Steven Hyden has a pretty solid look back at being a teenager in the 1990s on the A.V. Club's site. Dubbed "Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?," this ongoing series is right up my alley because I lived it. Even though it was from the window MTV provided every day, I got the sense that people my age were seeing something drastic and cool changing before our eyes.
His second entry, focusing on the rise of Nirvana and the slow wane of Guns N Roses, provides a context that seems like distant history today. You couldn't really find a more popular rock band in 1991 and 1992 than Guns N Roses, Metallica, Pearl Jam, or Nirvana. Maybe for reasons of how Axl Rose has carried the brand name over all these years and spending all that time on Chinese Democracy, history doesn't seem to be kind to GN-f'n-R.
Forget all those millions of copies Use Your Illusion I and II sold. When it comes to talking about GNR these days, it's all about how stunning a debut Appetite For Destruction was and oh yeah, they put out a few more records before everybody but Axl and Dizzy left. That's sad.
The time I spent in front of MTV during those first few years of the '90s, all of the videos produced for GNR's double album got airplay. From "You Could Be Mine" to "Don't Cry" to "November Rain" to "Estranged" and everything in between, those guys shared air time with a constant rotation of Metallica videos, Nirvana videos, and Pearl Jam videos, as well as stuff by Naughty By Nature, Salt-N-Pepa, and En Vogue.
As sad as how history has treated the band, I've slowly come to realize why Appetite is considered a hard rock classic and the others aren't.
While working with Teddy Andreadis at Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp, he mentioned his touring days with Guns N Roses. He mentioned how the band received some flack by going from a rip-roaring, two-middle-fingers, guitar rock band to a rock band with a lot of piano. The grit was still there, but even angry songs seemed to not pulverize your ears.
As I listened to the band's greatest hits collection on a recent trip to Houston, I heard the transition Teddy was referring to. But I also remember being a teenager and not minding.
Maybe it was the awesomeness of the videos ("Hey, look, the band is playing on top of a tower!" to "Man, Slash's solo in front of a church is stunning!") but I never cared about the differences between "Paradise City" and "Yesterdays." Axl still had that sneer, Slash always played great solos, and the rest of the band kicked a lot of ass too. What more did I need?
I applaud Steven for taking something like this on. The underdogs tend to get documented, but the overachievers sometime get lost in the pile too.