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Appetite for Destruction

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  • Oh, it was something all right. This loud, chugging, brutal nasty song on the radio about a jungle that made us want to jump up and down. My siblings and I were mesmerized in our little adolescent world and fascinated by the music. The television jumped with a video of this gross yet oddly beautiful frontman on his knees while the audience tries to drag him into the maelstrom he created. The lanky bass player gives us this knowing wink on the downbeat while a top hated guitar player and some bored looking gypsy coax monstrous sounds out of their guitars. And it made our little suburban life look so dull. Our joy and elation knew no bounds the day our dad came home from work with a slight detour at Turtle’s Records and Tapes (ask your grandparents, kids) to buy something called a CD of that band’s album. Rejoice, we thought, for musical enlightenment was moments away. We went berserk inside while my audiophile father put on the disc and turned the volume knob up unreasonably high. The thundering, echoing riff tore through our house and we danced with glee. The song finished, we giggled and grinned as the next song started and my whole outlook changed. It sounded like a train having a bullfight with a tornado. Sister in a Sunday dress? Why is the singer’s voice so low and murky? Is that sleaze? Why isn’t he high-pitched? Standing up? Think I’m so cool? Well of course…Oh my God….what did he just say?And then I saw the look on my father’s face change, and knew it surely matched the look on my mother’s face while she was loading the dishwasher, trying to ignore the din from the den. My father’s hand nearly tore the knob off the volume as he cut off the music and shuttered us out of the den; we knew our little party was over. I’m sure my mother’s stare sent daggers at my father while we were ushered over to the kitchen area. Why? Who knows, perhaps they wanted to observe if we were about to mutate into something hideous and barbaric like the music that had played just moments ago. I can’t debate the merits of my father letting us listen that night. I just knew that from then on, things were different. We snuck into the den before my parents came home from work and listened to the album again and again. We copied it onto tapes to carry with us and listen to in our rooms when our parents thought we were sleeping. Music became this new, huge, menacing beast. It could be a release, a celebration, a call to arms, or whatever I wanted it to be. I knew of this place called LA, I just didn’t know it could be so gritty, so unappealing, and yet so alive. Nearly twenty years on, I can look back and say that this record changed me the way it changed everyone else here. Suddenly, a life that I never knew about was achingly clear in these songs. And yet, it didn’t turn me into a hooligan, drug dealer, Satanist, misogynist, troubled youth, or any other assorted thing that parents seemed to fear about this band. Maybe I had good parents who taught me a difference between what you hear and what you do in life. Sure, maybe if I had been older and in LA I could’ve fallen into a vortex like that, but from my own perch, this album lived it’s own life for me, and I wore out the CD player and taped copy in my walkman listening to these booze soaked tales of struggle and survival, heartbreak, rage, and misunderstanding. Nearly every song is a gem and deserves a good listening before written off as a “weak” track. And like every defining group, you’d go back and source their influences. I knew about the Beatles, but not really the Rolling Stones. Aerosmith? Weren’t they in that video with Run DMC? What’s a New York Doll? Things like this weren’t clear to a 12 year old, and learning how Izzy crafted his sound in search of a Keith Richards vibe, or Slash’s blues burn based on a Boston band, made music that much better, and helped define this album on it’s own merits. At the risk of heresy, I’d say this album was as important as “Nevermind the Bollocks…Here’s the Sex Pistols” and defined an era just as well. America was confused, bored, occupied, and in a deep malaise and the result was this record. I stopped borrowing the old, worn out CD a while ago, dismissing it as unsophisticated dinosaur rock in an age of grungy plaid flannel, trip-hop and BritPop. And yet when I think about how many bands formed and made music just as important and life-changing because of the influence of Appetite for Destruction, it makes me miss it that much more. I’ll be ordering my own copy soon. Will I let my daughter listen to it when she reaches 12? Probably not, but you never know. She may figure out how the work the CD player one night when her mother and I are asleep…

    Posted on March 15, 2010