Last week, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of Appetite for Destruction by telling the story of the first time I listened to the album. Here's a collection of stories from other writers (and from readers, too) about their experiences with the album.
Spencer Hall, Every Day Should Be Saturday:
I was at Camp Boxwell for a week at Boy Scouts. We were ostensibly there to earn merit badges, but like most boy scout trips it quickly devolved to pyromania and acts of group cruelty directed at something: boys, unfortunate animals, or random pieces of property. Matt brought his copy of Appetite for Destruction, and played "Mr. Brownstone" one afternoon while we were playing with cans of bug repellent and lighters. There was always one kid who had Appetite, and he had older brothers or cousins with near-derelict sports cars that smelled like cigarettes, alpine-themed colognes, and spilled beer. That was Dale.
Right at the chorus, one younger kid said, "Hey, do you think Skin So Soft burns?" Dale held up a can of Off and said, "I dunno, but this does," and then sprayed the Off directly in the path of the lighter the poor kid had blazing in his hand. The flame shot right back in his face, and Axl is singing "heeee won't leeeave me alooone woaaaahh aahhh ahhhh" as this kids face is clearly outlined in flames shot into his face from an arm's length. It's hard for me to hear the song without smelling singed eyebrows.
Justine Bateman, actress:
I don't exactly remember the first time I heard it, but I'm positive I must have been wearing faded Levi's ripped at the knees, black cowboy boots, and a short black tank top at the time. I may also have been in some vicinity to The Rainbow Room on Sunset Blvd.
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone:
"You're Crazy" was on a mix tape a friend from college made for me before I went overseas. When I moved to Uzbekistan in 1991 I had just two tapes, and that was one of them. So I've probably listened to that one song about ten thousand times. Whenever I hear that song now, I throw my hands over my ears like Kirk and Spock in those old Trek episodes where the aliens try to melt their brains with high-pitched screeching sounds.
"Appetite For Destruction" was way way WAY too much for a farm town 13-year-old who was just starting to get into rock-and-roll but absolutely was not ready for THAT yet. The songs were always brilliant — and, unlike most of the Use Your Illusion albums, haven't aged a day — but it's easy to forget just how fucking anarchic they seemed when initially unleashed. I sort of thought they were demons, which didn't stop me from wearing out three separate cassette copies. The thing that scared me the most, and still does, is that initial cover art, the one they were going to use until someone at the record company alerted them that that would be insane.
Supposedly that's an anti-rape painting — the top robot is about to exact revenge, according to the artist — but you could have fooled me. (The zest of the drawing is not in the metal, I'll say that.) They inserted that art in the vinyl versions, and my friend Steve — who was my friend who smoked and loved Queensyryche and had a car whose dash would start shaking violently every time it went over 45 miles per hour — had it up on his wall. It would not surprise me if he masturbated to it. "Appetite For Destruction" still feels wrong and dangerous and scuzzy 25 years later. Listening to it still makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong, and someone's gonna find me out, any second. I suppose that's what rock and roll is supposed to do to farm town kids.
Matt Ufford, SBNation:
My family moved a lot when I was a kid. Our old Volvo sedan had a tape deck and a knob to adjust the radio — no pre-set stations — so when we drove across the country, children and cats and dogs packed into every free inch of space, we never bothered with the shifting geography of radio; we listened to tapes. The same tapes, again and again and again: I still know every word of Les Miserables (original Broadway cast recording) and Invisible Touch. Thanks, Mom.
That and the absence of cable in our home (no MTV) sheltered me from knowing much about music when I was young. Not that I felt I was missing something musically in the 1980s: what rock 'n roll had to offer at the time didn't appeal to me. Even as a little kid, the hair bands of the day felt inauthentic. And the legitimate rock bands weren't much better: David Lee Roth's incessant mugging for the camera annoyed me, and Metallica was angry about something I couldn't understand. So whatever, Genesis on loop in the Volvo was fine.
One day after school in 4th grade, I went over to my friend Mark's house for typical 9-year-old boy activities: throwing a baseball and saying swear words and trying to figure out what they meant. Afterwards, Mark put in a tape. It was Appetite, and it fucking ROCKED. The blazing peals of guitar, Axl's trademark whine, the drug references I didn't understand, the sing-along anthems: in 53 compact minutes, it defined what rock and roll was supposed to be—what it had failed to be—up until that point in my life.
Twenty-five years later, I still play it on my iPod when I go to the gym. It's perfect, and fuck you if you disagree.
