Happy Halloween to all. Here’s a rebump of my article on Dennis Stock’s incredible photos of the wonderful Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, for Magnum photos:
Here’s a little Spooky Playlist for all of you ghouls and goblins. Happy Halloween
Yesterday was the late musician Scott Weiland’s Birthday. I miss him a lot; miss the contribution to music he made and am grateful for the music he gave us.
I’m going to be honest, Velvet Revolver made me a bigger fan of Stone Temple Pilots than I previous was. I loved the two albums VR made (nobody will be surprised to learn I play them all the time). Yet I know not everybody shares my same viewpoint.
For six years and two albums, Velvet Revolver divided the rock community. Some fans and critics loved their brand of hard rock fuelled by sobriety and honed musicianship. In contrast, others found them a divided beast, the product of two much-loved bands with disparate styles (heavy rock rhythm section and a glammy grunge frontman) that did not quite mesh. While their combined history worked with them for the most part, it also brought a slew of comparisons to songs written twenty years prior. Whatever your perceptions of Velvet Revolver, there was no denying that the unity of three (then) former members of Guns N’ Roses and the singer of Stone Temple Pilot made an exciting, enticing combination.
The story of Velvet Revolver is intriguing. Part organic, part orchestration, they were technically a new band, but the histories of its members ensured that it had a past already built-in, and try as they might, some could never escape their ghosts. While some made friends among them, one succumbed to them, leaving a rock n’ roll trail in their wake. Their debut album, Contraband, was a bold, punky attack on the senses. Even the name made it sound illicit like there was something a bit naughty about the music contained within. They ploughed on and made their more profound, more thoughtful Libertad. It became their unintentional swansong, circled in tragedy, yet presented a band who had found their grove since their debut. It did not fare as well critically, but it was by all accounts a honed beast layered with conflict.
There would be other ventures, and an ultimate solo career. I often wonder what music Scott would still be making now should tragedy have not intervened. It’s one of those losses that I, personally, felt the most: he could not outrun his former ghosts.
Anyway, here’s to you, Scott, one of the best frontmen I have had the pleasure to see live. Thank you.
The Sunset Strip, 1.5 miles stretching from Sunset Boulevard through West Hollywood, has a decades long history of excess and debauchery. Originally situated in a geographically unincorporated area of Los Angeles, the area did not become part of Los Angeles until 1984, the independence and loose regulations serving to heighten the excess of the area. Integrating into the wider, more regulated city, did little to quell the outsider, renegade atmosphere for which the area had become known. Stories abound about the Strip, for which it most affectionately dubbed. Fast-living and degeneracy is baked into the streets, and in the bricks of the buildings which line the mile.
During the prohibition of the 1920s, alcohol was illegal in Los Angeles as a city, but not in the LA county. Casinos and nightclubs sprung up on The Strip, all serving alcohol out of their back rooms, away from the prying eyes of the law. In the 1930s and 40s, the movie world and organized crime intertwined, with the Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen were rumoured to have owned establishments, while individuals from the motion picture industry frequented restaurants including Ciro’s, and The Mocambo. By the 1960s, it was all about the music, as movies gave way to counterculture. From the 1960s and into the 1970s also saw the swell of music venues on the Strip, which such historic clubs and Gazzari’s (21 February 1967 – 1995), The Whisky A Go-Go (Janauary 1964 — ), The Roxy (23 September 1973), and Pandora’s Box, a well-liked coffee shop that has gained immortality as the centre of the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots in November 1966, as immortalised by Buffalo Springfield in their song ‘For What It’s Worth.’ While the seventies saw glam rock and the short-lived club Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, the 1980s saw an explosion of fast living, party hard, rock musicians for which the territory became their domain.
Historically, and musically, it is impossible to disconnect The Sunset Strip from the glam metal, hard rock, and ‘hair metal bands’ that came of age during the eighties. LA Guns, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot — the Strip came to represent rock n’ roll abandon thanks to the bands who took advantage of the venues ‘pay to play’ policy’, toiling their wears and accumulating their loyal attendees through blood, sweat, tears, and masses of drugs and alcohol. I spent some time earlier this year working on two (rejected) pitches concerning bands with more than a prominent association to The Strip, and how this area factored into their lives and music. This may come as a surprise to most of you, but neither of these two pieces were about Guns N’ Roses. And no other band came close to touching the full-on, all-out hedonism quite like their seminal 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction.
There has never been another band quite like Guns N’ Roses, especially during the 1980s. While the line-up has gone through various rotations over the years — three of the original members are, after years of upheaval, performing together again — I maintain that you cannot touch the combination the of original five and the perfection of Appetite For Destruction, a record that never, in my opinion, becomes tiresome listening. (If you ask someone if they like Guns N’ Roses, most often they will say, yes.) There remains a magic in that album, something both raw yet harmonious, chaotic, energetic, but musically and lyrically electric. Success did not come easy to those five boys, and every moment of toiling away, every drug use, sexual encounter, domestic disturbance, and disregard for authority is captured within those twelve songs. There’s a reason it shattered all records and continues to be listed as one of the best, and best debuts, of all time.
Lately I have found myself struggling to write about what I usually write about (something compounded by freelance stress) as I tie myself in knots seeking work that will, you know, pay my wage. Music has always been a crutch, but never more so than during the past two years. As I have said on Twitter, and in a newsletter from earlier in the year, hard rock has always been at the forefront of my life, very much like film, and even longer than my interest in art history. I never set out to specialise in what I do, which I love, but I think the pandemic and grief have both rewired my brain into clutching at the non-work things that make me incredible happy. Music makes me happy. The Sunset Strip history makes me happy. ’80s era Guns N’ Roses make me so goddam happy — let me find joy as the world crumbles, ok?
So I may use this space to write about this album, this band, and what makes it the band and album for me. I will likely write about other bands. too, and maybe at some point on the newsletter, but I have this space, and I may as well use it, right? Short pieces, long pieces, whatever — I’m amazed I have not done this before. But it’s never too late. And, let’s face it: Anything Goes.