Arresting Axl, Looking for Ludes, Getting Smashed & Smashing Stuff: Guns N’ Roses on Tour
The question isn’t who was breaking lamps and televisions in hotel rooms. It’s who wasn’t?
Guns N’ Roses kick off the North American leg of their tour tonight. Let’s wind back the clock to when GN’R were touring behind Appetite for Destruction in 1988 and wreaking havoc along the way. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall.
They flew to England, where ticket sales in Nottingham and Manchester were slower. The Manchester Apollo show, where they had closed off the balcony for lack of ticket sales, was where I met them for the first time, immediately after they’d stepped off the stage. Standing in the dressing room, it seemed like the clock had been turned back 15 years; they were dressed like old-school rock stars, all hats and scarves and skull rings—and they were acting like them too.
“Hey, man,” said Steven. “Where can I score some ludes?”
Here was a guy barely into his twenties asking for Quaaludes—the drugs du jour for early-Seventies American concert-goers; heavy-duty tranquillizers that made falling down stairs seem fun.
“You can’t get ludes in England,” I told him.
“What!” he cried. “You’re fucking kidding me! What can you get then?”
“Mandrax,” I said. “Mandies. Or reds—Seconal. That’s probably the nearest equivalent.”
“Cool,” he said, “so how can I get me some red Mandies, dude?”
Then Izzy ambled over. “Hey, man,” he drawled, “I smell pot. Who has pot?”
Someone passed him the joint and he clung to it like a drowning man. Slash shambled up, his face almost entirely obscured by the top hat and the cascade of curls that showered from underneath it. In his hand was clamped a half-full bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
“I bet you go to bed with that thing . . .”
“Sure,” he said, “I like to wake up to it, too. It’s the only way . . .” He paused and glanced around. “ . . . I can handle this.”
I was introduced to Axl as we passed on the stairs. I’d only seen the pictures and the reality was surprisingly small, his pinched, freckled face and upturned nose giving him a vulnerable quality the stage lights had kept hidden. Of all the band he seemed to be the most self-contained and grown up; the one most certain of who he was and what he was trying to achieve. “I wanna thank you and the magazine you’re from for everything you’ve done for this band,” he told me, gripping my hand firmly. “And I wanna tell you how much it means to me, cos I read your shit, man. I know who you are.” He delivered the lines sincerely, in a low voice. I believed what he said. “You coming to see us in London, too?”
“London” was perhaps the most significant moment in the band’s career as a live act, up to that point, a show that would go down as one of those “I was there” gigs. The Hammersmith Odeon (as was: It’s now known as the Apollo) was the capital’s landmark gig, a transition point between clubs and arena as well as a gig almost every significant rock band had on their CV, most of them numerous times. Its capacity was 3,500, and Guns were ultimately maybe 200 tickets short of a sell-out, a sign of how far they’d come in a few months. Axl dedicated “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” to Todd Crew. The reviews of a ferocious show that climaxed with Axl playing Duff’s bass while Slash soloed were overwhelming. Guns went back to America with some momentum at last.
There was also a new and increasingly significant figure on the scene: their tour manager, Doug Goldstein, whom I also met for the first time on those UK dates. Doug would “put a lot of good energy in,” according to Alan Niven. “Dougie was really reliable to me initially. He was someone I trusted. He had patience and he wasn’t a fucking nine-to-fiver. I didn’t run an LA management company. I was involved in a way of life, as far as I was concerned. And he fit with that.”
Goldstein was the 26-year-old son of a retired policeman who had studied international marketing at North Arizona University. After college, Doug had worked in events security, and in 1984 he was appointed chief security recruiter for the Olympic Games. Since then he’d made his way into the music biz handling security for Air Supply, Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Black Sabbath and Heart. At first glance he may have seemed like an odd appointment: short-haired, clean-shaven, with a moustache . . . “Izzy was convinced that Niven had hired a cop,” he says now with a chuckle. Perhaps because of this, Izzy was the only member of the band that Doug readily admits he never really established a bond with. Interesting, too, as Izzy was the one member Alan Niven felt he most related to.
Goldstein soon got a handle on the rest of them, though—beginning with Steven. The drummer’s nasty habits were already becoming hardcore, but Doug just liked him. They had met at a specially arranged band dinner at El Compadre. “That was Slash’s spot. That and Hamburger Hamlet, Slash’s other spot.” After the meal, Doug and Steven went to jump in a car, “a big truck with a camper shell.” They both dived into the back of the truck. “Steven goes, ‘No wait. There’s room upfront.’ I go, ‘No, I’m getting in with you.’ He goes, ‘Dude, I’m just the drummer.’ And I go, ‘Yeah? I’m just the fucking tour manager, which means you’re my boss.’ And that was all it took. He was like, ‘Oh my god. Somebody’s treating me like I’m their equal and/or they’re below that.’”
