It's the summer of 1988, and I'm in New York, watching a beautiful girl in a white bikini climb through a window into her apartment. We've just spent the day together, and she's lost her keys and locked herself out. Once inside, she opens the door, pulling me in and singing something about "dancing with Mr. Brownstone." Nasty habits fill the room: beer bottles, cigarette butts, whiskey. A barely dressed roommate lay on a couch, sleeping off a spell of debauchery. It's a decadent scene, steeped in rock and roll. Music starts playing. A slinky and snakelike guitar riff followed by a beautifully deranged tenor: "She's got a smile that it seems to me, reminds me of childhood memories..." This is my first time hearing Guns N' Roses.
Now, it's the summer of 2014, and I'm in Los Angeles, talking with Slash about World On Fire, his blazing new solo album, featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators. Slash is a rock guitar legend, and one of the few people still pumping blood through the veins of rock and roll. Like Keith Richards, Joan Jett or Ozzy, his mere presence defies the times. Eras come and go, but Slash remains the same. Iconic people are kind of like the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge. They're above change. Not many people can pull this off. And not many artists are considered cool by almost every generation.
I don't know what you'd expect Slash to be like in conversation, but here's the lowdown: He is clear, sweet, smart, articulate, a little playful and, yes, extremely cool.
I decide to go back to the roots, and ask Slash what first inspired him to make music.
"When I first picked up a guitar and put three or four notes together that sounded like rock and roll lead guitar to me," Slash says.
It was the most euphoric moment. I'll never forget it. It was like the heavens parted. From that moment on, everything else that I was doing in my life was by the wayside. I just stuck with the guitar from that point on.
World On Fire drops on September 16. I ask Slash what he hopes his audience will get out of listening to his latest album.
"I don't know," Slash says with a laugh.
I suppose when you're making music you're hoping that people will be as into it or be as affected by it as you are. People say, 'are you making music for them or are you making it for yourself?' I hear that a lot, in what is a commercially-driven industry at this point. I'm really making music for myself and if anybody else digs it, then that's cool. I do whatever I get off on, and I guess I'm just either hoping or wondering if anybody else will.
I ask Slash what interests him besides music.
"I'm pretty driven to do stuff that I like doing and having a good time doing it," he says.
Doing things that excite me. Things that turn me on. I love challenges. I love making things happen in situations where a lot of people would just turn their backs on it and say 'it's too hard' or 'it's too complicated.' I love going out there and making things happen.
I can't let Slash get away without sharing a crazy story from back in the day, a crazy story about being on the road with Guns N' Roses. I ask him what comes to mind?
"In one of the first official tours that Guns N' Roses ever did, we were touring across Texas," Slash begins.
We were on one of those buses that they used as a last resort for bands that didn't have much money. We had a semi-retired bus driver who probably had enough marks against his license that they didn't use him very often. We were driving across Texas, in the summertime, and the generator blew out. We fired our tour manager in the midst of this drive, and we ended up having to shack up in an off-the-road, uncharted hotel to figure out how we were going to get to the gig.
"Somehow, we picked up some chicks along the way," Slash continues,
and we were all camped out in this semi-derelict resort hotel. We ended up getting a ride from these chicks, in a storm, to get from Texas to Louisiana, totally flying by the seat of our pants, completely out there and improvising. At the time, we were an opening band, so we didn't have a lot of wiggle room to fuck around. We had to get there. We ended up in three different cars, with three completely different people, all trying to get to the same venue with none of us communicating with the other. We were all just improvising our own way to get to the show. To me, it was a great rock and roll romance story.
So, did Guns N' Roses get to the show on time?
"We made it," Slash declares. "We were opening for The Cult in New Orleans, and we were our own tour managers for about 48 hours."
My conversation with Slash ends, and the Guns N' Roses song "Mr. Brownstone" starts blaring in my head as I drive past The Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard. I think about the girl in the white bikini from the summer of 1988, and hope she's doing well. She was the genuine article. A glorious, serpentine, 1980s rock and roll disaster. She gave me some nice memories, and I won't forget her.