Guns N’ Roses‘ penchant for excess made them a liability from day one, and they reflected on their insatiable drug habits in sobering detail on the swaggering Use Your Illusion I track “Bad Obsession.”
Cowritten in the group’s early days by guitarist Izzy Stradlin and longtime band friend West Arkeen, “Bad Obsession” channels Guns’ love for the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith into a hip-swiveling blues-rock boogie, replete with Slash’s aggressive slide guitar work and harmonica and tenor saxophone courtesy of Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe.
It’s a feverish ode to many of the band members’ drug of choice – heroin — with lyrics that are equal parts sardonic and harrowing. In one breath, Axl Rose complains that his mother is “just a cunt now,” and in another, he’s confessing in his exaggerated Midwestern drawl, “I can’t stop thinkin’ ’bout seein’ you one more time.” Spoiler alert: The “you” is not his mother.
Guns N’ Roses were no strangers to drug songs, famously chronicling the life of a strung-out rocker on Appetite for Destruction‘s “Mr. Brownstone.” The band members drew comparisons between “Brownstone” and “Bad Obsession” on several occasions. “This is a song that we wrote long before we wrote ‘Mr. Brownstone.’ It’s kind of the same, it’s something called ‘Bad Obsession,'” Rose said onstage at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis., on May 24, 1991, the first official date of the Use Your Illusion Tour.
“It’s a follow-up of ‘Brownstone,’ really,” bassist Duff McKagan said during a September 1991 radio interview. “Actually, it was written before ‘Brownstone.’ ‘Bad Obsession’ is us objectively looking at ourselves. Duff, Slash, Axl, you’re screwing up. You got a bad obsession.”
Listen to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Bad Obsession’
On one hand, it’s ironic that Guns N’ Roses’ “objective” look at themselves involved an outside collaborator. But it also illustrates just how far gone some of the band members were during their late-’80s and early-’90s heyday. “I didn’t mind too much,” Slash said of Arkeen’s contributions in a 2011 interview with Classic Rock. (Arkeen also coauthored Appetite‘s “It’s So Easy” and Illusion cuts “The Garden” and “Yesterdays.”)
“I was usually too preoccupied doing whatever debauched shit I was doing. If everybody was doing that, nobody was looking over my shoulder while I was doing what I was doing.”
While Slash would continue to struggle with heroin throughout his first tenure in Guns N’ Roses (culminating in a September 1992 overdose that left the guitarist dead for eight minutes due to cardiac arrest), Stradlin kicked his addiction shortly after getting arrested for peeing on the floor of an airplane in August 1989. Fed up with his bandmates’ dysfunction and glacial work pace, the newly sober Stradlin quit Guns N’ Roses on Nov. 7, 1991.
The band quickly replaced Stradlin with Gilby Clarke, but the members evidently still harbored resentment over his departure. Never one to resist a petty onstage jab, Rose introduced “Bad Obsession” during the band’s 1992 Tokyo concert by saying, “This a song that we wrote about one year before ‘Mr. Brownstone’ with the help of our friend West Arkeen and some guy that just, I don’t know, his name just escapes me.”
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