by Jon Savage
Just to be clear, it was not me who shoplifted this album. But, it was shoplifted right in front of me at the Musica in “The Link” (an extension of Cavendish Square) back in the early 1990’s. That’s how badass Guns ‘N’ F ‘N’ Roses fans were and the theft of that LP in front of my eyes left an impression on me. I was too sensible to be able to not-give-a-fuck enough to do something so taboo and admired how cool this petty thief was, even if I was dismayed at the loss of the LP I was trying to buy.
At 13-years-old, I didn’t even realize that rock music had gotten boring – I was still obsessing over Elton John and the final albums of Queen – and then suddenly, the first true rock ‘n roll band of my lifetime exploded in to my fertile teenage universe. And what was abundantly obvious is that not one fuck was given during the making of Appetite For Destruction, and this superpower seeped into my psyche like hot lava. It was to be the first record I had ever bought with my own money and I took it home, hidden in a brown paper packet, as if it were porn. But it was so much better than porn.
The front cover, which is now iconic but was terrifying in 1990, bore a huge black crucifix with each band member’s skulls emblazoned on the axis. This was, believe it or not, actually the watered down artwork. The intended original art – banned in most countries and now considered the “alternate” cover if you can find one – featured an ominous alien with knives for teeth, hovering above the street where a girl had been discarded (breast exposed and panties around her ankles) after being raped by a killer robot. I shit you not.
But as my bedroom door closed and locked, the needle hit the first groove and it was the sound of a shrieking guitar that awoke a beast in me. From the muted strums and detuned wailings on the opening of Welcome To The Jungle (You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby, and you’re gonna die!), to the grimy pumping riffs all over Mr Brownstone to the climaxing wah-wah solos soaring across Sweet Child – I was hooked and hooked badly. I had never heard such aggressive guitar playing that could simultaneously be infused with subtle aching melodies – Slash could vibrate each note with such urgency, it sounded like a post-orgasmic quiver. I wore out every groove of my vinyl, I just could got not get enough of blazing every song at ear-piercing volume.
Decades later, I read in Slash’s autobiography that he was not just a mere heroin junkie (duh!) but also a serious and real-life sex addict and this put my LP and my childhood fantasies in to perspective for me. It wasn’t just the sound of a band getting wasted, it was Slash’s voracious appetite for fucking that oozed out of every note on every GNR song. It was the genuine sound of hedonism; the soundtrack to fingering high school girls and getting drunk in brothels, drug dealing pimps at your house and getting into fist fights at night clubs; excesses of everything, alcoholic parents, snorting everything in sight, drunk driving (“I drink and drive everything in sight”) and, of course, shoplifting just for the hell of it; all pouring out of the speakers in my teenage bedroom.
It was the first time I had ever heard cussing in songs that wasn’t merely incidental (did Freddy Mercury just say ‘shit?’ ) ; Axl spat each one out and he meant every one of them. Every song had iconic one-liners stacked thick with attitude. He was picking a fight with everyone. “That old man is a real motherfucker, gonna kick him on down the line. “ and “You think your’e so cool, why don’t you just fuck off” and “They’re out to get me, they won’t get me, I’m fuckin’ innocent.” It was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.
But then, they could also turn sensitive and disarming on the flip of a side. After beating you over the head with a nail-bat for half an hour, Axl could suddenly offer you his hand and you would take it. Sweet Child O Mine comes out of nowhere on the record and is a masterpiece, not only because it is a transcendent piece of songwriting, but because it showcased that they could easily write mid-tempo hit pop songs if they wanted, but they really couldn’t be bothered so here, have this one and, oh and by the way, its one of the greatest songs ever written.
Opening the second side of Appetite is My Michelle, an overlooked piece of comedy genius in my opinion, which I’ve always loved because I was a huge Beatles fan and I immediately recognized the hilarious parody that GNR had written. They had taken a beautiful Beatles moment and bastardized it in the vilest way, something only GNR could do and do well:
“Your daddy works in porno
Now that mommy’s not around,
She used to love her heroin
But now she’s underground”
This song, to me, was the ultimate warning that everything had changed. GNR were mocking every successful band on the planet. They had raised the pirate flag and called everyone out as prey. “My Michelle” underlined the idea that every rock band before them seemed like lilly-white, out-dated romance-poets by comparison, and that Guns N Roses were here now; so could everyone just fuck right off and stay out of their way.
And they were. And everyone did.
Special thanks to Ian Bredenkamp for refinding this album for me!
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