Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reflections On Owning Appetite For Destruction

I was but a wee babe in the teenager wilderness when one of the most phenomenal rock albums of all time was released.  In the summer of 1987 a little known band out of Hollywood California quietly unveiled their debut album, Appetite For Destruction. As hard as it is to believe now, the launch of the one of the most magnificent debuts in rock history received little to no fanfare. It would be months before a single even charted and more than a year before the album sales exploded. During the summer of its release, Appetite For Destruction was largely unknown and unheard.

That also happened to be the summer before my freshmen year of high school. I too was arriving with little to no fanfare, and it would also take me months before I charted or got any social traction at all. And as I made my transition from gawky, awkward junior high school student, to gawky, awkward high school student, I was still being spoon fed my music by Dial MTv. Bands like Poison, Cinderella, and Europe were about as heavy metal as I got. I had yet to discover the joys of Metallica and I didn’t know Judas Priest from Catholic Priest.

Enter Guns N Roses. I’m going to admit something that I rarely, if ever, confess to: the first time I heard “Welcome To The Jungle” I thought it was horrible. It was one afternoon while watching the aforementioned Dial MTv and this hot new band from Hollywood California made their way into the most requested videos show with their song “Welcome To The Jungle.” I watched with much interest, hoping to hear the next Poison or Warrant. What I got was something that I had never heard before in my young life. The drastic difference from what I was used to filling my ears with was so extreme that my mind couldn’t process the change and I immediately rejected the idea of that music. Seasons would pass before I even warmed up to that song.

Thankfully the band chose a different song for their second single. It was the endless playing of “Sweet Child Of Mine” that finally forced me to own Appetite For Destruction. For as much as I thought “Welcome To The Jungle” was awful, I thought “Sweet Child Of Mine” was magnificent. The opening guitar sang out in ways I had never known possible and I honestly thought it was the best song ever recorded. It was the new “Stairway To Heaven” as far as my ears were concerned. There would never be a better song in the history of rock songs. That is what my 14 year old mind thought of “Sweet Child Of Mine.” I loved that song whole heartedly, and knew that I had to own it so it could be enjoyed over and over and over again as often as my teenage heart desired.

Welcome to freshman year of high school. Just prior to my fifteenth birthday, life had gotten extremely chaotic in the Vie household. My mother and stepfather were divorcing, my sister was graduating and preparing for college, and there was a girl. Of course there was a girl. There’s always a girl, isn’t there? At least before college graduation and the settling pace of middle aged life there was always a girl. This girl was the crush of my freshmen spring, and probably the biggest crush that I had in all of high school. She was beautiful, kind, caring, sweet, and older. Yes, even then Ryo liked the older ladies.

And while the pace of life was berserker in other areas, birthdays remained special. Mom always made sure that our birthdays were properly celebrated and acknowledged, something I have since passed down to my family. And with life turning upside down in our house that year, I wasn’t actually sure how my birthday would be celebrated. But Mom was. She made sure that it was once again something special.

So for my fifteenth birthday, Mom decided that she would take me on a record buying spree. I was allowed five albums (or cassette tapes, as that’s what us kids purchased back then) as my birthday present, followed by lunch at the restaurant of my choice. And while I don’t remember what I picked for lunch, I do remember every album I purchased that day. I can see them in my line of vision like they were only purchased a day ago. And the pinnacle of those albums was of course, Appetite For Destruction. When we got home that evening, I was ecstatic to listen to all of my new treasures, but there was one tape that I had to play first.

The first listening of Appetite For Destruction left me mesmerized. I knew that this record was something special. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was hearing one of the few true rock masterpieces; a record that would spawn endless imitators and influence more teenagers to perform music than the Beatles did twenty years earlier. Appetite For Destruction absolutely shaped my teenage years and completely altered my listening experience and expectations. This album led me down the path to bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden.

And as my freshman year of high school ushered to a close, my love for Guns N Roses entered a beginning. I imagine that freshman year of high school is tough on just about any kid, with the exception of maybe the super confident and/or super athletic. There are just too many upperclassmen around to give one a hard time. It is awkward being the new guy, more awkward being the low man on the totem pole, and even more awkward being the new guy, low man on the totem pole, with a crush on an upperclassman. Or should that be upperclasswoman? Either way, it was a lady that I pined for and she had me by two grade levels. As previously stated, I always had a thing for older women.

Laurie worked at a flower store, and the budding romantic in me wanted to do something so cool, so drastic, so unbelievable that it would sweep her off her feet and we would waltz away like the end of a Hollywood tearjerker. I got the idea that I would buy a rose at her shop and hand it to her with an ultra cool look and a heart-melting smile charming her right into my arms. Unfortunately, I was about as smooth as chunky peanut butter on burnt toast with no milk to wash it down.  Yet what I lacked in posterity, I made up for with determination. And I was determined to have Laurie. She was endlessly on my mind and in my waking thoughts. I was obsessed and knew that something dramatic had to be done in order to get her attention.

And so the plan was set. With my best friend by my side, we rode our bikes to the local flower store. Tommy agreed to wait for me out back, keeping an eye on our bicycles in case, as I joked, we needed to make a quick getaway. I don’t remember if I scoped out her schedule ahead of time, or just decided to wing it, but I do know that when I sauntered into that flower store, Laurie was working that day. And as soon as the little bell over the door rang, she emerged from the back of the store like a fashion model in a runway show.

My heart burst rapid fire beats into my chest. My mouth dried and I got a little dizzy gazing at the most beautiful woman in the world.  I paused to give serious thought to what I was about to do. What the hell was wrong with me? There was no way that this woman was going to talk to me, let alone fall into my arms. Was I nuts?

