Thursday, February 2, 2012

"I Want My MTV" Interviews [Part 2]

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution - Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum's new book collects interviews with over 400 key people from MTV's Golden Age. In the following excerpt (part 2 of 2), Steven Adler, Sebastian Bach, Nigel Dick, Doug Goldstein, Dave Grohl, Courtney Love, Alan Niven, Tom Petty, Riki Rachtman and more dish even more dirt on Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion video trilogy, their spats with Vince Neil and Kurt Cobain, and the beginning of the end ...

TOM PETTY: I played the VMAs with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin from Guns N Roses — we did "Free Fallin" and "Heartbreak Hotel." I thought it was kind of a shaky performance. We didn't get a lot of rehearsal time, because Cher was doing a big production number and there wasn't much time for us.

As we finished "Heartbreak Hotel" and walked offstage, Vince Neil from Motley Crüe came running out of the wings and decked Izzy, hit him right in the face. Our sound guy, Jim Lenahan, was walking off the stage with us, and Lenahan was like, "I don't even know this Izzy kid, but he's with us," so he decked Vince Neil. Izzy was getting a lot of black eyes those days. I think he already had a black eye before Vince hit him.

SEBASTIAN BACH: I was on the side of the stage when Vince punched Izzy. Vince's gold bracelet flew off his wrist as he cracked Izzy. It was a big chunk of gold. Vince was huffing and puffing, and I was like, "Dude, I've got your bracelet." He's like, "You can have it, man." In the day, if somebody said something bad about your band, you were obliged to punch him. It was considered totally appropriate.

ALAN NIVEN: Izzy and I were walking offstage when Vince came out of the dark­ness and whomped Izzy on the face, at which point I threw Vince to the floor and put my left hand around his throat. I cocked up my right arm to bury in his nose, and had a moment of lucidity where I looked at his rhinoplasty, said, "That's too expensive," and let him up. Then Axl ran all over the building, trying to find Motley and extend the dialogue further. It was very timely that Nikki had jumped into a limo and fled the scene.

RIKI RACHTMAN: Put it this way, if you said "Riki Rachtman," you thought Guns N' Roses. If you said "Adam Curry," you thought Bon Jovi. You wouldn't picture Adam waking up in a gutter, but you knew I did. You wouldn't picture Adam getting arrested, but I did. I was living the rock n' roll lifestyle without ever picking up an instrument. I opened a club called the Cathouse in September 1986, a mile or two from the Sunset Strip in LA. I hate saying it, because I'm patting myself on the back, but it was the most important rock club of that era. Everyone played there: Guns N' Roses, Faster Pussycat, Black Crowes, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains. I didn't see Headbangers Ball, because the chances of me being home on a Saturday night were nil. On Saturday, we got hammered.

I was with Guns N' Roses when they got their record deal, all the way up to recording Appetite for Destruction, when all of a sudden they became the big­gest rock band in the world. We'd see Adam Curry, and it didn't make sense for him to be on Headbangers Ball. So Axl said, "Do you want to be a VJ on MTV? I'll make a call." I walked into my audition with Axl. Would I have gotten the VJ job without him? I doubt it. I had no TV experience — I had drinking experi­ence, that's all I had. I started hosting in January 1990 — I wore a Motorhead shirt and a studded leather jacket with a blue circle for the Germs, because I wanted to hold on to my punk roots. I still don't feel comfortable saying the word, but that show made me kind of famous.

TONY DiSANTO: When Guns N' Roses started getting some fame, we shot inter­views with them at the Chelsea Hotel, and their energy was so I-don't-give-a­fuck, so punk rock. When Use Your Illusion came out, the next set of interviews was with Kurt Loder in Axl's beautiful LA backyard. His hair was blow-dried, his teeth were all perfect, and he looked like an angel. I was like, "Wow, they've sure changed."

