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Art Tavana: What Guns N' Roses Tells Us about the American Dream

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In 1987, just two years before the collapse of the Berlin Wall would usher in the beginning of what Francis Fukuyama would later call the end of history, the rock band Guns N’ Roses released Appetite for Destruction, an album that would go on to become the best-selling debut L.P. in the history of rock and roll.

Packed with hits such as “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and “Paradise City,” Appetite for Destruction wasn’t just another record. It was a cultural milestone, at once the culmination of decades of trends in popular music and the closing out not just of the rock era but a society-wide flirtation with excess, fear, anger, and nihilism. For the next five years, Guns N’ Roses and particularly the band’s front man Axl Rose, would personify an America in rapid flux and change, desperate to move on from a worn-out, post-war consensus on national identity, gender roles, and global hegemony but equally terrified of wading into uncharted waters.

The new book Goodbye Guns N’ Roses: The Crime, Beauty, and Amplified Chaos of America’s Most Polarizing Band, by Art Tavana, is an extended essay on the cultural legacy not just of a band but of a period that informs contemporary debates on politics and culture even as it recedes from our memory. 

Tavana, an LA-based former writer for Playboy and LA Weekly, talks with Nick Gillespie about the attraction of popular nihilism; Axl Rose as the dispossessed son of middle America; how the band’s racist, xenophobic, and homophobic song “One in a Million” reflected national anxiety over coming political, social, and economic change; how the group’s beef with Nirvana, another band that couldn’t quite make it into the post-Cold War era, illustrates the limits of rock and roll; and what comes after the end of corporate mass culture.

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