It is hard to believe that the Guns N’ Roses (at least Axl) comeback album which took almost fifteen years to complete, Chinese Democracy, is actually ten years old! Through Omnibus Press, XS Noize are going to take you through the journey of not just the band’s history (spanning over three decades), but the history of the founding members too. Reckless Live: Guns N’ Roses, written by Jim McCarthy and Marc Olivent (not long before the 2018 reunion gigs) sees the individual band members narrate their childhood, what made them take to music and how they came to be in what was rooted in dysfunction and often ended in destruction: Guns N’ Roses.
Whilst the fame and achievements of Guns N’ Roses (including their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012) receive just attention and are generously documented; Chinese Democracy is not perceived as one of them. The introduction by Joel McIver takes a swipe at “the terrible songs on it”. Following the introduction, Axl (the bands’ lead singer) narrates his early life in Lafayette, Indiana. Axl describes himself as “a young red-headed, unpredictable son-of-a-gun… prone to explode at any given time” brought up Pentecostal following “rules and regulations… with no love at all”. His stepdad didn’t allow music in the home, but with his sister and half-brother; he sang gospel music in church as “The Bailey Trio”.
Slash’s story is probably the most unique. British born Slash explains being born to an African-American mother and white father was “not the norm”. Slash’s mother designed clothes and stage gear for David Bowie. Our narrator implies that his mother had a “romance” with the Thin White Duke. Slash would meet drummer Steve Adler following a skateboarding accident. At this time Slash’s favourite pastimes did not include music, but theft and biking. Slash often hung around biking at Laurel Elementary School with Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) who would play his trumpet. It was only through Slash’s school teacher Robert who showed him the fundamentals of the guitar that enabled him to focus on music.
The “Duff” McKagan story is equally interesting, connecting several pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which cemented Guns N’ Roses. Like Axl, his biological father left the family home. Duff would play in thirty bands including Fartz until he moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and meet Izzy Stradlin, the Guns N’ Roses rhythm guitarist and co-founder who grew up in Lafayette with Axl. Duff, following in the steps of his “sole musical influence” Sid Vicious before he would play bass.
After Axl unsuccessfully tried to make it into several punk bands (who said he sounded too much like Robert Plant), it would not be The Sex Pistols or Led Zeppelin; but The Partridge Family that would give Axl the idea to start his own band. Guns N’ Roses were not initially a five-piece and neither were they originally called Guns N’ Roses but Holywood Rose. Although Slash would become an iconic figure in the band, when he first answered an advert in The Recycler to join Holywood Rose, despite meeting the band; “the meeting went nowhere”. When Slash finally joined, the first contract with Geffen Records was null and void as Slash’s name was spelt incorrectly as “Stash”.
The band member’s addiction to booze and drugs more so, the religious influences of Axl’s childhood (represented in bible quotes) and his poor punctuality are well documented. Jim McCarthy and Marc Olivent capture how the band go from strength to strength and then to disorder to virtual collapse. The challenge these writers face is that after the mid-1990s with Axl being out of the limelight for long periods and the band divided; the majority of the events surrounding the band are less frequent, don’t make such exciting reading and are often heart-breaking as the devastating effects of substance abuse come to light. The result is that Reckless Live: Guns N’ Roses does not end with a crescendo. Also, some of the thought, text and speech bubbles can be too verbose.
Nonetheless, Jim McCarthy and Marc Olivent remind us how talented Guns N’ Roses were at their peak, how they went from strength to strength from being “pelted with bottles…” at the Marquee in London (their first UK gig) to “selling tickets quicker than The Stones and Madonna”. The deftness in the telling of stories behind the stories as well as attention to unexpected revelations such as how Sweet Child o’ Mine became Guns N’ Roses “greatest song ever” despite Axl thinking that “the riff was really silly and hated playing it” is spectacular.
To see all the revelations, the full story of the band members and the complete history of Guns N’ Roses you can purchase Reckless Live: Guns N’ Roses from https://www.omnibuspress.com/Product.aspx?ProductId=1105690