Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images The sad news came across late Wednesday afternoon…
- Posted on Jun 15th 2010 12:00PM by Dan Reilly
It's an overcast but not unpleasant morning when we meet Slash in midtown New York City. Obviously, it's easy to spot him amidst the busy midtown hustle along 6th Avenue -- though he's slightly shorter than he looks on television (probably thanks to his lack of top hat), his long, bushy black hair, his black leather jacket and tight black pants make him stick out in a crowd of what seems like 90 percent navy and gray suits, causing pedestrians to stop and wonder if they're actually seeing the Guns N' Roses guitarist walk out of Fox News headquarters, of all places. Used to the attention, he gives no indication that he notices the gawking bystanders from behind the mirrored aviator sunglasses that will remain affixed to his face for the rest of the day, whether we're outside or not.
It's not even noon, yet the guitarist is already over four hours into a full day of radio and TV appearances in Manhattan to promote 'Slash,' his debut solo album that came out in April, and a summer tour that will take him around the world. For someone who's written some of the all-time greatest guitar riffs and sold over 100 million albums with Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, Slash doesn't carry himself like a megastar. The guitarist has no entourage aside from his bodyguard/assistant, Junior, and despite not being thrilled by another day of press obligations -- he's already done this in Europe, Japan and Australia -- he's not treating it like a burden. "That's what sucks about the solo thing -- you can't pawn anything off," he says with a grin. "But I'm so easygoing, right? I'll do an interview between songs."
Easygoing is probably the best word to describe the guitar legend's mood as we set off in a black Escalade that will take him to several media outlets around the city. Within minutes of meeting us, he seems as comfortable as anyone can be while being filmed and photographed by complete strangers. Somehow, we end up on the topic of MTV and 'Jersey Shore,' which then leads to a discussion of 'The Real Housewives of New Jersey.' "You see, the thing that's wrong with Jersey is that Bon Jovi's from Jersey," he quips as we pull up to ABC, the first of many deadpan, sarcastic one-liners he'll deliver throughout the day.
After a lengthy wait in the green room, Slash gets on camera for his segment, which follows news items on Lindsay Lohan, Bret Michaels, 'Dancing With the Stars' and Justin Bieber. It's further proof -- aside from the chart-topping sales -- that 'Slash' represents a surprising mainstream success for the guitarist. Thanks to his appearance in 'Guitar Hero III,' he's even becoming more popular among a much younger generation. An onscreen caption bills him as a "Video Game Star," and Slash tells the interviewer that a kid once recognized him from the game but had no idea he was ever in a real band.
Off camera, Slash admits to Spinner that after being hooked on 'Guitar Hero 2' -- "I locked myself in my office for three weeks until I mastered it," he says -- he can't enjoy the third installment. "Ever since I've actually been implemented into the game, I can't play it," he says. "Anything my image is in -- interviews, concerts, games -- I avoid like the plague."
The hard work Slash put into the album -- which features an all-star cast of guest musicians such as Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Dave Grohl, Fergie and Maroon 5's Adam Levine -- represents a larger transition in Slash's life. Now 44 years old and the father of two "precocious" boys -- seven-year-old London and five-year-old Cash -- he's been sober for four years. Surprisingly, it wasn't the Guns-era heroin overdose (which stopped his heart for a few minutes), nor was it his surgically implanted defibrillator (which he received in 2001, thanks to 15 years of hard drinking and drugging) that got him on the wagon.
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"The only reason I quit was I finally got to a point where I was bored with everything -- bored with drinking, bored with drugs," he says, noting he also quit smoking a year ago. "I found it was pointless trying to chase a high around and finally decided to do it sober. It's been a really productive four years. I feel like I've done things I wouldn't have been able to do if I was still under the influence. I could always turn around and go back, but it's been good. It's not so much feeling healthy; it's being able to do what it is I set out to do and not having any distractions."
That said, Slash still has a sense of humor about his former lifestyle. Since he's battling a cold and fears getting sick just before the tour, he medicates himself with small servings of powdered vitamin C. When we're in the ABC green room, Slash attempts to pour some of the powder into a bottle of water but manages to spill much of the package all over a conference table. Without a beat, he says, "Hmm. Maybe we should snort it," then adds the slight chuckle that usually follows his wisecracks.
If Slash is addicted to anything these days, it's his BlackBerry. Like many of the on-the-go business types we pass throughout the day, he keeps it in a holster on his belt for easy access. Throughout the day, he's constantly checking his messages and typing away (he even admits that he wrote portions of his bestselling autobiography, 'Slash,' on it).
