Posted 01 October 2015 - 06:01 PM
It was 1989. Once the final leg of the Appetite For Destruction tour was over, I was back in LA pretty shiftless and uncomfortable; for the first time in two years I had no predetermined place to be, no job to do when I woke up. I had been away so long that nothing was satisfying and the everyday business of life seemed alien to me. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to go to the store for groceries after I'd played arenas in Japan the week before. I'd been on tour long enough to forget that I once bought my own liquor and cigarettes, and what I really couldn't shake was the thrill of playing every night.
Izzy [Stradlin, Guns N'Roses' rhythm guitarist] made a call and we went over to a friend of a friend who we'll call 'Bill'. We'd gotten a taste of smack again in Australia, so the craving was there by the time we got home. Besides, after two years of touring, subconsciously, we both felt that we deserved it. Anyway, Bill had a taste for drugs and always had plenty of every variety; he was also very generous. When you start to get famous at all, a few typical things start happening: in Hollywood, if you're out at a bar, everyone wants to buy you a drink, you can get into any club; whether you like it or not, you are suddenly a figure on the nightlife circuit. When that started happening to us, there was nothing less interesting that I could have imagined doing with my time. That Hollywood scene was the same old shit, and the more recognisable I was, the less I liked it. The amount of 'dudes' who wanted to 'party with me' had quadrupled, so I became entirely insular; looking back, it makes complete sense to me that I allowed myself to slip into a seductive heroin comfort zone. I didn't want to go to strip clubs or look for hot chicks or otherwise exercise my newly found status. All I wanted to do was hang out at Bill's and do drugs. It turned out to be the start of a long and nightmarish obsession with heroin that lasted from 1989 through 1991.
I went through an interesting succession of girlfriends at this time; just a handful that I'd see over at my place, each on different nights. At some point during these months my manager had the brilliant idea of having me present some award to someone or other at the MTV Video Music Awards. I can't even remember who we gave it to, but my co-presenter was Traci Lords, the porn star, so we met backstage and then started dating immediately. I was in a strange place; I was mildly famous, I was infamous, but I was still stuck in a raggedy, heathen mentality in terms of my quality of life. At that time, I could have had $15m in the bank, but I wouldn't have changed my lifestyle at all; I didn't have a car, I was happy to have my one-room apartment that looked like a generic hotel room, and needed nothing more - that was where my head was at. At the same time, I knew how to be a gentleman, which is entirely what Traci Lords expected on a date. So somehow we hit it off.
But Traci didn't want any part of being seen in public with me; if we ever went anywhere where anyone might be paying attention, she'd put me through this stupid ordeal where I'd have to come in after her and meet her inside, as if by accident. Obviously I was recognisable, so she always insisted that we scoot in some back alley entrance. From what I understood she wanted to keep a low profile because she didn't want to be exposed as a groupie slut or one of the porno chicks that guys like me dated. I was never one of those guys who was judgemental about that stuff and never understood those who were; in fact the only reason I knew her was that I'd seen her in this movie where she was bent over holding her ankles and she looked amazing. I truly appreciated that, so I figured everyone else appreciated that, too. I didn't get her whole charade at all.
Of course, once I started dating her, my friend West Arkeen brought over a copy New Wave Hookers so we could check it out. It was very entertaining but somewhat of a tease because Traci and I still hadn't slept together. Our 'relationship' was starting to become more of a bother than it was worth.
Traci had called me early one week to make plans and that same day West came by with a huge pile of crack. We stayed up for the next two days and by the time Traci showed up to go out with me, West and I were crawling around on the carpet looking for rocks. I knew she was coming but I couldn't help it: we were a mess; the only person that would have been OK with it would have been a crack whore. My place was a fucking pigsty on every level and it didn't help that West was there like some resident pigmy: he was only about 5ft 4in and had stringy blond hair that was really greasy after two days of smoking crack.
