Slash: My guitar hero
He has been her dream man since she was 10 years old, so Joanna Kiernan was nervous about meeting rock legend Slash. As he talks to her from behind his mirrored shades about getting over drink and drugs and how, despite settling down and having kids, he still has occasional trouble with groupies, she is relieved to find her idol to be anything but a disappointment
Published 22/08/2010 | 05:00
'I think sex and rock 'n' roll is really important. You can't have what I would consider really great rock 'n' roll without that element of sex in it. It doesn't mean you need to be fucking eight girls a night, it just means that there's a certain amount of sex that goes into rock 'n' roll and the attitude that it has. So those two go together really well, I think drugs is a thing that we just picked up along the way to keep us occupied," Slash, says, interrupting his own husky monologue with a laugh.
I'm sitting nervously beside my all-time favourite musician and dream man since, oh, well, perhaps the age of 10! Having just realised that I've become mesmerised by him, I've forgotten my next question. We are shooting the breeze before his gig in Vicar Street, and, as a die-hard fan, I'm thankful that in the flesh, he is just as I expected -- charming, enigmatic and extremely cool.
Unable to contain my excitement prior to the encounter, I try to explain its significance to my mother. My attempt at comparing the experience to her meeting Elvis falls flat: "Well, no, he was more your Auntie Mary's, I was mad about Cliff Richard," she corrects me, as I'm reluctantly forced to accept the comparison.
"I'm having probably the best time I've had touring since the early Guns days. It just rocks," Slash says merrily. "You know, it's definitely not a bunch of green 19-year-olds running around, it's not that bad. That sense of adolescent urgency is sort of gone, there's no recreating that. But we still, you know, we have a good time.
"Mostly, for me, it's all about really getting off on the performance and so I think that's really all I ever cared about. I used to find things to fill my time," he continues, as his face falls into a wide grin, "but having done all that, at this point it's really just about the music, you know?"
Slash keeps his mirrored aviator sunglasses on throughout our chat, and at first I find this disconcerting. I like eye contact and had, more than likely, formed a subconscious plan to woo him, through this method, into making rock-star babies with me, but I get over it soon enough.
Much as he tries to conceal himself, however, the Cheshire Cat-like grin, which emerges from time to time from beneath those glasses, that hat and that hair, betrays him. Behind the shield of his accessories, he is polite, laid-back, open and articulate.
"I got it out of a simple clothing shop in Los Angeles back in, I guess it was like '86," he tells me of the trademark top hat. "I actually stole it, because I didn't have any money back then, and I needed something for a show. I've always been a hat guy, but I could never find like 'the hat' that was really my thing and I guess subconsciously I was looking for that. So when I put the top hat on I was like, 'This is cool,' and I took a belt that I stole as well, and I cut it up and put it around it and it just became my way of sort of hiding, you know?" he looks to me for acquiescence and I gladly oblige, although I have no idea of what that must be like.
"I've had this one since, like, 1989, 1990, this one's been through a lot with me. I had it stolen once and I got it back, then I put leather around it, because it's really just a cheap hat underneath it."
Slash was born Saul Hudson in Hampstead, London, in 1965. His mother Ola was an African-American costume designer and his father Tony was a young English artist. They met in Paris in the Sixties.
Ola worked for many well-known actors and musicians, including David Bowie, while Tony created album covers for the likes of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.
Slash's two young sons, Cash and London, are being raised in a similar way, surrounded by art and music. "The kids are awesome, but they're rock 'n' roll kids. It's the lifestyle. They're overstimulated, you know?" he beams. "So they've got all this stuff going on all the time; a lot of travelling and a lot of fast-paced stuff going on, even at home. So it's an interesting life for them; it's very similar to how I was raised. My kids are really lucky, young-minded as I am. I play with a lot of my kids' stuff. You know it's good for me, because I'm a troublemaker," he adds, smirking.
"I need things to keep me grounded, so that helps me and music's always sort of centred me," he explains. "That was the one thing that helped me to survive this long, with all the other chaos that I get into. Between the kids and just being sober, for one, keeps me grounded."
In 2001, after a five-year romance, Slash married the mother of his children, Perla Ferrar. They have lasted a lifetime by rock 'n' roll relationship standards. So what exactly is their secret?
"I think it's purely patience on her part," he answers. "The fact that she's as durable as she is, is really what's helped it survive this long. She's in Ibiza right now, just tripping around with the kids and I'm out here playing, and she was out with me for a couple of weeks. It gets to be a lot of work, with two kids and so much travelling from show to show to show, so she's taken off and is just hanging out. Then she goes back and gets the kids into camp for the summer and then just sort of has to tolerate what it is that I've got going on all the time."
So surely after this long she's grown accustomed to dealing with groupies?
Slash half chokes out a giggle, before responding. "It's funny you should ask that, we're having some issues about that right now, actually," he says, in a way that lets me know it's perhaps best to pass this one by.
But I just have to ask how it feels to be at the receiving end of such adoration; to have so many men want to be him and women wanting to be with him.
"You know, I mean that's a perspective. For me," he reasons, "I never really grasped the celebrity aspect of it or the rock-star aspect, you know? Like, you take advantage of the freedom of what being a musician is and I've done that for years," he adds, grinning, "and after a while even that gets old. So then it comes back around to the inspiration about playing and the excitement of doing that and that's really what's kept me going.
