First, some relevant family history: my brother is 13 years older than I am. He is solely responsible for getting me into good music, inspiring and teaching me to play guitar, and taking me to my first concert. I was 15 in 1995 and just a sophomore in high school. By this point in my life he had already ignited my love for music and guitar; I was in a band and I was writing songs, but I had never been to a live music event. On the other hand, my brother was 28, seven years removed from a Cornell education that saw him end up with a business degree. After college he worked as a desk jockey for a few years at Chase before deciding that he had missed his calling in life to be a writer. Eventually he quit Chase and moved to Boston to pursue a Masters in writing at Emerson College.
Periodically I’d receive packages from him in the mail that contained magazine clippings and guitar tabs, cassettes with demo songs he’d been writing, etc., all kinds of stuff that 15-year-old-me thought was fantastic. At some point in late March I received one of these packages; one of the enclosed snips of paper was this:
As a 15 year old with few friends and no social life, it wasn’t difficult to clear my schedule.
April 14th, 1995 was Good Friday. He had driven home from Boston to celebrate the Easter holiday with the family. I was always especially happy when he would visit. He often came bearing musical inspiration and musical gifts (guitar strings, cassettes, picks, etc.). But what could possibly be so important that he made me reserve Holy Saturday? Friday night arrived and I went to bed, still completely in the dark about the plans for the next day. He woke me on Saturday around 10am and told me to get dressed and to meet him out front. I hastily threw on some clothes and grabbed a slice of toast as I ran out the front door to an idling car. “Get in!” he shouted through the drivers window, “We’ve got to get going!” I opened the door to that old teal Ford Escort and slid into the seat. Before I knew it we were on the road - destination: unknown, at least to me.
My memories of the trip itself are vague, but I remember that as a 15 year old, I didn’t know much about the roads besides “I’ve been in this car long enough to know I’m not in Rochester anymore.” I noticed signs indicating we were on the NYS Thruway, I-90, heading eastbound. “Where are we going? Where are you taking me?” I asked repeatedly. It may as well have been “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Surely I was driving him insane, but he was a rock and gave me no indication of what was in store. We continued driving east for quite a while. Hours and mile markers passed by. I was no travel buff, but I knew my geography, and I understood that heading east on I-90 would be sending us towards Albany, New York City, Boston, and other assorted points east. Eventually I noticed a sign indicating a major split in the roadway: keep left to continue towards Boston, keep right to head towards NYC. “This is it,” I thought to myself, “this should answer my questions.” Sure enough, and not entirely surprisingly, he kept to the left, continuing on I-90 towards Boston.
At this point it became pretty clear to me where we were headed. I had never been to Boston so that prospect alone was totally awesome. Soon though, my mind turned towards my mom, and home, and Easter, and “Holy shit! Tonight is the Easter Vigil at church. Mom’s gonna be so pissed if I’m not there!” I continued to beg him to tell me what was happening, but still, informational silence… that is, until we stopped for dinner at a rest stop on the Mass Pike between Worcester and Boston.
After scarfing down some McDonald’s, we returned to the car to continue our trip. We were close enough to Boston at this point that the car radio could pick up some FM stations. He had tuned into WFNX and just as I was buckling my seatbelt, I heard the DJ say it. “We’re gearing up for the big show tonight down at Axis; we’ll be on location. Slash’s Snakepit is in town! I hope you’ve got your tickets because this show is sold out!” Did I hear that correctly? My face must have lit up like a Christmas tree. I turned to him: confused, excited, sheepishly grinning.
Slash stood tall above all other influences on my music and guitar training (still does). My brother had weaned me on a steady diet of Guns N’ Roses as I was learning to play, and when that band imploded I discovered the first Slash’s Snakepit album after reading a review in Rolling Stone. As far as I was concerned, Jesus had already returned to earth: he let his hair grow wild, smoked cigarettes, shaved his chest, drank heavily, wore assless chaps and a tophat, he could fucking shred, and now… now I was only miles from the savior himself. As I begged my brother to tell me what was happening, he pulled two tickets out of his pocket. We were going to the show. I have no idea what happened between that moment and the moment we arrived on Lansdowne Street. I only remember pulling onto the street - a long row of bars on my left and the towering walls of Fenway Park on my right - and seeing tour vans parked in front of Axis. We parked somewhere nearby and made our way toward the club.
