Rock n’ roll is delicate. Yes, it’s powerful and sexy, but maintaining the illusion of all that sexy power is such intricate work. It’s like a little lace doily in the shape of a penis. It’s ridiculous.
In high school, I played drums in a rock n’ roll band. Like all high school rock n’ roll bands, we did it because we loved the music. And by “loved the music,” I mostly mean “wanted girls to like us.” Oddly, we chose to call our band The Flaming Twinkeez. A name that could easily win the glitter encrusted tiara and scepter at the Most Blatantly Homosexual Band Name Evaaar Pageant. We were young and stupid. I insisted on spelling it “Twinkeez” to avoid legal issues when we made it big. Even when we tried to be smart–we were stupid.
The Flaming Twinkeez’s set list was some Pink Floyd, some Led Zeppelin, some Metallica, one original song about eating chili, and almost every Guns N’ Roses song.
I loved Guns N’ Roses. They smoked and drank and had overdoses and occasionally attacked their audience members. Unlike a lot of hard rock musicians at the time, they weren’t closet classical music fans with blow-dried mullets. They actually did the horrible things they sang about doing.
I was a scrawny, angry kid who liked to write and draw and get good grades so I could stay on the honor roll and get a 50% discount from the local Domino’s Pizza owned by Jesse Ventura. I was not entirely happy with my life. I identified with Axl’s anger. His skeletal, heroin chic look bolstered my self-image. Guns N’ Roses’ music did what it should: it offered a catharsis.
Eventually, the Twinkeez broke up after our two lead guitar players had a spat about whose amp should be louder. Two lead guitarists. We were so stupid.
As I grew up, I found my catharsis in writing and performing comedy. But I continued to listen to Guns N’ Roses. It was the soundtrack to a huge chunk of my life. It was a part of our culture. It was now being played on oldie’s channels. I even bought Chinese Democracy the day it came out. I drank whiskey and listened to the whole thing and didn’t hate it.
But with all the Guns N’ Roses obsession, I never saw Axl perform live. So when the band came through Minneapolis recently, I decided to carpe the fucking diem and buy tickets.
We sat in the second row of the balcony. As evidenced by this photo my wife snapped, I was almost surprised to find myself there.
I took a look around and the snark flood gates opened. I tweeted this:
My reaction to the crowd: Welcome to the middle-aged people wearing black who smell of pot jungle, baby. #GunsNRoses
But I was wrong. Not all the douchebags were middle-aged. When I walked into the bathroom, I headed to the stall to urinate. A young douchebag yelled, “Only fags pee in stalls!” Which was odd, because he was pissing in a trough along with five other guys–wangs hanging out like some limp dicked douchebag honor guard.
I started to think the simple term douchebag would not be enough to differentiate the audience members. Perhaps I would need to construct an elaborate taxonomy of douche-things. Douche-bags, douche-heads, douche-canoes, douche-bungalows, douche-heinekens, etc.
Two ironic hipsters sat in front of us shouting disparaging comments at the stage before anyone was even on it. They reminded me of the balcony dwelling Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, but not as cool. I thought of them as Statler and Asshat.
A man behind us sighed and said, “I got these tickets free. Axl’s not even going to show up. And I have to work tomorrow morning. In Fargo.”
An extremely friendly woman sat down next to me and said, “Hey, I’m going to try to sneak down onto the main floor. I’ll take my shirt off and wave at you, okay?”
The opening band started playing fifteen minutes late. They were boring, repetitive modern rock–like Nickleback but louder and less charming. In between songs (or it could have all been one song with breaks—who knows?) the singer would regale us with his wit. A sample:
“Whoever’s smoking that fucking green shit, I want some! If you could say one thing to your boss, I bet it would be like, ‘fuck you!’ What the fuck’s wrong with rock n’ roll, man? All these fucking rules and shit! Fuck, man, fuck. Who wants a fucking drumstick? I’ll trade you for a motherfucking pot treat!”
His liberal use of the f-word eventually caused him some problems when he told us in great confidence, “We’ve been on the road with Guns N’ Roses for a while, man, and let me say—they are fucking really nice guys.”
Really? According to the opening act, Guns N’ Roses were men who “peed in stalls.”
Blissfully, the opening act stopped playing music or speaking. I always thought opening acts were designed to raise the energy. No. They are designed to lower the bar.
