WESTBURY, New York — More than 17 years ago, on the night [artist id="846"]Guns N' Roses[/artist] released Use Your Illusion I and II, there was chaos in Hollywood. Helicopters buzzed overhead. TV news crews lit the night with halogen lamps. And the line outside Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard stretched around the block.
There were off-duty police officers bullying kids out of the streets, beefy security guards blocking the doors of Tower, and much tension in the air. Until 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, September 17, that is, when the albums officially went on sale. Then the doors opened, the great masses of fans flooded through, and — in a then-unmatched celebration of fandom and consumerism — grabbed two, three, even four copies of each album.
That scene was repeated at record stores all across the country: thousands of fans waiting in lines at midnight just for the opportunity to snag a copy — or four — of an album by a rock and roll band, just so they could have it before their friends did.
Needless to say, that type of thing doesn't happen anymore — at least, not at record stores.
Last weekend, when Guns finally released the follow-up to the Illusion albums, there were no midnight sales. This is because that album — Chinese Democracy — was [news id="1596681"]only available at Best Buy[/news], the largest specialty retailer of consumer electronics in the U.S. And, according to a representative at the company's corporate offices, they don't do midnight madness.
So instead, at 8:55 a.m. on Sunday, in the gray and windswept parking lot of a Best Buy in Westbury, Long Island (store #454, if you're wondering), there were no lines, no off-duty cops, no chaos of any sort. Just a bunch of BB employees trying to keep warm by sitting in their cars, some wayward shopping carts and — parked right in the middle of the lot, in a black coupe with a GN'R air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror — Branden Pachter, a 24-year-old from nearby Bellmore, who just happened to be the first (and, at the time, only) GN'R fan waiting to grab his copy of Chinese Democracy.
"I've been a Guns N' Roses fan for probably seven or eight years," he said, steam exiting his mouth with each syllable. "I got into them on a whim. I was looking for new music — I was sick of what I was listening to — and I just went into a store and purchased Appetite for Destruction, and I think that CD lived in my car for about six months straight. I listened to nothing else. And then it just became about discovering who Guns N' Roses were, discovering the Use Your Illusion albums, and the [original lineup's] breakup and the controversies. And it kind of became a cult following, you know? You really get into the music and you really get into the story, and I've been following them since then."
Pachter, who pre-ordered Chinese Democracy after attending a listening session at New York's Webster Hall last week, calls himself a "massive" Guns fan (he's even got a custom GN'R tattoo on his left arm), and said that it didn't matter what time the store opened, because he would've been here first. After all, he's been waiting a long time for this.
"I'm just waiting to pick it up, pop it in the car and enjoy. It's excitement. This entire month, between the election and now a Guns N' Roses CD coming out, this is the November to remember," he laughed. "The second I got up this morning, logged onto the computer and someone had left me a MySpace comment like, 'It's Guns N' Roses day!' and I was like, 'It absolutely is GN'R Day!' And I looked at the computer and thought, 'You know, it's 6:30 right now, in two and a half hours, I'm going to be holding Chinese Democracy in my hands.' It's crazy. I'm going to listen to the album until the Giants game comes on, then I'm going to watch the Giants game, then I'm going to listen to the album again."
As he was speaking, a second car pulled up and two bed-headed teens spilled out: John McClung and Carter Davidson, sleepy-eyed, excited and, strangely, from Connecticut and Pennsylvania. They ended up in Long Island under rather bizarre circumstances, most of which involve Guns N' Roses — and Panera Bread.
"We're visiting a friend who lives in [nearby] Garden City," Davidson explained. "I wanted to come get Chinese Democracy at midnight last night, but they weren't open. So we woke up this morning, drove our friend to Panera Bread to work, and came here to get this album. Axl's been making it forever, and when I was in middle school GN'R got me into music, so I've always been looking forward to this."
"It's been, like, 14 years in the making, it's such a hyped-up CD," McClung added. "It's so worth it. I'd rather get this than see my team win the Super Bowl or anything. I've been waiting for the CD for so long now. I have goosebumps! I can't wait to get in my car and blast it and listen to every song thoroughly and put it on repeat all day long."
At 9 a.m. on the dot, the doors to Best Buy swung open, and all three rushed in. The store was filled with images of Rose, cornrowed and bellowing into a microphone. Signs proclaimed Chinese Democracy to be "the most anticipated album in rock history." "Shackler's Revenge" blared overhead. And then — right by the front door, next to a talking stand-up of Wall-E — there was the actual album. A cardboard tower, packed with copies of the most mythological album in music. It was real. It was happening.
And as the day wore on, more and more people walked in to pick up copies. Older dudes in sweatpants. Fathers buying copies with their sons. And plenty of people who weren't even born the last time Guns N' Roses released an album of original material. Which, given the era we live in -- when hardly anyone buys CDs and the sky is caving in on the music industry -- seemed to be the most hopeful sign of all (and will probably help [news id="1599776"]Chinese Democracy seems likely to top the charts next week[/news]). Make no mistake about it, this wasn't Hollywood, and there were no helicopters in sight, but this still was a momentous moment in rock history. Just on a slightly less grandiose scale.
"It's awesome to see they're coming out with [news id="1599694"]new stuff[/news], and we get to be a part of the new generation of Axl Rose," Erica Milito, a 16-year-old pop-punker said, clutching her copy of Chinese Democracy. "When I was in, like, seventh grade, GN'R inspired me to start a band, because they're huge, and I wanted to be like them one day, to sell out massive stadiums and stuff. ... I'm shaking right now, I'm so excited. This is going to be the most epic thing. Just going home and opening Guns and, like, 'Dude, let's get it on right now. Guns N' Roses!' "