I pondered apologizing for the it’s-so-easy title, but I am choosing not to.
I’m going to pause in my (slow) chronological study of hair metal videos to pay homage to the 30th anniversary of the release of Appetite for Destruction.
Picture it, a record store, anywhere, July 21, 1987: Appetite for Destruction was released to…well, not much. Knowing the incredible sales and critical standing the album would go on to achieve, it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t an immediate success. But it would be a full year before the album’s momentum propelled it into the #1 Billboard spot.
When you think of videos from the Appetite era — an era that could not last for reasons put forth in lyrics all over the Use Your Illusions but perhaps never more accurately than the final push of “Coma,” when Axl sings “it’s so easy to be hungry when you ain’t got shit to lose” — you probably think of “Welcome to the Jungle.” Maybe that shot of Slash plugging in his guitar at the opening of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” or Axl strutting across the stage in at Cathouse tee shirt in “Paradise City.”
As a trio, these videos perfectly illustrate the arc that gets us to the complicated excess of the work that comes four years down the line. In “Jungle,” the only one of these three that gestures toward plot, they are hungry outsiders, viewing Hollywood with fresh eyes — until they are sucked in. Maura Johnson beautifully describes the track as the album’s “thesis statement” at Pitchfork. “Sweet Child” is a simple video, intercut with footage of the band hanging with their significant others, human and canine. All this culminates in “Paradise City”: the shots longer-range, the stage more expansive, behind-the-scenes players to show much goes into the creation of Guns N’ Roses, the endless sea of fans. What happens to those outsiders when all their dreams come true?
If you want it, you’re gonna bleed, but that’s the price you pay.
But before “Welcome to the Jungle” took over the MTV airwaves at 5am on Sunday, there was “It’s So Easy.”
There are two “It’s So Easy” videos — one spliced with rapid-fire images of the band members and one that falls in the slightly NSFW vein where that footage is replaced by women, primarily faceless except for Erin Everly. (It’s possible certain body shots are all her or mostly of her.) One is a sleazy introduction for what’s to come; the other is your faves were never not problematic [at best]. Internet research is inconclusive over which one came first; some say the NSFW one includes footage from a 1989 Cathouse show, but there was one that was edited and rejected by MTV, which makes me wonder if those blitzing images of the band had replaced something.
In LA Weekly, Lina Lecaro writes of Appetite, “There was a lot to feel uncomfortable about…especially as a woman.” She includes “It’s So Easy” in that lot, and then shares it was one of her favorite tracks. I find the raunchier version of “It’s So Easy” a lot more interesting than the other one. There’s a lot to feel uncomfortable about, particularly Everly’s inclusion. But whether certain footage was filmed in 1987 or 1989, this is the prologue to the arc presented by the three Appetite videos.
It’s not just the dark clubs and the rudimentary production that establishes whatever version video as the first. It’s that to maintain their status as hungry outsiders living for the music, they needed their existence supported somehow. And that somehow was through women, sometimes barely out of their teens, the ones who danced onstage to attract a crowd, who had the food and booze and drugs.
It only becomes so easy if someone is helping you get there. Neither the song nor the video is particularly generous about this help, but women were integral to the early days of the band. Not women who became household names, but women who happened to be in that time and place.
And maybe that’s what makes that video more compelling, in addition to being more uncomfortable. Despite lyrics that frequently focus on women as sex objects, GNR wasn’t really a video vixen kind of a band, not in the Tawny Kitaen or Bobbie Jean Brown way. When their videos became plot-focused, women were on the periphery of the story being told (which doesn’t not raise questions). “It’s So Easy” doesn’t center women in an especially positive way, probably not then and certainly not 30 years later, but they are there.
The story of Appetite for Destruction is the story of a band in Los Angeles when there were a lot of bands in Los Angeles. It’s the story of vice and decadence and want and disregard. And it’s the story of pretty girls in paradise, sexy girls who are hard to please, someone’s Michelle and someone’s sweet child, and those rocket queens who might be a bit obscene. It’s that final thread that gets lost when the band makes it big, but “It’s So Easy” is as close to a visual acknowledgement as you get to the band’s beginnings and the period of time that the people who made it possible weren’t sound engineers or publicists, but the girls who believed in the music.