While we're in the Escalade between interviews, Slash checks his Twitter feed and shares a fan-submitted question about female genitalia that's way too graphic to be repeated here. "I'll have to give it an in-depth answer in private, I suppose," he says (he sends his followers as many direct messages as he can, a personal interaction that makes them "flip out"). "There are a lot of kids on Twitter. You get used to what they say and realize, 'That person can't be any older than 16.' What an embarrassment it would be if I was f---ing talking dirty to a minor on Twitter."
Twitter was also responsible for a well-publicized event in which Slash offered to take a minor to a strip club -- the minor, of course, being Justin Bieber. The 16-year-old star wrote something on his feed about wanting to go to dinner with Slash when they were both in Australia, causing Slash to respond with the strip bar invitation. "That was an interesting little episode," Slash says. "I got thousands of tweets from kids that all thought that was a great idea."
This is just one of many times the topic of strip clubs come up during the day. Slash swears that one network employee was a stripper at Rick's Cabaret, where he hung out the previous evening. Later, on our way to MTV, we get stuck in the Times Square traffic, watching tourists take pictures with someone in a Minnie Mouse costume. "I miss all the smut," he says nostalgically. "Where did it all go?"
When we arrive at the MTV offices, Slash carries with him a small, fabric-lined hard case that holds a valuable accessory: his famous top hat. "I only have the one, really," he reveals. "I've had this hat since 1989, 1990. I covered it in leather a few years back. Underneath there's just an old, beat-up felt hat I've had forever."
Of course, it's that era of Slash's career that he gets asked about constantly, much to his annoyance. One journalist even inquires if there's any chance of a GNR reunion in the near future. Slash laughs uncomfortably and responds that the only time he discusses that topic is with the press. Though he's frank about everything else, Slash's patience wears thin when the subject of Axl Rose comes up, though he never stops being polite about it.
"Anybody who asks me that hasn't done their homework. It gets tedious," he told us when, earlier in the day, we asked if he gets tired of all the Axl questions. We brought it up because Rose was in the news the day before for suing his former manager over fallout from a proposed Guns reunion. Slash, for his part, has remained intentionally out of the loop when it comes to his former bandmate, who he hasn't spoken to since the '90s. "I just hear what I hear through the grapevine," he says, with a touch of defensiveness that makes it clear he wants to move on to another topic as soon as possible. "I don't investigate the details into any of that stuff if it doesn't pertain to me." That said, if Slash has any sense that public opinion favors him over Rose, he seemingly gets no joy from it.
By late afternoon, Slash looks drained. He's survived the day thanks to coffee, but he's ready for a nap and to be done with all this media -- at least until tomorrow, when he'll start all over again. "This part of it is just like a job," he tells us about press tours. "I don't complain because it's worth doing. A lot of people don't like doing it. They blow it off or do it half-assed but it really works for you in the long run. But it is the most job-like part of the whole f---ing thing."
A true professional, Slash keeps his spirits up whenever he's being interviewed. Although he says he's more comfortable expressing himself through his guitar playing, he never resorts to canned responses during the Q&A sessions. As he said, it's worth doing, especially for a project he cares about so much, and with the surprisingly strong album sales, he wants to maintain the momentum.
"I make a point of not anticipating -- you're happy with the material, you put it out and support as best you can and you see what happens. I was really shocked, the first couple weeks," he admits. "From what I can tell, the majority of people picking up this record were actually new [fans]. There's a lot of old ones, obviously, but I'd say the majority are kids who weren't around for Guns N' Roses. It's an interesting dynamic, for sure. The gigs are selling out too, and that's even cooler than selling records."
At the time Slash had barely played with his new touring band, which features singer Myles Kennedy, the Alter Bridge vocalist who lent his talents to two songs on 'Slash.' Naturally, Slash is eager to get out there and bring the music to his fans. "The shows so far have been great," he says. "The guys in the band are all phenomenal; I'm lucky to have been able to find them. Myles is phenomenal and sings everything from this record to Guns N' Roses albums to Velvet Revolver and Snakepit stuff as well, so that's really cool."
And just like his personality, Slash's gigs will be straightforward and all about the power of the music. "As far as the spectacle of it, it's really a rock 'n' roll gig," he says. "There's no choreography to it. We're just going to go out and do it. It's very high energy and the band really kicks ass. All things considered, it's a pretty damn good show."
With all his media tours over, Slash is now out on the road doing what he enjoys most -- standing in front of thousands of fans and letting his guitar do all the talking.