If the opening chords of "Welcome to the Jungle" don't trigger some sort of Pavlovian reaction, one in which you suddenly have the urge to shotgun a beer and do a little shimmy from side to side, then you probably don't know where you are right now. Relax. Don't panic. You're in the jungle, baby.
I think pretty much everyone wore out their cassingle of "Welcome to the Jungle" around 1989 or so because they were so addicted to that sweet, sweet opening riff. The lyrics, though...whatever, amiright? The extent of my interest in whatever Axl Rose was singing went something along the lines of, "Blah, blah, blah, just get to the part where he goes sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-neee!"
Turns out, it's about a jungle or something. This much we know. Maybe. But what else was going on in that teased-out brain of Axl's? Let's examine, shall we? Brace yourself. Something tells us it's gonna bring you -- DOWN! Huh!
There are two things you have to know about "Welcome to the Jungle" before you start believing it's some great treatise on Reagan-era politics and, like, the system, man. The first is that Guns N' Roses' manager said that when coming up with the idea for the video, he just stitched together ideas from Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange and The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The first two are pretty obvious, but other than the fact that Axl's makeup on stage is a little Bowie-esque, I'm not sure how the third one applies. Maybe because they're both lonely gingers walking the earth in a state of confusion? Whatever, we'll roll with it. So all that depressing, dystopian imagery in the video is less poignant and more, "Hey, this would be cool."
The second thing you have to know about this song and the accompanying video is that Axl Rose's explanation for how he wrote the lyrics basically boils down to "I went to a small town one time and I felt like they had everything I needed." Jigga-what??! Then how do you explain these lyrics, good sir?
"If you've got the money, honey, we've got your disease."
Pro tip: When you're singing a line that's clearly aimed at potential groupies, maybe don't talk about selling off your disease while pointing to your junk. It's the '80s, dude. Axl needs to take a cue from the TLC tip and start wearing condoms stitched to his clothes. Safety first.
"I wanna watch you bleed." "I wanna hear you scream." "If you want it, you're gonna bleed."
Question: Was the "small town" that inspired this great American masterpiece actually Twin Peaks? Did Axl visit Bob in the Black Lodge? I grew up in a small town. I promise my impressions of it were not "Gee, they have everything I need here -- by which I mean, obviously, sadomasochistic blood torture."
So, okay. Maybe the lyrics are not the most important thing about the song. Let's jump straight into the video. Apparently, David Geffen had a helluva time selling it to MTV but finally managed to get it on -- once, apparently, at 5 a.m. on a Sunday. It reportedly got so many requests that they had to keep playing it, and now here we are in 2013, when the video has nigh on 33 million views on YouTube, at least 400 of which are mine.
Anyhow, the video opens with Axl stepping off a city bus looking like the prettiest belle at the ball. But he's about to get his Midwestern cowtown sensibilities ripped apart by the mean streets, because immediately, some shady dude in a leather coat walks up offering him drugs.
Welcome to the jungle, indeed.
Axl's got no time for that mess, though, and he pushes him aside so he can continue chomping on his wheat. You see, Axl is a man on a mission. So he keeps walking down the street, passing by the foxiest girl you ever did see, and starts staring at some TV screens. Here's how you can tell the video is an alternate reality: Real-life Axl would never pass up drugs and women. And thus begins our journey. We've just made it through the only part of the video with a linear plot. Let's all congratulate ourselves, shall we?
Remember when I told you this video was cobbled together from three different ideas? Yeah, I've already lost track of what trope we're on. About three-fourths of the way through the song, just as we're starting to feel like we're lost in a house of mirrors, Axl screeches out over the cacophony like a demented carnie: "Do you know where you aaarrre?" No! Dear God, evil clown, I DON'T know where we are! Sex dungeon? Rock concert? Big city? Small town? TV torture chamber? Quaalude dream? There's too many options!
"You're in the jungle, baby."
Ah, yes. This feels right. The jungle. This sounds familiar.
"And you're gonna diiiiiiieeee."
Just let it wash over you. Don't overthink it. You're in the jungle, and you're gonna die listening to those sweet, delicious, gnarly guitar riffs that got you here in the first place. Where's my Natty Ice? I've got a sudden urge to shotgun.
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