Custom Search

Friday, August 29, 2008

The 'Story' Behind Welcome To The Jungle

New York Magazine has an excerpt from Stephen Davis' Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N' Roses. The excerpt relates how Axl Rose (then Bill Bailey) came to find the refrain for his band's first big hit. I put the word story in quotes because Davis wrote Hammer of the Gods, a wildly entertaining if oft-refuted biography of Led Zeppelin. Davis gave our culture the story of Led's stay at a hotel in Seattle, which led to the bumper sticker on Troy McClure's DeLorean 'I [Heart] Sea World'. Yes, this is how my brain works. You don't want to be there. But I digress.

To Bill and his friend, it was bedlam, a Caribbean neighborhood in Washington Heights with a funky street scene of bodegas and shouting kids playing under open hydrants, crones yelling out of windows in Spanish, idlers under shop awnings, hustlers working the corners of 177th and Broadway. Bill and Paul, from Tippecanoe County in Indiana, were the only white faces in a sea of black people, Puerto Ricans, Jamaicans, Dominicans, Muslim women in veils, Haitians, Hindus, Chinese shopkeepers, and lots of kids immediately picking up on two white boys who'd just climbed out of the hellish Cross Bronx like hayseed mountaineers in cowboy boots, blue jeans, and very long straight hair. The boys just stood and gaped, checking out this scene. "Rapper's Delight," bass-heavy hip-hop, blasted out of a bodega speaker. Lurid graffiti covered every flat surface. Kids were busting moves — break dancing — on the sidewalk. Bill Bailey had never seen this before. Basically, there weren't any black people in his part of Indiana, so they might as well have been in Senegal.

Now an old man limped over to them. He gave them the once-over, seeming to linger over Bill's cowboy boots. Bill was becoming uneasy now, his friend noticed, which was never a good thing, because, when agitated or upset, Bill's behavior could get a little out there. Finally, the old man spoke, or rather squawked, in a high-pitched shriek.


The boys, taken aback, just looked at him.


Bill Bailey said, "Uh, we're just trying to get to…"


Bill Bailey — the future W. Axl Rose — just stared at him in wonderment. And then the little old man wound himself up to his full fury and told these white boys what they could expect from New York City at the tail end of the seventies: years of bankruptcy, endemic crime, corruption, decadence — the gateway to the eighties and the scourge of AIDS. He told it to them straight from the gut:


Either way, great 'story'.

No comments: