Critic’s Notebook: Rock Hall honors the yin and yang of Los Angeles rock
They seem to be opposites, but strip away the hair metal and the funk, and Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are similar. Both evoke a sense of Southern California in the ’80s and an Angeleno sensibility that millions of fans the world over find appealing.
If Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction announcements mean anything in the scheme of things, other than a ceremonial recognition of excellence, it’s that the hall has shed a certain East Coast bias. Two of the most prominent Los Angeles rock bands of the last three decades, Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, are being welcomed into the hallowed halls as part of the Class of 2012, and that in itself should make the city’s music tourism industry happy.
The two bands, which came up during the early and mid-’80s on opposite sides of Los Angeles, both literally and metaphorically, represent a kind of yin and yang of the city’s rock scene at the time, when the only thing that metalheads and punk rockers could agree on was Motörhead. The classic Guns N’ Roses lineup did its first gig on the west side, at the Troubadour, on June 6, 1985, and was fusing the first generation metal of Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath with the poppier, more hummable glam rock melodies of early Aerosmith and KISS. Within a few years, Axl Rose, Slash and company were kings of the Sunset Strip, lending much needed credibility to a uniquely Angeleno take on glam rock that became known as hair metal.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ early gigs were two miles east of the Strip in Hollywood, where small spaces such as Club Lingerie supported a different kind of outcast — punks and post-punks who were co-opting the energy, power and deep groove of funk music. Bands such as Minutemen and Fishbone were honoring bass and drums along with the guitar and throat, but none captured that potential like the Peppers. The band’s bassist, Flea, had gigged with first wave L.A. punk band Fear, had come up in the same scene that spawned the Germs, X and Black Flag. (Oh, wait — Black Flag, which released its first album in 1981 on the legendary indie label SST, isn’t in the hall? The band wasn’t even nominated? That’s weird. Not the Germs or X either?! Hmm.)
But dig beneath the surface and the differences between the bands get eclipsed by the similarities.
Both were proud of their L.A. roots, waving their respective freak flags in a way that probably wouldn’t have flown in the more musically academic East Coast rock circles. Rose and Slash mixed the more outrageous tendencies of ’70s rock with both urgency and Hollywood flair, while the Peppers drew not only on surf and skate culture but also on the spirit of sunroof-down, stereo-up anthems. And both were able to push forward that L.A. sensibility in a way that appealed to fans of all brands of rock across the world — resulting in millions of albums sold. Just as the Beach Boys represented the vibe of the early ’60s version of L.A., and the Doors held sway over the sound of the late 1960s, the Chili Peppers and Guns N’ Roses evoked a sense of Southern California in the 1980s.
And maybe that’s the best thing to gain from thinking about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The annual induction offers a chance to erase silly subgenre distinctions such as those between heavy metal, funk, punk, post-punk and metal-funk, folk and rock until the similarities count for more than the differences. Both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys, for example, owe a great debt to the Meters, a New Orleans instrumental band whose grooves have become an archetype. (The Meters aren’t in the Hall of Fame? Oof. A travesty.)
Of course, the biggest question that comes with Wednesday’s announcement is which Guns N’ Roses members will stand on the stage, who will stand next to whom, and who will perform “Sweet Child o’ Mine” with Rose. Will it be Tommy Stinson on bass, best known — still — as the former Replacements rebel (also not in the hall), or Duff McKagan? Will Rose and Slash ever reconcile? Will the lion lie down with the lamb? Please?
-- Randall Roberts
Image: Axl Rose. Credit: Associated Press