West always had this permanent grin on his face that became more and more disturbing the more wasted he was. This particular afternoon he was so wasted that he openly leered at Traci.
He was so high that he thought nothing of going over to my bookshelves, retrieving New Wave Hookers, pointing to the cover, saying 'That's you, isn't it? You're Traci Lords!' He kept grinning at her.
Traci took a long slow look around. 'I'll be right back,' she said in her pouty little voice. 'I forgot something in my car.'
'Yeah, cool,' I said. 'Then we'll take off.' I was high, and not particularly aware of time passing, but I soon realised that she'd been gone far too long to ever be coming back.
I did what anyone with new money should do after renting for a while: I bought a house like my business manager told me to. I still had no clue as to my future or how to handle finances; I had no material aspirations at all. I didn't spend much on anything at that point; money was still an abstract concept to me. I found a house just off Laurel Canyon, and it was forever known as the Walnut House. I was pretty out of control at the time. I remember showing up to meet the contractor to talk about redoing my bathroom and thinking that breaking out a few lines would be a good way to break the ice. He and I stood in the bathroom as he walked me through the work that needed to be done. 'Yeah, yeah, cool, man,' I said. I slapped down the toilet-seat cover and cut out four thick lines of coke. 'You want one?'
He looked pretty uneasy. 'No, no thanks. I'm on the job,' he said. 'OK, right, that's cool,' I said. 'I'll do yours, then.' 'It's not just that, it's also eight o'clock in the morning,' he said, smiling apologetically.
At that moment I was every single nightmare cliche of what that guy had ever heard about rock stars, rolled into one - even more so because he had been hired to turn my extra bathroom and its huge corner Jacuzzi into a massive snake terrarium that took up a quarter of the room. He was going to build glass walls from the floor to the skylight to enclose the tub, which was elevated, plus adding a set of Plexiglas stairs so that you could see my pets wherever they might be. I couldn't wait to fill it with trees and all the other shit that snakes like. In the Walnut House I kept about 90 snakes and reptiles.
It didn't take a clairvoyant to see that if we would ever be a band again, Izzy and Duff [McKagan, the group's bassist], Steven [Adler, drummer] and I, would need to write some music and get Axl [Rose, Guns' singer] interested and back in the mix. We kept rehearsing, and once we'd gotten a few songs together, we went over to Izzy's place to do some writing and see where his head was. It didn't take me long to figure it out. I was in the bathroom over there taking a leak when I noticed the two-inch-thick layer of dust in his shower and bathtub. That thing hadn't been used for weeks - Izzy was that far gone. Axl showed up that day, and regardless we started working on a song that became 'Pretty Tied Up'. I remember that Izzy had taken a cymbal and a broomstick and some strings and had made a sitar out of it. Needless to say, Izzy was pretty fucking high.
We didn't have to confront him at all; he had a serious scare one night that set him straight. Whatever it was, Izzy got too shook up to even talk about it. He just called his dad, who came out from Indiana, and took him back home, and that's how and where Izzy got clean. He's been clean ever since.
The rest of us continued to work, and once we had some material and were communicating with Axl again, he let us know that he and Izzy wanted to write the next album in Indiana. I couldn't imagine why; both of them had left Indiana as soon as they could to come to LA and they never seemed too fond of the idea of going back. In any case, our situation was so unpredictable that I wasn't going to move to a wheat field with no guarantee that we'd even get anything done. In the end we agreed on Chicago.
Doug Goldstein, our manager, and I went to scope out where we would live and rehearse. We chose the Cabaret Metro, the famous rock club on the north side of the city; it's a concert space that houses a separate club called the Smart Bar in the basement, and also has a theatre upstairs. We rented out a two-unit, brown brick apartment building a few miles down the road on Clark Street, right by the elevated train to live in.
