Strapped in the chair
Of the city's gas chamber
Why I'm here I can't quite remember
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Tippecanoe courthouse in downtown Lafayette
"Paradise City" is one of those stories that gives rock stars a name for having an awesomely cool job. In a Harper Entertainment
interview in 2007, Guns 'n' Roses lead guitarist Slash says that the band was on its way back from San Francisco after playing a gig. They were in the back of the van jamming around with their acoustic guitars when Axl said, "Take me down to the paradise city!" and Slash followed with "Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty!" and then they just went from there. So they spontaneously created a hit single. On the road. Probably with a couple of groupies within groping distance.
Sounds like a nice life, doesn't it? For some reason, you picture Axl Rose driving the van, possibly with a bottle of Night Train close at hand.
No, this song is not about Los Angeles. We have three possible locations for "Paradise City":
1) Axl Rose to Hit Parader
magazine, circa 1988: "The verses are more about being in the jungle; the chorus is like being back in the Midwest or somewhere." Gee, thanks for narrowing that down, Axl. "The Midwest or somewhere." That's a lot
of help. That's only about a timezone.
2) Drummer Matt Sorum has stated that the song is about Ireland. That makes absolutely no sense, since Ireland, despite being associated with the color green a lot, is a country, not a city. Hey, Matt, you were only hired in 1990, and "Paradise City" came out in 1987, so what do you know, anyway?
3) Lafayette, Indiana. This is, in fact, the native-birth hometown of both Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin. Now there, this is quite logical, no? It is in "the Midwest or somewhere"!
Since the lyrics say "take me back
to," that obviously means to return to some place that you were before. One often mythologizes one's homeland as a paradise, particularly when homesick. The grass back in the Midwest is certainly green; the only grass in Los Angeles (a desert) is imported and has to be watered constantly to survive, and even then is barely able to stay out of the yellow-brown range. In the Midwest, the concept of a lawn sprinkler is ludicrous - they get plenty of rain.
Downtown Lafayette, Indiana
But if you must believe that Guns 'n' Roses is singing about LA because they're LA-based, be our guest. We have bigger yetis to catch.
The lyrics, in between the infectious chorus, seem to tell some kind of incoherent story. In order: The singer is homeless on the streets begging for handouts. He's pushing for fortune and fame, but has bad luck (all a gamble) and somebody (?) treats his failure as a capital crime. Then there's the protagonist strapped into the gas chamber apparently about to be executed, with gas so thick that he can't see. Finally (perhaps a post-death dream), a metaphor for America appears in the last verse, having an argument with the protagonist.
Isn't that interesting? These lyrics have much more meaning as simply GNR-style lyrics-for-lyrics sake than they do as any kind of literal meaning. They sound cool, anyway. As the third GNR single to hit the Top 10, it hammered into place Guns 'n' Roses' reputation as rock legends.
Find your own
"Paradise City." There's plenty to pick from.
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