We were a bit early and had beaten the majority of the crowds; only a few people were standing outside the club waiting to get in. We stood at the end of the line and I don’t think I uttered a single syllable for a few minutes while I stood there and took everything in. This was all so new to me: my first time in a big city, my first time near a real baseball stadium, my first time standing outside a rock club, and ultimately, my first concert. Then I felt him tugging on my shirt. I looked over and he was pointing up the road… pointing at a group of people walking towards us. At such a great distance it’d be nearly impossible to identify any mere mortal, but what I saw standing in the middle of that group was no mere mortal. Rising above the head-line I saw a little black tower, a smokestack of sorts. Before I knew it, we had sacrificed our place in line and were walking towards the group. We met them half-way. There before me stood Slash’s Snakepit, including ex-Gunner Gilby Clarke, and the messiah himself, Slash.
Was I starstruck? You have no idea. I’m fairly certain I didn’t say a thing. I probably didn’t even look him in the eye. I mean, what are you supposed to do for royalty of this sort? Bow? Genuflect? All I know is that my brother slyly had pulled an index card and a sharpie from his pocket and handed it to Slash for an autograph. He signed the card, kept the sharpie, and continued walking towards the club. I stood there dumbfounded as my brother handed me the autograph. “What do I do with this?” I wondered. This belongs behind glass, perhaps behind an altar somewhere. He took it back from me and carefully put it in his back pocket. We ran back to the club and got back in line.
Eventually they opened the doors and let us in. I remember entering and being completely baffled by the whole scene. I’d never been inside a bar like this. If you’ve never seen Axis - it’s a truly tiny club. To think that just a few year prior Slash was performing for hundreds of thousands of people at festivals internationally, and now I was going to see him in a bar barely bigger than my garage - it was simply overwhelming. We pushed our way towards stage left, where Slash always stood, and took up a defensive position right at the front of the stage. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. If you had told me it was all a dream, I might have believed you. In fact, it WAS a dream; it was a dream come true.
The band came out, and they fucking rocked, and they rolled, and they grooved… but mostly they rocked. I distinctly remember them performing a cover of Magic Carpet Ride. Eric Dover (who I would also love a few years later as the singer for Imperial Drag) had a true rock voice and enough charisma to stand on stage and not be completely dwarfed by Slash. The band was clicking on all cylinders, but most of all, it was Slash. It was Slash standing right in front of me. It was Slash flinging sweat on me while he furiously strummed his Les Paul. It was Slash redefining, in an instant, what I defined to be cool. It was Slash setting the tone for the goals of the rest of my life.
After the show, we went back to my brothers apartment and I called home. Repentantly… “Mom, I’m in Boston. Sam took me to Boston to see a concert. It was amazing… sorry we missed the Mass. We’re driving home tomorrow, but I don’t think we’ll be back in time for dinner… I’m sorry.” (To this day I struggle with overcoming my Catholic Guilt. My mom is so dedicated to the church that I joke to people about how she is next in line to be the Pope.) It wasn’t until many years later that my mom confessed that she knew about the trip the whole time. The next morning, Easter, we drove back to Rochester. Along the way we heard the news about the Oklahoma City bombing. We got back to Rochester late Sunday afternoon, in time for Easter dinner, and the next day my brother packed his things and drove all the way back to Boston - ultimately he made two round trips to between Boston and Rochester in 4 days.
In 2008 I read Slash’s autobiography. He talks about how that first tour with Snakepit was an almost therapeutic experience for him. After dealing with the stresses of touring arenas and stadiums while a member of GN’R, and putting up with Axl’s bullshit night after night, he described the Snakepit tour as a return to what he loved most about being a musician: the experience of standing on stage and performing for a roomful of people that genuinely care about the music itself, rather than all the pomp and excess associated with major tours. I couldn’t stop smiling while reading that chapter of the book. To know that Slash himself enjoyed my first concert just as much as I did is undoubtedly among the most satisfying emotions I’ve ever experienced.