Justin Halpern, author:
Here's why Appetite is awesome. Everything else I listen to from the eighties is so fucking dated that it might as well come with a picture of Joe Piscopo eating out a woman with a super hairy bush while driving Magnum's Ferrari. Shit from that era is so laughable, hipsters wear it because of how ironic it is. NOBODY listens to Appetite ironically because it still kicks the shit out of almost everything today.
Some readers offered their memories, too.
The first cassette I ever bought with my own money was the Welcome to the Jungle single (from the music store Strawberries) with "Mr Brownstone" as the B side. I made my Dad put it in the tape deck on the ride home and when they said "That old man he's a real mother f*cker" in Mr. Brownstone my Dad popped the tape out and said I couldn't have it anymore. Pretty sure I cried.
One day I was at the park playing hoops (of course) and these buttrocker dudes show up and ask to play with us (they came to me because I was the only white kid, apparently I was the white people embassy of the courts). My friends say "sure" and they get in a few games. When they were done and it was getting dark, they asked me if I wanted a ride home (they were in high school, at least, and I was a middle school kid) and being a lazy fuck, I said I'd love a ride.
We get in the (muscle) car and they stick in this tape and blast it. The one guy turns down the music (the start of Welcome to the Jungle), looks back at me and says "You are about to be fucking blown away, brother!" then cranks the stereo up. I was blown away! They asked if I wanted to drive around with them to listen to the rest of the side and I was in. It was the best car ride I'd ever been in at that age, I remember it so vividly because the tape was so badass.
I don't remember the precise year, but it was sometime in 1989 when "Paradise City" went big. I was nine. My parents went out for the night and left us alone with a babysitter. The babysitter was a teenage girl. After my parents left, she made us all virgin margaritas while pouring some of Mom and Dad's tequila in her own. Clearly, she was the most badass person I had ever met in my entire life. This reputation was only further cemented when she allowed us to stay up late and watch MTV, which at the time was forbidden by my parents. But this virgin margarita wielding temptress didn't care about rules.
The video for "Paradise City" was one of the illicit videos my sister and I got to view that evening. I don't remember anything else that came on MTV that night, not a single other video. But I remember when the video for "Paradise City" came on. This huge fucking stadium. This huge fucking stage. Axl dressed in white leather from head to toe. Slash in black leather. Duff and Izzy as casual as you can be. Everyone with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. Hotel rooms. Jets. Signing autographs for legions of adoring fans. And then the speed picks up and seemingly the entire band and a huge crowd lose their minds in unison while Slash lays waste to every shitty hair band guitarist that came before him. I saw that video and I was done for. I was hooked.
I was nine, so I have no idea why this video made such an impact on me (because at the time I divided my time pretty evenly between He-Man and WWF wrestling in terms of my primary interests), but I just remember sitting there and thinking that whatever I was seeing was the coolest fucking thing I would ever see in my entire life, and I wanted to be those guys. I wanted to play guitar like that. I wanted to smoke cigarettes in the exact kind of nonchalant way that they did. I wanted to wear leather pants and bandanas as if that was completely acceptable. I didn't know why, but they were it. They were the pinnacle of human achievement in the eyes of a nine year old sitting in Texas. I had never heard or seen anything like that before and little that came after it would have the same impact on me.
Oh, and "Rocket Queen" is the best shit ever.
I reached out to Izzy Stradlin about filming a documentary on his solo career. Izzy had left GNR when the band got too big for him - he basically didn't want to be a sellout. This was around the same time that Nirvana and Pearl Jam were also shunning the spotlight. But nobody remembers Izzy like they remember Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder. The guy just dropped off the face of the earth and spent the next ten years riding his motorcycle in the desert and occasionally self-releasing solo albums and doing mini-tours of Japan. His solo stuff was very consistent roots rock/blues that always hinted at what he might have been possible had Guns N' Roses stayed together.
Izzy and I sent a few emails back and forth and he really seemed interested in the project. I always felt GNR could've provided so much more music and I viewed the Izzy documentary as my way of telling the world about this man's overlooked contribution to music... And then he just stopped responding to emails - the project was dead in its tracks... I seriously considered driving from New York to his home in Lafayette, Indiana so I could give the project one last shot, but I never did. I had another documentary project in the works with Wally Backman, so I never revisited the Izzy project.
I think the saddest thing about Appetite is that the original five members are all still alive and yet they never put out another full album together. Back in 1987, when I first saw the liner notes, I was so sure that one or all of the band members would be dead in a couple of years, thus robbing us of some really great music... But it didn't quite work out that way, did it?
