Five Things You Can Learn From Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses was the band that first got me interested in music. It may be a cliché, but from the moment I heard the opening riff to “Welcome To The Jungle,” I knew that my life would never be the same. Led by flamboyant singer Axl Rose, Guns released three classic albums from 1987 to 1991 and captured the world’s imagination through their unusual style and coming-of-age experience. Here are five important lessons you can learn from Guns:

1. Keep going The single most important thing is to do whatever you do consistently. Slash, the guitarist, was raised by a negligent single mother. Duff, who played bass, moved alone to Los Angeles after his hometown friends became addicted to heroin, and then he became addicted to the drug as well. Izzy, the second guitarist, also dealt with drug problems for years. Stephen Adler kept playing drums even when he had no place to play and had to take his equipment out by the river and set it up on a trailer. Axl was molested by his stepfather when he was a toddler. All of the members of the band could have easily given up before they started, but instead they chose to hone their craft every day.

Not only does the pain and tragedy of their youth make their story so compelling, without the pain there would be no story. Guns took their experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and repackaged them to represent world in a way that spoke to millions of people. They were honest about the despair and depression in their lives and never tried to flee from the truth.

2. Make what you do easy to understand
None of the members of Guns were as technically proficient as classical or jazz musicians. In fact, even by rock and roll standards, they weren’t anything special. But they were far better because they focused on what they could do musically rather than what they couldn’t.

Make what you do provide value for the layman, for someone who knows nothing about how music is made. As I said before, Guns was an honest, direct band; they were minimalists who played to attack your emotions. That’s what rock and roll and all music is about. When Axl forgot this later in his life the band went down the tubes.

3. Stay close to your friends
Ten years after the breakup of the original Guns band, Slash and Duff reunited to form a supergroup called Velvet Revolver, which was pretty successful and even won a Grammy. This couldn’t have happened if Slash and Duff hadn’t remained close throughout the years. In fact, if they hadn’t stayed close at the beginning, the band would never have released any of their classic albums. It wasn’t as though the band was an overnight success.

Guns has a long history of recruiting friends to play and writing songs with them. This makes sense; who were they going to trust, the music industry types that reminded them of the bullies that held them down when they were young? The strangers that would never extend a helping hand when they were down? I’m not encouraging xenophobia; after all, true friends are made by breaking down barriers. But loyalty is the most beautiful thing in the world, so always practice it.

4. Direct practice isn’t always the best practice The band became tight by rehearsing Prince and Cameo funk songs, not just their own music or even the obvious rock influences, like Van Halen and Aerosmith. Why was this the case? Guns blew away all the other one-dimensional hair bands, like Motley Crue and Poison, because they were bloated prototypes of the Eighties. Guns stood out from the crowd because of their different influences.

Slash has always been involved with in many things, from art to a lifelong love of snakes. Duff is a voracious reader, writes, and is an avid sports fan. Axl is obviously a philosopher, which is obvious as soon as you read anything by him or hear him interviewed. He is articulate and clearly well schooled in life. The more you try to recognize the big picture, find balance, and let many things into your life, the better your life and drumming will be. You can play drums while you watch movies.

5. Your story writes itself
If you had asked any of the band members at sixteen what their lives would be like I doubt that any of them could have come close to the truth. Yes, they played music and became stars like they imagined, but they also toured every continent except Africa, wrote autobiographies, played with Elton John, blogged for ESPN, and acted as a figurehead for one of the most popular video games ever, “Guitar Hero.” Video games didn’t really even exist when the band was starting in the basement. These things are beyond the control of any reasonable human being.

Why do we always act like we can always control things? One of my friends always used to say that “man plans and God laughs.” What happens in the distant future and our relationships with other people cannot necessarily be planned. People can achieve only by relaxing, helping others as much as we can, and pursuing what we love. My favorite Guns lyric is from a song called Mr. Brownstone: “I don’t worry ‘bout nothing, no, ‘cause worrying’s a waste of my time.” Maybe that’s why Guns reached the place no one else could.

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