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Chicago, 1989

Vincent Vega

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From everything I've read---Slash's book, Axl's comments in old interviews--It seems like the sessions at Chicago in 1989 were kind of a turning point for the band. Maybe not a major one, but where the real differences in the way Axl, Slash, and Izzy preferred to do things first appeared. Around this time, both Slash and Axl felt the other wasn't doing enough and began fighting--Maybe for the first major time? Izzy started his own habit of coming and going as he pleased, which would carry over into the Illusion recordings and cause him not to be on much of the UYI--

It just seems that it was a small, but important, turning point in Guns' history, or at least in the relationship between Axl and Slash.

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  • 2 years later...

It is a good topic though, and worthy of discussion. It doesn't get discussed as often as it probably should, it was a very interesting time for the band, full of turmoil but also great creativity.


``Why do you think we sent them to the Midwest? They couldn`t get (expletive) done in L.A. They left to do the early work and rehearse for the next album. Who the (expletive) do you think you`re (expletive) dealing with? If you (expletive) print anything that says they`re there, you`ll never talk to this (expletive) band. Ever.``

- Doug Goldstein, J.J. Stravinsky Brothers, managers of Guns N` Roses

Guns N` Roses is not in Chicago.

Ignore that group of young men with the big hair, sunglasses and bodyguard. Don`t listen to the rumors on Clark Street. It`s not them. They`re simply not here. Never have been. Honest.

It would be big news if Axl Rose, Steven Adler, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Slash had decided to make Chicago their temporary home while planning the follow-up album to ``Appetite for Destruction`` and ``GN`R Lies.`` After selling more than 7 million albums in a couple years, it would be big news if America`s most notorious metal band decided to rent a condo on the North Side, hang out at some bars and rehearse upstairs at the Cabaret Metro away from the crowds and distractions of Los Angeles.

But, ahem, like we said, it`s just not true.

As a rumor, the band`s stay in Chicago isn`t of Oprah-esque proportions, and it`s tame indeed by Guns N` Roses standards. This, after all, is a band in which the lead singer is rumored to have died of a drug overdose about twice a month.

Nevertheless, during the first three weeks of June, word spread quickly across the city that Axl and the boys had been sighted in the shops, bars and restaurants along Clark Street. People started talking, the wild stories began to grow and soon it was time to check fable against fact.

In Los Angeles, the city the band calls home, the press department at Geffen Records had no comment on the band`s whereabouts. ``Only management knows where they are,`` said a spokeswoman. ``All we know is that they`re working on the album outside the city.``

``Management`` means J.J. Stravinsky Brothers, a fledgling L.A.-based firm whose fortune and disdain for the press has grown in step with the legend of their biggest client, Guns N` Roses.

``We don`t have to talk about any of this,`` was the terse response from Doug Goldstein, co-manager of the group. ``We turned down the cover of (expletive) Newsweek. We`ve got the hottest band in America and we don`t need press to sell albums. We`re not talking about where they are.``

Someone forgot to tell the band.

Unlike the Beatles, who in their later years were easily able to ``disappear`` at will under the guidance of Brian Epstein, Guns N` Roses have proven unable to keep a secret. Those who ate at Leona`s on Sheffield the night of June 15 know firsthand. Those people, including North Side resident Chuck Kouri, could`ve sworn they saw the Guns N` Roses entourage (minus Axl) chow down on a meal of pizza and pasta.

``When they walked in, one of the waitresses looked at them and said, `Righteous metal dudes-you could be in Guns N` Roses,` `` Kouri said.

``When she came back and someone told her that they actually were, the guys in the band laughed, introduced themselves and gave her a pretty hard time about it.

``They sat at a table in the front window and even joined in when another table started singing happy birthday. The were singing off-key on purpose, hamming it up. ``Actually, it was kind of disappointing. They were pretty quiet, not at all what you`d expect from their reputation. No one bothered them and they just ate, paid their bill and left.`` Limousines? ``They all got into a Ford Aerostar and took off. Like I said, pretty disappointing.`` Guns `N Roses saved their wilder side for a series of North Side bars, including Sheffield`s, Exit and especially the Smart Bar, downstairs at the Cabaret Metro. Joe Shanahan, co-owner of Metro, confirmed that the band had been seen at the Smart Bar. ``But they`re not recording here or practicing,`` Shanahan said, dispelling reports to the contrary. But several Metro employees said practice sessions took place in the empty rooms above Metro, the former home of the Smart Bar. ``All I know is that they`ve been downstairs, having a good time in the bar,`` Shanahan said. ``They seem to like the atmosphere.``

``I`ve talked to their management, trying to arrange some kind of show if they decide to play while they`re here. It`d be great to get them in a place this size.``

On one recent evening, a Tribune reporter sighted young Duff leaving the Metro in no condition to drive. His bodyguard, however, was more than happy to hail a cab, fold Duff in half and gently place the bassist in the back seat before driving off with him.

