Guns N' Roses, Hanoi, and the quest for fame in the U.S.

DD: Some time ago, I wrote this piece where I was comparing Hanoi Rocks with Guns N' Roses. Theoretically, if Hanoi Rocks had not gone up in flames, they could have become what Guns N' Roses eventually became, which was a stadium band. But as it was, they self-immolated, and Guns N' Roses stepped into their place. I saw the first show that Guns N' Roses ever played in London, and I just thought, "Well, but so what?" This wasn't anything I hadn't seen before. I just thought they were incredibly sloppy. I'm not sure Appetite for Destruction was actually out at that stage, but I had certainly heard a tape. I thought the album was great, but when I went to see them live I just thought that they were incredibly sloppy. But they went on to become huge, and it was like, "Well, yeah, but this really should have been Hanoi." Hanoi should have been playing stadiums full of people, they should have been headlining festivals, but it didn't work out.

JR: Let me run this quote by you, it was written by a Hanoi fan that I know. She writes, "I really don't see Hanoi as ever having been huge the way Guns N' Roses were. The feminine edge of Michael, is, I think, just that bit too threatening to be taken to the mainstream the way Guns N' Roses were."

DD: In Britain, Europe, and Japan, that wasn't a problem, but in the U.S., it was going to be a problem. With Axl Rose, his image was, "I may have long hair, but I'm all macho." So Axl's image was never an issue as far as U.S. audiences were concerned. Whereas Mike had that androgyny about him - the exact same thing happened with the New York Dolls. To this day, it seems that U.S. audiences aren't prepared to accept that, especially in the macho hard rock genre. Yeah, you can be David Bowie and Elton John, because they're English and Elton John is gay anyway, it's possible that Mike may have gotten away with it, because people might have thought, "being European, maybe that's the way they do things over there." I'd like to think that wouldn't have stood in the way, but the realist in me says that it always would have.

JR: Michael brought a natural kind of androgyny to Hanoi Rocks that was very different than the "glam"/makeup look that some of the L.A. hair bands sported a bit later on. Let's put it this way: Michael Monroe didn't need make up to look pretty. So here was this tough street kid with a feminine twist who opened his mouth and unleashed a deep and masculine drawl. It just made Hanoi such a fascinating band, full of mystery and implied sexual ambiguity. Which reminds me of something I wrote elsewhere: "On the cover of Back To Mystery City, Andy McCoy almost has his hands down Michael Monroe's pants. Think what you like about that - Hanoi loved the shock value of course. I'm sure the truth is much less interesting, but bands like Motley Crue would never have done that in a million years. Yeah, maybe they donned some makeup from time to time, but Tommy Lee wouldn't have put his hand near Vince Neil's crotch on an album cover if Vince had Pamela Anderson hiding in there. That doesn't necessarily make Hanoi better; I grew up listening to L.A. bands like the Crue and so did a lot of my friends, but it is one vivid example of how different the two bands were."

When Guns N' Roses came along, they drew on a lot of Hanoi sounds and images but they integrated it into something that was uniquely American and suited for the American hard rock fan. If you substitute Axl for Mike, you get the same punk attitude, but with Axl, you get a macho "no queers allowed" persona that was much more acceptable to the American mainstream.

This isn't really a positive commentary on the U.S., if anything it's more of an indictment of how rigid certain attitudes can be. And while we're on the subject, I don't share the belief of some Hanoi fans that Guns N' Roses wouldn't have made it if Hanoi had stayed together. Sure, Guns N' Roses were acutely aware of Hanoi Rocks, but they were their own band, for better and for worse, and looking back, they loom large in that decade. Hanoi being gone from the scene certainly helped them to surge ahead, but Appetite For Destruction is one of the few albums of the late '80s that still sounds terrific. To claim that Appetite sounds just like Hanoi Rocks would be a mistake. It would also be a misrepresentation of the diversity of the Hanoi Rocks sound. To me, GNR took some aspects of Hanoi's sound, put it through a heavy metal meat grinder, and came out with something a lot louder, meaner, and maybe not quite as fun.