Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Hollins first-year student Leith Merrow says her life revolves around her passion for '80s metal band Guns N' Roses.
We are not groupies. Groupies sleep with rock stars because they want to be near someone famous. We're here because of the music.
- Penny Lane, in "Almost Famous"
It's a story about first love - the kind that lasts a lifetime.
Our protagonist: Leith Merrow, a freshman at Hollins University with big, blue eyes and the kind of long, red locks you read about in fairy tales.
The story begins in June 2001. Merrow, who'd recently turned 15, was reading an article in Seventeen magazine in which one of the dudes in the band Hoobastank said Guns N' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction" album had changed his life.
Merrow had never even heard of GNR; she was only a year old when that breakthrough album came out. But she decided Hoobastank wouldn't lead her astray, so she bought "Appetite for Destruction."
"I was absolutely blown away," she says. "I never knew music could be honest like that. It was so dangerous and the music was really raw."
Her favorite song? Track No.9: "Sweet Child of Mine," which lead singer Axl Rose had written for his girlfriend.
Merrow has since thought a lot about Axl and how it's possible for a man to sing such a sentimental song and then turn around and sing a misogynist ditty like "It's so Easy." Merrow thinks Axl has probably earned his reputation as a jerk, but she forgives him.
"He has a lot of mental problems," she says. "As an avid psychology student, I can accept his behavior."
Merrow is just grate-ful that Axl had it together enough to make the music that touched the sweet spot of her soul.
"When they were good, they were mesmerizing," she says. "I can't even imagine what it would have been like to be in the audience. It must have been a religious experience."
A Spanish class Merrow took at Hollins required her to give two oral presentations. Most members of the class chose subjects like the regional accents of Spain or vacations they'd taken to Argentina. Not Merrow.
For her first presentation, she gave the Guns N' Roses biography and then showed their "November Rain" video, which is in English, not espanol, but her classmates seemed enthralled nonetheless. The second time around, Merrow brought in a gourd she'd decorated with curly black hair and a stovepipe hat to look like Slash, GNR's guitarist and her favorite member of the band.
Merrow claims to have read every single Web site that comes up if you type Guns N' Roses into Google. She spent months searching for Axl's home address. After finding it, she spent four hours making him a Valentine.
Merrow spends a lot of time on eBay buying GNR CDs, copies of Rolling Stone magazine with GNR articles and vintage T-shirts (apparently there's a market; one shirt cost $126).
"It's addictive," she says. "That's where all my money goes.
"In truth, it's kind of exhausting because my life revolves around it," she adds.
When she spots another person wearing GNR gear, Merrow always makes time to chat. "I feel like GNR is such an important part of my life that when I meet another fan, I feel like there's an unspoken connection," she says.
Merrow will hang with friends at Hollins who don't dig on GNR (there aren't a lot of women into late-'80s metal at the single-sex, liberal arts school). But dating is a different matter altogether.
"If you're not familiar with their entire catalog, that's OK," she says. "But if you've heard it and think it sucks, we're definitely not going to date because you wouldn't understand me. Even if he's the hottest guy on the planet. If you don't like GNR it's not going to happen."
"The guy I'm in love with currently - besides Slash, of course - he's a huge GNR fan," she says.
Merrow met her beau on a message board for metal fans. They psychoanalyzed Axl together online. When the guy gave her a copy of "Believe in Me," the solo debut of former GNR bassist Duff McKagan, he won her heart.
"This [album] is Duff before his pancreas exploded from drinking a quart of vodka every day," she explains.
In 2002, Slash, McKagan and Matt Sorum (who played drums for GNR) reunited to create the band Velvet Revolver.
Merrow had her first Velvet Revolver experience in May 2004, when the band played at the 9:30 club in Washington, D.C. Wearing a lingerie top, she positioned herself directly in front of the stage, hoping the band would notice her.
Slash and McKagan tossed her guitar picks. McKagan took a swig of water and then handed her the bottle. She keeps the cap in a velvet box.
After the show, Sorum walked over and introduced himself.
"He's very charismatic," Merrow says. "We've made out twice."
The first time, they took a walk outside the club.
"He doesn't ask to do it. It just happens," Merrow says. "He's definitely 44 years old, but that's OK."
Sorum let Merrow know he was up for what she describes as "carnal activities," but she declined because she didn't know him very well. And for health reasons.
Merrow saw the band again in December at Fairfax's Patriot Center. After the show, she stood outside in the cold with 50 other fans.
She was a woman on a mission: This time she was going to meet Slash.
After two hours, and with only five fans remaining, Merrow spotted Slash's hair flying in the wind. She hopped a fence and a few minutes later was standing in front of Slash. Merrow had long planned what to say at this moment, but she says her mind went blank and she basically spent 15 minutes hyperventilating in front of the guitarist.
Slash, who's married, turned out to be the perfect gentleman. "He complimented me but not in a let's-go-have-sex way," Merrow says.
After Slash left to greet the rest of the squealing fans, Sorum strolled out. He didn't recall Merrow's name but did remember her hair. "Then," she says, "he occupied all my attention."
Making out with Sorum again was fun, but Merrow says meeting Slash was "the pinnacle of my existence thus far. The fact that I met him diminished the god-like quality.
"Well, no, actually it didn't."
A selection from Leith Merrow's poem "Where Do We Go"
For W. Axl Rose
I pretend that I'm by your empty gravestone,
that I'm tied up in a church,
in your big white house,
sitting on pillows and eating orange chicken out of the carton.
I'm on that ship diving in after you,
my eyes full of salt,
and I sit up in a filmy sweat
and knock over the candle,
worrying my heart will explode.
I do not know where you live.
I cannot picture you walking to your mailbox
in a terrycloth robe and slippers,
clutching a cup of coffee.
But it doesn't stop me
from drawing you a birthday card
or a Valentine,
cutting my tongue on the envelope.