Appetite for Destruction The Album and Music

Appetite for Destruction

July 21, 1987 (Uzi Suicide/Geffen)

The Robert Williams Painting

"Appetite for Destruction" is a painting by Robert Williams which sold for $1,000.00 in 1978.  It is worth about $3,000.00 today.  The media really tore Axl apart over it.  I'll admit that it was kind of offensive to me as well when I first saw it. But after I got to know Axl through his music and interviews, I learned to overlook it as social satire.

The painting symbolizes the government (robot) raping our society and destroying the entrepreneurial spirit (represented by the woman).  Then the war machine (red robot above) destroys our government.  It symbolizes our own destructive nature as a society.  The woman selling robots, in a business sense, is a minority.  Especially in 1978, how many female business owners were there?  Very few.  Even today, women are considered minorities in business and still earn less money than men.  Also, who is to say that the woman was raped?  The robot could also represent the male boss who the woman willingly has sex with in order to rise to the top of the ladder, which has been a very common occurrence in our society.  The boss destroys her when she becomes a competitor.  The boss could also have sexually harassed her and coerced her into having sex with him or she would be fired, another common occurrence throughout the 1970s that was also destructive.   It destroyed the female spirit in general.  Now we can look at the red robot as the war machine that destroys our government, or as the government which destroys the manipulative boss and sets things right.  It could be the woman's avenger.  It could also simply represent the dog-eat-dog world (jungle) that we live in and face every day.  Axl appropriately welcomed us all to that jungle.

The graphic imagery is very true-to-life and in your face.  Record stores and feminist groups did not analyze the valuable message in the painting or ask the artist what it was about.  They also did not ask Axl what it meant to him or why he chose the artwork as the album cover.  After Geffen refused to continue printing the original cover, Axl stated, "the picture in and of itself wasn't indecent; it's what people chose to see."  To Axl, it represented the robot as society, the girl as a metaphor for either the band, or individual humanity as a whole.  In other words, he picked artwork that represented what Joseph Campbell has become such a hero for saying, "that the progress of Western culture has outstripped man's spiritual and emotional ability to deal with it."  People simply made assumptions and took offense to it.  Axl stated during an interview with Kurt Loder of MTV in 1990 that, "people are afraid of art."  I'm inclined to agree with him.  Art, regardless of its medium, does frighten and shock people because it forces them to face issues that they otherwise deny.

The Celt Cross artwork that replaced the Robert Williams painting was designed by Axl and drawn by artist Bill White Jr, then re-drawn by Andy Engell. The top banner is patterned after the astrological symbol of Saturn/Cronos, the sickle which represents the God of Time. This imagery gives us the modern concept of the Grim Reaper. If you look closely, each half of the banner on either side of Izzy's head is in the shape of a sickle pointing in opposite directions. The cross itself is the handle and each arm is the side handle for directing the sickle. Essentially, the cross and banner is two sickles drawn into one. The Celtic Knotwork represents Axl's Irish-Scottish heritage. Axl had the artwork tattooed on his arm by Robert Benedetti at Sunset Strip Tattoo before the album was released. During a 1987 interview with MTV, Axl stated that, "he had the cross tattooed on his arm to commemorate Guns N' Roses' success and if the band ever broke up, he would always have something to remind him of how it all started." David Geffen liked the tattoo so he chose it as the new album cover.

The Album

"I want this to be the biggest selling debut album from a rock act ever!" -Axl, 1987

This statement turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Guns N' Roses became instantly a household name.

Beginning with the hit "Welcome to the Jungle", Appetite for Destruction combined elements of glam metal, punk rock, blues and classic, anthemic choruses. The album was a #1 American hit and worldwide sales exceeded 38 million to date. It is an RIAA Certified Diamond Album.  The album is among the best selling albums in history; at least 15 million copies were sold in United States alone. However, one year after it was released in 1987, the album had sold only 500,000 copies.  MTV refused to play any Guns N' Roses videos because of the album's original cover. The band compromised and put the original cover art inside, replacing it with a cover depicting a cross and skulls of the five band members, somewhat like the Grateful Dead artwork.  This compromise was not good enough for MTV, and the network continued to ban the video. Finally, David Geffen, then- president of Geffen Records called MTV and begged them to play the Welcome to the Jungle video. MTV agreed to play it once, at 2 o'clock in the morning. Within 24 hours, it became MTV's #1 most requested song.  The album remained on the Billboard's Top 10 for over a year. 