I'm from an incredibly small town in Wisconsin so we are literally a year or two behind everybody when it comes to just about anything awesome. I was in 5th grade the first time I ever heard Appetite. MTV was something my rich grandparents (they weren't rich) who lived in Madison had. I didn't have much of a choice when it came to friends but I was lucky enough to live in town with a kid we'll call Keith. A couple of things about Keith. He shit his pants until he was 12 and would bite the fuck out of you if you disrespected him.
He was also a rather horny boy for his age and was constantly rubbing up against any girl who'd give him any sort of attention. He lived in a duplex with just his Mom who had a nice little hobby of passing out and setting her mattresses on fire. He lived in the basement of this duplex which was really his own apartment. It had a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and a living room. In 4th grade his mom had asked him what he wanted for his birthday. Being Keith, he said a Playboy subscription. Wish granted. He had covered the walls in every room with naked women which made him quite popular.
Back to 5th grade. He had asked me to come over because he had found out I didn't know who Guns and Roses were and wanted me to listen to them. A couple of girls named Teresa and Crystal who also lived in town had heard about our Appetite party and wanted to join. Honestly it never dawned on me that maybe these girls wanted to possibly make out. I just thought we were going to listen to music. They come over and are in awe of Keith's place. Who wouldn't be? He had a swinging bachelor pad and a mom who could give a fuck at age 11. I remember him having us smell a spot on his carpet because he thought the guy who lived there before had banged a girl there.
He handed me the tape to put in his stereo which was pretty solid. I remember that it was the actual Appetite tape but you wouldn't have known because all the lettering was worn off. I asked him "which side" like a complete asshole and he said it didn't matter. First thing that came on was Sweet Child Of Mine but it was in the middle so he had me rewind it and start it from the beginning. My mind was blown and the girls were loving it. Keith had gotten his dirty little hands on a pint of 5 Star brandy which was already half finished. We passed it around til it was gone while listening to the most incredible thing I've ever heard.
It didn't take long for Keith to start getting a little frisky and eventually naked. He emerged from the bathroom nude but covered in a sleeping bag which he'd open up like he was goddamn Dracula. These girls and I found it hysterical but that wasn't enough for Keith. Before I knew it he had pounced on Crystal which sent Teresa scrambling into his bedroom. Perfectly played by Keith. He got up and chased her down and slammed the door behind him in one motion. Crystal and I we're dying laughing, when we opened his door here's a buck-naked Keith dryhumping the piss out of Theresa who had never stopped laughing. I'm pretty sure the only reason he stopped scrogging and we stopped laughing was because the tape needed to be flipped. After our afternoon which I didn't know at the time was something I'd never forget Keith gave me his Appetite tape which my Magnavox boombox promptly ate within 2 weeks.
This past February Axl was in town for Fashion Week preying on models. He also decided to play a couple extra club dates around the city. I got tickets for the Roseland show and was fired up to see GnR even if Slash and the rest of the old lineup has long since departed. I was also looking forward to seeing Axl in such a small venue. I put my Lies T-shirt on, got to the show early and started drinking beer. I was probably 20 feet from the stage. Axl's voice sounded great and he played for well over 2 hours. During one of the encores the drummer tossed a drum stick into the crowd as drummers are known to do. Although the drummer didn't toss the stick into the crowd - he winged it and hit my tall ass square in the face. I went to the bathroom to survey the damage and was bleeding pretty bad and took this picture. Eventually went to the ER at 3am on a Friday night and got stitches. Got dinged 2k by Beth Israel. Expensive evening. Axl owes me.
I entered ninth grade in 1988. My high school had a jukebox in the cafeteria. Every two weeks, new songs were added to the jukebox with the oldest rotated out. The first two songs added were "Welcome to the Jungle" and "It's So Easy". After someone discovered that "It's So Easy" was the uncensored version, someone would feed quarters in the machine and play it consecutively as many times as possible. Three days later, Mr. Gates (the alcoholic math teacher) was serving his term as cafeteria monitor. Mr. Gates decided to stand by the jukebox since it was one of the vantage points that gave the best possible view of the cafeteria.
"It's So Easy" started up for the first time. The students held their collective breath. Some of them put their heads down. It was going to happen. The song shifted to the spoken portion that ended with Axl defiantly yelling "FUCK OFF!" Mr. Gates turned in horror and literally ripped the power cord out of the wall. The cafeteria was plunged into a brief pause of silence, and then a wave of laughter rippled through the room. The song finally got the wanted reaction.
The jukebox was never used again.