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But Canter doesn’t walk down memory lane alone. Slash, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler, as well as groupies, failed producers, and former managers and bandmates, all contributed to the book. Adler talks about splitting a cheeseburger five ways; McKagan recalls playing a UCLA frat party for beer and 30 bucks; and Slash remembers trading for smack a pair of leather pants his mom made. And by now, almost everything about the making of Appetite is part of rock & roll legend: “Nightrain” was an ode to cheap wine, “My Michelle” was about a junior-high friend of Slash’s whose father worked in the porn industry, etc. But if you need to hear it straight from the stripper’s mouth, Adriana Smith-Durgan, then a teen dancer at the Seventh Veil and Adler’s girlfriend, opens up about her contribution to the album: having sex with Rose in the studio for the moaning effects on “Rocket Queen.” Even funnier is Tom Zutaut, the A&R man who signed Mötley Crüe to Elektra, recalling how the Geffen deal came through: After a record-company bidding war, Guns N’ Roses originally wanted to go with Chrysalis, but only if its A&R woman agreed to walk naked down Sunset Boulevard. She obviously didn’t.
After being pressed into naming his favorite tracks, Canter, not surprisingly, admits, “Oh, that’s a hard one. Every song means something else to me. ‘Sweet Child’ is my favorite because the lead gives me chills. ‘Nightrain’ is just a fun song, like you’re on a conveyor belt and you’re just going. ‘Mr. Brownstone’ — Slash’s wah-wah pedal grabs me in a certain way. ‘So Easy’ — that’s the epitome of Duff.”
Canter was never on the band’s payroll, which is why he’s remained friends with all of them. “Slash, I’ve been friends with since the fifth grade. If he ever plays a gig anywhere he knows I’m at, he always calls me the next day to get a report of how he sounded. Axl, I’ve always been close with. If he’s in my neighborhood, he’ll stop by my house unannounced. All of a sudden, the doorbell rings and it’s Axl. ‘C’mon, let’s go.’ And he’ll put me in his car and drive me to the studio. And he’ll say, ‘What do you think of this?’ And he’ll play a really cool song he just wrote. He knows I’ll give him an honest opinion.”
So a guy who rides around with Axl Rose has to have the answers, right? Except after nearly 15 years and so little activity, the questions have gone from where and when to why even carry on as Guns N’ Roses. “Everyone’s heard the songs,” says Canter. “He plays them live. They’re all over the Internet. I myself have heard the record — and there is a record. And it’s excellent. I’m proud to hear it. Is it right that he’s calling it Guns N’ Roses? What else is he gonna call it? The Axl Rose Project? Axl’s been writing with these people for the last decade, and recording and experimenting. Axl can do it. He’s not gonna just throw in the towel and say, ‘Oh, well, Slash is gone.’ He’s gonna make it work somehow. And he has. He’s created a new band out of it. As long as you still have Axl, you still have Guns N’ Roses. The singer is really the most important part in a band sometimes. Axl feels that he is the voice of Guns N’ Roses. If you were Axl, would you give up that name?
RECKLESS ROAD: Guns N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction | By MARC CANTER with JASON PORATH and additional photographs by JACK LUE | Shoot Hip Press | 348 pages | $29.95 softcover