Guns N’ Roses and their rock ‘n’ roll revenge on the club that didn’t pay them

At times, Guns N’ Roses’ reputation for being hellraisers surpassed them, pushing forward their legendary status but overshadowing their music. They played by their own rules and were never too far from controversy. One early Guns’ N Roses tour date in Seattle perfectly encompasses their destructive attitude, which almost led to disaster.

The incident occurred in June 1985, when Guns N’ Roses were just another unsigned band with a dream of superstardom. The band’s classic line-up was recently completed following the additions of Steven Adler and Slash. They were both scheduled to play their first show in Seattle. However, the journey to Washington was a nightmare from start to finish, and Guns N’ Roses were fortunate not to be imprisoned.

On June 8th, they were due to perform a concert in Duff McKagan’s hometown, Seattle, but it proved difficult. Unfortunately, the band’s van broke down on their way to the gig, but they hitchhiked rather than head back to Los Angeles. It was a brave decision that many bands wouldn’t have undertaken, but Guns N’ Roses weren’t prepared to cancel.

In McKagan’s memoir, It’s So Easy: And Other Lies, he details the memorable show. The musician recalls: “On Saturday, June 8th, Izzy Stradlin, Axl Rose, Slash, Steven Adler, and I got together to set out for Seattle, a happy bunch of malcontents about to hit the road in search of rock-and-roll glory, ready to live by our wits in order to prove ourselves and our musical vision—or not. At the very least, we thought we had real musical chemistry. That much was obvious even before the tour started.”

However, things turned sour extremely quickly when their journey was cut short when the van broke down, and Guns N’ Roses were caught in an unwanted conundrum. “It was the middle of the night. We had thirty-seven dollars between us. If we went back to L.A., we would obviously not be doing this tour,” McKagan wrote. “That was not an option, regardless of our current dilemma. We decided that the five of us—along with three guitars—should hitchhike, continuing north while Danny and Joe tried to get the car fixed. They could then catch up, uniting us with our gear either along the way or in Seattle.”

Somehow, their methods worked, and Guns N’ Roses successfully ended up in Seattle for the show, even if their gear hadn’t. McKagan was unhappy with their effort but took consolation in that “only about a dozen people were subjected to our set”.

McKagan added: “Finally, as the place cleared out, the members of Guns went back to the club owner’s office to pick up our gig money, no doubt looking like a pack of hungry wolves. When I had booked the show, I somehow managed to finagle a $200 guarantee out of the venue. Of course, I hadn’t gotten a contract—not for this show or for any of the others. But then again, I’d never gotten a contract.”

In a fit of rage, McKagan came up with a potentially career-ending revenge tactic. He remembered: “Suddenly, there was just one thought in my head. It was the only solution I could see. The only way to get justice. ‘Let’s burn this fucking place down!’ The members of the band looked around the empty club and at one another.

“There were no objections. ‘Let’s burn it the fuck down,’ I said again. Axl and I threw matches into a garbage can full of paper towelling, and we all hauled ass outside. Nothing happened. We had failed as arsonists, but the mere attempt was enough to exorcise our ill will for the night. And it may have saved us a stint in the slammer.”

If they had successfully pulled off this stunt, it would have made Guns N’ Roses instantly infamous. On the other hand, a stint in prison for arson would also have derailed their path to success, and McKagan was extremely fortunate that his dangerous attempt failed.

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