Appetite For Destruction
, the first album by Guns N' Roses
, is the biggest selling debut record in history. It made the band rock icons and placed everything they did under a bright white light. What that intense scrutiny revealed was a band in the throes of drug addiction and alcoholism, power struggles, and a toxic imbalance that threatened to destroy them at the height of their popularity. But they persevered and were able to staunch the flow of excess by eliminating one of the key members. Drummer Steven Adler
started GNR with his boyhood friend, Saul Hudson
. He found Axl Rose
and thought he would be the perfect singer for this new band he wanted to put together with his guitar-playing pal. So it came as a crushing blow when these same people kicked him out of his own band just prior to recording the Use Your Illusion
Steven writes about all of this in his new autobiography, My Appetite For Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N' Roses
. In it, he writes about everything from being booted from the band to his lifelong addiction to drugs. It's a sad tale but ultimately uplifting and more than anything it is incredibly honest and reveals Adler as a lost human being looking for love and the respect of the people he so admired in his life. He appeared on the Celebrity Rehab series on television and what you saw was a broken soul ravaged and imprisoned in the death grip of heroin and crack.
But he survived the drugs and even suicide attempts and rather than continue living that lifestyle, has documented it all in his autobiography. Like the book, Steven is completely open in talking about the things happened to him and the ordeals he went through. His speech has been affected by a minor stroke brought on by massive amounts of narcotics but he is more than intelligible. He is still able to laugh about his life and at himself and just hours away from a gig with Adler's Appetite, Steven talked about that life and peppered the conversation with more than one giggle.
"We're in Wisconsin today,
" he reports. "Yeah, we're in the cheese capital of the world so I'm gonna have some cheese.
UG: While you're eating cheese, let's talk about your book. I finished reading My Appetite For Destruction and was truly blown away by your honesty and sincerity. It must have taken a lot of nerve and chutzpah (Yiddish word for courage or more literally, balls) to write it.
That's the word: chutzpah; that's it. For me it was somethin' that is helping me because if you keep things bottled up inside and stuff em down and you don't let it out, it becomes dangerous and very self-destructive. You need to let these things out and you're able, I'm speaking as me, to move on and to have a life again. I'll keep on pondering about the past and I think it's very important to get things out and not keep them stuffed down.
As you're recalling and reliving these moments in the book, you must have gone through some agonizing pain.
Well, of course; there's a lot of tears involved. But like I said it was day after day of believing and never doubting myself and working out my problems. Not everybody gets to write a book to get their inner demons out for them to be able to heal themselves. But you can take a piece of paper and write it down. All I can say to everybody out there who has these feelings stuffed down inside of them is Get them out; talk to somebody. Write it down. It's so important; it's sometimes a sort of freedom in your soul. So I'm very happy. People can take it anyway they want; I lived a beautiful [life.] I mean I've known some wonderful talented since I was 11, 12 years old. I got to hang with these people; I had a great childhood and as a teenager it was great. It wasn't until I got over-praisedd [for music] and over-indulged in drugs and lost perspective on my life and what was important and what wasn't.
Certainly you weren't the only crazy guy in Guns N'Roses.
Between the five of us in the GNR day? I was the mellow one when it came to doing drugs. It wasn't until after all the excitement and the publicity and all the yes people; that's when things started changing. Then I lost perspective on my life and it's the easiest thing to do when you're doing the drugs. Or drinking or smoking cigarettes even. Anything.
Your most recent re-connection with the Guns thing was when you played on the Baby Can't Drive track on Slash's solo record. In an interview with Slash, he told me, Steven was amazing. The thing about Steven is that sound is such a recognizable part of the whole Appetite For Destruction experience; a lot of it was driven by the drums. I haven't played with him in so long so when he got behind his kit, it just revisited that whole thing. So it's very cool. And he played great; he's been getting his shit together for a while. So I've sort of been with him while he's getting clean and I told him if he stayed clean for long enough, he can play on the record.
"You need to let these things out and you're able, I'm speaking as me, to move on and to have a life again."
I'm finally starting to get the recognition and the respect that I so rightfully deserve to have. And it feels so great. And getting it from Slash, I want more than anything to have Slash's respect. Because we grew up together and he's a very respectable person and a very credible person and has helped me and said to me, Steven, I'll do anything for you; I want to play music with you more often. All I need from you is to be reliable and I strive to be reliable. Not just with him but with everything; in any kind of project that comes into my life. No more flaking; flaking is unacceptable.
What did that feel like playing with Slash again?
It was great. I played with Slash, Flea, and Alice Cooper. Slash, Flea, and I all grew up together and I loved Alice Cooper.
Can you talk about the Appetite sessions? You talk about that in your book but how well rehearsed were you when you were recording your drum tracks? Was it simply locking in with Duff in the studio or did it take some time to come up with those rhythm tracks?