In 1995, it was voted the greatest rock album of all time.  In 2001, Q magazine named Appetite for Destruction as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums Of All Time. In 2003, VH1 named Appetite for Destruction the 42nd greatest album of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it at #61 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  The album continues to sell copies today.  Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine did a parody of this album called "Aperitif for Destruction". It shows Richard Cheese as a skeleton wearing his tiger striped tuxedo and holding a Martini in his hand. An Aperitif is an alcoholic beverage usually drunk during an appetizer before the big meal.

"The whole album is about someone we've known and hung out with or something we've done." -Slash, 1987

Two songs often performed during their club touring days were recorded during the Appetite sessions, but were only released as fan club issues.  These are: Heartbreak Hotel and Jumpin' Jack Flash.  "The first record won't have certain things that the second one will have, because it's not the right time yet. We have to help knock down a couple of doors."

The Music

Welcome to the Jungle became everyone's personal anthem.  Every walk of life from homelessness to being a wealthy celebrity and every work place from picking up trash to being a corporate CEO was a jungle, each in its own right.  "I wrote the words in Seattle. It's a big city, but at the same time, its still a small city compared to L.A. and the things you're gonna learn. I just wrote how L.A. looked to me. If someone comes to town and they want to find something, they can find whatever they want." –Axl.  This song described so much more than Axl's experience in Los Angeles/Hollywood.  It described life everywhere.  It is a truly timeless song.  Co-written with Slash, the title and catch line for the song came from an incident Axl had while sleeping on a park bench in a Bronx schoolyard. "This black guy came up to me and said, 'You know where you are? You in the jungle, baby! You gonna die!' "- Axl

It's So Easy: "It's about how easy it can be to take advantage of people. We didn't have money, but we had a lot of hangers-on and girls we could basically live off of...things were just too easy." -Duff  This single was banned in the UK and the video, featuring two bondage scenes with Erin Everly was never released.

Night Train: "We were living in the Gardener Street studio, where we had one little box of a room. We had no money but we could dig up a buck to go down to this liquor store. It happened to have this great wine called Night Train that would [mess] you up for a dollar. Five dollars and you'd be gone. We lived off this stuff." -Duff, Hit Parader March 1988  "Most of the band will tell you that Night Train was the only alcohol they drank because it was cheap and you could get blasted. This song's not about drugs or anything; it's about a walk in the park" -Slash

Out Ta Get Me was written about Axl's troubled adolescence and bad relationship with his parents. "Like every time you turn around, someone is trying to screw you over financially, or the cops are banging on your door and you didn't do anything. It's just being railroaded into something and trying to get out from underneath it. You know, parents, teachers, preachers... everybody. The last verse Slash and I put together as a joke 'cause we were talking about how we get in fights sometimes, and how some people get pissed off that you're drunk. But they're the ones that bought the bottle of whiskey to get your drunk on. Some people say I got a chip on my shoulder." -Axl

Mr. Brownstone was written about Slash's heroin addiction. Brownstone is slang for heroin, a certain type that is produced in Mexico that comes in a brown clump. During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Duff stated, "The night the group wrote 'Mr. Brownstone', Slash overdosed. We were doing Mexican street tar." Slash stated, "Izzy and his girlfriend brought me back. That was a fun time."  Slash stated about the song, "It's a good little ditty that people can listen to and maybe think about what they're doing; try and get themselves in perspective."

