Sweet Child

It was an ordinary, late-August day in 1988.

The sky was clear and blue.

It was summer vacation waning, the dog days ending. The air was cool and public pool crowds dwindled.

I was 9 years old, and I was melancholy at it all. Damn you, the passing of time and letting go of childhood wonder.

There was a distinct stillness in the air. A blend of anticipation, boredom, and dread known only to boys just before school days renew oppression on the wandering and free spirits of youth.

I’ll never forget this day.

It was when I first heard “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” on the radio. It lit something in me that never went away.

It’s amazing how a single song can hold such meaning and mystery, and last a lifetime of feelings.

It promised me a time and place I wanted more than anything on this Earth. But somehow, even then, I knew it would never be.

But that didn’t stop me.

I started school two weeks later with this song deep in my head and woven every-which-way through the evolving tapestry of my juvenile emotions.

I just couldn’t shake it.

I learned and hung on every word. Every note. I wanted to be that song. I wanted to jump right into it. And I wanted to know all the deep and grown-up things about this rebel band made of thorns and pistols and shouts and hair – especially the raspy man behind these words.

MTV was a luxury I didn’t have. Few did where I’m from.

But I saw Axel Rose sing the sweet song on a friend’s TV during winter holiday break that year.

He was a courageous front man. He was careless or causal, I couldn’t tell.

But legend, to be sure.

He said this with a shrug of his sleeveless shoulders, as he grabbed the mic with both hands. He had tattoos and a wide bandana concealed his long hair.

He sang and swayed with swagger.

And yet under it all, he was ordinary, pale, unfit, but cool. I related to him on all points but the last.

He was normal, but completely covered up with cool. And it all came together on stage.

But best of all – he was dangerous. I knew that much – and nine-year-old boys love danger.

I know this because I have two boys of my own now.

Unreal. This memory is 27 years ago. A quarter century and change.

I have two sweet children of my own and a beautiful sweetheart girl whose hair reminds me of a warm safe place. I have no tattoos. My hair is short and thinning. I’m normal, pale, rocking the dad bod – and am very, very uncool by GNR standards.

But even still, when I hear that sweet goddam riff and then those howling vocals, it reminds me of childhood memories, where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky.

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