Guns N’ Roses released their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, in July 1987. Believe it or not, the biggest debut album of all-time up to that point was not a massive seller in the beginning. It premiered on the Billboard charts at No. 182 and hovered in the lower depths of the charts for months. It was another full year before Appetite finally landed at the top of the charts, and that came with the help of MTV and a lot of radio airplay. One of the reasons that MTV and radio finally came around to Guns N’ Roses was because they’d been written about as the “future of music” by a then relatively new magazine called Spin.
Spin magazine had launched just two years before, after its founder Bob Guccione, Jr. took out a loan from his dad, the publisher behind Penthouse magazine. Guccione had started the magazine as a kind of alternative to the leading music mag, Rolling Stone, with a focus on a broader variety of music, in particular college indie rock and hip-hop, which was still in its infancy at the time. While Rolling Stone was publishing profiles on one of the biggest artists of the day, Tina Turner, Spin magazine was tracking down her ex-husband, Ike Turner, who many had thought was dead (including Tina). Turns out, Ike was just homeless.
Spin quickly caught on as a trendsetting publication, so when the magazine declared that relatively little known artists like Sinead O’Connor, Public Enemy and Guns N’ Roses were the “future of music,” the industry took notice.
It’s ironic that the magazine that helped to launch the stardom of Guns N’ Roses would ultimately become one of the band’s biggest enemies.
After Appetite finally took off, GnR grew imperious with the media. They insisted, before granting interviews, that media outlets allow the band to edit the pieces, write the captions, and maintain copyright ownership of the content. Failure to meet the demands of the contract would result in $100,000 payments for breach of contract. This was in the two years leading up to the release of the Use Your Illusion double album, when the band was largely inaccessible.
No self-respecting journalist, obviously, would sign the contract, but Bob Guccione, Jr. did one better: He printed the contract in Spin magazine, inviting its readers to submit it to the band if they wanted to get a contract with Guns N’ Roses themselves.
Ten thousand readers took the contracts, signed them, and mailed them into GnR, much to the displeasure of Axl Rose and company, who were embarrassed by the entire incident.
Bob Guccione, Jr. went another step further, too. GnR at the time were intent on controlling the image they’d fostered over the previous five years, but Guccione wanted to find out what was really behind Axl Rose. He sent a reporter to Indiana to talk with the people who grew up with Axl Rose, then William Bailey, otherwise simply known as “Bill Bailey.” Yes, the real name of the biggest frontman in hard rock from 1987 to 1993 was Bill.
It’s a fascinating article for anyone interested in Axl Rose’s background. The piece also attacked Guns N’ Roses for the slurs made against “immigrants, faggots, and n*ggers” in the song “One in a Million,” which resulted in a confrontation with the band Living Colour, with whom GnR were touring as opening acts for The Rolling Stones. (“If you don’t have a problem with gay people, don’t call them faggots. If you don’t have a problem with black people, don’t call them n*ggers,” guitarist Vernon Reid said on stage during their 1991 tour.)
The piece also slammed GnR’s presence on stage, saying that the “band has sucked sh*t more often than not” in previous years. Spin also called out the band for being “drug-addicted, paranoid, homophobic, racist, xenophobic, ruthless, violent, a threat to the liberty of the press, and a pain in the ass to almost everyone.”
But back to Axl Rose’s background in Indiana. Spin used interviews with hometown friends, including a woman who had dated Axl throughout the years preceding his superstardom. She expounded on Rose’s drug use, his temper, and she even made some suggestions that he was violent with her. She also partially dispelled the myth that Axl Rose had been living on the streets before the band took off.
“No, he didn’t live on the streets entirely,” Axl’s ex-girlfriend told Spin. “I helped him out quite a bit. I don’t think he likes to think about that, though. There were times, granted, when he lived on the streets after I’d kick him out because I got tired of trying to support the both of us, and I got tired of fighting.”
The gist of the piece, noted Guccione, was that Axl Rose was “a bit of a dick.”
All of this, of course, infuriated Axl Rose, who took his anger out on the media and Guccione, in particular, in the song “Get in the Ring,” a track on 1991’s Use Your Illusion II. In the song’s bridge, Axl Rose challenged Guccione to a fight:
Bob Guccione, Jr. at Spin,
What you pissed off cuz your dad gets more pussy than you?
Suck my f*ckin’ dick
You be rippin’ off the f*ckin’ kids
While they be payin’ their hard-earned money to read about the bands
They want to know about
Printin’ lies startin’ controversy
You wanta antagonize me
Antagonize me, motherf*cker
Get in the ring, motherf*cker
And I’ll kick your b*tchy little ass
I remember that song, and those lyrics, well. I had skipped school the day that Use Your Illusion had been released, so that I could be one of the first people to own it. I sat in a car with a friend of mine that day, and we listened to both albums for hours. I was 15. I didn’t know who Guccione was. I didn’t understand the context of those lyrics. I don’t even think I understood much about Axl Rose at the time, except that he was behind Appetite for Destruction, the best album I’d ever heard. I loved that song, too, and I clearly remember wanting to kick Guccione’s ass myself, not realizing that all Guccione had done was print the truth.
As you might imagine, however, nothing ever came of the “fight.” Guccione called up Guns N’ Roses label, Geffen Records, and told them that he’d be happy to fight Axl Rose, and he even promoted the potential fight in order to help sell magazines. But it would never come to fruition. Axl Rose backed down, perhaps after he’d found out that Guccione, Jr. had nine years of fight training. It was a “great moment in douchebaggotry,” as the Houston Press noted several years ago.
Nobody knows for sure if Axl curled up in his bathroom with the letter and heaved childlike sobs into his chest while praying to all possible deities for protection and wetting himself, so we’ll just have to assume he did. Axl, by strenuously urging an enemy to get in the ring and then failing to do so yourself when said enemy accepted, you generated one of the most cringe-inducing moments in true douchebaggotry. Kudos!
How disappointing to learn, nearly 25 years later, that one of the greatest diss tracks in rock history was nothing but hot air and bluster. Nothing ever came of the challenge, just as next-to-nothing ever came from Guns N’ Roses’ career after Use Your Illusion.
For more Guns N’ Roses, check out our three-part documentary on the band.