Though stories of a Guns N` Roses encounter are fodder perhaps for Dave Letterman`s ``brush with greatness,`` they have done little to clear the question: Why are they here? The latest word, this time from the band`s stage manager, was that they were in the city for the recent National Association of Music Merchandisers convention. ``They were here for four days, to pick up free equipment from their sponsors at the convention and to do some publicity for them,`` said the manager, who identified himself only as Tom. ``They rented a condo for the stay and now they`re back in Los Angeles.`` As the smokescreen continues to build, along with the number of people who claim to have seen the band, it`s important to remember band-manager Goldstein`s final declaration for anyone who claimed Guns `N Roses was in Chicago-for any reason. ``We remember, and we expect to be around a long time with this band and other acts. Anyone who tries to blow this whole thing out will be shut out for good. Nothing.`` Remember, you heard it here first. Guns `N Roses isn`t in Chicago.


September, 1989 - Duff, Slash and Steven goes to Chicago for three months. They start to work on the next record, but nothing gets done because Axl and Izzy didn't show up in Chicago. (date uncertain)


I have looked far and wide for the meaning of the title to Guns N’ Roses “The Spaghetti Incident?”–please enlighten me!

“It’s a very silly story,” warned Duff McKagan (formerly the bassist for Guns N’ Roses, now a member of Velvet Revolver) when I asked. The title originates from the summer of 1989, when singer Axl Rose wanted the band to relocate to Chicago. “The idea was Axl was from over the border in Indiana and he wanted to be close to home. So we got two condos and rehearsed above the Metro, and Axl never showed up.”

While McKagan, guitarist Slash, and drummer Steven Adler were waiting for Rose, they wrote a bunch of songs for Use Your Illusion, and ate a lot of Italian takeout. “And Steven was doing a lot of crack cocaine at this point, and he’d keep his blow in the refrigerator. So his code word for his stash was ‘spaghetti’,” McKagan told me. “Steven spiraled out of control. We said, Steven, we’re fucked-up individuals and we’re telling you that you gotta shape up, so you must be really fucked up.” Adler was fired in July 1990, the first member of the group to get canned (placing him years ahead of the GN’R curve).

Adler then sued the band under the novel premise that his drug addiction was their fault. Giving a deposition for the 1993 trial, McKagan was asked to cite instances of Adler’s bad behavior, and mentioned the Chicago drug stash. “So then I’m in court, with a jury and the whole thing, and this fuckin’ lawyer gets up, and with a straight face says, ‘Mr. McKagan, tell us about the spaghetti incident.’ And I started laughing.” The band ultimately settled out of court, writing Adler a check for 2.5 million dollars. When McKagan read through the trial transcripts, he was struck by the straight-faced absurdity of the phrase “the spaghetti incident,” which is how it ended up as an album title (complete with quotation marks) later that year.

You may have also wondered about the small semaphore message on the bottom of “The Spaghetti Incident?”‘s cover. McKagan never even noticed it was there; Slash peered at it and then told me, “It does have a meaning, but I’ve forgotten what.” Only Axl Rose knows what it means now, and he’s not talking.

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How bad did things get pre-Illusion? Try rock bottom. An on-and-off heroin user since the late '80s, Slash cleaned up for Guns' first serious stab at the albums: a residential preproduction session in June 1989 that saw the band and crew relocate to Chicago.

If this was intended as a team-building exercise, it tanked; Guns' troubled second guitarist, Izzy Stradlin, often failed to show and Axl Rose drifted by sporadically to jam at the piano. While kicking their heels, Slash and Duff McKagan managed to combine a daily half-gallon of Stolichnaya vodka with an unlikely interest in weightlifting. This wasn't going well.

Still, Chicago wasn't a total flop. The seeds of a few songs emerged, notably Bad Apples, Garden Of Eden and Estranged, with Axl pounding the rehearsal-room piano and Slash wringing rich vibrato from long, hanging notes. But it was becoming clear this new project's grandiose ambition was a sticking point. Making an album to soundtrack fighting and fucking was no longer enough for Guns' lead singer.

"We want to define ourselves," Rose told Rolling Stone. "Appetite was our cornerstone, a place to start. That was like 'Here's our land and we just put a stake in the ground. Now we're going to build something.'"

Slash had misgivings, but didn't want to start rocking an increasingly precarious boat. "It was definitely exploratory compared to Appetite," he explains. "I mean, honestly, I'd have preferred to do a record with just 10 fucking songs that were a bit more straightforward, but it was an opportunity to finally get the band to work again."

According to his autobiography, we remind him, Axl was starting to communicate with the band through management. "Me and Axl were doing okay," he sighs, diplomatically. "The only catch with the Illusion records was the introduction of synthesizers. I disagreed with synthesizers – and I still do."

By the time the Chicago sessions collapsed, the band had become boorish and bad tempered, with Axl dumping the band's Italian buffet on hecklers beneath their apartment and ejecting groupies for failing to deliver.

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