The recording sessions for Guns N’ Roses‘ Use Your Illusion albums were, by all accounts, laborious and often bleak affairs, inhibited by substance abuse and infighting. But things took an especially dark turn when the alley behind the band’s recording studio became the site of a grisly murder, inspiring the Use Your Illusion I track “Double Talkin’ Jive.”
The short, up-tempo rocker was one of a handful of Illusion songs to feature lead vocals by Izzy Stradlin, who exuded effortless cool as he assumed the point of view of a fed-up delinquent (likely a drug dealer) who was out to collect his money. Yet it was the song’s opening lyric — “Found a head and an arm in the garbage can” — that inspired the most intrigue, due to its morbid backstory.
“One event that got everyone talking during the recording of Illusions I and II was the day there was a huge commotion in the alley,” Slash recalled in his 2007 memoir. “It turned out that the cops found a dismembered arm and a head in the dumpster behind the studio. All I know is that we didn’t do it, but Izzy turned the event into a lyric on ‘Double Talkin’ Jive.'” (The top-hatted guitarist also enthused about the song’s flamenco-style outro solo, which he would extend for several minutes in concert.)
Guns N’ Roses recorded Use Your Illusion in several Los Angeles studios between 1990 and 1991, including the now-defunct Studio 56 — the same location where, years later, drummer Matt Sorum claimed he had a supernatural encounter while producing an album for another band.
“As we were recording, everything sounded fine … and then, every time we’d play back the tape, there was this low, kind of a voice rumbling sound on the vocal track,” Sorum said on a 2010 episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories. When Sorum and his engineer, Jim Mitchell, later walked toward the studio lounge to investigate, they allegedly heard a voice that told them, “Don’t come in here, you’re not invited.”
The receptionist told Sorum he had heard stories of ghostly interferences in the studio in the past. “Years earlier, in about 1991, they discovered a head and an arm in a garbage can,” Sorum said. “The garbage can where they found the head and the arm was directly behind Studio 56.”
Listen to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Double Talkin’ Jive’
While Sorum made no mention of his ex-bandmates, he quoted Stradlin’s opening lyric to “Double Talkin’ Jive” almost verbatim. And if we give Sorum a little leeway with his timeline — and assume Stradlin took some minor creative liberties with his songwriting — we can find a ghastly real-life event that’s consistent with the narrative put forth by the members of Guns N’ Roses.
On Oct. 29, 1990, William Arnold Newton — a pornographic actor who performed under the names Billy London and Billy Porter — was murdered in Hollywood at the age of 25. His dismembered head and feet were discovered in plastic bags in a dumpster the next day, according to his father, Richard Harriman. Newton’s remains were found near Santa Monica Boulevard — the same street to which Studio 56 had relocated several years earlier.
Newton’s murder remains one of Hollywood’s most gruesome unsolved homicides, and while his death has never been confirmed as the inspiration for “Double Talkin’ Jive,” it continues to intrigue Guns N’ Roses fans. The band didn’t highlight the song’s grisly origins while performing it throughout the Use Your Illusion Tour, though. Instead, Axl Rose turned the song into a de facto diss track, often dedicating it to whoever had pissed him off that day.
One of the most memorable targets of Rose’s ire was actor Warren Beatty, who had previously dated Rose’s then-girlfriend, Stephanie Seymour, and who Rose believed was still seeing Seymour behind his back. “I’d like to dedicate this next song to a man who likes to play games … a parasite … a cheap punk named Warren Beatty,” Rose said before playing “Double Talkin’ Jive” during the band’s June 6, 1992, concert in Paris. “Listen, home-fuck, if you think [ex-girlfriend] Madonna kicked your ass, I’m betting my money on [Beatty’s wife] Annette [Bening], you stupid fucking asshole.”
Watch Guns N’ Roses Dedicate ‘Double Talkin’ Jive’ to Warren Beatty
At another show in Cologne, Germany, on June 19, 1993, Rose dedicated “Double Talkin’ Jive” to its own author, who had quit Guns N’ Roses in 1991 but returned for a handful of dates in May 1993 to fill in for injured guitarist Gilby Clarke. Relations between Stradlin and his ex-bandmates were apparently not great, if Rose’s onstage shout-out served as any indication.
“You guys remember Izzy?” the singer asked the crowd to waves of applause. “Good. Fuck Izzy. This is dedicated to Izzy. This is called ‘Double Talkin’ Jive,’ motherfucker.”
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