We all moved out there, with our techs, Adam Day and Tom Mayhew, our production manager, and our new security guard, Earl. Duff, Steven, and the crew guys moved in downstairs, and Axl, Izzy, Earl and I lived upstairs. That was fine by me because I had the place to myself for the most part - it took Axl more than a month to join us, and Izzy was there for less than an hour. In our plentiful free time Duff and I did our personal best to stay in shape. I had one of my BMX bikes out there and I used to ride it between the apartment and the rehearsal space, bunny-hopping over everything in sight, riding on the sidewalk. It was a good workout. Some days Duff and I even went to the gym, usually just after our morning vodkas. We'd go down to one of those big public YMCAs with Earl to pump iron. We'd be down there in our jeans, doing sets between cigarette breaks - it was invigorating.
Every night we hung out at the Smart Bar. We didn't really gel with the people there, but we had a dozen chicks. It was like a shooting gallery in that place, but eventually I settled on one. Her name was Megan; she was 19 and she lived with her mom and younger brother in a nearby suburb. She was really exotic-looking, a heavy-chested, bubbly, sweet girl.
I did try to stay the course once Axl got to town, but two incidents put an end to my time in the Windy City. The first was the night we came home after drinking to find a feast of Italian food on the sidewalk in front of our apartment. I got a bird's-eye view of the mess because, as I recall, I had insisted on spending the entire night lying on the roof of the car whenever we drove from bar to bar. Our favourite Italian place was right on the corner and apparently Axl had unloaded the band's entire dinner on a few people who had found out that we were living there and were heckling him from the street. Axl had then proceeded to trash the entire kitchen and break every glass item in the apartment. And, as we'd find out a few days later, sometime during his tantrum Izzy had arrived, having driven in from Indiana. He took one look at what was going on from down on the street and turned his car around and left immediately without even entering the building.
I suppose that the rest of us should have noticed that Axl was unhappy and acting out after that first incident, but by then we'd gotten to the point where we just let him do his thing and tuned it out.
Who knows, maybe if we listened to what he wanted to do and just complied a bit more he wouldn't have freaked out so hard. Still, who could fathom what he was unhappy about? He showed up with this very sort-of-bitter attitude that seemed to be coming from a very depressing place. But, to be honest, I was more worried about Steven than Axl by then: he was a huge problem; he was doing tons of blow and his performance had become irregular. I didn't catch on at first; he kept his coke hidden in the refrigerator.
We would be hanging out and sharing a bit of blow, but I couldn't figure out how Steve was always that much more wasted. He'd just get this twinkle in his eye and say, 'Hey man, butter tray,' and point at the fridge.
'Yeah, OK, Steve. Sure,' I'd say. I'd go to the refrigerator, fix myself a drink, and come back with nothing to report. I didn't think he actually wanted me to look in the butter tray. He was that fucked up that I didn't take it seriously.
'Did you see?' he'd ask, grinning wildly. He'd just keep pointing at the refrigerator and saying, 'Butter tray.'
'Yeah, man, I saw it,' I'd say. 'That's a great refrigerator you've got there. Really nice butter tray, man.'
'So, Steven, what are you trying to say?'
Tom Mayhew discovered it eventually. Steven had a steep supply of coke piled up in that butter tray of his.
The last straw with Axl involved some girls that were brought back to our place one night. Megan had gone out and I was at home in bed. Late at night, I heard some commotion; the sound of a few people filing in and heading past my bedroom down to Axl's room. Until then, Axl had spent most of his time in there alone constantly on the phone. This night was clearly an occasion.
