I started listening to rock music in the late 80s, with likes of Bon Jovi, Europe and Skid Row.
And Guns n Roses, of course. So yeah, I’m a hard rock guy.
I was a goody-two-shoes (at least on the surface) and borderline teacher’s pet most of my school life. But I had a secret crush on punks. I thought that their devil-may-care attitude seemed freeing. I imagine being a punk, a rebel or even belonging to gangs probably have lots of rules, expectations and constraints, but I didn’t know it then. I was busy meeting other people’s expectations, while listening to rock n roll and dreaming of defying it all to live freely.
Guns n Roses had a turbulent career but instead of getting tossed around and fading away, Slash hang on to build an amazing career on his own. But this is no accident. Even compared to his peers, I see the things that he did differently, and he did right:
- He differentiated himself from his peers. At the time he came on to the scene, few others were playing Les Paul, and even fewer were wearing a top hat in a hard rock band. I don’t know if this was a conscious decision or not, but he knew the value of uniqueness, to follow his own muse rather than trying to fit in.
- He stuck to his strength. Slash knows his sweet spot is as a lead guitar in a two-guitar hard rock band with a singer. He may experiment and venture out on occasion (like playing the guitar for Michael Jackson) but in all his bands he creates this same situation. He knows he can’t be everything and he doesn’t compromise on creating situations where he can shine.
- He is authentically consistent. If his persona and style wasn’t an honest expression of who he is, he wouldn’t be able to do it this long. Slash makes it look easy because his “top hat, sunglasses, leather pants and a Les Paul” style is simply him. What he did even before he came on to the scene was to do the soul searching to find out who he was. And he didn’t have any blockage in being who he was. That’s a stark contrast to someone like me, who knew what I wanted but somehow didn’t feel free to be it.
Wandering is not evil. Evolving and changing is welcome. Experiments are encouraged. But equally important is to find your true core, the part that doesn’t change throughout your adult life. We discover who we are and then change our approach to life. Slash somehow arrived to his core first and then used that as the main sail to help him navigate the treacherous ocean of music industry. Today, he’s still wearing the same hat and playing the same guitar. He occasionally picks up different guitars — like the red B. C. Rich with a whammy bar — but he always comes back to his Les Pauls. He knows where his home is, and he has no issue being who he is.
So yes, when I grow up I want to be like Slash. Not like him actually, but just as comfortable, clear and expressive in being who I am. Because there is the pinnacle of life — 1) finding who you are, 2) being it, 3) making something unique from it, and 4) being received. He made it to the stage four and stayed there.
I myself am still struggling somewhere around 2 and 3, but I haven’t lost my hope. I’m still chasing my dream.