Friday, August 27, 2010
Chapter 10: Getting It All Down
Unauthorized excerpt from My Appetite for Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N' Roses by Steven Adler with Lawrence J. Spagnola
THE BIG DAY
On the night of March 24, 1986, Tom Zutaut came over to Vicki's to have a meeting with us. It was a beautiful evening, so we headed up to the roof. Tom went over his offer again, breaking every detail down for us, as simply (for our muddled minds) and clearly as possible. We pretended to give it some thought although we had already made our decision. We let Vicki give him the news that we would sign with Geffen the following day.
I usually woke up early, and the day we signed was no different. I was bouncing off the walls while the other guys were just waking up. They were much cooler about it. "Stevie, relax, calm down," they said. Oh yeah, how silly of me. I shot back: "We're only about to make our dreams come true." I guess I was always the kid in the band.
It was a sunny day, and everyone was together walking toward the Geffen building except Axl, who was no where to be found. We looked for him for over an hour and finally someone, probably Vicki, spotted Axl. He was on the roof of the Whisky! He was sitting in the lotus position, as if he was meditating. Classic Axl: "Look at me, look at me, watch me be different, watch me bust your balls by making us all late for the biggest moment in our lives."
Some photographer was walking with us as we made our way to the Geffen building, snapping away as we walked inside. We entered the main door, passed the secretary, who apparently was expecting us, and walked right up to Tom's floor. Tom and Theresa were there and on the desk in front of them the papers were already neatly laid out. We each had like ten things to sign. Vicki had a lawyer look over everything beforehand, so we had no worries. I had been waiting for this day all my life. We signed the papers and we each got an advance of $7,500. We went out and got drinks, had dinner, then everybody went five different ways and did their own thing, armed, for the first time, with more than a couple of bucks in our jeans.
Later we went to Guitar Center and bought equipment. We were offered wholesale deals on everything. I could have bought a bitchin' new set of drums for $1,200 bucks but I didn't really care to. After years of barely scratching by, I just couldn't shift gears like that and start blowing money. Besides, I had my own drum set and I was happy with it. I just added one more crash, the only piece of equipment I bought with my advance. Oh yeah, and I also bought a big bag of high-grade bud, then shoved the rest of my advance in my jeans.
Just after we got signed, we booked a show at Gazzarri's as the Fargin' Bastarges. We got that name from the movie Johnny Dangerously starring Michael Keaton. The bad guys in the movie always talked like that, mangling expressions: "You friggin' ice-holes. You fargin' bastage! You cork soaker!" Even though we were booked under an alias, the show was packed. The timing was great because the club had been closed down for a while due to a riot there. We happened to play the night it reopened, May 31.
We were in the parking lot when we saw Kelly Nickels from L.A. Guns walking around, shuffling aimlessly like a kid who lost his mother. The band was going into the club from the back and I said, "Dude, what's happenin'?"
"Oh, I just came into town. I wanna see the show but it's sold out."
"Come in with me," I said, and he happily joined us. That night was an epic show. Armed with the Geffen contract, we knew we were on our way. So we bore down and played our songs with an intensity that went beyond what anyone was doing on the Strip at the time. Extended solos, long jams, and fucking loud — we were getting a reputation for being the loudest band ever (although the Who had made that immortal claim while we were still filling diapers, and a little later Slade took a swipe, a fucking great, loud band).
We were going to be huge and we never had to compromise. We did it all our way. We never had to sell our own tickets. We never sat around after shows to push our shirts or anything. That was the sort of stuff Poison was about, because they really were all about the business: buy our CD, buy our ball cap, buy our condoms. Not us. We just wanted to play music. We were so much cooler, and the kids knew it and responded.
Tom had the idea for us to go in the studio and record an EP under our own label, Uzi Suicide, which was actually financed by Geffen. The idea was pretty novel at the time, although everyone does it now. Our whole deal with Geffen was kept pretty hush-hush. Before he signed us Tom had even gone around telling all the A&R people he knew that he thought we sucked. But that's how Geffen operated, out of the box and pretty slippery.
So they thought by making it seem that we financed a record on our own, it would contribute to our authenticity, the all-important street cred. As long as we could get our music out there, without anyone fucking with it, we went along.
Geffen wanted to put out the live album quickly and get people even more excited about us. It would also get us warmed up to record our full-length album. Honestly, we always had the idea to do a live record. Growing up our favorite records were live records: Kiss's Alive!, Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East, Cheap Trick's At Budokan, and the massive Frampton Comes Alive!
