A reputation can be a delicate and, yet, powerful thing. Sometimes you make your own reputation and sometimes others create it for you, which is a far stickier situation. When Guns n’ Roses made their first appearance in England in June 1987, the British press, ever vapid purveyors of sensationalism, immediately dubbed them “the most dangerous band in the world.” The guys in the band thought it was hilarious. Sure, they were rowdy and rough around the edges, but dangerous? At first, Guns ate it up because they liked being the biggest and baddest band on the block. But not much later, they found that a reputation like that can be hard to shake once a sinister connotation replaced the fun-loving bravado.
A year later, Guns found themselves in England again, this time at the Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donington. It was an open-air venue with a crowd the likes of which the guys had never seen before. The last time they were in England, they had been virtual unknowns, so they were shocked at the surge of people who rushed the stage as they began their set. People began falling in the mud and getting trampled as the crowd continued to push forward. Axl stopped the show three times, telling the crowd to get back and to allow the security personnel to help those that had fallen. He tried to mellow the audience by playing slower songs. At the end of their set, Axl, exhausted and exasperated, told the crowd, “Don’t &^#%*@ kill yourselves.” The guys in the band had no idea — and wouldn’t find out for several hours — that two fans had been crushed to death in the mud. The band was devastated. For as rough and rowdy as they were, they never, ever wanted anyone to get hurt at one of their shows.
As soon as the news of the tragedy was released, the media outlets seemed to give a knowing nod as if to say, “We knew these guys were up to no good.” The tragedy at Donington haunted the guys for years, both personally and as a band. The media stopped just short of accusing them of murdering the two young men, but left the implication there. The fact is, the band did what they could from their position onstage in attempting to calm the crowd. That in itself is a lot of responsibility for guys in their early twenties.
The real blame lies with the venue and security personnel. They should have taken measures to prevent people sinking into the thick mud (it had been raining for days; it was no secret that the ground was a mess). They could have cordoned off the worst areas. And the biggest factor — they never should have allowed a crowd that size. Fortunately they did learn their lesson in that regard and reduced the crowd capacity in later years after the festival was reinstated. Entire crowd-control policies were rewritten and implemented around the country. It came at a gruesome price, though, and was a black cloud that dogged Guns wherever they went.
We know that the press is given to sensationalism and dirt and it sounds much more exciting to implicate a loud rock n’ roll band than some nameless festival organizer. While the news reports didn’t outright lie, they tweaked the wording just enough to give people the impression they wanted them to have. Nothing has changed. Choose any high-profile article in your newspaper and take a good look at it. What vocabulary is used? How are the facts of the story presented? How much of it is conjecture and speculation? Don’t just absorb the news as it’s given to you. Analyze it. Dissect it. Cross-examine it. Never just accept it.