And yet, determined me said, “Too bad, we are doing this.” And so it went. If my life were a movie, “You’re Crazy” would have played just before I entered the flower store, and “Sweet Child Of Mine” would have erupted when Laurie appeared from the back room. As it was, my life was far from a movie, so the only songs that played were in my head. And they couldn’t overcome the buzzing in my brain about how this was a bad idea.

Laurie gave me a smile of recognition that almost knocked me to my knees. Her “Hello,” was the sweetest sound ever heard. When she asked how I was, I knew she meant it. Wow! Laurie knew who I was and wanted to know how I was doing. Heaven couldn’t have been this great! Pushing aside all of my fear and doubts, I surged forward and explained that I needed to get one single red rose. As Laurie smiled and set off to pick out the best rose possible, I urged myself not to screw this up. Push forward and be cool! Don’t be a dweeb! Man up!

The rose was selected and as she wrapped it in meticulous fashion, small talk was made. I barely heard a word she was saying, mostly nodding and holding back drool. I probably looked like an escaped mental patient, but couldn’t help myself. My palms were sweaty, my nerves were a wreck, and my deepest, darkest desires and dreams were about to either become a sparkling reality or get stomped into the ground and added to the ever increasing pile of life scars.

When she completed the presentation, the rose was handed to me with another smile and the most wonderful “it was nice to see you” that I had ever heard. With a puff of the chest I took in a gulp of air and went to hand the rose back to her uttering the magical phrase “this is for you.” I was ready to look like Sir Lancelot. Instead, fear paralyzed me and all I could do was stare at her like a deer in headlights. If she didn’t think I escaped the mental institution earlier, she most certainly thought that now.

My throat seized, my lips refused to move, and I was held speechless and lost complete control of my entire body. What was going on? I was blowing it! Damn it!!! Thankfully, Laurie helped to make things slightly easier by saying goodbye and disappearing into the back room once again. Like a panic struck rabbit sensing he is about to be eaten, I bolted. Quick thinking had me grab a message card from the counter, write the unspoken phrase “It’s For You,” (I believe I chose the card that said I love you, just like any psychotic stalker would), and exit through the entrance door, a world of emotions swirling through my entire body.

And as I exited the scene, there was my best friend rampantly asking “What happened? How did it go? Did you get a date with her?”

I shook my head and told him we needed to leave, immediately. Tommy was confused but quickly followed as I hopped on my bike and tore ass out of that flower shop parking lot. I must have pedaled more than a mile away before I finally stopped to tell him what transpired as well as scold myself for lacking the balls to speak to her. Idiot!

That night I stayed up in my room listening to Appetite For Destruction over and over again. I would occasionally rewind “Sweet Child Of Mine” two or three times in a row, but other than that, I just let the cassette play and thought of Laurie. What a fool I was! How in the world did I freeze up like that? Why couldn’t I have just told her? What a coward I was!

The next morning, Laurie slipped me a note. And while it wasn’t the jubilant praises of love and lust that I had hoped for, it was a nice, quick, little note. “Thank you for the rose.” That’s all that was written on it, as no more needed to be said. Things were quiet for a few days after that. I wanted time to regain my composure and confidence, and there must have been a ton of thoughts going through Laurie’s head, because I did not hear from her or see her after that. Not even in passing while moving from one class to the next. Her lack of communication filled me with several thought patterns ranging from understanding to flat out rage. Finally, after a few days of moping and sulking, I decided that it was time to make my move.

Just as all the leading men did in every romance movie I ever saw (extreme sarcasm applied) I wrote Laurie a letter, asking if we could get together for a movie, a lunch date, or some other such option. By this point, I knew which locker was hers and slipped the note in there, hoping for the best. Another day would go by before a response was received. Then, the next afternoon, while heading to Spanish class, I saw the beauty of all beauties walking down the hall and she was headed straight for me. Boom! Fireworks exploded in front of my eyes, “It’s So Easy,” sang out in my head, Laurie and I were going to go on a date and she was coming toward me to fall into my arms! Oh happy day!

Not so fast, Casanova. As she passed me in the hall, she slipped me a note and kept her stride. I looked at her, but she continued to move away, so I took the note and hoped for the best. Maybe she wanted to profess her love to me on paper, so that I would be able to show the entire world! Maybe she had so much to say that she had to write it down! Maybe I was her knight in shining armor!

I took the note to class and flopped into my desk, trying my best to keep from passing out. This note only held the keys to my entire future…no big deal. Either I was going to be a man walking on air, or in front of a train. The contents of the note would determine my fate.

As the students settled into the classroom, I carefully unfolded the letter of fate. Not knowing what to expect, I took in a deep breath and began to read. Unfortunately, it was very clear by the third sentence that we would not be walking off into the sunset together. It was actually the exact opposite. I give Laurie a lot of credit; she was completely honest with me. She explained that as nice as she thought I was, the age difference bothered her and she was interested in someone in her own grade level. She appreciated how much attention I paid to her, and she reiterated that the rose was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for her, but she just couldn’t see us together. And as much as it hurt then, to this day, I still appreciate her honesty. And I still have that letter. Maybe one day I’ll scan it and post it as a follow up….

I can still see Laurie’s face whenever I close my eyes and listen to the opening notes of “Sweet Child Of Mine.” She ended up dating the boy she mentioned in the letter, and they eventually got married. After she graduated high school, I never saw or heard from Laurie again. I’ve looked her up a few times, but she doesn’t have a Facebook page or any other type of social media account, unless she is going by an alias. I would love to finally be able to take her out to lunch now, strictly plutonic of course, and laugh about that year of my life. But I would also like to thank her. She showed me how sweet some people can be.

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