I always loved Appetite for Destruction,
right from first listen, such a visceral
thrill. It was naughty as…well, naughty-as-fuck, y’all!
We were probably too young to be listening to it but
the unwritten, unspoken agreement seemed to be that
if we didn’t copy the language – at least at home, anyway – it
would be allowed. You might as well learn about the
world somewhere and I learned a lot from listening to
And now some 30 years on it’s the same with my son. He’s a couple
of years younger than I was when I first listened to Guns n Roses (back when
they first burst onto the scene) but a couple of years is nothing since in the
30 years after this was first seen as controversial the world has been on a
constant path of digital acceleration, thrilling
at the start and now (mostly) devastating.
So I say to Oscar that he can listen away
to Guns n Roses – he can even sing along
to his heart’s content but he has to keep it
as his secret music – let his mates discover it on their time, if at all. And
just share it with me and some of the adults in his life and learn from it
in whatever ways he can – musically and socially.
And that’s going okay, so far, as he tries his best to play along on the
drums to Sweet Child O’ Mine and air-guitars with a great deal more
success to Nightrain and Mr Brownstone and Out Ta Get Me.
He’s not yet started to care for Rocket Queen – despite me telling him that
it is the hidden gem. And I respect the fuck out of him not listening to me
on that point. He has his own favourites and that’s as it should be.
But maybe one day he’ll see that Rocket Queen is the best and most important
song of the lot. The epic closing statement that really ties the room
together. If Appetite For Destruction is a book or a movie then Rocket Queen
is the rug in the room where the final scene happens, the huge hug that pulls
the war to pieces and brings the love back into the light.
It’s getting harder in this day and age to excuse the sins of the lyrics and scripts
and pages from the past when it should – if anything – be getting easier. Leave it to
the past, that’s where it belongs and if you want to singalong or drag it with you
like some long-lost baggage or a keepsake from a time you either remember or wish
you were there for then that’s on you – if you know what to do, which is to own it
so that it doesn’t own you.
As a parent I listen to so much of Appetite for Destruction and nearly wince –
most especially the use of the word ‘bitch’. Misogyny is never pretty, never funny,
never gets easier or lighter or anything – it’s hard and it’s brutal and it’s tragic and
embarrassing. And it’s easier to cope when listening to The Beastie Boys and seeing
some aim at a maturity – eventually, some atonement, some softening (in the right way).
But the bragging and desperation and anger and brittle sadness of the fronting from these
sweaty, silly, drug-soaked buffoons is a tricky premise. Particularly when it rocks so hard and
good and well – what they play is very, very good and what they say is so very, very bad.
All of that falls away though – in some sense – when we get to the end
of the record.
“Listen”, I marveled to Oscar, as it kicked off in the car the other day.
The bass had just been mirroring the rhythm guitar as was the way in so much of the
metal of the 1980s – buried or blurred, or both if you had the misfortune of replacing Cliff
Burton. But on Rocket Queen there’s this killer-good bass riff, actual exploration.
And they reckoned Steven Adler wasn’t much of a drummer but
he swings he arse off on that record and plays what is supposed to be
there. Never more so than on Rocket Queen – listen to it like it’s his final audition.
He gets and deserves the job. (And this is his majesty. That he couldn’t keep
the gig was the start of his tragedy).
The guitars are great, they’re consistently great
on this fine album of madness and mirth and
barely repressed anger and giddy-wah dumb daddy-issues.
And when the song starts it’s more of the same single-entendre
innuendo – the whole album is basically “let’s do drugs and fuck”
or even, “watch me do drugs and listen to me tell you about how
good I am at fucking” – it’s as cartoon-evil as the cover artwork,
it’s rapey and dodgy and I honestly believe that even when I was 11 and
12 I saw it and heard as the way not to behave rather than any
cool, clever blueprint for challenging authority.
And in my moments when I worry that my son might be too young
to hear it now in a world that moves just a bit too quick I remember
the way Rocket Queen builds to its, er, climax…
Axl Rose in increasing desperation holds his hand out in an offer
of friendship, he’s stoic but utterly vulnerable – the eleven and a
half songs ahead of Rocket Queen’s finale has all been the false-arrogance
that’s been building to this:
Don’t ever leave me
Say you’ll always be there
and suddenly an album’s worth of extremely bad
behaviour and putrid and puerile thought is not
at all forgiven but it almost all washes away, is
so obviously shown up as the overt front.
We’re all on them.
Thrilling at the start –
and now (mostly) devastating.
All I ever wanted
he finally admits – it took him about 53 minutes
to arrive at this point, the place where he
strips it all down to basically all he actually
wanted to say –
Was for you/To know that I care