The Grand (Dis)-Illusion

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February 11, 2013 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

1991 was an amazing year in all areas of pop culture, quite possibly even the most interesting depending on how you look at it.  In film you have Terminator 2, The Silence of the Lambs, Beauty and the Beast, and Bugsy to name a few.  In baseball you have the greatest World Series ever played, in the seven game war of attrition between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves.  Football gave us one of the greatest Superbowls in Superbowl XXV with an improbable Giants win over the heavily favored Bills.  Rounding out the sports trifecta, Michael Jordan won his first of six championships over the remnants of the Showtime Lakers in five (borderline anticlimactic) games.

The biggest contribution that 1991 gave us was in music as some of the greatest and most influential albums of all time were released that year.  1991 saw the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Red Hot Chili Peppers) Use Your Illusion I and II (Guns N’ Roses), Atchung Baby (U2), The Black Album (Metallica), Gish (Smashing Pumpkins), Ten (Pearl Jam), Emotions (Mariah Carey, and Dangerous (Michael Jackson) just to name a few.  1991 was the year that hard rock met grunge rock; it was the year Metallica went commercial/sold out; it was the year gangsta rap started to take hold of MTV; and it was the year Axl Rose ruled the world.

Axl Rose will always be one of my least favorite people in rock music, as well as one of my favorite singer/songwriters.[1]  It’s difficult for me to explain just what Guns N’ Roses means to me.  Although they were around in the 80s-90s, people regard them as another shitty hair metal band even though they weren’t anything like that.  They were the real deal, the next in line to be the biggest rock band on the planet.  They were the first band that I loved, and got into.  While all the other kids were out buying Chamillionaire and Blink 182, I was spending my money on albums that were just as old, if not older than I was.  Listening to Use Your Illusion I and II was the first time in my life that I felt that I had something that was exclusively mine.

With that being said, the fact that I not only know, but have had to learn that they will never, ever get back together is very upsetting and aggravating.  Knowing that their best is behind them, it makes it pretty easy to see that they peaked both as a band and as an act, as something that was cool, in 1991.  Concurrently, it’s ironic that the X-Men franchise peaked in 1991 as well.  The only difference between Axl Rose and the X-Men is that in 1991 Axl was at the top of the world and at the top of his game[2], while the X-Men franchise was at the top of the world, but not a great in terms of content as it had been in the past.

1991 was the first time ever that one band held the top two spots on the billboard top 200.  That band was Guns N’ Roses and those albums were Use Your Illusion II and Use Your Illusion I respectively.  That very same year X-Men #1­ (Vol. 2) shattered both records and expectations and became the highest selling single issue of a comic book of all time, selling over 8 million copies.[3]  What blows my mind the most is that these two feats, while occurring in the same year, only a month apart, are entirely coincidental.  That’s it.  There is nothing more to it.  Guns N Roses peaked in 1991, and haven’t come close to that since, and the X-Men franchise peaked one month earlier in August.  There is no way to explain it other than coincidence, because that’s what it was.

But truth be told, Axl and X-Men have more in common than peaking in 1991.  It’s the fact that they will do their damn best to convince us otherwise that makes them similar.  Frankly everyone past their prime will try to convince people that they’re aren’t, but it’s the way that Axl Rose and the X-Men franchise go about that makes them identical.  They both use their pasts to carve their future, all the while trying to distance themselves from that very same past.

Axl, who still tours under the Guns N’ Roses name, albeit with a revolving door of hired hands, spends 75% of the show playing songs from Appetite for Destruction, an album that’s older than Blake Griffin.  He’s trying to tell his fans to stick around and wait 12 years for the next album he puts out by reminding us that he once wrote amazing songs such as “Rocket Queen”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child O Mine”.  It’s basically as if he’s trying to say “Hey guys remember all those great songs I wrote 25 years ago?  Well you should stick around, cuz I still have some more left in the tank”.  At the same time though, Axl is doing everything within his power to get away from that same past.  It seems that his sole mission in life is to downplay Slash’s importance in the band by refusing to even acknowledge him in interviews.  It seems that his answer to every question regarding the history of Guns N’ Roses is “I’m not concerning myself with what happened.  I’m just trying to focus on the next album”.  For someone making a living playing 25 year old songs, it’s weird that he refuses to even take about those songs and what went into their creation.

Going as far back as 1991, Axl has said that he never wanted to live through one album (Appetite for Destruction), and that his goal as a musician was to continuously grow and incorporate different influences into his music.  While being a noble goal, the hypocrisy present insults both my intelligence and my fandom of the band.[4]  If that were true, I really don’t think he would wait 15 years to put out an album, or spend three hours playing songs that predate George H.W. Bush’s presidency.  He’s merely using his past to live out his future instead while presenting the illusion of crafting a genuine and original future for himself.[5]  It’s a sad thing really, to see something that help to define yourself during the “awkward years” make a mockery of itself on a frequent basis.

But alas, the X-Men franchise is no different I’m afraid.  Because of the massive success, those in charge of the series became afraid of doing something new and different for fear that it would not sell as well.  As a result every X-book out there has been recycling storylines for the past 20 years.[6]  The very nature of comic books are cyclical as characters fade in and out of stories, but to create a future by repeating the past is a bastardization of the medium.  It seems that every six months now, the X-men franchise has to reboot, or go “back to basics” in order to get more fans.  And every time, it’s the same thing: new books, new costumes, restating the X-Men mantra of “protecting a world that fears and hates them”, and having some bad guy replicate some mad scheme we’ve seen over and over again.  A “bold new direction” means nothing more than “doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the past 20 years now”.

Not only do they use the past to forge a future, they also seek to ignore the past in a similar manner that Axl Rose does.  Where Axl tries to blackout Slash’s influence and input in songs, so does Marvel try to ignore the contribution of writers such as Scott Lobdell, and Grant Morrison to the franchise.  For ten years no one was allowed to reference any storyline from Morrison’s tenure.  Even Chris Claremont, the greatest X-Men writer gets no respect for his work on the title as he is constantly dicked around by Marvel.

How many times has Jean Grey died?  How many leaves has Magneto turned?  How many times has Cable been cured of the Techno-Organic virus?  How many times will Gambit betray the X-Men?  Unfortunately there is no answer, because these thing will keep happening.  They’ll keep happening because people believe that the past will sell.  But truth be told, that’s not how the X-Men franchise became great.  It became great because of originality and new ideas, not by rehashing old, half-realized ideas.

The past is something that both Axl Rose and X-Men will never let go of because it’s easier to look back at the glory days than it is to make new ones.  More importantly, it’s not as scary.  People will still love you for what you’ve done, instead of for what you’re doing.  It’s for this reason that Jean Grey will keep dying and Axl Rose will keep on singing “Welcome to the Jungle”, because despite how shitty they both become, there’ll still be 100,000 people eager to see them do that.

[1] The best thing I can compare this to is how Knicks fan view Pat Riley.  We hate him for spurning us in favor of the Heat, and loathe the Heat for everything they have become because of him.  At the same time though, if he called us, told us he was sorry, and asked to come back, we would welcome him back and all would be forgiven.  We hate him because of what he meant to us at one point in time.

[2] Both musically and literally.  Use Your Illusion I and II are the greatest GNR albums and Axl was dating Victoria Secret’s model Stephanie Seymour.

[3] It’s because of this that Editor Bob Harras, the John Peters of comic books, unfortunately has an unlimited pass to do whatever he wants.

[4] For those interested, being a GNR fan is an incredibly masochistic thing to do.

[5] He’s essentially done the impossible and become his own cover band.

[6] Since 1993, only Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon have provided the only truly original X-Men stories.


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