Use Your Illusion i and iiPosted: November 17, 2011
As So Claw and Sour Crow are two albums recorded at the same time, Max Broady decided to revisit one of his favourite bands’, Guns ‘N’ Roses recorded-at-the-same-time two album opus…
I first became aware of Guns N’ Roses through Matthew Meadows, a badass kid in the year above me at primary school who constantly wore the Use Your Illusion T-shirt. This was a bold statement at the time, especially in such a disciplinarian school as mine was, and it really stuck in my mind. But it wasn’t what the Gn’R* shirt said about Meadows; it was quite the opposite. As soon as I associated Gn’R with the notoriously troublesome Meadows kid (whose younger sister was probably my first crush, incidentally), I had them marked as a dangerous, corrupting influence. And when lil’ Ed Norton listened to ‘You Could Be Mine’ in Terminator 2 (a film which itself had a massive formative effect on me) that sealed the deal – they became everything mum had warned me about, and they both scared and fascinated me. (Around the same time my cousin Geoff, who I idolised, had a Public Enemy T-shirt, but that went way over my head – I had no idea who or what they were until much later. Between Gn’R and Public Enemy I don’t know who my mum would rather I had listened to).
For the time being I could happily avoid Gn’R, but as soon as secondary school came around I felt for the first time the pressure to fit in. This was the early 90s, just at the time when Nirvana were supposedly consigning Gn’R and all their spandex-clad hair-metalling chums to the commercial waste bin. Of course, as an eleven year old kid I made no such distinction, and liking both Gn’R and Nirvana was not mutually exclusive, it was mandatory. But while liking Nirvana was easy – I took to Nevermind as soon as the drums came in on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – I couldn’t get on with Gn’R, though that may well be because the only album of theirs I heard for ages was the largely indefensible covers record, “The Spaghetti Incident?”
Among my peers Gn’R were cool primarily because they swore a lot, and admitting to not liking them would have been akin to admitting that I harboured a crush on our Biology teacher, Mr Taylor (aka Cheese n’ Onion). So speaking out against Gn’R was simply not an option, although at least they no longer frightened me. Once Gn’R were no longer associated with the foreboding spectre of Matthew Meadows but with the air-guitaring gurns of my harmless new metalhead friends their capacity to threat evaporated.
And I didn’t have to pretend for long. Within a few months Oasis came along and for the first time, I guess, I found my own musical identity. So Gn’R, and Nirvana too, were quickly dismissed as just too infantile for my tres sophisticated twelve-year-old tastes, and they receded from my mind as something vaguely embarrassing that I wanted to forget and erase from history, like the ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ pyjamas I probably should have stopped wearing a bit earlier than I actually did.
But Gn’R resolutely resurfaced in my consciousness some five years later, just as I was coming to the end of my uncomfortable ‘early Manics phase’ (mum’s eyeliner never went with my ginger hair – it was always bound to end in literal, not just metaphorical, tears). It was the first time I’d properly heard Appetite for Destruction, and, in a new context where Generation Terrorists was an acceptable record, it made sense. A kind of inverse snobbery took over, whereby anyone who couldn’t see that it flat-out rocked, man, was just being way too precious. I even bought a vinyl copy from Lancaster market with the original cover of the robot raping a woman that got banned for some reason. It came with a tasteful pull-out sticker sheet. Nice.
But for all their MTV-saturated ubiquity, I didn’t come across Use Your Illusion One and Two until I was 18, specifically via a dodgy street market in Turkey, where I’d gone for a ‘lads’ holiday after my A-levels (Alex and Joe argued over who was going to buy which album; Joe won out and bought Two). By this time my brief Gn’R renascence was on the wane and I was running out of patience with them, so it was probably not the best time to be introduced to two records that each topped 75 minutes. I remember marvelling at how Axl sang the chorus of Dylan’s sparse, plaintive ballad ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ over no less than three different octaves, only for the song to collapse into a protracted phone conversation breakdown of epic WTF proportions, before the whooping gospel choir crashed the party for the rousing finale. I don’t remember much else, but that pretty much tells you all you need to know.
* Punctuation pedants may point out that there should be an apostrophe before the n, as well as after, but that’s how they wrote it. Still, that’s nothing compared to what they came up with later: GN’F’NR’s [sic]. Hell, even their abbreviations were ridiculously overblown. Self-editing was not their strong point.
Max, Jun 11