My room was at the front of the apartment, separated from Axl's by our living room and a long railroad-style hallway. So I went down there to see what was going on; I found Earl, Tom Mayhew, Steve, and Axl hanging out with two happy-go-lucky Midwestern girls that they'd brought back. We all hung out, and as it got later, it was suggested that the girls have sex with all of us. They were willing to blow everyone in the room, which seemed reasonable to me, but they didn't want to fuck us. For whatever reason, that really pissed Axl off. The girls had a very intelligent rationale for their point of view, but Axl begged to differ. This debate continued for a moment, and it was pretty relaxed, but suddenly Axl exploded. He threw them out with such rage it was shocking. The way it went down was completely unnecessary. The coup de grace was that one of the girls' dads was a prominent officer with the Chicago police, or so I was told. Later that morning I packed up my stuff and flew back to LA. A few days later, I had Megan move out and join me.
My retaliation when I get frustrated creatively is to be self-destructive with drugs. It's my excuse to go down that path. It's a common phenomenon for junkies. So shortly after I got back to LA, considering the state of affairs with the band, when the opportunity presented itself, I was too eager to take advantage. Megan and I had settled in; we were happy in our new home. She turned out to be quite the homemaker, and took to keeping the place up, cooking, and being domestic very naturally. She would go to bed early and get up and go the gym and then clean up and make dinner. She would tend to the house, then head to bed at 10pm or 11pm and I'd stay up all night, downstairs in the living room, shooting up every few hours in the black bathroom. Some nights I'd write songs on the couch, some nights I'd just stare at the snakes. Before I noticed, it would be morning and Megan was up and we'd have a great time until I got tired. She never asked questions and we got along that way for a while, very happily. We had pet names for everything. Everything to her was either 'cute' or 'sweet,' and I was usually 'sweetie'.
Soon I started speedballing heavily and really enjoyed the unique brand of hallucinatory paranoia that comes with it. No one had taught me to speedball; I just thought it would be like a narcotic Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Coke and heroin were two great tastes that I knew would go great together. The rush of the coke would send me up and then the dope would kick in and the trip would take a wonderful turn; and the two would weave in and out of each other from there on out. I'd always end up shooting all of the heroin before I'd mowed through the coke, so usually I'd get wired to the point of an impending heart attack. At the end of those nights, I was also often left with the distinct feeling that I was being watched, so I started to think that walking around my house armed to the teeth was a good idea.
I bought a bunch of guns: a shotgun, a .38 Special, a .44 Magnum, and a few revolvers. I used to keep my .38 in the back of my pants, and after Megan went to sleep, and after I'd shot up enough coke and heroin, I'd walk around the house thinking about things while watching the little hallucinatory figures that started to pop up in the corners of my vision. I'd see them dive and roll off of the top of the curtain rods or run along the baseboards in my peripheral vision, but every time I tried to look at them head-on, they'd disappear. Around then I stopped talking to everyone I knew and started doing a great deal of drawing. Throughout my life, my drawings have always reflected what I was into at the time. During this period, I drew nothing but dinosaurs and assorted graphic designs and logos.
I should have been drawing the little demon men that I could never quite see or seem to capture on film - believe me, I tried. As soon as I started to speedball regularly, those little guys were everywhere. They were small, wiry, translucent characters that I saw from afar until eventually they'd crawl up my jacket whenever I got high. I wanted to get to know them in a way; as I lay on the floor, waiting for my heart rate to relax, I'd watch the little Cirque du Soleil show that those guys would put on all over the room. I often thought about waking Megan up so that she could check it out. I even took pictures of them in the mirror when I found them perched on my shoulder and in my hair. I started to talk about them and see them so clearly that I even freaked out my drug dealer. On the rare occasion when I'd leave the house to score my drugs, I'd usually shoot up right away at his place and then start seeing those little guys crawling up my arm.
'Hey, do you see that?' I'd ask, extending my arm. 'You see that little guy, right? He's right there.'
My dealer would just stare at me expressionless. This guy was a drug dealer who was pretty used to strange junkie behaviour. 'You'd better go, man,' he say. 'You're way too out there. You should go home.' Apparently I was bad for business.
One night I was patrolling the house with my shotgun and came down the bedroom stairs into the living room. Then I went up the stairs to the bedroom landing and up to the loft, where Megan was asleep. As I got up there, the gun went off and blasted through the ceiling opposite the loft. Megan didn't even wake up.