ANDY MORAHAN: Two of Axl's favorite artists were Elton John and George Michael. Which was bizarre. As a matter of fact, he hated most other rock bands. If you spoke to him about Van Halen or Nirvana, he'd be spitting feath­ers, but when it came time to talk about Elton John, he'd go all misty-eyed. One of his favorite videos was George Michael's "Father Figure," and he wanted to make some big, epic narrative-driven videos.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: After Axl fired Alan Niven, I walked into Eddie Rosenblatt's office and said, "We're gonna make an expensive video." And he said, "Doug, we're out of the video business with you. You pay for your own videos. We'll front the money, but we'll take it back, and then you guys own the rights to your videos."

ALAN NIVEN: The videos that were done under my watch totaled something like $500,000, of which half went into "Paradise City." I was told it cost $1.25 million to shoot "November Rain," which to me is a preposterous waste of money.

STEVEN ADLER: I think that video would have been better if I was a part of it. But I'd been kicked out of the band for partying — and the biggest irony is, I was partying with the guys in the band.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: The videos caused tension in the band. Axl would just not show up for a day of shooting, so it doubled the cost. He did that on every video. Everybody else in the band was upset about it, and Slash was the only one who spoke up.

DAVE GROHL: When a musician starts to use the phrase "mini-movie" to describe a video, it's time to quit. Some videos I enjoyed just because they were train wrecks, like "November Rain." I looked forward to seeing that on TV because I didn't need those nine minutes of my life anymore.

DANIEL PEARL: Axl was as unreliable a person as you could possibly imagine, but at the same time he was a good benefactor. I did three big videos with Andy Morahan for Guns N' Roses — "Don't Cry," "November Rain," and "Estranged" — and each one cost over a million dollars, God bless 'em.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: Oh fuck. To be honest, I blank on the Use Your Illusion videos, because they all seem like the same video to me.

ANDY MORAHAN: Axl had written a trilogy of videos based around a short story by his friend Del James. We made "Don't Cry" the first video. Axl was undergo­ing regressive therapy, he'd gone through bouts of severe depression and want­ing to blow his brains out, and his personal madness became part of the video's story line. Izzy Stradlin had left the band, and the cracks were starting to appear — the trilogy was Axl's way of saying, "I'm gonna take control here." Before we started those videos, Use Your Illusion was up to about 8 or 9 million in sales. After those videos, it went up to 22 million.

If I wanted to do a daylight scene, I'd have to keep the band up all night and shoot it first thing in the morning. They were like vampires. I had a day set aside for the graveyard scene. I had half of the LA County cemetery closed down, and a cortege and two hundred extras and four rain machines, and Axl didn't show up until it was dark. That's why the graveyard scene is at night.

PETER BARON: Andy Morahan shot part of "Don't Cry" on the top of the Trans­america Center in downtown LA. We had two helicopters. It was mayhem. We got in a lot of trouble from the city because we completely stalled traffic on a Friday night.

ANDY MORAHAN: Stephanie Seymour and Axl were lovey-dovey on the first video. Stephanie had no shame in cuddling up to Axl in front of me and saying, "Hey Axl, why don't you work with some really big Hollywood directors?" Thanks, Steph. Love you, too.

PETER BARON: When the "Don't Cry" shoot finally ended, I got on the freight elevator by myself to go down to my car. I press the button, and just as the doors start to close, who walks in but Axl and Stephanie Seymour. And they proceed to make out. I'm not going to say he was dry humping her, but he was dry hump­ing her. He just did not care that there was someone else in the elevator. He was a rock star, and he was having a rock star moment.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: Their relationship was tumultuous. Axl loved that girl to death. I'd say Stephanie was the unstable one in that relationship. The first time I met her, she opened the door naked. She goes, "No, you can come in." Sorry, gotta go.

ANDY MORAHAN: We couldn't figure out what we were going to do with Slash in "November Rain." I said to him, "Wouldn't it be cool if you walked out of the church into a completely different environment?" And he said, "Yeah, let's go to New Mexico and do that." So we did. Weirdly enough, Anton Corbijn was stay­ing in the same hotel as us in New Mexico. I'd known Anton for a while, and I invited him to come to the shoot. After about a half hour he said to me, "Andy, this is incredible. You've got five cameras, cranes, helicopter, this big crew. Is this the whole video?" I said, "No, it's about twenty-seven seconds of it."

