Sunday, April 3, 2016

Don't Call It A Comeback: Adler's Absence from the Guns N'Roses Reunion

This weekend, Guns N'Roses kicked off their long-awaited "reunion." 

It's a weird moment for me; I loved Guns N'Roses. In fact, I was the first kid I knew to own Appetite for Destruction. But I hate reunion tours.

It's not just because I'm a self-loathing agist; it's because reunion tours are almost always an exercise in compromise.  Something doesn't feel right. Something is missing. Someone  has almost always died or has been replaced. 

Besides the natural effects of age, something in the fundamental chemistry of the band is not the same. But we call it a "reunion" anyway, and we pretend that if we pretend hard enough, things will go back to the way they used to be (regardless as to if that's really a good thing).

All too often, it's painfully obvious how much things aren't the same. The Who tours without its legendary rhythm section. The Doors tour without their legendary singer. The Stones tour with more session musicians and back-up singers than actual band members. Van Halen and Cheap Trick tour with their fucking kids in the band. And Black Sabbath -- fortunate enough to have all four original members alive and kicking -- look like they have enough trouble just conjuring themselves from bed each morning, much less conjuring up any demons.*

* That's Jimmy Page's line.

Like Sabbath, GN'R is unbelievably lucky that their starting five is still with us. And, yet, on Friday night, only three of them were in the band.

I could go on for ages about Izzy Stradlin, who quietly wrote or co-wrote the majority of Guns' best songs. Writing credits on Appetite and GN'R Lies may be mysterious, but the overwhelming majority of salvageable content on the Use Your Illusion albums is directly attributable to Stradlin.

Izzy is fundamental to GN'R's sound. Regardless of the fact that he opted out, regardless of whether he joins them for select dates, any tour without Stradlin cannot be considered a reunion. This is irrefutable in my mind.

The more complex issue surrounds Steven Adler.

There are a lot of very practical reasons not to have Adler on the tour: he hasn't been in the band for 25 years. There are a lot of songs he didn't record and has never played live. He doesn't have an appropriate amount of touring experience. He sometimes comes across as an imbecile. And the guy needs back surgery. 

Those factors make him a liability to promoters, insurers, bandmates and fans.

And, of course, there's his long, ugly history with drugs. 

I actually know a thing or two about being in a band with an addict. It's frustrating. It's infuriating. And it's painful on several levels.

Rehearsals take forever. Songs don't come together. There are no-shows. There are trust issues. And -- especially if it's a member of the rhythm section -- your entire band starts to sound like shit.

Common sense dictates that you have to kick the addict out, and I don't fault Guns N'Roses for giving Adler the boot. How could I? He was a giant mess.

But I do think that if they're going to proceed with this reunion charade -- of selling the public a return of the most notorious band of our teenage years -- they should give him a seat at the table. 

Sure, Matt Sorum and Frank Ferrer are superior musicians, and they both certainly offer a steadier hand on the road (even if their feel isn't quite right).

But they aren't originals. They didn't play on the classic record. And that's what Slash and Axl are selling to the public: the return of the classic line-up. Not the circus act of the past fifteen years. Not the bloated arena monster of the early/mid-90's. Not Velvet Revolver with a different singer.

They're selling the Appetite-era line-up. They're selling the five guys who dominated high school gossip and the pages of Circus Magazine. The five skulls from the cross tattoo.

No doubt, including Adler would have created problems. It would have meant fewer dates on the tour. It would have meant putting his sponsor on the road with him. It would have meant postponing everything so he could recover from surgery. Maybe it would have reduced the whole thing down to one or two shows.

Maybe that isn't smart. 

Maybe that isn't practical. 

Maybe that's dangerous.

Which is funny. Because that's exactly how I remember Guns N'Roses.

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