David was engaging, and wise in the ways of chemical abuse. He asked me about what I was doing drug-wise and what I was going through emotionally, psychically, and with the band. I rambled on for a while, but once I started talking about my little translucent friends, David interrupted me. The conversation as a whole was way too involved to have with someone that he hadn't seen since they were eight years old, but he'd heard enough.
'Listen to me,' he said. 'You are not in a good way. If you are seeing things every day, what you are doing to yourself is not good at all. You are at a very spiritual low point when that begins to happen.' He paused for a moment. 'You are exposing yourself to the darker realms of your subconscious being. You are making yourself vulnerable to all kinds of negative energy.'
I was so far gone that I didn't agree. I thought of my hallucinations as my good-time entertainment.
'OK, that's cool.' I said. 'Yeah, I suppose that's bad. Duly noted.'
Doug thought that he could pull off a soft intervention with Steven by taking him on vacation to an exclusive golf resort in Arizona. I was a more complicated animal - suggesting rehab wasn't going to go over well, and neither was being looked after. Actually, no one could tell me shit at the time; they had to trust that I was going to get it together on my own. And I fully intended to; I thought about how to go about it over the course of many nights spent high up in the Walnut House.
I had a doctor prescribe me Buprinex, which is an opiate blocker. He'd get me bottles of that and syringes. It was a very expensive treatment, but this guy was kind of a Dr Feelgood; not the type of guy who had a real legitimate practice to speak of.
I brought all of that with me the night that I spontaneously decided to join Doug and Steven in Arizona. It made complete sense at the time: the Arizona sun was a great place to begin scaling back my habit. I told Megan that I had some band shit to do and that I'd be back in four days. I booked my flight, I called a limo, and I called a drug dealer that I knew who was located on the way to the airport. I had it all figured out. I copped enough coke and heroin, all the Buprinex and packed to get me through a nice mellow long weekend at a golf resort.
I hadn't called Doug or Steven to let them know I was coming, so when I landed there that night, I was on my own. There wasn't much going on around town, but I didn't care.
'Hey, how far is this place?' I asked the limo driver.
'About 45 minutes, sir,' he said.
'OK. Listen, can you stop off somewhere to get me some silverware?' I asked. 'I've got some food back here that I really want to eat.'
The driver drove for about 20 minutes and stopped at a Denny's.
He came out and handed me a knife and a fork, wrapped in a napkin. 'Great,' I thought.
'Hey,' I said. 'Listen, is there anywhere else we can stop? I need a full set of silverware.'
After another 15 minutes we stopped again and this time I got the spoon. I promptly put up the divider between the driver and me, got my drugs out, and cooked up my meal.
I did my fix and relaxed while we drove to the hotel. The scrappy underbrush of the Arizona landscape suddenly looked much more inviting and the tinted glass made it look even more lush.
When we got to the resort, the Venetian, I took my one-man party into my room. It wasn't the kind of place that I was used to, because it didn't look like a hotel; it was a collection of bungalows along a beautifully manicured golf course. My room was great with sheer white curtains around the bed, a small adobe-style fireplace, and a bathroom with a glass-enclosed shower - it was like a well-appointed spa. It was so relaxing that I could think of no better therapy than shooting coke and smack all night to soothe my soul.
I soon forgot that the shit I brought was meant to last me four days - I was acting as if I had something to celebrate. Within hours I was out of heroin. It's a common problem for junkies: when you're high, you're in a nice contented state, everything is good and mellow, and that's when you make your plans; that's when you figure out how much dope you need. Then you start doing your dope and everything changes.
