Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"It was like Spinal Tap with money"

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 1 of 2), Steven Adler, Sebastian Bach, Nigel Dick, Doug Goldstein, Dave Grohl, Courtney Love, Alan Niven, Tom Petty, Riki Rachtman and more dish the dirt on Guns N' Roses and their meteoric rise during the late 1980s ...


No one was a bigger underdog than Guns N' Roses, five scuzzballs from LA whose caustic notion of hard rock had little to do with Poison or Bon Jovi. As with rap, MTV was afraid of the band. The network relented only under pres­sure from David Geffen, one of the titans of the record business, and ironically, Guns eventually became so prominent on MTV — in his memoir, guitarist Slash called MTV "a channel that helped us out, but that we didn't care for" — that the network hired a new VJ mostly because he came recommended by the band.

JOHN CANNELLI: I was taking a ride through Central Park on my ten-speed, and I put the Guns N' Roses cassette on my Walkman. When I heard "Welcome to the Jungle," I almost fell off my bike.

SAM KAISER: I had two right arms in the department. One was Rick Krim and the other was John Cannelli. John maybe had the best eyes and ears in the place. He was soft-spoken and dry, but he had a knack for picking stuff. When John spoke up, you listened. He brought us a video by Guns N' Roses, "Welcome to the Jungle," and I fell out of my chair.

TABITHA SOREN: The news department was a less important area in the scheme of the channel. MTV was just discovering Guns N' Roses, and they traded exclusive access to some A-list video for an interview with the band at CBGB. Nobody wanted to do it, so they sent me, with a crew. I was nineteen, and Axl aid, "Are you even old enough to be in here?" It was so exciting. Then I went home to my dorm room and went to sleep.

NIGEL DICK: I was strictly known as a pop guy. But I was a huge fan of Led Zep­pelin, Rory Gallagher, Bad Company, and Free, so getting to direct a Great White video was a breakthrough for me. And I was on my second Great White video when Alan,Niven, their manager, said, "I've got this new band called Guns N' Roses. They're hugely difficult, they don't want to work with anybody, nobody wants to work with them. Would you do their video?" I turned him down. A week later, Alan said, "Look, I can't find anybody to do it. You have to do me a favor." So I thought, What the heck, I'll make some extra money. I shot the second Great White video on, say, a Thursday and Friday, and shot "Welcome to he Jungle" on Saturday and Sunday. I honestly preferred Great White's music.

STEVEN ADLER: Guns N' Roses, At the time, nobody wanted to have anything to do with us. They were afraid one of us was gonna die, or kill somebody. Even recording Appetite for Destruction, we had ten different producers who said, "No way, I already heard about those guys." And then, of course, they all regret­ted it.

ALAN NIVEN: The budget that Geffen afforded for "Jungle" was insufficient for us to realize the storyboard we wanted, so we piggybacked it onto a Great White shoot, so we could have a four-day rental in equipment and staff.

NIGEL DICK: The video for "Welcome to the Jungle" was Alan Niven's idea. He told me, "Axl will step off a bus, then he'll be sitting in a chair watching TV, and there will be all this horrible footage on the TV." The hardest part of a Guns N' Roses video was waiting for Axl to show up. He was always late. He had to be in he right vibe, and you couldn't get too pushy. You were always worried he'd have a tantrum and leave. After we did the close-up of him on a stage, he hid in he dressing room for two hours. He couldn't handle the shiny boards and the ights and the bounce cards. Suddenly, instead of a bunch of hot girls at his feet when he's singing, there were a bunch of aged film people with light meters. It freaked him out.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN, manager: Nigel was quiet and soft-spoken. If Axl was running two and a half hours late, Nigel was like, "Well, he'll get here when he gets here."

ALAN NIVEN: Everything of worth in a video is stolen from somewhere, so I stole from some cool movies. Axl's character is a corollary to Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, who comes to a city that's a cauldron of false dreams. That plays beau­tifully into the scene from The Man Who Fell to Earth where David Bowie is in a motel out in the desert with a pile of TVs, trying to absorb information about the planet he's landed on. Then there's the scene from A Clockwork Orange, when they're made to watch all these insane images on TV.