LIVE ALBUMS ROCK
Frampton and I are a lot alike when it comes to performing. He's always smiling, always happy, working the crowd, reaching out to his fans. Look what Comes Alive! did for Frampton. He slaved for years with his band Frampton's Camel, putting out four studio albums with some incredible songs. But Comes Alive! put him out there and over the top. I think it's the biggest-selling double live album of all time.
Songs like "Do You Feel Like We Do?" and "It's a Plain Shame" were studio gems recorded by Peter like five years earlier. But when people heard them on Comes Alive! they flipped. Those tunes were made to be played live and loud. They were suddenly reborn and hugely popular. That's definitely one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. And if you listen to "Paradise" or "Jungle" on our later Live Era, you get the same rush, a realization: "So that's the way it's supposed to sound!"
Live albums transcend. They bring the full potential of a song to the audience. The way the crowd noise swells when Frampton slams into his first solo on "Something's Happening" gives you chills. To hear that same kind of intensity out of Frampton, you have to go back to the live album he did before Comes Alive!, and that was Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore, when he was still just a teenager playing with Steve Marriott and Humble Pie.
The idea was to have a "live" record with thousands of people screaming in the background, thereby making us sound as popular as, or maybe more popular than, we actually were. So yes, we knew from the start that they were going to add an audience.
We were cool with it. Just so long as it sounded right. We didn't want this album to sound tinny or cheesy. Geffen's engineers told us there would be too much shit involved (i.e., it would cost too much) to actually record a live record, so we were told to create the live audience effects in the studio. Although I'll admit to being a little upset about the authenticity of it all, I ultimately felt it was okay because many of the live records we loved so much as kids weren't really live either.
They told me that was the case with Comes Alive! I was floored to find out that the only thing that was actually live on that album was the drums. Also, on Priest's Unleashed, Rob Halford actually recorded the vocals at Ringo Starr's house. I couldn't believe it. So we were learning the game and rolled with it, just so long as they kept their word and, as I said, didn't fuck with the songs. It was a bit of a tightrope for us, because we wanted to get our sound out there; we wanted them to know we were in it to win it, but we didn't want to completely bow to their direction.
Recording time was booked at Pasha Studios. Pasha was right next to Paramount Studios near Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Spencer Proffer was hired to produce and it was his studio. Quiet Riot's Metal Health was recorded there, and that album was huge. We recorded the four songs, and I swear, I think we recorded "Shadow of Your Love" there too. Come to think of it, we may actually have done six songs during the session.
One thing always bugged me about the very beginning of the record. The count-in to "Reckless Life" is my very first hit on the drums. It's the high hat and cowbell. When I hit the cowbell the stick slid off So my first recorded note is muted, it's not all there.
In the beginning of "Mama Kin" we added the sound of firecrackers. If you listen closely, before the song starts, while Axl is saying, "This is a song about your fucking mother!" you can hear them going off: crack-boom cracka-boom bam-boom! We actually lit the firecrackers in the studio. We set them up in the recording booth, lit the fuse, and had them covered by a bucket. Of course the bucket was miked and it came out sounding huge. After we finished the songs, Spencer added the audience. He used archived tapes of live performances by Dio and Quiet Riot and mixed the cheers in. Spencer had been in the business a lot of years, and I really dug working with him. He had a lot of great stories, and I couldn't get enough of hearing them. He had done so much; I was very impressed. He worked with a lot of my idols, musical artists from the sixties and seventies. Plus he was a great human being and it was easy to work with him.
Every day around noon we would break for lunch and go to Astro Burger on Melrose, home of the best burgers in L.A. Then back to the studio, where the whole recording process took two or three days. We were all in the same soundproof room and we actually recorded those songs together to give it a "live" feel, instead of each performer laying down a separate track, then assembling the tune. The only stuff they overdubbed was the backing vocals. If you listen closely to "Nice Boys," you can hear Axl singing backup to his own vocals.
The record came out, KNAC put "Mama Kin" and "Reckless Life" in regular rotation, and it was an incredible thrill to hear my band on the radio. I experienced the most joyful, natural buzz from this. A movie that was released in 1989, American Ninja 3, featured "Move to the City" on its soundtrack, but I've never seen it.
We were at Vicki's when she came in with the first shipment of our record. It felt like Christmas morning. We just watched as she opened the box packed with EPs. It was about the size of the boxes that hold ten reams of paper in a stationery store. It was a feeling just like the one I had when Slash and I heard GN'R on the radio for the first time. I experienced many fantastic firsts in my life at this time. The child in me couldn't get enough, as every morning smiled down with the promise of more and more artistic highs.