I kept shooting coke that night just to keep shooting and I was pretty content with myself just going through those motions for a few hours. And then things got weird. I started shadow-boxing monsters that I saw on the other side of the sheer curtains that framed the large king-size bed. I was bobbing and weaving, as if I were working out at a gym. This shadow-boxing continued all night long until the sun came up, drowning every shadow in the room and ending my activity. Once I snapped out of that trance, I figured that I should probably head out in search of Steven and Doug.
First, I decided to shower, to straighten up a bit. But before that, I opted for one last shot of coke. I felt great when I got under the big rain-style, luxury showerhead. And as I was there under the nice warm water when the coke hallucinations hit me harder than they had that night or ever before. Full daylight was coming in through the skylight, but I watched as long shadows emerged from the corners. They crept up the floor toward me, up the glass of the shower, and took the shape of the shadow monsters I'd boxed earlier. They were right in front of me, filling the glass door, and I wasn't going to let them get me, so I punched them as hard as I could, sending the entire pane of glass into pieces all over the floor. I stood there with a cut hand, under the water, paralysed, paranoid, scanning the bathroom for other assailants. And that's when my little buddies showed up.
They always looked like the creature in Predator to me, but a fraction the size and translucent blue-gray; they were wiry and muscular with the same pointed heads and rubbery-looking dreadlocks. They'd always been a welcome, carefree distraction, but this hallucination was sinister. I could see them gathering in the doorway; there was an army of them, holding tiny machine guns and weapons that looked like harpoons.
I was terrified; I ran across the glass on the floor and slammed the sliding glass door to the bathroom shut. Blood began to form in a pool under me, issuing out from my feet, but I didn't feel a thing; I watched in horror as the Predators squeezed their limbs between the door and door frame and began to slide it open. I put all my weight against it in an effort to hold it shut, but it was no use; they were winning and I was losing my balance on all of the broken glass.
I decided to flee. I broke through the sliding glass door, cutting myself further and spraying debris all over the room. When I ran out of the bungalow, the bright sunlight, the shocking green of the grass, and the colours of the sky were overwhelming; everything was jarring and vivid.
Everything in my room had been so real that I was not prepared, in my condition, to be so suddenly transported from the drawn curtains into the shimmering daylight.
I just ran, fully naked and bleeding, down the fairway, away from the army of Predators I saw over my shoulder every time I turned to look. I needed a reprieve from the harsh daylight, so I ducked through the open door of another bungalow. I hid behind the door, then behind a chair, as the Predators began to fill up the room. There was a maid in there, making the bed, and she started to scream when she saw me. She screamed louder when I tried to use her as a human shield to protect myself from the small hunters on my trail.
I fled again, running at top speed through the resort with a translucent army at my heels; the colours and scenery only added to my dementia. I made it to the back of the main clubhouse and went through the back door and into the kitchen; all of the cooks and activity were dizzying, so I ran out of there, right into the lobby. There were guests and staff everywhere and I remember grabbing a well-dressed businessman standing there with his luggage, once again using him as a human shield. He seemed so together that I believed he could hold the Predators at bay, but I was wrong. They actually got to me at that point and started climbing up my legs, loading their little guns. The businessman didn't want anything to do with me; he shook free so I backed into a utility closet somewhere near the kitchen. As a crowd gathered, I ran out of there again, back outside, eventually finding darkness and shelter in a shed on the fairway, where I hid behind a lawn mower, until finally, the hallucinations began to subside.
I'd caused quite a bit of a commotion by then; the cops had arrived and, along with a crowd of onlookers, they confronted me in my hiding place. I wasn't seeing the Predators any more, but when I gave the cops my testimony, it involved a detailed recreation of how they'd chased me all over the resort trying to kill me. I was still high enough that I told the story without a shred of self-consciousness. Everything around me still looked pretty bizarre; even when Steven broke through the crowd and handed me a pair of sweatpants.
· Extracted from 'Slash: The Autobiography' by Slash with Anthony Bozza, published by HarperCollins on 29 October, priced £18.99
MAKE AMERICA GRATEFUL AGAIN