Guns N’ Roses are one of the most successful rock bands of all time with 1987’s debut album (the portentously titled) Appetite for Destruction going on to sell over 30 million copies. After convening on LA’s Sunset Strip in 1985, a place habited by ‘wannabees, dreamers and schemers’, they eventually became the most successful of the ‘hair bands’
This entertaining and timely documentary from John Brewer is comprised of numerous talking heads (original drummer Steven Adler (now paralysed following a stroke) his replacement Matt Sorum, Slash, A&R Tom Zutaut, Michael Monroe, the bug-eyed Hanoi Rocks man, original manager, Vicki Hamilton) and features previously unseen footage courtesy of the ‘6th Beatle’ (surely it should have been the 6th G-Rose?) Slash’s childhood friend, Marc Canter, who overly permeates the film in contrast with the indomitable Axl Rose whose archived presence only symbolises his absence (so too Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan).
A slow-burning phenomenon that deployed strippers on stage and antagonised their crowds, their riotous spectacles (including Rose and Adler’s girlfriend’s live ‘show’ on stage) catapulted them into the big time. The London Marquee gig and the ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ video cemented their ascent. With success follows excess and what goes up must come down.
The result is a toxic triptych tale of fame, money and drugs culminating in litigation and disintegration within seven heady years. An ousted Adler suing, Slash and McKagan further succumbing to hedonism, Stradlin quitting for his own sanity and Rose becoming more repressed and violent, continually arriving hours late for shows only to then jump into the crowd to assault fans taking photographs.
The story ends in 1993 following The Spaghetti Incident, the band becoming a Rose solo venture reaching 2008’s terminally gestated Chinese Democracy to the recent news that they are to reform for this year’s Coachella festival.
A 2011 interview with McKagan has him responding to a question of reformation with ‘We would reunite for the right rea$on$’ what might they be then, Duff? Unfinished bu$ine$$? Without Stradlin and Adler IS it Guns ‘n’ Roses or just Trigger’s Broom? The ring of steel at Coachella best be prepared for the phalanx of narcissists and their prying lenses.
Tellingly the film highlights how fearful, sedate and controlled today’s music scene is, these were extreme ways of living, but, at least they were fearless, exciting and risqué, ‘generation gap’ music. It’s hard to even imagine Ed Sheeran saying ‘Shit’ without apologising to his fan base. The offensive existing only in the likes of his and his kin’s oeuvre.
Guns ‘n’ Roses: notorious without doubt. Dangerous, only to themselves.