world and everything in it, Chico”– Axl Rose became joyous and content like some boy in a Norman Rockwell illustration cuddling with his puppy.
A few months after returning from New Jersey, I ran into a guitarist, Robbie, who said to me, “I asked Bill when he was going to pay you the money he owes you.” I was puzzled, so I asked who he was talking about. He repeated, with emphasis, “Bill!”
Robbie was one of those idiots who thought by referring to Axl as Bill, he’d prove to everyone how well he knew him. Once I realized who he meant, I said, “Axl don’t owe me shit!”
Robbie argued, “But those guys ripped you off.”
I snapped at him, “What the fuck, dude? Why you stirring up shit? Mind your own fucking business!”
Except for a sheepish nod, Robbie had no reply.
I have never for a second believed that G N’ R owes me a thing, mostly because they don’t. I actually got the better end of the bargain. Do the math – for the occasional use of my van or equipment, and five or ten bucks here and there, I got a fly-on-the-wall view of the greatest rock band of my generation. It was hands down the most awesome rock ‘n’ roll fantasy-camp experience ever. But to be honest, I did briefly wonder if Axl believed I was running my mouth off around town, claiming Guns N’ Roses had fucked me over. But I pretty quickly dismissed the notion once I remembered that Axl did not think very highly of Robbie.
If we’re being honest, I do feel once Axl built his wall, I was relegated to the outskirts. But at least I sit far out of range of the boiling oil and catapulted festering, plague-riddled corpses of former sound men. I chock it all up to me being locally interesting, but a far cry from the intriguing characters encountered while traveling the world stage. Knowing those guys and witnessing their story confirmed to me that everything is possible. And they were kind enough to produce an awesome soundtrack CD to play along with the vivid memories flickering in my head.
In October 1989, Guns N’ Roses played a few small-venue warm-up shows. It was great to see them on stage again as they sonically assaulted the jam-packed-full Cathouse sweatbox. Then, a few nights later, the guys kicked some ass at Park View Plaza for Rip Magazine’s 3rd anniversary party. The shows were designed to shake the rust off and ready themselves for another dream concert pairing: opening for The Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. I got four tickets for each show, but never did request a backstage pass. By then I had concluded the best part of a rock ‘n’ roll show was sitting in the audience, drinking booze, smoking pot, and dancing in the aisles with pretty young ladies who were there for the music and not for the band.
The Stones’ concerts at the Coliseum were the last time I ever saw Guns N’ Roses perform live. It had nothing to do with any conflicts or loyalties. I never chose sides, nor do I actually care to get involved in others’ wars. It just so happened that, by the time they went out on the road again, I owned a business and worked way too many hours to even contemplate a social life. Then they took a few decades off.
I still listen to G N’ R fairly often. And for New Year’s Eve 2011/12, I actually bought a ticket to go see Guns N’ Roses at the Hard Rock Hotel in fabulous Las Vegas. I was eager to see Axl Rose perform for the first time in over twenty years – he’s very talented – but I ended up splitting before he even stepped foot on the stage. Nothing personal, it’s just that it was eleven thirty. And as I listened to a bouncer telling someone about how great the previous night’s two-hour show was, I sat there running shit through my head. More so than usual because of the New Year’s component, and concluded I preferred to leave my last time seeing Guns N’ Roses as the prominent memory. The capper: I had gotten to the stage in life where I really hated staying up late. Oh, what a pussy I turned out to be!
So I headed for the exit, scanned out my ticket just in case I changed my mind, and went to take a piss. After re-holstering my cock, I decided that indeed it was bedtime. As I wheeled toward valet parking, a tall blond dude with a thick German accent was asking passerby if they had a ticket for sale. I thought he sort of sounded but looked a lot like Ole Beich. And German Dude appeared approximately the same age as the last time I saw Ole. I applied the hand brakes, then turned back to ask, “You want a ticket?”
As he approached, German Dude appeared hesitant, “How much?”
I passed him my ticket while delivering some devastating news, “You missed Sebastian Bach.”
I continued on valet-ward, but it took German Dude a moment to realize what had just happened. Because about six seconds later, he ran over to hug me and then repeated, “Sank you, sank you, sank you. Axl Rose is my idol.”
I set off homeward. “Happy New Year, bro.” Please quit touching me.