GNR Chinese Democracy Faith and Astroturf

Guns n Roses Chinese DemocracyI first came across Guns n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction when I was a teenage metal DJ on the radio in Connecticut.

A little background explanation: I got into doing this gig partly because I’d gone to high school overseas and the American overseas high schools I attended were woefully behind the times when it came to music. Like really behind. I used AC/DC and Rush lyrics in my campaign posters when I ran for class president. (I won. I mean, of course I did; there were AC/DC and Rush lyrics in my campaign posters.) I was shocked when I found out that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, the big slow dance number where I went to ninth grade, came out more than a decade earlier than I would have guessed on a multiple choice test. So I arrived at college with more of an Aerosmith taste in music than the average student at a competitive, left-wing, East Coast school normally would have. Although I loved bands like Janes Addiction and The Dead Milkmen and The Cure and The Violent Femmes as soon as I was exposed to them, I held onto the hard rock thing because you never forget your first musical loves. Oddly, although my classmates identified as free-thinking liberal individuals, they seemed to hold the view that bands like Motley Crue and Dokken were for lower class stupid people. My annoyance at this classist hypocritical bigotry is probably the reason I became a metal DJ. I was frustrated that my classmates could be so close-minded about something like music. I enjoyed hard rock in my personal musical mix and I wasn’t about to fake like I didn’t just to impress people I went to school with. To bring home the part where I was not hiding it, I ended up playing it on the radio. Never let it be said that I do things by halves.

Before Appetite for Destruction came out in the stores, it was naturally released to radio stations. One of my listeners called up to request the track “Paradise City” and I took a look and we had this album with an appalling Robert Williams painting of a girl up against a wall with her panties down. Only the requested track had lyrics about wanting to go down to Paradise City where the girls were pretty. Ooh, artistic emotional conflict! I was intrigued and had to listen to the whole thing. Appetite for Destruction changed my life. There was plenty of music which had moved me before this. I was a DJ, after all, but this was something new and different and deeper. If not for Guns n’ Roses and William Gibson and Jay McInerney, I would probably be an attorney or a management consultant for McKinsey or some place like that right now.

Last week, something happened which might have made me break my self-imposed rule never to download music. A blog called Antiquiet leaked nine tracks from the long-awaited Guns n’ Roses Chinese Democracy album. On June 6, Antiquiet editor and media expert Kevin Skwerl wrote an article Crying Chinese Democracy where he said he thought Geffen should just release the freaking album already. He said that he stole Appetite for Destruction from his mom’s record collection when he was eleven-years-old and has been waiting literally half his life for Chinese Democracy to come out. His definition of terms is hilarious:

The phrase is now more universally defined as the new Guns N’ Roses album than as the actual political movement in China that inspired the titling. And over the years, the phrase has developed a second meaning: It can also be used as an adjective, to describe something eternally “in the works,” promised countless times, yet never, ever, ever delivered. As in, “that raise I need is fucking chinese democracy,” or “that big break your boyfriend’s shitty band swears is going to happen is totally chinese democracy, tell him to get a fucking job.”

The gist of the rest of the article was that he’d personally worked at Universal and knew a fair number of music industry folks and that everyone he knows, who Axl Rose has allowed to hear Chinese Democracy, thinks the music is beyond excellent. In a very well-written feature he posited that the only way Geffen could ever make back their ridiculously huge investment in the new Guns n’ Roses record was if it turns out to be really good. Kevin Skwerl then brilliantly breaks down the sales aspect of GNR:

In an attempt to recoup some of their eight-figure investment after closing out Axl’s tab in 2004, Geffen put together a greatest hits compilation, with not a single new or previously unreleased track, or any promotional efforts by the band. It sold more than 1.8 million copies. It was the world’s ninth-highest selling album that year. But of course that album had one thing that Chinese Democracy probably won’t have: Welcome To The Jungle . . . Appetite For Destruction still sells 5,000 or 6,000 copies each week.

On June 18, Rolling Stone reported that the Antiquiet blog had posted an article We’ve Got Chinese Democracy, And It’s Worth The Wait. Antiquiet immediately had a bunch of comments from people saying how much they loved the Chinese Democracy tracks. Other sites which linked the downloads also got a bunch of positive comments about the music. Oddly, there was an undercurrent of Motley Crue vs GNR commenting, but the majority of the comments were people saying the music was great and they wanted the CD or legal downloads to come out. Apparently, someone from GNR management then phoned and asked Antiquiet editor Kevin Skwerl to remove the tracks, which he did. On June 24, Rolling Stone reported that FBI agents had come to Kevin Skwerl’s place of employment to chat with him about the situation, and he explained his actions saying that he thought posting the tracks was a legal gray area as the songs were potentially not the final mixes (WTF?) and that he had received the files from an anonymous source which he had since deleted at the request of GNR management.

Cynics question whether the brief leak was a deliberate publicity ploy to “get people talking.” Very few commenters who post about liking the music are people who are signing real names or known online nicks. It is possible that no tracks were ever posted and the whole thing is smoke and mirrors and fake sock puppet comments.

On the other hand, I just discovered Kevin Skwerl’s Antiquiet site and I’ve been really enjoying his writing and Johnny Firecloud’s all morning. They seem to disclose their biases and work backgrounds and it may be unfair to wonder about secret plots. I know it annoys me when people read something journalistic that I wrote and discount it as possibly having an agenda.

The problem is that all the astroturfing of recent years has left people very cynical. A lot of consumers thought they were being forward-thinking by using ad-blockers and claiming total resistance to traditional marketing. So the marketers adapted with fake grass-roots support and forced viral marketing. The record labels shunned rock journalism and attempted to replace it with articles written by publicists, who are bought and paid for out of artists’ future royalties. Add to all that that the record labels decided that the internet age meant they could and should stop servicing journalists and radio. Supposedly they just got sooooooooooo frightened that journalists and DJs would pirate the music and post it to torrents and file-sharing networks, but I think a lot of it was that they did not want to deal with an independent writer’s genuine opinion and they preferred corporate radio’s complete control where the DJ never gets to choose the song. So now we never know whether to trust what a journalist says. And we definitely know (or should know) never to trust what a supposedly random man on the street says. And the radio rarely offers up anything new that we want.

So people are still pining for a new effort from a band like GNR where at least they know they liked it for real the first time around. I know music industry people in LA who tell me lots of bands sounded like GNR in the late 80’s and the label just signed them all and buried them in order to prop up Axl Rose and co. Maybe I just have more visibility to how the sausage is made now than I did then. They say nobody wants to eat sausage, once they see how it is made. It seems to me that, if lots of groups of talented rockers could have been thrown together to make a Guns n’ Roses, then the record labels would already have done so and that manufactured rock just is not the same.

Maybe it is all a sham, but it moved me at the time it first came out. If not for Guns n’ Roses and William Gibson and Jay McInerney, I would probably be an attorney or a management consultant for McKinsey or some place like that right now. I should totally sue those guys.

Note to music industry: Seriously, guys, I don’t want to read a well-written blog and wonder if it is real, so can you please stop ruining all the cool pop culture which inspired me to take the road less traveled. Thanks.

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Posted by on June 25, 2008. Filed under Blue Blood. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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