About twenty minutes passed. Statler and Asshat screamed for Axl to hurry the hell up. Fargo guy considered leaving. The woman who wanted to be topless returned–thwarted in her attempt to get closer. She lit up a pity joint. I went to the bathroom again and urinated in a stall like a gay man. The convenience vending machine in the men’s room only sold three things—aspirin, ear plugs, and condoms. So many ways to dull your experience! The machine bore the slogan, “When life just can’t wait!”
I walked back into the packed, restless stadium. You could feel the confusion in the room. Why were we here? What did we even want? Was Axl going to be like he was when he was young? An ass-hole who starts his set whenever the hell he wants? Yes, yes, that’s very rock n’ roll of you, Axl, but you’re pushing fifty and some of us have to be in Fargo in a few hours. Come the fuck on, man.
Still, he didn’t show. It was like the white trash equivalent of Waiting For Godot. Statler and Asshat actually screwed around trying to take their shoes off.
I tweeted more. This time about the fact that I wasn’t even waiting to hear the real, original Guns N’ Roses:
“Soon the current members of #GunsNRoses will hit the stage! Axl! Not Slash! Guy Who Owns A Bass! Studio Drummer! Someone’s Brother-In-Law!”
Finally, an hour and a half after the opening band killed all the energy in the room, the lights lowered. All was dark save the glow from the prohibited cell phone cameras spread throughout the stadium. The room looked and smelled like a Christmas Tree made of hemp.
Suddenly, the lights blasted on, a familiar riff ripped through the speakers, and Axl bound onto stage and wailed.
In terms of a concert review, I’ll just say this: If you don’t like Guns N’ Roses, this was a terrible concert. If you do or ever did like Guns N’ Roses, it was amazing.
Axl danced. But not too much. He didn’t thrust his hips but he did a little jig that suggested he might do pelvic thrusts should the mood strike him. He jumped off things. But nothing too tall. He took his time and built up to the big screeching, bending notes. And he held them. For a long time.
One of the prohibited cell phones snapped a picture of Axl at the end of a song. The lights went out. In his youth, Axl would have jumped into the crowd and beat the hell out of the photographer. After a few seconds, Axl said, “We’re having some technical difficulties. Thanks for your patience.” Then the lights came up and on he rocked.
The whole room seemed to wonder, “What the hell happened to him? Has he finally swapped heroin for Xanax? Does he owe the government money and just can’t afford to screw this up? Why is he being kind of awesome?”
I started to feel like a prick about my snarky tweets. I realized I had tagged them with the Guns N’ Roses hashtag. Axl could look at them. Then, I thought, “What if he reads them on stage? That would make a great story.” I felt like an even bigger prick.
There he was on stage—just working. He wasn’t trying to regain his youth. He wasn’t playing only the old songs. He was swearing here and there but nothing compared to the opening act’s carpet f-bombing. When someone threw a bra at him, he just said, “thank you,” and gently hung it on a mic stand. He was just delivering the songs to the best of his fucking ability.
Statler and Asshat were rocking and chanting. Fargo guy and not-topless pot girl sang along. So did I. The songs didn’t make me pine to be younger, they just made me remember what it felt like. I thought about who I was then and how lucky I was to be sitting next to my wife now, listening to Axl Rose screech about being a Rocket Queen. I didn’t know what the hell a Rocket Queen was back then and I don’t know now. More importantly, I don’t care. It just sounds cool.
The band played for almost three hours. After they did an encore, they came back and did another bow. At this point, I was almost annoyed. Axl hadn’t done anything crazy. He had done very little “rock n’ roll” besides the whole performing three hours of rock n’ roll music. He was all doily and no penis.
After the whole band bowed, Axl walked back on stage. He stepped up to a mic and calmly said, “You guys were a great audience. We really appreciate your support. We hope to be back to Minneapolis real soon and we hope you’ll join us again. Thank you.”
There was a brief pause. Come on, man. Do something crazy. Read one of my tweets and threaten to kick my ass, say something crazy about the socio-political realities of democracy ever taking hold in China, punch something. At least swear, man, come on.
Then he leaned into the mic and said in a rich, deep, rock n’ roll voice, “Seriously, thank you. Thank you very fucking much. Good night!”
No, Axl, you crazy bastard, thank you. Thank you very fucking much.