"It's not as glamorous as all that, it's a lot of work and I'm out of my mind. I'm completely committed to it and I love doing it, so you have to be that too. The rest of it is really putting up with whatever you gotta put up with to be able to do it. Realistically, all it is, is that you're chasing one great gig after another to get the feeling you had from that one show. It's a lot like drugs, you're just chasing that buzz all the time, but with music it's a little bit more . . . it's legal," he drawls with obvious amusement.
Conscious of my own adulation, I ask if he's ever had to deal with any unnerving fans.
"I've been doing this a long time, so nothing really fazes me that much," he laughs, "but since you brought it up, there's a fan that shows up in the airport every time I'm on the East Coast -- Philadelphia, Boston, New York, New Jersey, whatever, and he's been there since 1987, alright? I've grown up with this guy! He was a kid then, and I was a kid, and now he's got kids, and he shows up at the airport with his kids, and I've got kids.
"So anyway in, like, around 1999, 2000, one day I had a friend over at our house -- we were renting a really modest house in West Hollywood, like right on the street, so it was very accessible -- and I went to walk him out to his car and there was this guy on the lawn in the shadows and it was that fucking guy! That was an interesting experience."
I quickly decide it's best not to mention how I was almost trampled to death in a mosh pit at his last Velvet Revolver gig in Ireland, while attempting in vain to catch a sweat towel he threw into the crowd. Or, indeed, that on landing in Los Angeles last summer, I speedily made my way to Sunset Boulevard, trekking around all of the old Guns N' Roses haunts: the Whisky A Go-Go, The Roxy, The Viper Room, even spending one drunken evening at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, attempting to sit in every one of their red leather booths, just to make sure I managed to touch the one the band sat in for the November Rain video.
But Slash has had to battle more serious issues than a few overzealous fans.
"I totally understand the sort of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll thing," he says. "All the sex you can get, drugs are pretty accessible throughout, it's just it's become a sort of cliche. But I don't think you have to have drugs with the rock 'n' roll, they don't have to go together. I was lucky that I didn't use drugs to inspire my creative side, fortunately. A lot of people have and when they stop doing the one, they can't do the other."
He tells me that he is clean of drugs for the past four years.
"So not that long and like any sort of junkie alcoholic, you go through struggles with it the whole time," he admits. "You get to a certain point where, it's fun, it's fun, it's fun, and then all of a sudden, it annoyingly becomes a crutch that you start leaning on for a lot of emotional this, that and the other, and then it becomes a very dark thing.
"You find that you're really dependent on it and from that point on you start going through periods of trying to get clean," he continues. "That's what happened to me, and it went on basically through the Nineties and into the millennium, just sort of juggling back and forth with alcoholism or drug addiction, back and forth, back and forth, and I just got bored with it.
"I finally got to a point where I had a really solid run of doing the drug thing again in 2006 and going, 'This isn't really that great.'"
Slash considers this for a second before that smile appears again. "There's no recreating that really great time that you'd had years previous and at that point I just said, 'Fuck it,'" he adds. "When I got off the drugs I decided not to go to alcohol, like I normally do, I just quit the whole thing and I actually really haven't missed any of it since. I haven't had a drink in almost three years. If I start now, I'm fucked. I love being around it, my lifestyle, the people I hang out with and all that kind of stuff is the same. It's just that I don't have any interest in doing it. It's really easy. I had to get to that point where I didn't desire it anymore. That's the hard part."
So is he still the eternal teenager he once described himself as?
"I still could use some growing up, yeah," he laughs.
Aware of how often he hears the same question, I keep it for the finale, but still feel compelled to ask if anything could convince him to reunite with Guns N' Roses?
"Oh, I have no idea," he responds, seeming not at all fatigued by the subject. "I've sort of gotten over the negative attitude towards it, but it seems that Axl's got his thing, and I've sort of moved on as well and there just hasn't been any active interest to get back together. All things considered, it would be a lot of fun to do, just for the fans' sake. I mean, I would enjoy it just for that.
"But there's just so much bullshit that we'd have to get through and if it were that easy I never would have quit. So the simple thought of, like, 'Let's jump on the road and do a bunch of shows,' like some bands do, it seems to be a lot more complicated than all that. I mean, we all did great things together, there's a respect factor there, but there's also the experience of having gone through a lot of really unnecessary bullshit that I don't want to revisit," he answers, seeming amused at the memory.
As we finish up and stand together for photographs, Slash addresses me with that grin. "You're very polite," he tells me.
I think it's a compliment, but then I'm not so sure, as suddenly my inner 14-year-old steps in to silently berate me for not cursing more and acting like a badass. Suddenly, I feel I've wasted my youth being a good girl.
As he fiddles around on the guitar while the photos are being taken, I note how the object of my affections is the only man I've ever met who can wear skin-tight trousers and still look manly. But such is my obsession I might forgive him just about anything, and I get the impression that I'm not the first woman to think that way.
That night, as I witness Slash plaster the crowd to the roof in Vicar Street, with old Guns favourites such as Night Train, Rocket Queen, Sweet Child O' Mine, mixed in alongside his equally exciting new material, only then does it dawn on me what has just taken place. I have met my Elvis -- or Cliff, as my mother would have it -- and he was everything I hoped he would be.
'Slash', released through Road Runner Records, is available now