STEVEN ADLER: Believe it or not, we couldn't find any girls to be in the video It was one night out of forever when no girls were around. So I called my roommate — her name was Julie, I couldn't tell you her last name — and she's the girl laying in bed with me while Axl watches the TVs. There was an X-rated part where I was making out with the girl, rubbing and licking her neck, her boobs were out and everything. When we went to Japan, I saw the video and they didn't cut out that scene. It was so great!

TOM HUNTER: When they submitted "Welcome to the Jungle," we accepted it for Headbangers Ball, which was typically what we'd do with a video that extreme. Axl was twitching in an electric chair!

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: MTV wasn't interested. Their response was "We'll play it two times overnight and see how it goes."

ALAN NIVEN: MTV didn't give a damn. Didn't care.

NIGEL DICK: Initially, they wanted to play it only once or twice after midnight Then we had to re-edit it, because there was a brief moment when a red soda machine appeared, and MTV said it could have been perceived as a Coca-Cola sign.

JOHN CANNELLI: There was controversy over how much to play "Welcome to the Jungle." Our GM, Lee Masters, thought we were playing too much hard rock. Lee and Tom Hunter, the guys with radio backgrounds, were afraid of the video. Tom got some pressure from Geffen, so we put it on the overnights, and all of a sudden we started getting requests. Then we played it in the afternoon, and from there it went through the roof. And I became GN'R's guy at the network. We did one of Axl's first MTV interviews at my apartment in Chelsea.

EDDIE ROSENBLATT: We had sold a couple hundred thousand albums and they still wouldn't play the video. I sent my weekly sales report on the album to Lee Masters, and I got on the phone and made him read it with me.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: The interesting thing nobody knows is that we'd been touring for a year and three months and had sold 150,000 units. Eddie Rosenblatt took Alan Niven to lunch and said, "Great first album, it's time to record another one." But Alan begged for the money to make the "Sweet Child O' Mine" video.

ALAN NIVEN: I looked at Eddie with total disbelief and said, "What do you think might happen if we got MTV's support?"

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: Axl was frustrated that "Jungle" wasn't getting played. He and Cannelli were great friends, so he couldn't understand why they wouldn't play it. He knew that, in order to be one of the biggest bands in the world, they'd have to be played on MTV. Axl loved Cannelli. He didn't care John was gay, that didn't bother him at all.

GARY GERSH: David Geffen and Eddie Rosenblatt didn't spend much time lis­ening to people bitch about what they weren't getting done. We all courted MTV, from David on down. It was different at Geffen — we didn't have a central video promotion person. It was like, "Get your fucking ass in there if you want your video played."

TOM FRESTON: The programming group decided to put "Welcome to the Jungle" on Headbangers Ball for starters. Not in regular rotation. It was getting played a couple of times a week. David Geffen called me and said, "Every time you guys play this thing at 3 A.M., our sales light up. Please leave it on." Normally, I would never tell the programming guys what to put into rotation. But this was David Geffen. And the song kicked ass. Guns N' Roses broke out.

TOM HUNTER: Freston called me and said we had to play "Welcome to the Jungle" in regular rotation. I said, "Have you seen the video?" He said, "One of the pieces of advice I got from Pittman was: When David Geffen calls, pay atten­tion. And Geffen called me."

ALAN NIVEN: I love the euphemistic quality of that statement. In other words, David is an incredibly powerful person, don't piss him off.

TOM HUNTER: If we added it into regular rotation, we'd get shit from other man­agers and labels whose hard rock videos we wouldn't play. So I handwrote it into the programming log — that way, the add wouldn't appear in trade magazines. I gave it two plays a day in regular rotation. It got an amazing number of calls right out of the box.

NIGEL DICK: On the second Guns N' Roses video, "Sweet Child O' Mine," all the girls from the Geffen office wanted to be in the video. There's a scene with a guy on a dolly, pulling focus or something. He worked at MTV. Alan said we needed to put him in the video because he was part of the team that could make sure the video got played.