Duff was cut from the same cloth as Steven, thought Doug: a wannabe rock star living life as he’d read about it in rock magazines. When the band came to Doug complaining that Duff had been wearing the same leather pants on and offstage for three months, he handled it the best way he knew how. “We’re travelling in a bus. It stinks. The band is coming to me saying, we don’t give a fuck what you have to do, lose the fucking pants!” So, at the next gig, “I sent the runner out for a pair of gym shorts. Duff comes offstage and I’m in hiding. I wait until he goes to take a shower and I grab the leather pants and take them out to a dumpster at the back of the venue. He gets out and he’s like, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ I came in and said, ‘I’m sorry. We all voted. You have to lose the leather pants!’ He was so upset because he had promised his then wife Mandy that he was going to wear the same pants on and off stage for the whole tour.”
The relationship Doug Goldstein would have with Slash was more complicated. Today, Slash likes to blame Doug for the break-up of the original GN’R lineup. Back in the late-Eighties and early Nineties, however, it is no exaggeration that the guitarist owed his life to his intrepid tour manager. They also became close in other ways, working side by side often, during those times, which were many, when Axl either couldn’t be found or simply didn’t want to know. “He doesn’t get the credit for it but Slash really was the guy that helped me run that band. No question. He’d pass out in a chandelier at four a.m. and he’d be at my door knocking at ten a.m. saying, “What do we have to do today?” We’d sit down and do all the radio interviews. I’d pick out him and Duff and we’d go and do in-store [appearances], Steven when he was in the band still. People think that Axl was the overall visionary, and Axl’s an artist but he’s not . . . he knew where he wanted to go but Slash was the guy that really put the plan into place.”
Goldstein also credits Slash for much of the band’s early, iconic artwork. “Nobody knows this and I don’t know why but Slash has done probably ninety-five per cent of the band’s artwork. Merchandising, I mean, everything. He’s a brilliant artist. He’s a brilliant artist. He was the merchandise company’s dream because they didn’t have to pay people to do artwork. He came up with it all.”
Goldstein had his own opinions about Slash. “The derivation of the top hat has a lot of different stories behind it but I have my own theory. When we went to Hawaii he wouldn’t go outside; it was like he was avoiding getting tanned. Back then you didn’t see many African-Americans in the rock ’n’ roll scene.” So are you saying you think Slash was self-conscious about being half black? “Yep.” Hence “the hair in the eyes, the top hat and all of it.”
The most significant relationship Doug Goldstein would forge with Guns N’ Roses, though, was with W. Axl Rose. Where Alan Niven would appear increasingly at loggerheads with the flame-haired singer, Goldstein, with his more emollient approach, would quickly become Axl’s go-to guy in all matters relating to both the business of the band—and, increasingly, his own, almost ritualistically tangled personal affairs. Put simply, Axl, who never trusted anybody, trusted Doug. “Implicitly. No question. I’m the guy he’d call at three o’clock in the morning and say, ‘Dougie, can you talk?’ I’d say, ‘Sure.’ ‘Come to my room.’ So I’d go down to his room and we’d just sit around til, like, five, six in the morning, discussing different ideas.”
Initially, this good-cop/bad-cop routine would work in everybody’s favor. Stephanie Fanning, then working as assistant to Alan and Doug at the Stravinski offices in LA, recalls how, “In the very beginning with Alan and Doug they could not have been [more] perfectly matched for each other. As far as Alan being on the business side, he’s meeting with the record company, he’s meeting with the attorneys. He’s meeting with all of the business side of things and he is doing an amazing job. Then there’s Doug, being the social guy. ‘Hey, how are you? I’m Doug Goldstein, GN’R’s tour manager.’ Knew everybody’s name, shook everybody’s hand. There was nothing that you felt like he couldn’t take care of for you, make you happy, everything just felt in control and taken care of.”
Goldstein elaborates: “When I first was hired on, Niven was like, ‘I’m having the typical rock ’n’ roll issues.’ ‘Like?’ ‘Well, like they’re busting up hotels.’ I said, ‘Give me two months and I can fix that.’ He said, ‘Okay, yeah, you got it.’ So Stevie breaks a lamp in his room. I tell him, ‘Steven, this is the way I handle things. We’ve got to pay for it. We don’t break shit and leave.’” He took Steven downstairs to the hotel reception, where Doug explained to the guy behind the desk that they had broken a lamp and would like to pay for it. “The guy asks for $150. I go, ‘No way. That’s a seventy-dollar lamp.’ The guy says, ‘No, it cost us $150.’ I go, ‘I don’t give a fuck. I’ve been travelling most of my life, I know what this lamp is worth so I’m gonna give you seventy-five bucks and we’ll call it a day.’ The guy’s like, ‘Whatever, fine.’ So Stevie goes back and tells everybody, ‘Doug saved me seventy-five bucks today.’”
