December 8, 2008
Welcome to the jungle
We take it day by day
If you want it you’re gonna bleed
But it’s the price you pay
And you’re a very sexy girl
That’s very hard to please
You can taste the bright lights
But you won’t get them for free
The unmistakable riff of GNR signified the excesses of 1980s glam rock and egocentric youth. As the amalgamation of two different Sunset Strip bands – Hollywood Rose and LA Guns – Guns and Roses was the ultimate version of the rock and roll phallus where pure id met glamour and black bandanas. Lead singer Axel Rose was even compared to Jim Morrison whose famous utterance “Death and my cock are the world” epitomized the fatalistic self-obsession and autodidactic sexuality from which a generation of rock cassette martyrs from Kurt Cobain to Michael Hutchence was nurtured.
GNR, in short, was about youth and everything that was both good and bad about it. It was about being young and invincible, but most of all, it was about the right to be self-indulgent. Appetite for Destruction (1987) is routinely lodged in the top 50 albums of all time, and not far behind is Lies (1988), the band’s second album. Both albums were released during the second term of the Reagan administration when Pax Americana was at its peak, capitalism was rampant, and paradoxically, paranoia and neurosis were at their most infectious in the light of fears that Japanese MNCs were out to rule the world. Gordon Gecko had told everyone that ‘Greed is good”; just another way of saying “my cock rules the world”, and evil already had a name long before Bush Jr. came along – USSR . The world as we knew it back then was in black and white, divided into right and wrong. What made GNR so special was that it offered itself as pop license to venture into the shades of gray. And what delight it gave us directionless youth.
And then, out of the blue, the era of excess came to an end. The Berlin Wall came down, the first Gulf War saw international cooperation, Clinton played his jazz and sprayed his jizz. The world turned all Jerry Maguire on us – it grew a damn conscience. Suddenly we began to hear about climate change, the ozone layer and Greenpeace. It’s as thought the whole 1980s has been hermeneutically sealed, together with its big hair and shoulder pads, by a kinder, gentler zeitgeist. And that is why, GNR’s later albums like Use Your Illusion I & II (1991) never quite touched the depths of self-indulgence and perverse glut of their earlier albums.
GNR’s long waited Chinese Democracy (2008) is now out. But it’s a completely different monster. The only surviving member of the old band is Axel Rose himself, and only because he was smart enough to trademark the band name so none of the others – Slash, Duff or Adlin – could use it. But the album is a sinking ship. The techno slices, the garbled arrangements and the most destructive, the need for the sensitive artiste to show he has ‘matured’, have all consipired to undermine whatever moments of hell-raising goodness there are in the album. Axel can still sing. But Chinese Democracy confirms what everyone knew all along. He’s not much without Duff or Slash.
Chinese Democracy is more than an album. It’s a tombstone. It’s a tombstone for great, stupid and delightfully naïve expectations. It’s a tombstone for GNR. But most of all, it’s a tombstone for my youth. Nostalgia is a bitch.