The Fourth of July weekend is not just a time to recall those past glories that made America great. It is also a time to remember the trials and tribulations that strengthened our character: Antietam, Pearl Harbor, 9/11. But let us not forget that infamous day in 1991, right here in St. Louis, when an anxious world took unhappy note of our madness. We refer, of course, to the Riverport Guns N' Roses riot.
This Friday, July 2, marks the thirteenth anniversary of that dark day. We'll not soon forget the smoke and shame, broadcast to the world on CNN, when Axl Rose jumped into the crowd to battle a man with a camera before leaping back onstage to cancel the show. The crowd didn't take it well and proceeded to trash the amphitheater, causing untold damage -- not just to the seats and stage but to our hearts and souls as well. A bitter day of frenzy, to be sure. But thirteen years is a long time. Have we healed? Can we, at long last, move on?
Slash, Rose's long-suffering guitarist, seems to have made his peace. Together with Scott Weiland, who compared to Rose must seem like a well-adjusted young man, Slash and other GNR bandmates formed Velvet Revolver, whose new album is selling like mad and actually receiving some good reviews (the band also played an incident-free, sold-out show at the Pageant a few months back). Despite the nightmares that must surely still rip him from his nighttime respite, Slash has rebuilt himself. Good for you, Slash.
The city of St. Louis, some say, has never been the same. Who can look at all the horrifying crime statistics and the rapidly shrinking population and not see the shadow of that riot?
"I won't move to St. Louis," says one outsider who refuses to be named, fearing the retribution of the bloodthirsty mobs he suspects roam our streets. "If Axl can't handle it, what chance do I have?"
We can still see the sadness lurking behind the eyes of our citizens, particularly those in their mid-30s. They may laugh again, surely, but with a catch in the throat. It's the sad knowledge, the innocence lost.
"I was there, man. I saw it when the shit went down in Riverport," says Mike, a local man on disability owing to his post-traumatic stress disorder. "Axl left us holding a bag of squirming madness, and it spilled into us. The horror. The horror."
For some, the Day the Music Paused was a lesson about love and loss, and those individuals hold their loved ones ever so tightly with the bittersweet knowledge that everything slips away in the end. But we are a hardy people, and we will carry on. Even Riverport, which changed its name -- perhaps to leave the past behind -- is beginning to move on, although its tendency to book bands that were formed before 1993 shows that it still has some mending to do. It still knows the taste of fear. When Britney Spears cancelled her tour because of a bum knee, did the amphitheater breathe a silent sigh of relief, not knowing what she could be capable of? But even with summer-tour sales down again this year, the Pavilion will carry on.
But Axl. Oh, Axl. The last thirteen years haven't been kind, have they? The riot was the beginning of the end, the stopper removed to allow the downward spiral. "Fuck you, St. Louis," you told us in the liner notes to Use Your Illusion. And that hurt us. Then you released The Spaghetti Incident, and that hurt everyone. But you were hurting too, weren't you?
We could see it as recently as two years ago, when you played with your "reunited" GNR on the MTV Music Awards. You couldn't sing. You couldn't dance. You were hanging out with a man named Buckethead. Cries for help, all. And your inability to release the so-long-awaited-that- no-one-is-waiting-anymore Chinese Democracy tells us you're living in the past. Maybe in your mind it's always July 2, and you've noticed the guy in the crowd taking pictures, but you haven't punched him yet. And in that eternal, impossible hope there's the chance of redemption -- the chance that you won't slug the guy and stomp offstage and go on to start riots in other cities.
It's been thirteen years, Axl. If you're reading this, then please understand: It's okay. We forgive you. We don't like people who take pictures at concerts either. And we shouldn't have torn all those seats up. We were angry, and we did some things that we regret. We're sorry about those criminal charges, too. We wish you hadn't gotten convicted of that one count of property damage and four counts of misdemeanor assault. And of course, we used the $50,000 fine to build a school or something, so that was like charity. But you got off probation about ten years ago, so let's put it behind us. Come back to St. Louis. We'll clap and cheer; you'll sing. No one will set anything on fire. And then, that night, you'll sleep the sleep of righteous men, the sort of sleep you haven't known for over a decade. And you'll wake up the next morning a different man.
You will be free.