I was so excited to see Guns N Roses. A band that embodied the pain and angst and rebellion I felt as a child and teenager from a broken home left to fend for myself in a cruel, lonely world. The anticipation followed me through the day. As I walked around Coachella, one of my favorite stomping grounds for the last 13 years, I was searching for that feeling of inspiration. But in every turn, I was met with internal disappointment. Why wasn't I getting that same feeling I used to? I felt myself feeling critical. Why is there a stupid apartment building installation in the middle of this beautiful playground. They call this art? Why is there a bar advertising Mezcal and Cervezas that isn't serving either? There are more people in the VIP than in the public beer garden...what makes this special? Has it all boiled down to smoke and mirrors and I'm now too seasoned in this game to not sniff out the bullshit?
I could see myself growing cynical, the luster disappearing from the wanderlust. I guess I'm just getting old, I concluded. I'm sure once Guns N' Roses comes on stage, this will all disappear as I have a momentary escape back into the portal of my youth.
Double fisted with cocktails, I trolled my way through the thickness of the crowd, bumbling my way towards the front of the Coachella stage. I was ready to let go of my demanding adult life and fucking rage. I was piss drunk when the dramatic gun shots fired off and the show began. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. Something was off but I couldn't quite figure it out. Which one is Axl? It can't be that puffy guy with the mic, but his voice does sound like Axl. Wait? Why is he sitting down? What the fuck, he's in a wheelchair? Is he paralyzed? How did I not know to expect this? Fortunately, as my mind sped out of control on a downward spiral of inquiry, my friend Brad turned to me and said "Axl broke his foot at their opening show of the tour last week." Well ain't karma a bitch.
Coachella is known for breaking bands (as in making them reach rockstar status) and breaking bands (like destroying their careers, or at the very least, giving them a good hard challenge to make a future comeback). This was looking like one that would potentially be the latter. It was physically painful to watch. But it took me a couple days to fully digest why.
Was it because Axl seemed so old and frail? If so, why was it that I didn't have this feeling when I saw David Gilmore from Pink Floyd perform mere weeks before? Gilmore is way older than Axl, and yet he had aged gracefully. Was it because Axl was in a wheel chair? I mean he accidentally broke his foot while performing. This could happen to anyone, so how could we hold that against him, right? So what was it that was utterly dreadful to watch? It was the lifting of the veil. Witnessing that he couldn't use his illusions any longer. When you make a name for yourself as a invincible badass who gives no fucks with a ride-or-die attitude, but you didn't ride off into the sunset or die in your prime from an overdose that marked you as a rock n' roll legend, you can end up like this: decrepit and washed up. Looking sick, lonely, and depressed; the glory days and wild nights mere memories stamped in photos and recorded in songs but nothing left but a vacant empty heart and seemingly lost soul.
Axl is one of life's greatest teachers. The energy you put out is karma in the long haul. Rock N' Roll is on its last leg. It made sense for the times but humans as a culture, we are evolving. We don't need cigarettes anymore. To scream. To hate. To destroy. To control. To revenge. The life of dependencies on vices no longer serves us. We don't want cancer. We want change. An evolution of consciousness. A transformation of the world.
Just like my parents did the best they could with coping in a time with little spiritual inspiration, I can learn from them and push myself to do better given the knowledge from their teachings and suffering. People want to be uplifted. The music of Guns N' Roses was a huge teaching. It gave people an outlet for expression but the downfall is that it bred angst. It didn't squelch it. It didn't transmute it. It's a temporary fix. An immediate comfort, like all vices, that doesn't lead towards transformation in the long term.
You have to rise above the pain. To create cultural alchemy. To put out a positive message that will align you with a positive purpose. People who are negative stay in that energy field. Setting intentions breeds elevation of self. All positive change in the world comes from vision. It must be invented out of stagnation. Rise above. It's bittersweet. Because we have nostalgia from the past but we learn that what once served us no longer suits us as we evolve. Our dynamic with our culture shifts creating greater mindfulness and life practices that will one day become the status quo. It's not easy. It takes commitment, faith, and hard work. We have to be grateful for these lessons. The yin and yang. You have to fail to succeed. It is all one process. It takes courage. Axl showed courage to get on stage and be vulnerable with his handicap. It was symbolic: To remind us, that we get what we give. An appetite for destruction can destroy you. What once seemed glamorous now seems pathetic. It's not pretty at the end. It's a matter of perspective that shifts with an ever-changing emotional landscape.
We must continue to grow because what shines through in our old age is the wisdom we have gained and shared. This is why David Gilmore shines on like a crazy diamond. Through his music we have seen his internal alchemy, a spiritual transformation, a learning from the years. Axl, on the other hand, much like Motley Crew and a slough of other prominent bands from the late 20th century, seems to have struggled to grasp at the fountain of external youth, seeping through the cracks in time. They had their shining moment, in a time where it made sense, but they never evolved. When you spend decades with a motto to "live hard and party hard", that shit catches up with you and it's not cute. It's depressing as hell.
As I sat in deep contemplation reflecting on the history of this beloved band, I recognized how it in some ways mirrored some of my own life struggle to evolve from a self-destructive party girl to a health-conscious earth-loving mama. The message I walk away with is that you have to keep growing and changing and sharing those lessons by being teachers who lead by example. Give out energy filled with love and hope and consciousness. Be open-minded to change, and share what you learn, so that others can learn from your mistakes. Your wisdom is a gift that will live on for eternity in others it is passed down to. Especially if documented in music, writing, art or education. Otherwise you cling to a past that doesn't serve you or society, and the emptiness that resides in the final twilight hour is dark: live and let die. Rock N' Roll is (almost) dead. At least as we knew it. And perhaps that is good news, after all.
- Namaste Gangster