“So I do that. You know, a television here, a lamp there. I do that for, like, six weeks. Finally Slash breaks a TV. So he calls me.” Doug took him down to reception, told the manager on duty that they’d accidentally broken a TV and that they’d like to pay for it. “The guy says okay, and that the set cost $350. I go, ‘No way.’ And Slash is waiting for me to bring it down, right? I go, ‘Not a chance. That is not a $350 TV. That’s a $700 TV.’ Slash is like, ‘What?’ I go, ‘Slash, shut up. I do this for a living and I know a $700 TV when I see one.’ The guy is like, ‘No, really. Just give me $350.’ I go, ‘Shut up! I do this for a living.’ I go, ‘Slash, I’m gonna have to take $700 of your money.’ So now it’s not even a band deal, I’m taking it out of his personal income. He was fucking livid! But I tell you what. Nobody broke shit after that.”
After another month of club shows, the cards started to fall their way once more. Mötley Crüe were about to go out in support of a Number 2 hit album, the multi-platinum Girls, Girl, Girls, and Whitesnake had been booked as the support act. But Whitesnake’s 1987 album was breaking out too, also reaching Number 2 on the Billboard chart and about to be catapulted to greater sales with a hit single “Is This Love.” When Whitesnake pulled out of the Crüe tour to play headline shows of their own, Niven and Zutaut used their Crüe connections to have Guns N’ Roses step in as last-minute replacements. Although the Crüe and Guns would soon be at the center of one of rock ’n’ roll’s most infamous feuds (which would in turn have its knock-on effects for me), they were for a couple of brief months the perfect match, Crüe at the peak of their trashy appeal, Guns hungry to knock them off their coke-encrusted perch.
As Guns wound around America, Appetite at last began to ascend the Billboard Hot 100, first in the high 60s, then creeping, by December 1987, up to Number 59, with sales approaching 200,000 albums. Not at all bad for the debut album by an underground band with zero radio support. This jump came on the back of yet more drama. In Lakeland, Florida, the band filmed a slot for MTV, for the Headbangers Ball segment. Alan Niven and Doug Goldstein realized that the band were in no fit state to be taped. Slash and Izzy were on some distant smack planet—where they’d been joined by Mötley Crüe’s bassist, Nikki Sixx—Duff was drinking himself into oblivion most days and Axl was unpredictably contrary whenever confronted by the press, and so damage limitation was entered into. The band were filmed playing “It’s So Easy,” Goldstein did an interview in an attempt to put a bright shiny face on a bunch of obvious fuck-ups, before MTV finally got to confront the band face to face in the dressing room as Mötley Crüe took the stage, a piece that rapidly degenerated into an unairable few minutes of drunken swearing and laughter. It finally made the air, heavily cut, years later when Appetite was the biggest-selling rock record on the planet.
Back on the road with the Crüe, Axl found himself in trouble again. This time in Atlanta, where police actually walked on stage and arrested him during the second song for attacking one of the arena security guards, who, Axl claimed, had been beating up the band’s friends in the audience. He was held for questioning backstage while the rest of the band were left to get on with their 45-minute set as best they could. A roadie hurriedly hauled onstage helped out with some of the vocals, while Slash contributed a 15-minute guitar solo and Steven managed a longer-than-usual drum solo to fill in the gaps. After the show, Axl was incandescent with rage, claiming he had been the victim of trumped-up charges. “In Atlanta I dived in and I had police saying I hit them,” he fumed. “I never did, but I had to plead guilty because we didn’t have any money at the time. Lie? Yes, I guess I did lie once. I lied and said that I hit four cops. I guess we should reopen the case and take me to trial for perjury. But I didn’t have $56,000 to pay them off under the table.”
The Crüe tour ended in predictable disaster back in LA. Both bands returned home together. Guns were due back out with Alice Cooper a few days later, and Slash holed up in the Franklin Plaza hotel. Nikki Sixx joined him, where they were both shot up by a local smack dealer introduced to them by Robbin Crosby of Ratt. Sixx immediately overdosed and Slash found himself once again dragging a corpse into the shower in an attempt to bring it back to life. Sixx was luckier than Todd Crew – the paramedics arrived in time to restart his heart with needles full of adrenalin, and he took off into the night, calling Slash on the phone the following day to thank him for saving his life. Sixx would immortalize the night on Mötley Crüe’s next album in a song called “Kickstart My Heart.” Slash would do everything to try to forget about it. Until next time . . .