Four days after the five members of Guns & Roses got together in Silver Lake and decided to form a band, they left on a West Coast tour. On the way to Seattle, their car broke down in Fresno and the musicians spilled out onto the road with their gear and hitchhiked for the next 40 hours.
When they arrived in the Northwest, they found out the rest of the tour had been canceled and they were only getting $50 for the show, not the $250 they were promised. They played their set on borrowed gear and then turned around and hitched back to Los Angeles, broke and tired.
That was June, 1985. A year later, the band was getting ready to depart for Britain to record its debut LP for Geffen Records, and despite a hefty advance, Guns & Roses remains a decidedly street-oriented, living-on-the-edge Hollywood rock band. The perennial bad boys are even getting evicted from the West Hollywood apartment they share.
Clearly, success has not spoiled Guns & Roses. If anything, it's made them wilder.
"We're just a band," said guitarist Slash, 20. "We don't have to be the 'cool' thing or the 'in' thing. It's real important we get out there and express ourselves and play. (Kiss bassist) Paul Stanley came down to one of our shows and hung out where we hang out. I'm looking at this guy watching what we do. He's a nice guy, but he didn't have a clue as to what we were doing. Everyone gets the basic idea: They're a rock 'n' roll band. But they don't get the formula."
The formula mixes influences such as AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols with a large dose of a street-born, get-stuffed attitude, an ear-shattering decibel level, four-letter lyrics and an appreciation for, in Slash's words, the "extremities of violence and sex." It's a combination that's not likely to win Guns & Roses any fans in the Parents Music Resource Center.
"(Our first video) is going to be realistic and it might show a lot of violence so it might get banned," said lead singer and lyricist W. Axl Rose, 24. "There's a lot of violence in the world. That's the environment we live in and we like to show what we live in rather than hide it and act like everything is nice and sugary.
"Everybody likes to paint their pretty pictures, but that just ain't how it is. It just seems easier to know the rougher side (of life) than the more pleasant side just because it's more readily accessible."
Rose moved to Los Angeles from Indiana in the early '80s with his childhood buddy, guitarist Izzy Stradlin. After bouncing around in a variety of bands (Rose, Hollywood Rose, L.A. Guns), he and Izzy teamed up with two other regulars on the Hollywood club circuit--Slash and drummer Steve Adler. Bassist Duff McKagan completed the lineup. Guns & Roses quickly attracted attention, especially at the Troubadour, where the group built a following despite its lack of in-crowd connections.
"It seems like when you come to this town unless you are part of the mommy's-boy-daddy's-money poseur rock scene they try to puke you right out," said Rose. "You fight for your place. I remember two years of standing at the Troubadour and talking to no one, not knowing what to do, and everybody thinking they're so cool. Eventually we did our own thing, made new friends, and brought a new crowd to the Troubadour."
While Guns & Roses was wowing audiences at the Troubadour (where they'll play a thank-you-and-farewell show Friday) and eliciting label interest, the band was based in a squalid one-room Hollywood apartment, living, Stradlin says, "like rats in a box." Just as a record-company bidding war was heating up last winter, two rape charges were filed against Slash and Rose.
"Everyone was trying to hide it from the record company," said Rose. " 'Rape charge? What rape charge?' The charges were dropped eventually, but for a while we had to go into hiding. We had undercover cops and the vice squad looking for us. They were talking a mandatory five years. It kind of settled my hormones for a while."
While the band's recent signing may have propelled it out of the club circuit, the group strives to maintain friendships formed during its years of hanging out. Rose in particular enjoys introducing Guns & Roses audiences to new bands.
"If you don't support your own scene your trip is not going to happen," says bassist McKagan, 22. "You've got to support your friends. It's a family. You can't go out there and say, 'We're the best. Screw you all.' You've got to say, 'Look. These guys are good, too.' "
Recently, however, it's been difficult to dedicate as much time as before to the blossoming hard-rock scene in Los Angeles.
"We've been very busy with a lot of new pressures we've never experienced before," said Rose. "We've got to go have a meeting with some guy that's a millionaire. I don't have a cent in my pocket and I have to act like I'm more in charge than he is. That's really strange.
"You have to come down from the pressures of that to talking with a friend, and sometimes the transition is rough. We've been neglecting some of our friendships recently but once we get some management hopefully we'll be able to get back into that and deal with just being people again."
First, though, the group has a job to do: Record a debut album that will justify Geffen's faith in the band. And even if Guns & Roses doesn't hit the bull's-eye, Rose will be satisfied as long as he gives it his best shot.
"I have something I want to do with Guns & Roses and this is part of me that I want to get out and take as far as I can," he said. "That can be a long career or it can be a short explosive career--as long as it gets out and it gets out in a big way."