Paradise City: "The verses are more about being in the Jungle. The chorus is like being back in the Midwest or somewhere. It reminds me of when I was a little kid and just looked up at the blue sky and went 'Wow, what is all this? It's so big out there.' Everything was more innocent. There are parts of the song that have more of a down home feel and when I started putting down the over-layers of my vocals (I put five tracks on there), it seemed that it came out like some Irish or Scottish heritage." -Axl

"Take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty." Duff McKagan wrote these lines when he was 19 and living in Seattle, where both his girlfriend and his roommate were addicted to heroin. He was dreaming of a fresh start in Los Angeles. (Revolver, March 2004)

This 20 year old mystery is finally solved.  Paradise City is Los Angeles.

My Michelle: "I know this girl named Michelle and she became a really good friend of the band and I was going out with her for a while. It's a true story. Slash and some other members of the band said that's kinda too heavy to say about poor, sweet Michelle; she'll freak out. I'd written the nice sweet song about her, and then I looked at it and thought, 'that really doesn't touch any basis of reality', so I put down an honest thing. It describes her life. This girl leads such a crazy life with doing drugs, or whatever she's doing at the time, you don't know if she's gonna be there the next day. Every time I see Michelle I'm really relieved and glad. I showed her the lyrics after about three weeks of debating, and she was so happy that someone didn't paint just a pretty picture. She loves it. It was a real song about her." -Axl.

Michelle Young: "I'm the subject of the song 'My Michelle'. I was driving Axl to a gig and 'Your Song' by Elton John came on the radio. I said that I wished somebody would write a beautiful song about me. But, you know the song. At the time, I didn't care because I was so [messed] up, but what it says is all true; my dad does distribute porn films and my mom did die." -Just A Little Patience, Spin Magazine July 1999

Think About You: "It's a quick love song about drugs, sex, Hollywood and money." -Izzy

Sweet Child O' Mine: "That's a true story about my girlfriend (Erin) at the time.  I had written this poem, reached a dead end with it and put it on the shelf. Then Slash and Izzy got working together on songs and I came in, Izzy hit a rhythm, and all of a sudden this poem popped into my head. It just all came together. A lot of rock bands are too wimpy to have any sentiment or any emotion in any of their stuff unless they're in pain. It's the first positive love song I've ever written, but I never had anyone to write anything that positive about, I guess." -Axl Erin was featured briefly in the video.

During a radio interview with Eddie Trunk on May 5, 2006, Axl stated that, "the video they wanted to do for the song was supposed to be of an Asian woman carrying a baby into the United States. At the end of the video, the baby is cut open and there is heroin inside because that's what the song is about."

If you pay attention to the song, it's a rare glimpse into Axl's childhood. When his parents fought, he hid and prayed for the fighting to stop. Something about Erin brought back his childhood memories. Perhaps she reminded him of someone from his childhood. He once said in another interview that, "the children in us loved each other." The song is about the way Erin made him feel. Axl misses his childhood. He has some good memories, but they are overshadowed by abuse. Erin is a projection of his innocence, summoned from the depths of his memory. When they were together, she made him feel like a boy again and he felt safe with her.

You're Crazy: "It was written on acoustic, about another girl we know who was crazy." -Axl

Anything Goes was written by Axl, Izzy, and Chris Weber while they were in Hollywood Rose.  It was originally titled, 'My Way, Your Way'.  "Basically, I just wanted that song; an 'anything goes in sex' type song." -Axl

Rocket Queen: "I wrote this song for this girl I know. She kinda kept me alive for awhile. She was gonna have a band and call it 'Rocket Queen'. I'm singing as though I was in her shoes, and then at the end of the song I'm singing the song to her. The last part of the song is my message to this person, or anybody else who can get something out of it. It's like there's hope and a friendship note at the end of the song. The girl it's written about, her life's history now. I mean, she's alive, but there's not much left of it. For that song there is also something I tried to work out with various people - a recorded sex act. It was somewhat spontaneous but premeditated; something I wanted to put on the record. It was a sexual song and it was a wild night in the studio. This girl we knew (Barbi von Grief) was dancing; everyone was getting really excited. The night could've gotten explosive, lots of trouble for everyone, and I thought 'wait a minute, how can we make this more productive?'" -Axl, Hit Parader March 1988