Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
When I was in elementary school my friend Donna’s older sister played us Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses. Donna’s older sister probably had a name but I don’t remember it. What I do remember is that she was already in middle school and wore makeup and belly shirts she cut up herself. She was dangerous. And alluring. And I wanted to know everything about her.
“This was still the best real rock show, maybe the only real rock show I’ve been to in years.”
I came home from a sleepover at Donna’s one Sunday morning asking for this album and my parents bought it for me. My musical taste at that point featured New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, and Tanya Tucker, so my parents had no reason to suspect I’d turned to anything darker. As soon as the cacophonous caterwauling guitar on “Welcome to the Jungle” blared from my lavender Sony boom box, my dad confiscated the tape and took it into the living room where we sit when people we don’t know that well come over, or someone’s in trouble and we need to discuss it. It’s a serious room. He played the entire thing through giant earmuff headphones, nodding studiously as if he were hearing a lecture on quantum theory. And when he was done the tape went into a drawer in his office and didn’t come out for several years.
That was when I fell in love with rock and roll. It was dangerous. And alluring. And I wanted to know everything about it.
I showed up at the Hiro Ballroom earlier this week with that memory in mind. All day I’d been playing GN’R at top volume, basking in that feeling — undiluted after all these years — that this record would lead me to my future. Outside the club on the far West Side a parade of girls dressed like upscale strippers (Lucite heels, real fur bombers dyed Easter egg hues) catwalked in front of the velvet rope, batting ermine lashes at the stoic bouncers. Passing through the corridor leading to the Hiro’s open main room was like entering a portal back to the late ’80s. Amidst the artificial peach smell of Victoria’s Secret perfume, dudes in leather jackets stood with bored looking blondes with big hair and bigger lips brazenly smoking and sipping whiskey. Further into the smoky time warped womb a comically diverse number of the super famous (Chelsea Clinton, Justin Timberlake, Matt Damon) mingled with a comically indistinguishable parade of models, in town for fashion week, and wearing the rock gear that must’ve come with their “How to dress in New York” kits: suede fringed cropped jackets for the girls, Swarovski crystal-decorated trucker hats for the boys.
As “Rebel Rebel” bled into “Seven Nation Army” and the lights began to dim, we found a spot stage right and hopped up on the bar. They let you do that because it’s still the ’80s and we don’t let live in an overly litigious culture. “I wish I had a 19-year-old Eastern European girl on my arm to make out with,” my friend said, looking around at the assortment of willowy models swinging their silky hair around as the band played “Mr. Brownstone.” “That’s what these songs were built for.”
I go to rock shows all the time. Constantly, it feels like some weeks. But I never go to rock shows like this unless I’m seeing Guns N’ Roses. Even with his bloated physique and stiff approximation of the serpentine shimmy that used to be his signature, even though the whole show is so obsessively loyal to the records it feels like you’re hearing a really good GN’R cover band, this was still the best real rock show, maybe the only real rock show I’ve been to in years.
Well after two in the morning, I stumbled passed Jared Leto and a girl headbanging with an Isabel Marant fur tied sloppily around her waste and out into the night air. It had rained, and as I walked south through the Meatpacking District the throb of bass coming from nearby clubs made ripples in the sidewalk puddles. “Do you really think he’ll be here,” a coltish brunette in a miniskirt asked her friend as they clip clopped towards Soho House. “Totally,” the friend answered, reaching inside her tank top to adjust her boobs. Welcome to the jungle.