The cover featured a close-up shot of Axl and Duff. It was such a cool picture, the lighting, their expressions; I thought it was perfect. Everyone in my family bought a copy. Our very good friend Marc Canter bought a couple. The first store that I walked into and actually saw the record on display was Vinyl Fetish on Melrose. The owner, Joseph Brooks, was a close friend of the band and, like a lot of locals who had charted our rise, shared in our accomplishment.
Geffen assigned a personal manager for us, Alan Niven. He was a big, shit-talking tough guy with a British accent. He was also cur rently managing the established L.A. band Great White. I know the guys were hoping for Doug Taylor or Doc McGee to manage us, because they managed huge acts like Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. But Alan was raw and hungry, and he would be there for us. We all liked him. He was uncompromising and brutally driven, not unlike Zep's legendary uber-manager Peter Grant, and he was gonna bust ass, get us busy, and get us to the top.
All of a sudden, out of the blue, Vicki was no longer around. It just happened. At first I thought that she had cut some severance deal with Geffen and that was why she just dropped out of sight. I had heard no talk about tossing her aside when we got signed. I believed that she still had some tricks up her sleeve and would still have plenty to contribute to our success. I certainly got along best with Vicki; in fact, out of the entire band, I probably got along with all outsiders the best.
Slash really liked Vicki and Izzy liked her too. But I guess the band as a whole felt that she was not established enough, and in fact, a general feeling surfaced that a man would have more power. This was particularly true of Axl, who believed a woman would not get the same kind of respect as a man. Alan was a cool guy and never uttered a negative word about Vicki. This only confirmed our belief that he was going to be a consummate pro and kick major ass for us. I kind of made a mental note to find out the details of Vicki's departure, but in the swirl of getting the live record out, I never really followed up on it.
At this point, everything was happening so quickly. In the past, I'd felt that some of the gofers that we had around us were a bunch of desperate users who were out to leech off us and grab everything that they could. I believed Alan had successfully reamed out that grimy hole, and I felt much safer, less exposed to the greedy cling-ons.
We moved out of Vicki's place and set up in a roomy two-bedroom apartment right on the corner of La Brea and Fountain. It was, however, very rare that the five of us would ever be there at the same time. We were all over the place now, granting interviews, buying new clothes, checking out new equipment. Of the five of us, I probably hung out there the most.
Paul Stanley of Kiss saw one of our shows and became very interested in producing us. He contacted Zutaut, and Tom arranged us to meet with him. I was so stoked, I couldn't sleep. I never slept anyway, was last to bed and first up, but at least now I had a solid reason. Of all the surreally wild stuff that had been happening in the last month, this topped them all. I mean, we were about to be courted by rock royalty; this was Kiss, man!
Paul came to the apartment and sadly, almost immediately, the guys hated him. Paul probably knew as soon as he walked in the place that it wasn't going to work out. It just wasn't in the cards, and so he would not be producing us. The guys talked to him for about ten minutes.
Each guy would ask him something like, "Well, what do you think about such and such?" and Paul would answer with something that was probably the polar opposite of what we wanted to hear. One by one each member of the band just kind of drifted away. To be fair, I'm sure Paul felt he had to strut in with an authoritative manner to show us he could be in charge, but nothing, and I mean nothing, he said resonated with us. In fact it was more the opposite. I remember Izzy in particular didn't like Paul's response to one of his questions, and he gave a very shaky, "Ohhh . . . ," and then peeled off, saying softly, "See ya . . ." Within fifteen minutes the group was doing other things around the apartment, like jumping on the phone, digging in the fridge, watching TV, and not paying attention to Paul at all.
Eventually just my friend Ronnie Schneider and I were left. I was the last in the band to talk with him, and I was initially like, "Whoa. Paul Stanley." He was a hero to me. But he wanted to change me, and that's where he lost me. First fucking words out of his mouth: "You need to get a huge drum set." He told me this without explaining why. I just looked at him. "Well, fuck that," I thought.
I think we all felt that he wanted us to become the Paul Stanley Project. So I realized that I didn't want him to produce us, but I still wanted to talk to him. I was a big Kiss fan. I told Paul about my Kisstory experience and said, "When I was a kid, I would put my speakers on either side of my head, crank it up, and listen to you for hours." But by this point, he just wanted to leave.
I remained polite and walked him out. I think he wanted to get away from me because I was asking him all these goofy obsessive fan-type questions about Kiss. Then finally, at the elevator, I impulsively lifted up my shirt and said, "Who do you think has a hairier chest, me or you?" and he was like, "Well, I do, of course." He said it in such a snobby-ass way, I thought, "Oh well, you can have it."
