I went through my metal phase pretty young. I guess in reality, I never really grew out of it, just added a lot of other genres to my playlists. But, back then what really got my heart beating and my teenage hormones a-gush were those beautiful rocker boys who played in the bands. Somehow, my crushes were always darker than the other girls’ -- when my friends were dreaming about marrying good old Bono or Joey from NKOTB, I was mad-for-it-head-over-heels-die-if-he-can’t-be-mine in love with the long-haired, leather-pantsed, sex-oozing Axl Rose.
It happened in grade eight, but by the time I hit high school I was sure he was the one. He had that homegrown, slightly dirty farmboy charm that was so compelling you couldn’t take your eyes off it and man, I was so hooked. Of course, a lot of the other girls were crushing on celebs too, but it was (and is to this day) my style to take everything waaay past the normal level of reasonable, so while these girls were etching “Mrs. J. Depp” onto their binders, I was carving “Axl” into my arm with a pin.
I remember that my parents were disturbed about it. Like, really upset. Actually, I was surprised at how freaked out they were -- I mean it didn’t really hurt and it was only a bunch of surface scratches that would heal soon (actually when the scab came off, his name was a white scar on my arm for a few months), but in the meantime, they decided I was probably pretty messed up and put me on lockdown. It was 1992 and I had just turned 14, so being grounded didn’t mean much. I wasn’t exactly going to parties on weekends and was still adjusting to my first year of high school the next city over, so none of my grade school friends were there to hang out with anyway. I took my grounding as stoically as possible, trying to prove to my parents that, crazy obsessiveness aside, I wasn’t a suicide risk or anything.
Then I found out that Guns n’ Roses would be coming to Toronto to play a show. This news precluded weeks of hysterics that gave way to pleas and finally bargaining, and finally (despite our previous family concert experience*) my parents -- who are truly decent people and not at all cruel -- decided to buy tickets for us all to go to the show.
As merciless fate would have it, by the time they made it to Ticketmaster, there were no tickets left. You understand, it wasn’t just Guns n’ fucking Roses playing -- they were co-headlining with Metallica and had Faith No More up as the opening act. It was an epic event. And it was sold out.
Devastated and desperate, I called my "cool" cousin in New York, then an agent at William Morris. She gave me the name of the band’s agent saying it was the best she could do, but it got me nowhere and when the day of the show came, I was S.O.L.
That morning my parents let me sleep in, even though it was a school day, but when midday came and I was still brooding under the covers, they told me it was time to get dressed. The sun was shining, they’d kept my brother home and had both taken the day off of work. We were all going into the city to hang out together. I remember being utterly torn between feelings of intense and overwhelming love about their distinctly un-parently efforts to cheer me up and total and complete misery about missing what I felt was obviously the one and only chance to tell Axl that we were meant to be. It was so awful I couldn’t even face the day, but I threw on jeans and a misfits T-shirt, 8-hole docs and a biker jacket then dragged myself to the car.
Despite everything, it really was a lovely day. We had lunch at a gorgeous hotel then sat for street artists as they drew our portraits under broad canopy trees whose leaves glinted under the sun. Weirdly, I looked at that portrait the other day and noticed I’d been wearing a little silver necklace with a comedy and tragedy pendant. Comically (or perhaps tragically) the artist had managed to capture both my small smile and sad eyes. As he had finished, the sun began to set; it was time to go home. Suddenly my dad’s eyes sparkled with some not atypical out-of-the-box plan. “Why don’t we just try,” he said.
“Where do we pick up VIP tickets?” The man with a security pass around his neck pointed us toward a will call window to the right of the gate. The lady inside seemed kind enough, but insisted that no tickets had been left there for us. “Impossible,” my father explained gently in the booming voice of a South African version of Orson Welles. “Guns n’ Roses’ agent, Joe Schmo, left them for us and my children will be really, very upset if we can’t go.” (Obviously, totally not the mans’ name, but please forgive the substitution -- it’s been 10 years.) The woman left to make a call and came back some long minutes later smiling. “Enjoy the show” she handed us four tickets. And four backstage passes.
To this day, I have no clue who on this earth she might have called, or how in hell this could have happened. I attribute it mostly to god and the fact that, of all of the metal fans in the venue, it was impossible to believe that the four of us would be trying to pull a scam.
The show was magic. James Hetfield (beloved frontman for Metallica) had hurt his arm earlier on the tour in a pyrotechnical accident, so Metal Church guitarist John Marshall was filling in on guitar. Faith No More sealed their reputation and Guns n’ Roses -- well, there are no words. It was glorious, everything I had imagined…more maybe. Then it got better -- we went backstage.
Have you seen "Almost Famous"? Well that’s how rockstars used to party in the good old days** and that’s how it was backstage at this show. There were babes, booze and buzz everywhere, but through the thick haze of cigarette smoke and dim lights, I picked out the impossible-to-miss silhouettes of Slash and Hetfield playing billiards on a small table near the back of a large room. We (remember, this includes my mom, dad, and eleven year old brother) walked in together, and my dad (who wears a suit and tie to go grocery shopping; this event was no exception) immediately struck up a lively conversation with the very tall, very built, very intense looking Hetfield as if they were obvious contemporaries. Somehow my small brother replaced Slash at the table and managed to beat Hetfield at pool (this may have had something to do with his arm being in a cast, or perhaps he had a soft spot for kids). It was bizarro: the last thing I heard before sneaking off to find Axl, was my mom inviting “James” to come over for a home-cooked meal. He must have been completely hammered, because I swear I heard him thanking her profusely and asking if she had a pen to take down his number.
Walking in and out of several rooms, Axl’s dirty blonde, trailer-trashy gorgeousness was nowhere to be seen or found. All of the others were here or there, gorgeous, leggy women draped around them, cigarettes hanging from their lips, bottles in hand. Exiting a room without looking where I was going, I walked face first into Gilby Clark (the newest member of Gn’R, replacing Izzy Stradlin as the lead guitarist). “I need to find Axl,” I told him and he took my hand pulling me down a little corridor towards the bathroom. “He’s in there,” he told me, “but I don’t think you want to go in.”
I was crushed. He was obviously with a girl. My imagination sketched horribly sexy scenes with soul destroyingly stunning models who were all definitely not me and all obviously exactly his type. Years of planning this exact moment in my mind crumbled to pieces as I turned and walked away, biting my lip so I wouldn’t cry like a child. Gilby followed, offering me a cigarette. I took it. “Well, I’m gonna get outta here.” He said. “Are you coming?” I looked up at him, his lean build and handsome face. In retrospect, he was probably the best looking of them all if we’re talking pure aesthetics. But he wasn’t Axl and I was only 14. And my mom and dad were in the next room trying to convince James Hetfield to come home with us. “No thanks,” I smiled. “I’ll catch you later.”
*On the day before I began grade 7, my folks decided we should all go to see The Stones play. THE Stones. Unfortunately, there was a mini riot when Mick stormed off the stage, refusing to go on after only half the set (as recollected by my child's mind) and when my dad tried to secure us all safely behind one of the confectionary kiosks, he found two security guards hiding there already. Needless to say, after that whack-o night, I was late for my first day of school.
** I’ve been backstage at quite a lot of shows since then -- for both business and pleasure -- and have met quite a few musicians, but I honestly believe that the days of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll (for the BIG bands at least) are basically over. Nowadays, when they’re in town, they’re either on stage, doing press or sleeping.