By 1987, the vibe surrounding Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip had become just as hazy as the smog that continues to envelop the Hollywood Hills on a daily basis.
What began as a ferocious outpouring of sex, drugs, and headbangers-in-training swiftly spiraled into a cesspool defined by fruitless artistry, androgynous frontmen, and the untimely demise of its brightest stars.
Like Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel, “The Great Gatsby,” many of these rockers used the glitz and glamour of shows at The Roxy and The Troubadour to divert attention away from an inner sense of loneliness that fueled them to leave everything on the stage.
When the music stopped and the parties went on hiatus, the option to retreat into a bottle of Jack coupled with a mountain of the most potent narcotics money could buy appeared easier than trying to establish any semblance of what outsiders would consider a “normal” life.
For the men and women who were the lifeblood of the scene, the circus was normal, and few of them could’ve imagined living any other way. They ate together, slept together, and lived together to the point that a genuine sense of community had been forged overnight.
Somewhere along the line, however, the process of crafting music worthy of adoration began to take a backseat to the joys of excess.
Record companies had flooded the market with groups that fit the hair band mold without ever stopping to question whether or not the songs had any verve beyond the strip. It was simply a way to cash in on a subculture whose creative credibility was waning the more the mainstream tried to milk it.
Enter Guns N’ Roses (GNR) and 1987’s bat-out-of-hell debut, “Appetite For Destruction,” and everyone stopped on a dime to re-evaluate their position.
Here was a formidable quintet with the talent, attitude, and marketing savvy to be able to resurrect a genre that was in dire need of authenticity.
Picture Uma Thurman’s motionless body following her overdose in “Pulp Fiction” and the vision of how near-death the scene really was comes into focus.
GNR was the adrenaline shot to the heart of Sunset in the same way that John Travolta brought Uma back from the abyss. They looked like the gutter and had the raunchy, bluesy hard rock to back it up, which was a godsend as far as the East Coast onlookers who appreciated quality music were concerned.
Sure, they carried the flag for debauchery and anarchic behavior as much the rest of them, but the power of that first record suggested a deeper sense of musical sophistication.
The vocals were screeching, the riffs were legendary, and the lyrics had enough bite to satisfy even the most cynical of observers.
While the 2013 incarnation of Guns N’ Roses resembles the original in name only, the legacy of what Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, and Steven did lives on through radio and other entertainment outlets.
In anticipation of the Gunners’ performance at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor tomorrow night, I spoke with current guitarist DJ Ashba via telephone recently to discuss what fans can expect from a band notorious for being unexpected.
Question: How have audiences responded to the show thus far?
Ashba: They’ve been amazing, because it’s been sold-out every night. The response has been overwhelming, really. The fans are always insane on tour.
Question: What was your reaction upon being asked to join the band?
Ashba: I was honored. They asked me to come down and check out the band, and Axl essentially said that if I showed up, I had the gig. Sixx A.M.’s “Life is Beautiful” had just gone to number one at the same time, so it was really a surreal moment for me.
Question: How has playing with GNR made you a better guitarist?
Ashba: It’s definitely made me a better player, because we’re playing shows every night and have been touring non-stop for five years. They say you can learn more during one live show than during one month of practice, and that’s really how I feel about it.
Question: Who were some of your influences growing up as a guitarist?
Ashba: My biggest influence was Elvis Presley. I loved Motley Crue, GNR, and Van Halen, but I also listened to a lot of stuff that other kids didn’t. I love John Williams and Danny Elfman, as well as Christmas music with big instrumental arrangements.
Question: What has touring and playing with Axl every night felt like?
Ashba: Amazing, because he’s one of the last living legend singers. Working with him in real life is the exact opposite of everything the media says about him. He’s one of the nicest guys out there and one of my closest friends in the industry. We just had a band barbecue and Axl was telling jokes and being funny, which is different than anything you hear about him. I don’t have one negative thing to say about him.
Question: What’s the biggest difference between playing with Axl and working with Nikki Sixx?
Ashba: Well, Sixx A.M. is a labor of love, so we’re able to do things without boundaries. We constantly push ourselves to go outside the lines and talk about issues that affect people on a serious level. The material really hits home with people. With Axl, I just love playing with these guys, because we’ve really become a family in addition to being a band. The musicians he handpicked for the band are awesome and we’re really starting to come together.
Question: Does Sixx A.M. have anything on the horizon?
Ashba: We’re actually finishing up the new album now, so we can’t wait for people to hear it.
Question: Are there any other bands or artists you’d like to work with in the future?
Ashba: There are too many to name. I would like to work with Neil Diamond again, because that was an amazing experience. My passion is writing scores for films, so I’m looking to get more involved in that as well. Working with Eli Roth in my home and studio was really cool, because he was supportive of what I wanted to do. I’ve always been able to tell a story in three-and-a-half minutes, but now I can stretch it out to a two-hour film. For me as a writer, that’s really satisfying.