We welcomed Paul, and I swear we all had open minds when he walked in, but I've never seen anything go south so quickly. It's because Paul came in with an attitude like, "You guys are the youngsters. I'm the rock star, and for this to work you gotta listen to me and do what I want." In the end, we weren't mean to him, we were just, "Whatever, dude."
AXL - ONE GREEDY MOTHERFUCKER
When the time came for us to record our LP, we moved in with Alan Niven at a much bigger house in Los Feliz. We began doing preproduction rehearsals at SIR Studios in Burbank. That's when the issue of crediting the songs, who got what, who owned what, and who got royalties for what, came up. It was Mike or Tom who told us, "You guys got to work this out. And you've got to have it all finalized before you start releasing your music."
So we gathered in the new place to sort everything out, just the five of us. Now, I thought it was kind of a formality because we had talked about all this before and from day one it was always supposed to be an equal share for everybody. But Axl had changed his tune. Axl wanted a bigger slice of the pie.
Axl didn't think it was fair to split royalties evenly five ways on our songs. He believed he was entitled to more than the rest of us. The other guys were smart. They just stared at the floor. No one said a fucking thing. I don't know if Axl intimidated them or if they just knew that silence was the best way to deal with his ego. Well, I couldn't just shut the fuck up about it. The reason I wouldn't dummy up was I was so outraged.
So right off the bat, I was like, "Screw you, I was here from the beginning, I worked on putting those songs together just as much as you." I had no trouble standing up to Axl because I was right. So now there's this deadly silence again, and it's obvious that it's become a big fucking deal. Still, no one else is saying anything, so rather than get into a big argument, I proposed what I thought was a fair offer: "Considering Axl did write most of the lyrics, which is a huge fucking part, I'll give you five percent of my twenty percent."
Axl shot me this look not of thanks, not of appreciation, but of arrogance and triumph. It was like he expected it. So I looked around the room because what I expected was for everyone else to follow suit and ante up too, but the room went dead quiet again. I looked around and everyone kind of started talking about other stuff. The matter was over, settled, done. Axl was happy and I was like, "Fuck!"
So it went 25 percent to Axl, 20 percent for each of the other guys, and 15 percent for me. The entire ordeal lasted only a couple of minutes. As long as Axl got more than everybody else he was a happy pig in shit. And at this point we were all trained to feel that as long as Axl wasn't being pissy, as long as Axl was content, then we should all be happy. He got away with more than the rest of us combined. Like climbing up on the roof of the Whisky the day we signed. If that was anyone else from the band, we would have climbed up there and thrown him off, but not our Axl.
We didn't know that Axl had a medical condition, manic depression, at the time. We just knew that dealing with Axl was tricky, that he was a moody motherfucker, and that you had to be prepared for craziness. One day he'd be hugging you and the next day kicking you in the balls. But Axl did some loving things for me that surpass anything the other guys ever did for me, so who am I to praise or condemn? I love the guy to this day, I honestly do. But that doesn't mean I'm going to lie to you about the way he was.
HIS OWN WORST ENEMY
Axl could get very uptight, while I was usually the opposite. People told me I was always easygoing. I got along with everyone and he didn't. Fact is, Axl had trouble getting along with himself. Axl was always living in his own little high-class snobby world, or at least he was in his twisted little mind.
I remember at this one show, he left after the first song because the monitors (the small speakers that face toward the musicians onstage so they can hear what they're playing) sucked. So he just split. As he stormed off the stage, he walked right by me. I shouted, "Why don't you come to sound check? Then you'd know what the monitors are going to sound like. You could even get it straightened out before the show." But no, that was asking too much.
Axl stood up thousands of fans without a second thought. One thing I've always respected is GN'R fans, the most faithful, dedicated, fanatical audiences in the world. Unfortunately, Axl didn't feel this way, and after we became famous, he kind of took the GN'R fans for granted.
Whether it was monitors or royalties, I was the only one in the band to call Axl out on his shit. Later that night we were in a bar and he's sitting away from the band with his latest bunch of "friends," who were lately shaping up to be B-list actors and wannabe models. He's shoving his smokes into a fancy cigarette holder, and he's looking fucking ridiculous. The other guys wanted me to leave it alone, but I couldn't, so I stood up and said, "Look at you, you pathetic little stuck-up motherfucker."
Axl just laughed at me: "Ha. Stevie, you're funny."
I go, "Motherfucker, what the fuck's wrong with you? You can't just leave us onstage and take off like that." Axl just whispered something into the nearest ear, and all his sycophant friends tittered away.
