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Guns N' Roses In Chicago: Their Wild, Drunken, Lost Summer on Clark Street

By Shamus Toomey | June 2, 2016 5:55am | Updated on July 1, 2016 9:17am
 In 1989, Guns N' Roses rented out a studio above the Metro to work on their next album.
In 1989, Guns N' Roses rented out a studio above the Metro to work on their next album.
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LAKEVIEW — Guns N' Roses is back in Chicago this weekend — but it's unlikely the visit will come close to rivaling the non-stop, two-month party the band secretly held here in the summer of 1989.

That's when GNR was still riding the high of its monster debut album "Appetite For Destruction." With money pouring in and booze and drugs piling up, the Los Angeles-based rockers needed somewhere to hide.

Somewhere quiet to work on a new album.

So they chose, somewhat inexplicably if they truly wanted peace and quiet, Wrigleyville.

Shamus Toomey recalls GN'R's wild days on Clark Street.

For two months that summer, the band raised hell up and down Clark Street after booking a studio above the Metro and renting a pair of condos nearby.

There was a drunken Slash bunny-hopping everything in sight on Clark Street on his BMX bike. Cocaine was hidden in butter dishes back at the condos. Italian food was flung onto pesky fans from the balcony of the rented condos. Daughters of high-ranking cops were hit on. Squad cars were involved.

The bad boys of rock — regular "nobodys" to the Chicagoans they encountered, according to Slash — got into just about everything that summer ... except completing much music.

Several band members, in subsequent years, described their summer on the North Side as a wasted effort, mostly because frontman Axl Rose showed up weeks late as the band began to fracture.

It was a pivotal time, and not in a good way.

Now, after years apart, Slash, Axl and Duff McKagan are coming back to Chicago for two shows at Soldier Field (July 1 and 3) as part of a blockbuster summer reunion tour.

To mark their grand return, here are some highlights of 1989's Guns N' Roses' Clark Street Summer, culled from their own writings.

From lead guitarist Slash's 2007 best-selling autobiography "Slash":

"(Manager) Doug Goldstein and I went to Chicago to scope out where we would live and rehearse. We the chose the Cabaret Metro, the famous rock club on the north side of the city: it's a concert space that houses a separate club called the Smart Bar in the basement, and also has a theater upstairs. It was perfect; we took over the theater and when we were done for the day, the coolest bar in the city was waiting for us downstairs. We rented out a two-unit, brown brick apartment building a few miles down the road on Clark Street, right by the elevated train, to live on."

" ... Duff and I were such enthusiastically social boozers that the miles of bars along North Clark Street were a new playground for us — all within walking distance. My personal consumption at that point was a half-gallon bottle of Stoli per day, plus whatever I consumed when I was out at night. I'd wake up in the morning and fill a Solo cup 85 percent full with vodka, ice and a bit of cranberry juice. I called it breakfast of champions. Duff was in the same league."

"... We'd jam at the Metro for most of the afternoon, sometime into the evening, and then spend that rest of the night in and out of the bars."

"... In our plentiful free time, Duff and I also did our personal best to stay in shape. I had one of my BMX bikes out there and I used to ride it between the apartment and the rehearsal space, bunny-hopping over everything in sight, riding on the sidewalk. It was a good workout. Some days Duff and I even went to the gym, usually just after our morning vodkas. We'd go to one of those big public YMCAs with our security guard, Earl, to pump iron. We'd be down there in our jeans, doing sets between cigarette breaks — it was invigorating.

"We'd usually cool down afterward with cocktails at a sports bar. It didn't matter how big we were back home or how many records we'd sold or the shows we'd played; in Chicago, we were nobodys. We were just a couple of regular Joes to our fellow patrons; and there is not a bigger haven for regular Joes in America than the sports bars of North Clark Street.

"Every night we hung out at Smart Bar, which was very cool, but a much different rock scene than L.A. It was 1990, and that place was all about techno and industrial music like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. We didn't really gel with people there, because we were clearly of a different variety, but we made a circle of friends anyway. We had dozens of chicks; it was like a shooting gallery in that place, but eventually I settled on one."

"All things considered, we managed to produce a few good tunes: 'Estranged,' 'Bad Apples,' and 'Garden of Eden.' Over all, I found our time in Chicago to be a huge waste, which will always be a point of contention between Axl and I. He seemed to think that we were really getting somewhere and that I was the one who ruined it all."

" ... We came home from drinking to find a feast of Italian food on the sidewalk in front of our apartment. ... Our favorite Italian place was right on the corner and apparently Axl had unloaded the band's entire dinner on a few people who had found out that we were living there and were heckling him from the street."

From Duff McKagan's 2011 autobiography, "It's So Easy (And Other Lies)":

"After two weeks in Chicago, Axl was still a no-show. Slash, Steven (Adler) and I started to get a little resentful. I mean, what the f---? Here we were in a city in which we had no interest, no friends — and no singer. ... I started to drink harder."

"This was also the point at which Steven really started to go overboard with his cocaine and heroin intake."

"One day, while I was tossing a ball around with a couple of kids and their parents, four unmarked police cars came careening down the street and screeched to a halt on the sidewalk in front of us. The detectives jumped out of their cars, screaming and yelling for me to get on the ground face down. I complied.

"... Then suddenly they pulled the car over and a cop told me to get out. ... They said they were sorry. They'd picked up the wrong guy. ... Apparently there was a child molester in the area who fit my description. ... They told me that they could still take me to jail for an open container and would be more than happy to do so. I suppressed my anger and shut my mouth. They let me go and I walked all they way back home."

From drummer Steven Adler's 2010 autobiography "My Appetite For Destruction":

"The studio was right down the street from the condos. It was awesome. It had a top-of-the-line PA and a grand piano, and my drums were miked. It was located on the fourth floor of a high-rise building. In the basement of the complex was a popular local nightclub. Our presence was kept secret so fans and the press wouldn't mob us. ... At night, Duff, Slash and I would go downstairs to the nightclub, where we would pick up girls and [expletive] them right in the club. We rarely took them back to the condo."

"We'd always have blow on us in the studio. But when I'd offer to cut [Slash and Duff] a line they would refuse. Then Slash and Duff would go in some other room and party. 'Hey, where ya going?' I would begin to follow them only to find out that they had shut the door on me."

"Seven weeks and five days later, Axl finally arrived. We have two days left in the studio and were anxious to show him all of the new material. He sat there like we were putting him through some kind of torture. Plain and simple, Axl wasn't interested in our material! He just wanted to record a new song he had been working on called "November Rain."

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