Seattle, Washington - probably not the jungle you expected
Ask any music fan who's even remotely familiar with the various genres of metal and they'll all tell you the same thing: Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" is about Los Angeles.
It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? The line about a very sexy girl who can taste the bright lights but won't get there for free is obviously referring to a young actress trying to make it in Hollywood. "Getting worse here every day" and "living like an animal" are two things you'd definitely say is true about at least some sections of L.A. Residents of Los Angeles certainly blasted this song from their jukeboxes, singing along with the lyrics as if they'd finally found their anthem.
Well, it turns out, as revealed in Axl Rose's 1988 interview published in Hit Parader
, the lyrics to the song were written in Seattle, Washington. Axl himself was kind of vague as to which city he was actually talking about.
This vagueness is compounded when you try to pin down where the phrase "welcome to the jungle" originates. Did Axl hear it as greeting upon disembarking from a hitchhiked ride onto Los Angeles city pavement? Or did Axl hear it from a guy in a Queens schoolyard? Or perhaps it was actually inspired by the same phrase from the song "Underwater World" by Finnish glam rock band Hanoi Rocks, which is cited as an influence on Axl Rose? The stories differ depending on who is talking when.
What cannot be mistaken is that when "Welcome to the Jungle" came out, it set a landmark. It was at the right place at the right time. MTV was only a few years old. Bands had been playing heavy metal and punk rock for years, but nobody had thought to call it that until after the fact, when Guns N' Roses united the forms into their own version of hard rock. The United States was coming to the end of the Reagan era; within this span the cyberpunk and urban-punk genres were born, and a radical shift in U.S. society towards putting corporations ahead of citizens made life in the urban ghettos feel very much like life in a jungle.
This lone song tapped into all of that. This song not only defined its place, but its time as well. It connected so well with so many fans that merely showing the video once at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning on MTV was enough to start a grass-roots fan base. One viewer after another called to request the song, and each time it played it gained a wider audience. By the time of the launch of "Pirate Radio" (100.3 FM in Los Angeles in 1989, hosted by Scott Shannon), this song and none other was picked to play for the first TV commercial advertising the new station.
Drive across the Los Angeles of today on any of the crisscrossing interlacing freeways, and pick an off-ramp well within the inner city. As you connect to the street level, notice that if you picked the right off-ramp, you will be confronted by a display of wildly colored graffiti artwork, likely as not incorporating a wild animal or gritty urban street gang theme. If the opening riffs from "Welcome to the Jungle" isn't playing in your head at that exact moment, well, you just aren't cut out for the West Coast inner city ghetto.
~ "Penguin" Pete Trbovich
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