If you remove all the drugs & debauchery from Slash’s memoirs, he may have written the world’s best handbook for building a career in today’s complicated world.
Slash grew up in 20 square blocks of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. He discovered guitar as his passion and honed his skill while friends fed him, gave him places to sleep, drugs to smoke and part-time jobs. He partied at a young age and was exposed to industry: his mother dated David Bowie, he met the Rolling Stones at a house party, and a good friend of his spent years stalking Aerosmith. The SoCal music scene was so incestuous that Slash attended high school while Motley Crue smoked cigarettes outside his classroom window. The Hollywood Area was a hub of artistic and musical creativity.
People in LA joined and left bands at will to jam and develop. Artists had loads of free time to craft and pursue their ambition. While Slash forged his early identity, Tracii Guns formed LA Guns and battled for club space with Axl Rose & Izzy Stradlin’s Hollywood Rose. These bands, which merged to become the first Guns ‘N’ Roses, were revolving doors of musicians. The early ’80s was a developmental period for Slash and his future band mates. They evolved as individuals, but more importantly had constant interactions within the Hollywood music scene that developed the vital friendships that would catapult them to success.
While reading the bio, I also read Tom Rath’s Vital Friends (Gallup Press), which shaped how I interpreted Slash’s telling of events. According to Rath, a vital friend is “someone who measurably improves your life; perhaps a person at work or in your personal life who you can’t afford to live without.” Not everyone in that scene could have been successful in GNR; Tracii Guns didn’t carry the band to the same level of notoriety. More important than talent, Slash needed to find musicians as driven as he was, and crazy enough to think success was possible. He eventually found collaborators and they amplified each others’ successes. In Slash’s own words, each member of GN’R was
“Street-smart, self-sufficient and used to doing things his way only…. we became a unit that had each others’ backs as fiercely as we stood up for ourselves… we didn’t take kindly to criticism from anyone… and did nothing to court acceptance and shunned easy success.”
In my mind, GNR forged something new. When compared to the scene at the time, no other band was like them. Despite the band’s relatively short-lifespan (they had other problems), Appetite For Destruction is one of the great rock albums of all-time, up there with Who’s Next, Back In Black and Led Zeppelin IV. Back-to-front there are no bad songs.
GNR wasn’t waiting for the market dictate their fate; they were determined to force their brand into the market and gain acceptance on their terms.
This doesn’t just apply to music. The world has an insatiable appetite for the new and next best. Sometimes it’s not for marketers to decide what’s right for us; seams open up simply because someone followed a passion. The world has an iPod because Steve Jobs followed a passion. We have a self-help movement because Tony Robbins followed a passion. These innovations tapped into a core longing, one we maybe didn’t even know we had. GNR did and it exploded into commercial success.
It’s easy to understand when 4 guys get together to start a band, even if they suck. No one laughs at them for trying. But we laugh when average Joes try to create something that’s never been tried before. Why is it so weird when people follow a passion to an area other than art or music?
This is important news for a lost generation that stalled in the 2000′s. Maybe it’s time we followed the GNR formula: instead of battling it out as individuals labouring anonymously, hoping for approval, maybe we should form our own “bands” around passion and see where that leads us. Some things in this world need to be said and maybe they’re better driven home with the intensity of a Guns N’ Roses concert.
Header photo by liza31337