When Axl was ridiculously late for a recording session or blew off an important gig, I felt I had to call him out on it. The other guys knew better than to draw the wrath of Axl, I guess. They would just look the other way and stow their feelings. But there were times when Axl treated me with twice the respect that anyone else in the band did, and I think it was because I was real with him. Somewhere in the depths of that tortured soul, he appreciated that. But eventually I would pay dearly for standing up to Axl, because I became the guy with the bull's-eye on his back.
Now, Izzy avoided hanging with crowds, preferring to be on his own. But he was respectful. He would go off with a woman and just chill out, surfacing when he was needed again. Duff, Slash, and I, well, we were always together. The three of us had a blast every time we went out. We were just born to party together.
At this point, we started moving around so much, it really was just a blur. For a while we were staying in the house with Alan Niven in Los Feliz, by the observatory in Griffith Park. Duff's friends from Seattle and Axl's friends from Indiana ended up staying there for a while too. Then we moved to Manhattan Beach because Tom Zutaut lived there. He gave us a white van to commute in, and Slash was always designated driver. Of course, it wasn't long before our designated drunkard wrecked our ride. Good thing no one got hurt.
The time came for us to start recording at Rumbo Studios in Canoga Park. It was right next to the Winnetka Animal Hospital. It was close to my mom's house, and she cooked us lunch almost every day. One thing about Mom, she just couldn't stay mad at me for extended periods of time. I certainly took advantage of it, because I remember those meals came in handy. Mom brought us pasta, sandwiches, and salads, very tasty stuff. Then she'd ask if we needed anything and the guys would hint about running low on cigarettes, so she bought a few cartons for them. Then they went too far and gave her their laundry. And you know what? She even washed and ironed our clothes for us.
When we started working on Appetite we were in a hotel in Manhattan Beach, which was like a forty-five-minute drive to Rumbo. I have no idea why we were so far from the studio. One day my little brother came along with my mom to Rumbo. The band Heart happened to be recording their new album on the other side of the building. Their guitarist, Nancy Wilson, gorgeous and known the world over for her incredible songs, came by to say hi.
Nancy was very gracious. She lifted Jamie onto her lap and was very sweet to him. My little brother was smooth for a ten-year-old. He had the biggest smile on his face that day and soaked up every minute of it.
Around this time our producer Mike Clink came up to me suggesting I change my drum setup. With all due respect, that's kind of like someone coming up to you with suggestions for changing your internal organs ... you just don't fuck with what works. But I wanted to be a team player and when he got me a china cymbal and a second tom I was like, "Ah, what the hell," and reluctantly agreed. But the trouble with giving an inch is what happens next. They're not happy and they demand more. Maybe that's why it's better to be a miserable prick to people; they don't mess with you as much.
Mike asked me to change "Anything Goes" and that really hit a nerve.
"Fuck you, don't tell us how to write songs." I got so pissed because you don't meddle with the music. I pouted, stomped around, and behaved like a real dick. Where did this guy get off?
But I can't stay mad at people, and I couldn't in this case particularly since I knew in my heart that Mike was coming from a good place. So we tried his idea, and to my surprise, it came out great.
My resistance had just been from a deep-seated desire to guard our songs, and no one messes with GN'R's tunes. But I will be the first to admit when I'm wrong or out of line, and after we worked it out, I looked Mike straight in the eye and said, "I am so sorry."
Mike's change happens right when Axl starts singing the first verse. It was initially at a slower time, and his idea made it faster, and like I said, better. So we started tweaking other things, like the chord changes at the end of "Rocket Queen." Also he had the idea to add a vintage Moog synthesizer to the beginning of "Paradise City" and again, that ended up sounding great. Those are the only changes I can recall that he made to the songs. At the time, "Mr. Brownstone," "It's So Easy," and "Sweet Child 0' Mine" were our newest songs, and we worked our asses off on them in the studio.
"Mr. Brownstone" was a thinly veiled warning from Axl to all of us, including himself. We all saw how drugs had been granted a permanent VIP laminate in our lives, but we also believed we were indestructible. Although we were arrogant bastards, we respected (and feared) heroin's ability to weasel its way further into our lives, demanding increasingly bigger chunks of our daily routines.
So we did what we usually did with something that had become a part of us: we wrote about it. Same with the groupie scene, which was getting ridiculously out of control. We could just shove a fishing net out the window of any club and pull in choice catch after choice catch. The girl game lost its appeal; there was no longer a challenge to scoring the choicest snapper, and again, we chose to write about it: "It's So Easy." It was understood that Axl had final say over the lyrics, but we could all contribute, and at that point we all wanted to contribute.
posted 10:37 AM