There'd been two previous attempts to shoot "Sweet Child O' Mine." We had the location and the crew booked, but the band was unable to appear because they were "ill." I was quite happy, because I got paid each time.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: Axl left some of the best of 'em waiting. He left the Rolling Stones waiting for a sound check. In late '89, Niven took Axl to do a pay-per­view show in Atlantic City and he kept banging on Axl's door. Axl said, "The longer you pound, the longer I'm gonna take." Two hours later, Axl walks onstage and Mick Jagger is staring at him. And Keith Richards says, "I slept inside of a chandelier last night. What's your excuse?"

JOHN CANNELLI: I'm in the "Sweet Child O' Mine" video. I was there when they shot it, and they asked me to be in it. I'm like, "I can't be in your video. People already accuse me of being on your payroll." So they put me on a dolly and shot me so you can't see my face. I have a clear recollection: It was the same day we shot Cher for the final "I Want My MTV" ad campaign, and she won the Oscar for Moonstruck.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: "Sweet Child O' Mine" is about Erin Everly, so it was impor­tant to Axl to have her in the video. He didn't want to cause any shit with the rest of the guys by excluding their girlfriends: Angie, who was Izzy's girlfriend; Cindy, who was married to Duff; and Cheryl Swiderski, Steven's wife, are also in the video.

STEVEN ADLER: The girlfriends and wives, they didn't demand to be in the video, but it was something that wasn't said and had to be done. Everybody's got a wife or a girlfriend in the video — except Izzy, who's there with his dog. Or maybe that was his girlfriend.

NIGEL DICK: The idea for "Sweet Child O' Mine" was simple. After the first cou­le of takes, I thought, God, this is awful. It's so dull. Some execs from Geffen sere standing behind me, going, "This is so fucking cool." I'm thinking, I'm hooting a bunch of guys playing guitar. What's special about this? But for whatever reason, people thought it was the hottest thing in the world. There's noth­ng remarkable about the video at all, except, of course, for the band. Which is exactly how it should be.

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: MTV liked "Sweet Child O' Mine" a lot. Cannelli was on-site, which he seemed to be for most of our videos in the early days. He said, "It's a great video, Doug. We're going to play it." And the label relaunched "Jungle" after that. So they had two songs being played regularly on MTV. And it just took off.

NIGEL DICK: Soon everyone at MTV was like, "Yeah, we've always loved Guns N' Roses!"

ALAN NIVEN: On the first video, Axl didn't have confidence in his ideas or how hey could be applied. But once he'd done "Jungle," now he was David Lean. For Sweet Child," he had an incredibly involved story line that he wanted to apply ith his microscopic sense of myopic detail. So I asked Nigel Dick to give me a thumbnail budget, and he said it would be at least $250,000. I told Axl and said, By the way, we've got $35,000."

Nigel came up with a brilliant idea. Anyone on the set who had a spare five minutes could grab a windup Bolex camera and shoot B-roll. He had one of his staff sit there all night long, loading the Bolexes with 16mm film. Then we did two different edits of the video, so when "Sweet Child" toók off and the first video reached burnout stage, I dropped version number two to Cannelli and extended the life of the song at MTV. The first version was a mix of color and black-and-white, and the second was entirely black-and-white except for the final shot, when Axl fades into color.

JOHN CANNELLI: There was an element of danger with Guns N' Roses. They seemed fragile; there always seemed to be a crisis. But God, when you saw them perform ... I booked them for a concert called Live at the Ritz, and the show was amazing.

STEVE BACKER: Guns N' Roses gave MTV a second wind. Dana Marshall pro­duced a live show with Guns N' Roses from the Ritz. I went to MTV and there must have been twenty people hunched into her office, just to watch her edit raw footage of Guns N' Roses.

ALAN NIVEN: MTV had a conflicted relationship with mainstream America. They were club-dwelling, Manhattan-living aficionados who were more com­fortable with music coming out of London than with what played in Peoria or Birmingham. They played hard rock only because they wanted to pay the bills. It was selling records hand over fist at the time.

NIGEL DICK: "Paradise City" was the biggest video I'd ever done. It cost $200,000, $45,000 of which was a payment to the unions at Giants Stadium. They got $45,000 for carrying a hundred camera cases thirty yards from a parking lot into the stadium.

