In our minds, it can be impossible to unmake certain connections. Especially when it comes to music, particular songs and albums will always be linked with different periods in our lives. In high school, I dated a guy who fell for me because I could play every solo on Guns N’ Roses’ first album, Appetite for Destruction, note-for-note by heart. Imagine my surprise, then, years later, to hear “Sweet Child O’ Mine” blaring at me from behind the counter one afternoon at a bar in Prague. Imagine my increased surprise to see the waitress singing the song. Over the next few weeks, encounters like this kept happening. I started becoming paranoid, convinced that Axl Rose was slyly watching me from behind every bar I went to. Sometimes I swore I could see a braid from his cornrows peek out from around the corner.
It had been a long time since I had heard anyone even mention Guns N’ Roses. A few years ago, when I was at the peak of my own rock-and-roll career (by which I mean when I used to play covers at dive bars fi lled with drunk middle-aged men), I would make a lot of Chinese Democracy jokes during the all-important but ever-doleful minutes of stage banter. Unfortunately, my pitiful attempts to keep the audience alive during equipment malfunctions and tuning disasters didn’t go over so well. For a while I thought the audience was simply misunderstanding my jokes, but I came to realize that it was just a subject that no longer mattered. Maybe 10 years ago I could have at least gotten a rise out of the guy who’s still pissed off about the Spaghetti Incident?, but even he had long given up any thoughts of
reclaiming Paradise City.
No, no one really cared about Guns N’ Roses anymore. In December 2008, after nearly 15 years of waiting, Chinese Democracy was released without nearly the pomp and circumstance Axl Rose had dreamed. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was only released in Best Buy stores. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of lineup changes and bizarre MTV Video Music Awards cameos, GnR faded into oblivion along with so many other late ’80s–early ’90s hair metal bands. But then, suddenly, there they were again. I realize that maybe the way that rock stars die out is a sort of service to us. Years and years and miles away from my high school boyfriend and moonlighting gigs, I couldn’t help but feel oddly shadowed by that history every time I heard one of Slash’s riffs or Axl’s splaying vocals. I don’t believe that there’s any fateful reason for GnR to have headlined another summer of my life; I don’t plan on calling up an old love or dusting off the Strat. It was mostly a reminder that as much as we can (and should) keep moving forward, as long as there is “classic rock” radio, we will never be able to let anything die.