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How Guns N’ Roses Changed My Life

Welcome to the Jungle. Sit down and let me tell you a tale of rock and roll.

Brogan McCuen

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April 29th, 2019: I’m sitting on my sunny front porch drinking a Rainier and listening to Appetite for Destruction while wearing my Guns N’ Roses baseball tee. Is this an average Monday afternoon for a gal like me?

I mean, yes (never underestimate the celebratory measures a Seattle-ite will take on a clear day), but this day is special: it’s GNR Day! GNR Day being a celebration of the day I became the raging Guns N’ Roses fan I am. You see, “Welcome to the Jungle” changed my life, and if it was any other song, this whole thing wouldn’t seem like such a joke.

My senior year of college was awful.

I had just come back from studying a year studying abroad in Cork, Ireland and was trying to rebuild my Seattle life. I frankly had no idea who I was.

I was dealing with aggressive reverse culture shock — I started gaining weight because the places I needed to go weren’t within walking distance anymore. Gluten, dairy, and most GMOs made me sick for days at a time, and then there was a horrific shooting at my university. My home was not a safe place, but I was stuck here and all my friends were thousands of miles away.

Additionally, I had been recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, and the medication I took for it made me so anxious that I could only sleep three to four hours a night. This condition plus the side effects also made my Type 1 Diabetes nearly impossible to control.

I felt like I was losing my mind. I didn’t think I was going to graduate, yet I wanted my college years behind me so badly. Even so, I was terrified to figure out life after the structure of school, especially because I felt so lost.

Then on April 29, 2015, my friend Jared posted a video on Facebook about how Guns N’ Roses weren’t initially very popular because they had so many censorship issues that radio stations wouldn’t play their music.

Hardly a moment before GNR’s career ended, a rep at the record label pulled some strings and got MTV to air their music video for “Welcome to the Jungle” in 1987, which they agreed to play only once — and at 4am. MTV’s call center literally caught on fire from requests and the band went from selling thousands to selling millions.

After watching this mini documentary, my interest was piqued, and I looked up the music video for “Welcome to the Jungle.”

I have not been the same since. I can measure my life’s timeline in before-and-after watching the video — my personal “B.C.” and “A.D.”

The video is sweaty and buzzing with electricity. It gives you everything you need to know about Guns N’ Roses in about four minutes: Axl Rose’s vocal pyrotechnics, Slash’s squealing guitar riffs — while maintaining his quintessential cool — Steven Adler’s bouncy drumming, and Duff and Izzy’s gnarly guitar and bass rhythm.

The thing that kills me about this video is that while the plot revolves around Axl’s autobiographical story of hitchhiking from small town Indiana to L.A. to start a rock band, the majority of it is simply the band performing in front of a live audience.

“Welcome to the Jungle” gave me permission to be emotive, angry, unusual, energetic. It dared me to dig into what I was passionate about instead of dressing and acting like I thought a student at a small liberal arts college in Seattle should.

Their explosive energy and stage presence are so magnetic and intoxicating, thought, that the energy gets into your blood stream and raises your epinephrine levels. At least that’s what happened to me and apparently everyone who called MTV at 4:04am in 1987.

Guns N’ Roses were significant at the time because they caught the tail end of glam rock. While bands like Twisted Sister, Van Halen, and Motley Crue were wearing make-up and glitter, these guys were a bunch of dirty 20somethings who just wanted to play rock-n-roll music.

I remember watching this video and listening to this gnarly song I had heard many times before, but never really listened to, and thinking, “life is fucking hard. I can either fight back or I can keep letting life take its hits and stay defeated.”

After trying to be calm and collected while internally I felt complete tumult, “Welcome to the Jungle” gave me permission to be emotive, angry, unusual, energetic. It dared me to dig into what I was passionate about instead of dressing and acting like I thought a student at a small liberal arts college in Seattle should.

I put away the Fleet Foxes and Hozier and Two Door Cinema Club, replacing them with Soundgarden, Skid Row, and AC/DC. I listened to Appetite for Destruction in its entirety every day for months and found every isolated track and band interview I could find on YouTube.

I even found a note in my phone dated October 1, 2015 that says, “Dear Diary, Today I looked up live Guns N Roses videos on YouTube to watch on the bus, but I didn’t really end up watching any because I couldn’t find one I hadn’t watched already. I fear I may have to now get a life.”

Admittedly, I even considered waking up all six of my housemates in the middle of the night when I learned that the recording studio Duff McKagan, GNR’s bass player, used for his solo albums was directly in front of my bus stop by our house two blocks away.

I would study Axl’s stage presence in any Guns N Roses live video I could find on the internet and think, “I could do that. That doesn’t scare me at all.”

After this GNR revelation, I spent all my free time watching live performances of Garbage, No Doubt, Jefferson Airplane, Pearl Jam, and of course Guns N’ Roses. I wanted to rage against the Pacific Northwest epidemic of calm, introspective lead singers.

I got rid of any clothing I had that didn’t make me feel badass. I practiced the “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na KNEES KNEES” from the chorus until I got it perfect every time and I nearly kicked a hole in the wall when I hit the high D note that Axl screams at the end of the bridge.

I was finally accomplishing something and had aspirations that I was enthusiastically working toward. I was becoming who I am.

Sometimes I still watch that music video, just to remember what it feels like to be 100%.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Brogan is a Seattle Pacific University graduate who majored in Creative Writing (with a creative non-fiction concentration) and minored in Music. She is also a karaoke host, a pole athlete, and the lead singer of a classic rock cover band. After working at an e-commerce record store for two years, she shifted her focus to incorporate her writing inclinations with her musical background (plus, her roommates were tired of hearing about the Dilla sample that Miike Snow used in "My Trigger"). Enter: CMN.

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