I've had calls from Sofia Coppola's people over the years asking to buy the original storyboards from "November Rain."

All three songs — "Don't Cry," "November Rain," and "Estranged" — are overblown power ballads. And all three videos are crazy. It was like Spinal Tap with money. I still don't know to this day why, in "November Rain," you see only half of Stephanie Seymour's face in the coffin.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: Axl jumping off the oil tanker in "Estranged," that's got to be the most extravagant thing I've ever seen.

BILL BENNETT, record executive: I got a notice at work one day that Sunset Boule­vard was going to be closed all afternoon for a video, and thought, Who the fuck would close down Sunset? Guns N' Roses, that's who, for "Estranged." Their vid­eos were late, bloated, and expensive. The band was so big, they did whatever they wanted.

ANDY MORAHAN: By the time we got to "Estranged," Axl had split up with Steph­anie Seymour, and he said, "I never want a girl in a video again. I'd rather go out with a dolphin." Which is why I put dolphins all over the video. I've been asked by students about the metaphorical imagery in those videos, and I'm like, "Fuck if I know."

ANDY MORAHAN: I wanted to cry when I saw "Teen Spirit." I thought it was per­fect. In a way, Guns N' Roses, myself, we became the dinosaurs, the kind of artists punk rockers hated. We'd become overblown and indulgent and kind of stupid, and then Nirvana happened and suddenly everything was grunge and cheap, and thank god for it, you know?

COURTNEY LOVE: We're sitting backstage at the VMAs. Everybody in the world is in this big tent, and there's a Guns N' Roses camp and there's a Nirvana camp. Literally, our roadies and their roadies are getting in fights. We stayed in our trailer most of the time because Kurt was sick, but we got bored, probably because there weren't any drugs to do, except coke, and we wouldn't have noticed that. So Kurt and I wander out to the main trailer with Frances, and Axl Rose comes over and he looks nervous. Everyone was watching us. I said some­thing to him, I can't remember what, and he said to Kurt, "Get your bitch to shut up or I'll take you to the pavement." Kurt was holding Frances, and in a moment of pure brilliance he said to me, "Shut up, bitch," in the most deadpan possible voice. The whole room laughed at Axl. It was like your worst Freudian night­mare of a whole room laughing at you. I knew it would be a story I'd be telling many years later. Then Stephanie Seymour thought she'd be clever, and said to me, "Aren't you a model?" And I said, "No, aren't you a nuclear physicist?" At that moment, the world was definitely on our side.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: I'd love to straighten out the story about Axl and Kurt Cobain. Axl loved Kurt's music, but Kurt used to say not very nice things about Axl. And Axl could never understand why.

So we're walking along, it's me and Stephanie and Axl, and all of a sudden I hear this voice: "It's Asshole Rose. It's Asshole Rose." It was Courtney. Axl said, "Fuck off," and kept walking. She said, "Asshole. What are you doing, Ass­hole?" So finally, Axl was pissed off and he walked over to Kurt and said, "Look, if you can't shut that bitch's trap, maybe I should shut yours." The instigator in this situation was Courtney.

AMY FINNERTY: Courtney was obviously trying to rile Axl. He said to Kurt, "You better get a handle on your woman." So Kurt screamed at Courtney, "Woman! You better listen to me!" At which point we all cracked up. But when Axl walked away, Kurt quietly said, "Honestly, that was really scary."

DAVE GROHL: That was a really weird night. It felt like I was back in high school, and that's one of the reasons I'd dropped out in the first place.

AMY FINNERTY: After the show I went back to Nirvana's trailer. As I got there, I saw Duff McKagan and a couple of the guys from the Guns N' Roses camp rock­ing the trailer back and forth, trying to tip it over. They were trying to get back at Kurt for his comments. I started screaming at them, "The baby's in there, the baby's in there!" They stopped, but it was ugly for a second.

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution


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