Friday, July 20, 2012

Appetite for Destruction: "Rocket Queen"

Let's get it out of the way. This is the song where Axl Rose had sex with Steve Adler's girlfriend.

The first time that I heard "Rocket Queen," I was listening to Appetite for Destruction on headphones, the whole way through. My first thought during the instrumental section was was "What is this?" My second was "I'd better not let my parents hear this."

Years after that first listen, Rolling Stone tracked down Adriana Smith, the 19-year-old girl whose climaxes ended up selling 28 million copies worldwide. "I would do anything Axl asked me to do," said Smith, now a mom in her 40s. "He's fuckin' magical."

That's exactly why we like Axl Rose. Steve Adler is certainly not infallible (he was on his way to being kicked out of GNR for, amazingly, drug abuse. If you watch him talk today, you can tell.) But he was the one being wronged here. Yet Axl can sleep with Steve's girlfriend, record it for the world to hear and still be the one that we like more. It's a little bit like explaining why Bill Clinton's approval ratings, book sales and speaking engagements always outperform Hillary's.

The Clinton comparison isn't an original one. Lars Ulrich, one of the most famous musicians in the world who still has to answer questions about Axl Rose, once made this claim:

"When he was in a good mood, he was the sweetest guy, and when he forgot to take his medicine or decided to go off, he was kind of a freak. He was the last person I've ever seen, though, besides maybe Bill Clinton, that when he walked into a room every single person was drawn to him. That's a rare thing." 

Is it fair that Axl sleeps with his bandmates' girlfriends, cancels shows on seconds' notice, wears t-shirts with Charles Manson's face, calls Slash "a cancer" and still has money, adoration and respect thrown at him? Of course not, but we all understand why he can. Ian MacKaye never has to defend himself against assault charges or bigotry accusations, and by all accounts he treats his fans, friends and bandmates well. But his music is also never as rewarding as Axl's.

I want to shower "Rocket Queen" in all the flowery language that my Liberal Arts degree can come up with. The funk rock progression that the Chili Peppers lifted for "Naked in the Rain," the entrancing vocal melody and most of all the lovely final movement, as surprisingly uplifting as the ending to (classic movie spoiler alert), deserve all the awe that music can get. But I can't express why as well as Adriana Smith did in Rolling Stone.

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