The news that the original members of Guns N’ Roses are set to reunite at Coachella came as something of a shock to fans worldwide, many of whom had come to accept that the relationships between Axl Rose and basically every other member were now broken beyond repair. Interest in Guns N’ Roses has never really fizzled away, but with this announcement the world has been reminded of a band who once brought an element of danger and liberation back into rock music (which by the mid-1980s had become as glitzy and inauthentic as it could get).
Perfectly timed with this unexpected news is the release of a new Guns N’ Roses documentary, The Most Dangerous Band In The World: The Story of Guns N’ Roses, directed by Jon Brewer (who recently released the equally impressive Nat King Cole: Afraid of the Dark). Most previous efforts at a Guns N’ Roses documentary- such as VHI’s Behind the Music and Guns N’ Roses: the Story – were inconclusive and lacked depth, but this 90-minute film gives the band the thorough, considered appraisal they deserve.
It is fascinating to see how these five individuals from different parts of the US (and England, in Slash’s case) came to meet in Los Angeles, after each leaving their hometowns and trying out for numerous other bands in the rock n’ roll hotspot of the time. The band’s hugely different, dynamic personalities gelled instantly, and so organically that the film occasionally feels like a fictional account, one which is almost too peculiar and too perfect to be true. However, such a perfect formula is usually prone to self-destruction, which from the very beginning was part of the massive allure of G N’ R.
This wasn’t a band that sidled by unassumingly releasing music that was particularly in line with the times. They always seemed simultaneously revolutionary and out of step, with music that felt stylistically conventional but still furious and more uncompromising than anything heard in years. The film follows the many obstacles the band faced on their road to stardom, and even after, when they had already achieved it.
As a species, we love to watch things unravel dramatically, which is what makes this film and the band’s biography so universally appealing. Fans were almost as fascinated with the band’s decadent lifestyles and the huge cloud of controversy that followed them as they were with the music, and this fascination continues. In an astonishingly short space of time from 1987 to 1991, Guns N’ Roses ruled the airwaves and the headlines, giving off an unruly aura that hadn’t really been felt since the punk explosion of the late 70s.
The viewer is transported directly there with archive footage of the band in concert, and from past and present accounts of the band members and people who helped them find fame, such as A&R man Tom Zutaut, who was responsible for turning Geffen onto the band and who provides the film with some of its most hilarious anecdotes.
Besides the riots, overdoses, court-cases and fallouts, we are reminded of the remarkable music that Guns N’ Roses released during their short lifespan. With their debut album Appetite For Destruction, the band created something that essentially couldn’t be surpassed creatively, but they continued to write songs that topped charts everywhere and revealed an exceptional level of musicianship and songwriting craft, from Izzy Stradlin’s touching acoustic ballad Patience to Axl Rose’s grandiose, orchestral epic November Rain. Their live shows grew with their popularity but never lost intensity, as each band member seemed to possess an instinctive understanding of showmanship and stage charisma from the very beginning.
No matter what your opinion on Guns N’ Roses, they always inspire a reaction. Their message came fully formed from the start, and they never had to explain themselves —it’s hard to listen to Paradise City and Welcome to the Jungle and not feel the sense of urgency and desperation within these songs. Axl’s screeching voice, set over Slash and Izzy’s wailing wall of guitars and Duff McKagan/Steve Adler’s thunderous rhythm section; this sound was impossible to ignore.
There are concerns about how well this upcoming reunion might go, given Rose’s volatile temperament and the questionable standard of some of his more recent performances, but people are mainly just in awe that this unlikely event seems to be happening.
Whatever happens, the legacy of Guns N’ Roses is already assured, and this documentary distils the chaotic journey the band have been on since 1985 up to the present day. The G N’ R mantra is acutely summed up in an Axl Rose lyric from Don’t Damn Me, in which he sneers “Your only validation is in living your own life, vicarious existence is a f**king waste of time”. They didn’t need to fake it in order to interest us, they just had to be their own crazy selves.