Saturday, March 13, 2010

"One in a Million" by Guns 'n' Roses (1988)

I do like Guns 'n' Roses. There's a fair amount of their songs that I find listenable, and even a couple that I find enjoyable. It was a long time coming... when they were popular, when “Appetite for Destruction” was on turntables everywhere, I resisted. Crap heavy metal, I said. It took me years to wake up to thjeir genuine pleasures and to the fact that they are examples of a rather rare beast indeed: non-crap heavy metal.

But crap marketing ploys? GnR had 'em. Including the 'between albums EP', the quick and painless project hastily thrown together to keep the artist in the public eye while the artist is 'recuperating' or in some other way dormant. In this particular case, the EP in question, at 33 minutes longer than some albums, was thrown together by taking an older live EP and tacking four new acoustic songs on. 'Guns 'n Roses Unplugged' without the need to enter MTV's studios. The heavy metal acoustic ballad is a wildly erratic mini-genre, with a few excellent songs mixed in with a lot of tripe, but it sells gold and gives heavy metal dudes plenty of opportunity to seem sensitive for heavy metal chicks. The gold standard here is 'Patience', a rather pretty song not entirely destroyed by the horrors of on-record whistling.

But the remainder? Well, there's the allegedly funny homicidal 'Used to Love Her', and the present song. What about the present song? Well, let's put aside the endless apologies, justifications and explanations Axl Rose has given for it (including on the CD cover itself). Let's just stick for the moment with the lyrics themselves, and their attacks against black people, gay people and immigrants. (Police officers, too). Taken at face value, it's a screed against anyone different than Rose, blaming minorities for all kinds of things. It's an incredibly ugly bigoted tirade, and amazing to think it could have gotten as far as record stores without anyone stopping and saying, 'wait, what are we condoning here?' There's nothing good or bad to say about the music – it's quite irrelevant compared to the ugly vitriol Axl Rose spouts in an especially annoying shriek (and no ballad, either: it's rather uptempo).

And here's the thing: you can justify throwing around bigoted slurs all you like – you can defend your usage of the 'n' word by saying 'context matters'. You can defend your usage of the 'f' word by saying you respect a lot of gay people. You can claim to be playing a character. You can twist your face-value-ugly words into any direction you want, really – but when your fans are, by and large, white, straight and American-born, all you're doing is playing into their hands. All a homophobe takes from the song is 'Yay! Axl Rose is one of us!' All a racist hears is sympathy and a sense that his opinions are shared by others (even though the lyrics also make some vague repudiation of 'racists' that I don't really understand, while calling their singer a 'small town white boy').

The fact that Slash himself is black, and plays guitar on this song, only furthers my confusion about why it got made. Apparently he voiced his concerns, but still went ahead and allowed the song to be released. That makes no sense to me.

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