ALAN NIVEN: We went from $35,000 to a $250,000 budget, shooting with six cameras at Giants Stadium in front of 77,000 people. I wanted to show the scale of the band's phenomenon. I needed the audience. And Axl is resplendent in his brand-new white leather jacket.

PETER BARON: There's an "It's So Easy" video we never released. It had Erin Everly, Axl's wife, in bondage. She had a ball-gag in her mouth. It was a bad look for them.

STEVEN ADLER: I never saw that, but I'd like to. Erin was a fox.

RIKI RACHTMAN: Sometimes you can find it on YouTube. It was a great video, filmed at the Cathouse in black-and-white, with Erin shaking her butt. I have no idea why it wasn't released. Maybe it was the ball-gag.

PETER BARON: The first Guns N' Roses video I commissioned was "Patience." Alan Niven sort of co-directed those early videos with Nigel Dick. We shot the conceptual part at the Ambassador Hotel, and the performance in Hollywood. Of course Axl showed up about seven hours late. And Izzy was screwed up. Coke was dripping out of his nose, but he didn't realize it because his whole face was numb.

NIGEL DICK: Mostly what I remember about that video is a shitload of chicks and coke.

ALAN NIVEN: Izzy, who was in the depths of a cocaine habit that was destroying him, sat in a dark corner while we were filming. When we looked at the footage, Nigel and I agreed to minimize Izzy in the video, because he looked wretched. He got sober not long thereafter, but that video represents the nadir of Izzy's cocaine habit. There were other moments when Slash was in dire condition, and moments when Steven was in dire condition. Those were the three that had the biggest problems with excess.

STEVEN ADLER: I was sitting there rolling joints. That was my whole gig in that video: light incense and roll joints. As for Izzy, if you look at the cover of Rolling Stone when we were on it in 1988, he's sitting on the ground, and if you look at his wrists, you can see the track marks. He was doing drugs longer than any­body, but he ended up getting it together better than anybody, and then he left the band because he got clean and couldn't be around us.

JOHN CANNELLI: One night, I was hanging out with Slash and his girlfriend in their hotel room. It was late, we'd been drinking, and she asked if I wanted to end the night with them. I'm pretty sure she meant more than just sleep on the couch. Now, as far as I know, she was speaking only for herself. There's no reason to think Slash was in on the offer. But I said, "Gee, thanks very much, but think I gotta go now."

DOUG GOLDSTEIN: When you're dealing with two heroin addicts, a cocaine addict, and a bipolar lead singer, every day is mayhem. Well, three heroin addicts, actually: Izzy, too. But Izzy cleaned up midway through the Appetite tour. Rehab wasn't working for some of the other guys, so I decided to sit in a hotel room for two weeks with Steven and give him sleeping pills, and clean up his puke and excrement. We went to the Orange Tree Resort in Arizona, and Steven is doing good, he's about four days clean and sleeping until 4 P.M. because of the pills. I decide to go golfing, and when I get back to the hotel, there's four ambulances, two fire engines, about fifteen cop cars, and three hundred people standing in a circle. Slash is there, naked. And bleeding. He'd come in over­night, to bring Steven heroin, I think. I told my security guy, "Earl, go to my room and get my briefcase." I used to carry between $30,000 and $50,000 at all times, just for situations like this.

So I go, "Did anybody see anything here?" And a guy goes, "Yeah, I did." So I walk away with him and he goes, "I saw him throw a maid to the ground." I'm thinking, Okay, this is not good. I said, "I notice you got a little blood on your shirt. That's, what, a $2,000 custom shirt?" He goes, "No, no." I said, "Trust me, I know clothing. That's a $2,000 shirt." I bring out $2,000 and give it to him. "Think you're okay going on with your day?" He said, "Yeah."

The cops are cracking up because they can see I'm paying people off. I grabbed the hotel manager and said, "Give the maid $1,000 and an apology from us, please. What about the damage to the hotel?" He goes, "I'd say it was $700." I said, "So another $2,000 will take care of that. Do you feel like pressing charges?" He goes, "No."

This whole time, Steven is on his balcony, yelling at Slash: "You stupid her­oin addict!" We got in the car as quick as we could and boogied. It probably cost $10,000, but I kept 'em out of jail.

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

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