Friday, November 21, 2008

Chinese Democracy

I remember buying Guns N’ Roses “Lies” from Sam Goody right around the time it came out. It had one of those Parental Advisories on the front of the cassette, so I had to cover it with my thumb when paying for it. When I got to the counter the clerk ripped it out of my hands and said “Fuck yeah!”.He sold it to me, I took it home, and I learned every single word start to finish.

In 1988-1990 I lived in a trailer home on my family’s lawn while my house (which had recently burned) was being rebuilt. My younger brother and I shared a small room, covered wall to wall with fake paneling and a steel bunk bed. It had an Iron Maiden “Somewhere in Time” poster on one wall and a Megadeth “Peace sells but who’s buying” poster on the adjacent wall. It was perfect trailer home décor. I remember blasting “Lies” with my younger brother singing along one night. My brother yelled “Muthafuckkka!!” and my mom ran in immediately. She took my Lies tape and told me that I was never to listen to anything like it again. A month later, I opened a shoe box in her closet and there it was. I sneaked the tape back into my room and made a little hiding place for it. I shared it with my neighbor Jay, a kid my age who had older grease monkey brothers who regularly blasted things like “Dr. Feelgood” or “Ride The Lightning”. It wasn’t long before I heard the album “Appetite for Destruction”, and knew right then that I needed to backfill my GNR cassette “collection”.

Jay and I were hanging out in our tree house one summer afternoon when we came up with a bad idea. “Let’s see what’s in those cars”. So we sneaked back into the garden center behind the tree house and started opening up cars. I found a bunch of change, a copy of Judas Priest’s “British Steel”, AND a copy of “Appetite for Destruction.” YES. I took it all home, along with a giant primitive car phone and hid them all in my 1988 Topps baseball card complete set box .

Over the next few days we rocked out to more GNR and I started playing Jay’s brother’s guitar. I tried over and over again to mimic the sound of the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” intro. No luck, just some bad notes that ultimately made me think guitar was too difficult. One day after school I came home to a very disappointed mother. “Someone at the Hillsborough police station wants to see you. What’s going on Jeffrey?” I shrugged my shoulders and said “I dunno” . She shook her head and the next thing I knew we were on our way to police headquarters.

The officer asked me questions about the cars we had broken into. “I’m recording everything you say Jeffrey so be honest” he said. Then he asked me if I believed in God.

“Umm…yeah?” I awkwardly responded thinking “wait, I believe in metal now”.

It tuned out I had dropped my pocket knife at the scene of the crime. It had my initials on it and it didn’t take long for the authorities to make the connection. I was let off the hook for being so young but they told me if I got into anymore trouble I’d score a permanent record out of the deal. The officer came to my house and I returned all the stolen goods…well, except the Appetite tape. I wasn’t allowed to hang with Jay for awhile either.

Over the next few years I grew up a bit, but not much. I got into my first Rated R movie: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. It during this movie that I fell in love with this brand new song by GNR called “You could be mine”. I needed this song. This song need to be MINE. So being the younger sucker consumer I was, I ended up both “Use Your Illusion” cassettes. I never favored one over the other though. Everyone I knew was either like: “Dude, UYI 1 is so much more killer than 2 – 2 has all the lame songs” and vice versa. I found something special in both of them.

My girlfriend at the time ended up dumping me at some point during the UYI era. I have a distinct memory of showering before school one morning and blasting “So Fine” off of UYI 2. I remember it being a song that spoke directly to me and my feelings at the time.

The song was so powerful that it transcended all the years between then and just a few years ago when a new girl in my life gave it an all new meaning. When I realized that it was a Duff McKagan song, he quickly became my favorite member.

“The Spaghetti Incident?” turned me off instantly simply because of the album’s name and food imagery on the album’s cover. When I finally mustered up the courage to give it a listen, I heard and understood why the public couldn’t care less about the release: They simply did not understand. There are two simple reasons why this album rocks. Number one: Duff sings on many of the tracks. Number two: Every band they cover is amazing. They really show you exactly where they came from with the songs ranging from Dead Boys “Ain’t it Fun” (actually including guest vocals by Hanoi Rocks front man Michael Monroe) to the J.Thunders great “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” (arguably one of the saddest songs in semi-popular glam rock history). An amazing album to end the era of what I consider GNR.

Today I heard the new one: “Chinese Democracy”. First let me say that it is hard enough to consider it new or to get excited about something I’ve been hearing so much about for so long. This record seriously murders me. It feels like the time I ran into my childhood best friend after not seeing him for 15 years. I still knew it was him but his life had changed so much without me that when we finally reunited it was like we never met.

There are songs that have their parts such as “Better” shows some of Axl’s sensitive side which is tolerable and perhaps his only successful skill that has survived over the years. Am I still seeing the dreadlocks and the football jersey from the 2002 VMAs in the back of my head? Am I thinking of the stories of the ridiculous fights and trashy attitudes Axl has dished out in the last decade and a half, or am I simply coming to terms with the fact that GNR died long ago? Fact is that the new heavier songs sound like newer heavier popular bands and that makes me a bit ill. Somehow the leads and the bass sound amazing. Axl’s voice sounds sonically amazing. The effects on some of the rhythm guitars and the newer more modern tricks they use are corny, weak, and really have nothing to do with GNR. The drum effects? Shoot me. I guess that’s what comes with a band that loses everything except its front man. And the new lineup? I don’t care about a single new member with the exception of Tommy “Take your money and get the hell out of there dude” Stinson. The new record is as much of a mess as Axl’s life has been.

Every mistake Axl has made can be summed up in one decision he made awhile back when tattooed a big ugly black cross over the AFD logo he had on his forearm. It speaks for everything. It’s over. Chinese Democracy should have been called American Capitalism, because that’s pretty much all it is to me. Next time you pick a band to back you up Axl, make sure they like rock music that predates crappy 90’s rap-rock.

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