My mom wasn't really into too much pop music in the '80s. She much preferred to lock herself in her room, dress up like Axl Rose and try to master the frontman's enormous range as she belted every song to Appetite for Destruction, much to her parents' chagrin.
“I painted 'Rocket Queen' all over my ghetto blaster,” says my mom, whose Instant Messenger handle from the time I was in middle school onward was “rocketqueen2u.” “I used to tell everyone to be quiet when they were on MTV.”
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In 1992, my dad, my mom and her sister had tickets to see a double bill of Guns N' Roses and Metallica at the Coliseum. Somehow — “It was your father's fault,” my mom says with a laugh — they didn't make it to the show in time to catch Guns N' Roses. They still got to see Metallica, but my mom's heart was pretty broken.
I came into the picture not too long after that, in 1993, just a few days after my mom turned 21. Though she would have been thrilled to see them live, between working several jobs at once and raising me on her own, my mom never got the chance to catch her favorites onstage. Nonetheless, her love for Guns N' Roses has never faltered, and her super-fandom definitely rubbed off on me as a kid.
Growing up, I was no stranger to the mythical entity that is Guns N' Roses. Between my mom and my dad (who also happens to be a huge fan of GNR), my little ears were consistently exposed to Axl's impressive falsetto, Duff McKagan's powerful bass licks and Slash's glorious guitar solos. I knew how much my parents loved them, so GNR always kind of seemed larger-than-life to me, especially when I started finding my own bands to endlessly obsess over and came to understand the same feeling.
I'll never forget being 13 and hearing “Mr. Brownstone” for the first time. Mom and I were driving north to visit the Winchester Mystery House and the song came on through the CD changer (my mom always had Appetite for Destruction in her car). I really loved the song, and my mom saw it as a good opportunity to teach me about heroin. Since then, that's been my favorite song by them. I don't think it's because it reminds me of the first time I learned what heroin was, but who knows? Sometimes my subconscious is weird like that.
Anyways, my mom made me a GNR fan at birth, and for the past 23 years, she's done a pretty good job of cultivating the “Rocket Queen” in me, too. When I saw the lineup for this year's Coachella, my heart jumped a little — not just for my sake but also for hers. Before I knew it, seeing her favorite band became my priority.
Being faced with the task of reporting on one of the bands that brought my parents together — one that my mom has still, more than two decades later, never gotten to see — came with its share of pressures. I felt responsible to have as wild a time as I knew my mom would have. Or at least try to, though in the back of my head I couldn't help but wonder: Will I love it? Will I hate it? Will I finally understand why my dad loves the '80s so much?
As it turns out, it was a little bit of all of the above.
Seeing the band onstage together was definitely a very moving experience. There were so many moments during their set when I had to catch myself and remember it was real. Watching Duff and Slash do their thing was what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience, and Axl's still got those crazy pipes after all these years. He still sounds like a rock star, even though he had to sit in a damn chair the whole time.
But I also felt myself yearning for the Guns N' Roses my parents would have seen had they never missed that show — the GNR that would have showcased a rambunctious little Axl scooting around onstage, the Axl my mom used to emulate as a teenager in her room (and probably still does from time to time). Maybe with the passing of so many legendary, irreplaceable artists this year — Prince, Bowie, Phife Dawg, just to name a few — I'm feeling especially knocked over the head with thoughts of aging and mortality. But watching Rose pour his heart and soul out for hours while confined to his throne made it clear that neither of us, me or my mom, would ever get to see Guns N' Roses in their prime.
That being said, they still put on a mind-blowing set, and I could definitely feel that this would be a moment I'd look back on for years to come as more than just a great show at Coachella. Call me cheesy, but I cried a little when they performed their rendition of “Knockin' on Heaven's Door,” a song that will forever remind me of my mother and one that I've seen her cry to a handful of times.
I never thought I'd hear myself say this — especially because the last time I came to Coachella with a parent, my dad wound up in the hospital after getting run over by an ATV (he was fine, don't worry) — but I really wished my mom could have been there with me. Even though it wasn't quite the GNR she idolized in the '80s and '90s, the dozens of videos I took for her couldn't possibly do justice to the magic I saw happen onstage.
Being out there in the warm breeze, enveloped by Slash's effortlessly luxurious riffs, all I could feel was appreciation toward them for what they had done for music, and a realization that there will never be another Guns N' Roses again.