Duff and myself would always go in an hour or two hours before the rest of the guys in the band would come in. And Axl, I can count on two hands out of two years of rehearsals, that he actually went to. So basically we were working on the music and me and Duff, we'd come in an hour or two hours early, and we would work on our parts. And it's such a rare thing that there are bands like like Queen and Aerosmith where five guys can actually get in one room and all have the same idea and the same wants and the same beliefs and the same goals. There are millions, millions of guitar players, bass players, drummers, but it's the hardest thing in the world to get three, four or five guys that all could click. That's why there's so many bands out there but they're not big because three, four or five guys in that band just don't click together.
You felt that instant connection with Duff?
When me and Duff first got together, we clicked instantly. But see I grew up playing music with Slash so there wasn't a bass player. I learned and took all my playing, my bass drum work, and interacted with his guitar playing. And Duff is a guitar player at heart; he started off playing guitar. So his guitar playing shows in his bass playing. So we just clicked perfectly together; that's all I can say. It's the hardest thing in the world. That's why there's not 50 million huge rock bands; there's only a few because it's so hard to get those few people that belong together.
When you were booted out of GNR, the band was never the same.
The day it happened with GNR and they kicked me out of the band, the whole chemistry changed. It didn't get better. There are bands like Iron Maiden where Bruce Dickinson came in the band, he took over somebody's spot, and the band got better but it's so rare. Like with Chip Z'Nuff, my bass player in Adler's Appetite? I know what he's gonna do before he's gonna do it; and he knows what I'm gonna do before I'm gonna do it. And that's what you want. That's how you get close.
Can you describe what you brought to the Appetite For Destruction sessions as a drummer? What was it you did so well that made that album such a force of nature?
For one, I never took a lesson and I would practice to drummers like Roger Taylor and Peter Criss and so that's where I kind of got my style from. Because I've never taken a drum lesson. So I pretty much went in there with all my heart and all my soul and just gave it all that. Of course, we rehearsed the songs a million times and played em live so we knew what was gonna happen. But my whole playing is just from liking those kinds of drummers.
Every song on the Appetite album had been played live before recording it?
Oh, yeah, we used to play em live. Once we started playing together, none of us had a job so all we did was hang out and play music; hang out, drink beer, play music. Play music, play music, playmusic [laughs.]
Are there standout moments on the Appetite record that you remember?
Yes, there is. One thing was on Sweet Child O Mine where it has that breakdown where it goes Where do we go/where do we go. If you listen, I'm doin' these rimshots on the snare and if you listen to it, the first seven or eight rimshots that I do all sound different. Cause I remember there sitting going, Nope, nope, nope; that is not it, that is not it. And when we were playing Paradise City, at the very end of it the double-time part? I was looking at Slash and going, Goddammit, c'mon, let's end this already. C'mon. Dammit. You're killin' me over here. Let's go! While I'm playin' the song, you can see my lips moving and I'm yellin' at em, Dammit, let's end this already.
Was Rocket Queen a song you had earlier worked up with Slash in Road Crew?
No, we didn't do the Road Crew stuff really until the Use Your Illusion stuff. And that's one thing that really hurt me. It was very, very destructive when they kicked me out of the band but then they recorded all those songs. See, I did all the songs for Use Your Illusion; I recorded them on a demo tape in a recording studio with the band.
You recorded Back Off Bitch, You Could Be Mine, Don't Cry and some other stuff?
"There's a lot of tears involved. But it was day after day of believing and never doubting myself and working out my problems."
I loved Back Off Bitch, I loved that song. I'm so pissed when I heard it. Oh, my god. That and Don't Cry. I came up with the most simple, most beautiful drums. That was what was devastating: those were my songs. Goddamit. And it still bothers me. I think I need to go to a meeting [laughs.] I have to go to a meeting now. After talking to you, I'm gonna have to go to a goddamn AA meeting. Thanks a lot!
When you heard what Matt Sorum ended up playing on the Use Your Illusion records were you thinking, Oh, shit, I should have been playing on those songs?
Oh, yeah. His were just half-assed, crappy versions. Nothing personal against the guy but he's like a goddamn drum machine. He's got no heart; he's got no soul; he's got no feel. And as life and the years have shown obviously I'm not the easiest drummer to replace. All I know is, Use Your Illusion would have been bigger than Appetite.
Do you really think so?
I know so and that's hard to come by. Appetite sold like 85 million records around the world; Use Your Illusion would have been bigger.
Civil War was the last song you actually recorded with the band?
I recorded Civil War and got sick off this opiate blocker. So when I went into record Civil War, I was really weak and really sick so I had a hard time playing that. But I did all the demo tapes for the songs for the record. What does bother me the most, I have to say, is, especially with Slash, that was our dream since we were 11 years old to be rock stars and make records and travel around the world, do all these drugs and have sex with all these women. And our dreams came true and then right when you get as famous, as rich, and as big as possible? He says, The dream's over for you. We're gonna give it to some stranger. Hey, who the hell is this Matt Sorum f-cker? He wasn't there. It was just like they threw me out like I never existed and gave my life over to some stranger. Here, you take over everything Adler worked for; you live his life. So it was crushing; it was devastating, very devastating. That's the word I'm looking for: devastating.
Listen to Civil War. That was the last song I recorded with them. And then the song right after that and the whole record after that, it's a different band. There's no feeling there; they took that away. And so it's nice like I mentioned earlier getting my props for my work. Finally.
