The local record store of the small town I grew up in is where I purchased one of the first albums with the coveted parental advisory sticker, sold to an eleven year old by a proprietor who was clearly an advocate of free speech, artistic expression and was most likely on the edge of bankruptcy. Use Your Illusion I and II debuted at No. 2 and No. 1 respectively on the Billboard charts, a feat no artist had ever achieved with a double album. My best friend in 5th grade worshipped them, with me following suit shortly thereafter. The speeding tickets and injuries I have sustained attempting stunts I shouldn’t have been, not surprisingly had them as the soundtrack…always. Three decades later I’m still blasting them from stereos, annoying neighbors and poorly imitating Axl’s sway.
Separating themselves from the bad pop and hairbands of the era with undeniable musicianship and lyrics, they went from The Whiskey to Wembley like a Nightrain. A beautifully unapologetic anomaly of bad attitudes with cigarettes hanging out the side of the mouth constantly that rock desperately needed post-Led Zeppelin/pre-Nirvana of the MTV era. Their debut 1987 release of Appetite For Destruction was put out by Geffen Records the previous year but had to be re-released following the skyrocketing popularity of Sweet Child O’Mine, thanks to Kurt Loder and friends the single and album quickly went to #1 on the charts. The song inspired by Axl’s fiancé at the time, has been played literally 1,150,794,179 times on Spotify…correction…1,150,794,180 now, because I just ran that shit back. In the decades that followed the album it was reverberated through pop culture references that prompted new generations to embrace their inner Axl, tapping into wild sides they themselves were not aware of that often led to crowd surfing and making out with multiple women in public.
The much-anticipated double album that followed in 1991 blew away expectations both commercially and artistically as the band became the biggest in the world, only 5 years after they had shared a dingy Hollywood apartment while dominating L.A.’s club scene. They embarked on an endless 28-month world tour that would lead to some of the most incredible moments in music history and ultimately the end of GNR for the foreseeable lifetime.
Axl was reeling from a divorce and the loss of a child through miscarriage which inspired him to write the masterpiece November Rain, the music video a visual memory of his sorrows. Burned out from two plus years of the road, drug addictions and personal tragedies they decided to call it quits for what looked like forever.
Chemistry is defined as the complex emotional or psychological interaction between people. The struggle after Illusions I and II to replicate any of the former magic was lost in ego and creative differences and by 1995 Axl was the only remaining original member. They would all struggle for the next twenty-odd years to find a place in music, side project or solo, nothing seemed as real or as good as before with the results always mediocre, the truth harder and harder to deny.
“So, we had Fred Coury come in from Cinderella for the Houston show. Fred played technically good and steady, but the songs sounded just awful. They were written with Steve playing the drums and his sense of swing was the push and pull that give the songs their feel. When that was gone, it was just … unbelievable, weird. Nothing worked.”—Izzy Stradlin, GNR
The 2016 reunion tour was the final admission of the one simple fact that they all now finally understood. One could not exist without the other. It was named after an interview where Rose, when asked about when a potential reunion would happen, responded “not in this lifetime”.
I guess nothing lasts forever, even cold November Rain.