Lessons learned from Slash and Guns N Roses

Piano, Rose, Yellow

A month or so ago I finished Slash’s Memoir, Slash. I can’t say that I can truly commend it to anyone. The writing (although who knows who actually writes these things anymore) is pretty bad. The language is awful. The lack of morality regrettable. Even the top hat, which is part of his brand, he actually stole. And is quite proud of it. But Slash isn’t a Christian, so I don’t expect him to write, talk, or act as he is one. With all that said, I really did enjoy the story, and the truth (as Slash records it) behind a band I followed and still enjoy. In addition, I have to commend his work ethic, his ability to quit heroin cold turkey twice, his loyalty, and flexibility to work with an egomaniac lead singer.

If you have no clue who Slash is, he was the lead guitarist for the hard rock band Guns N Roses.  Perhaps this post will be of little benefit to you because of your lack of familiarity with this scene. But perhaps it will give you something to think about. I’m hoping for the former, as I finally break my blogging silence of a few months. Here are my takeaways from the book.

Whether people realize it or not, God has demonstrated great mercy toward them in withholding the full affects of their own personal sins. Slash stole a lot. He describes numerous instances of successful shoplifting throughout his childhood and into adulthood. In fact, when he does get in trouble with the law, it is always something quite minor. Slash slept around a ton, yet never contracted more than a curable STD. Slash came very close to being arrested for purchasing heroin, and despite his addiction, failed rehab, overdoses, alcohol abuse, he never (obviously) died. He does allude to the fact that perhaps, someone is looking out for him. I hope that he recognizes the mercy which has been shown Him. Of course I can say that for us all, can’t I?

Punctuality displays respect for others. In the opening lines of the “rockumentary” Spinal Tap, the narrator claims he was blown away by the raw “punctuality”of the band. The same could not be said of Guns.  Apparently the lead singer Axl Rose arrived late to almost every show they ever played. Late to every rehearsal and would sometimes just not show up. This actually led to Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitarist) quitting the band. For some reason, Axl never realized how much this disrespect he displayed in his tardiness and absence. Always a good reminder to those who lead more toward Guns than they do Spinal Tap.

Everyone has at least some standards. Guns N Roses mutually agreed to kick their drummer out of the band, due to, get this: extreme drug use. It had to have been pretty bad to get kicked out for drugs from Guns N Roses. Everyone has a moral standard. If you don’t get it from scripture, you will get it somewhere else. Their standard was, “As long as _____ doesn’t affect your performance.”

Team dynamics are so important. Slash records history from his perspective, and he does admit that several times. So there always two sides to every story. However, that doesn’t mean that both sides are equally as far from the truth or reality. One side might be quite a bit closer! But what undeniably happened with Guns was a decreased amount of creative band collaboration in the song writing process. In their debut album Appetite for Destruction, each song is attributed to all of the band members. But that soon changed with Use Your Illusion I and II. On these albums, the songs are attributed to a few individuals, while a number of them are just Axl Rose. Axl then wanted complete control of band vision, threw extravagant after-parties which left them broke after a tour, and even decreased percentage of royalties to other band members. The desire for self recognition, credit, glory, and autonomous vision began to eat away at team cohesion like a pack of piranhas. If vision, recognition, glory isn’t shared among a team, family, church, Jesus is not going to be honored. Contrast this with Tom Petty, who when inducted into the songwriters hall of fame, shared how he and his keyboardist collaborated on their most famous hit “Free Falling.”

Appearance of success doesn’t mean a group, family, church, individual is actually succeeding. It amazed me to read the amount of friction within the band almost from the beginning. Even after releasing a number one album, the band could barely tour together, primarily due to the ego of Axl Rose. I think this is extremely important for those of us who compare ourselves with other families, individuals, and churches. Just because there are smiling family pictures on Facebook, vacations/houses that would make you jealous, or larger attended churches with well presented websites, that does not mean a family, person, or church is indeed successful. They might bear resemblance to like Guns N Roses on tour: wildly popular, but miserable and broke after a tour. I’m not saying this as though I want any of these things to be true. I hope folks are truly smiling, marriages fulfilling, families enjoying restful vacations, and churches thriving. I’m just saying that from the outside Guns N Roses looked like they had it all, but were quite miserable. So let us not make the same mistake, and so forfeit the contentedness which can be ours in all kinds of situations when we go back to the simple beauty of the gospel. Repent, believe, and rejoice!

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One thought on “Lessons learned from Slash and Guns N Roses

  1. Geoff, this gave me ideas on how to express my thoughts at a book club discussion. One of my groups is reading a Toni Morrison novel. I almost don’t want to finish. I hope I can graciously and humbly express my thoughts on the terrible immorality in the story, and what you’ve written is helpful. Thanks.

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