But you've finally been able to come to terms with being thrown out of Guns N' Roses?
I started getting sober which is a growing and learning process everyday. Once I started working with Dr. Drew [Pinksky] on Celebrity Rehab, I told Dr. Drew, I don't think I can do this to the best of my ability if I don't talk with Slash. So he hooked up a meeting for me to talk to Slash and Slash came down to meet me and I apologized to him. See, I blamed him for 20 years for my misfortune and my downfall and it wasn't his fault; I did all of this to myself. But I kept it built up inside of me as we were talking about keeping things built up. I apologized to him and said, I'm sorry that I blamed you for everything.
How did that feel after you said those things to Slash?
The next day I woke up and my whole chest, my arms, my whole body hurt like when you don't workout for a long time and then you workout too much. That pain? I let this big, huge weight off my shoulder and I was able to do my recovery to the best of my ability and I'm still workin' on it. It's been two years now, two-and-a-half years. And I've relapsed a few times. Shit, that's part of recovery. You can't expect somebody who's done such damage and lived a certain way for so many years, for so many decades [to just change.] It was like going to the bathroom. I've gotta go pee. Oh, I gotta go smoke drugs. It was kind of like that and it takes time to learn a new way of thinking. And being able to get that off my chest and out of my system and apologizing to Slash made everything so much easier and I was a much more likeable person [laughs.]
The strange part of what happened with you and Guns is that you weren't the only person doing drugs and getting high. It's pretty common knowledge that Slash and Duff were heavy drinkers so how were they able to make it through the recording sessions without messing up all the time?
They were screwing up but see they had more pull. To them at the time, it was, Oh, he's just the drummer. They threw out all respect for me and I was just consider, Ah, he's just a drummer; we can replace him. But we can't replace Slash. And Axl's not gonna replace Izzy.
OK, I need to go to a meeting now. Enough, mister, OK, Steve? You're killin' me here [laughs.]
In My Appetite For Destruction, you talked about suing the band after they tried to take away your royalties.
I sued them because they wanted to give me $2,000 and just throw me out on the street as if I never existed. So then my accountant got me a lawyer and I sued the band and that was devastating because then I had to go to f-ckin' court everyday and I had to look at their faces. Everyday. And I'm more f-cked up than they are; they're more f-cked up [than I am.] It was just terrible; it was very devastating. I went even farther off the deep end. All I know is the last 20 years I've tried to kill myself and I obviously keep failing because there's something more important and special for myself and a lot more happiness in my life to go through. And I'm going through that; I'm going through the positive part. I've gotta think positive.
When Guns N' Roses fell apart for you, did you know you wanted to put together another band at some point? Or did you think maybe you'd had enough with music?
"I lost perspective on my life and it's the easiest thing to do when you're doing the drugs."
Well, first I just wanted to kill myself so I was on a straight path trying to OD in any way I could. And that failed. And then I said, Yeah, I wanna keep playing. I'd get to the point where I try to kill myself and then it doesn't happen and I'd give up for a while. I go, Ahh, it's not gonna happen, f-ck it, so I'm gonna do something with my life. I did put a couple bands together and they were great but I was still doing drugs. I'm worthless when I'm on drugs and I ruined a band that I had called Road Crew with Davy Vain. And we had great songs and those were great guys; those were great people, Davy and Jamie [Scott] and Ashley [Mitchell] and Shawn [Rorie.] Wonderful guys but I messed that up with drugs. It was all pretty much just self-destructive stuff. I couldn't believe that they [GNR] were able to just throw me away like that.
You also talk about suffering a stroke from doing all the drugs. That could have really been a life-changing event.
I had a stroke; it f-cked my speech up. Thank god I could still play drums! How lucky is that? I'm one of the luckiest guys in the universe. How many drummers for one get as much publicity as I'm getting? I'm telling you, you come to the shows and I get so much love from the fans; it's so wonderful. Life is good; life is really good.
Is there any chance for the original Guns N' Roses to get back together?
I would love that more than anything but it's an Axl thing; it's up to him if he wants to do it. Put it this way it's the stupidest thing in the world for us not to do it. If any band is wanted by the fans to do a tour, that the rock fans want to see? It would be GNR. Shit, I would buy the ticket for my own show.
And what is happening with you and your music?
Adler's Appetite just recorded a single and with my new book that will be out in stores on July 27th, we're gonna be releasing the new single we recorded called It's Good to be Alive which it is, exclusively with the book. You buy the book, you get a free download of the song. And also please, you can go through adlersappetite.com and check out all kinds of updates and pictures from the shows that we've been doing.
It's wonderful that you've been able to survive all these calamities and still be able to laugh about it. You're a mensch [Yiddish word for a decent person.]
You called me a mensch; that is what I wanna be. My grandmother said, Be a mensch or don't be a mensch. What do I wanna be? Be a mensch?
Yeah, you wanna be a mensch. That's a good person.
OK, I wanna be a mensch. Thank you, Steve. Good. Talk to you later.
Interview by Steven Rosen