John Dedeke

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STL vs. Gn'R

I didn’t know much about anything in 1991. But I knew that I liked Guns N’ Roses a hell of a lot more than I liked St. Louis. 

In the wake of the Riverport Riot that followed the band’s premature departure that July night, there was a lot of anti-Axl sentiment circulating around town, most of it from people who weren’t exactly lined up to get Gn’R tattoos, anyway — which of course only pushed my favor further toward the band. Did the guy in the crowd really have a camera or a knife, as the story goes? Had Axl repeatedly hounded security throughout the night before finally deciding he’d had enough? To an 11-year-old with an increasingly sour disposition and a growing distrust for anyone over 30, it didn’t really matter. By the time Use Your Illusion I and II were released several months later, accompanied by the eloquent liner love note “Fuck you St. Louis,” Axl’s fury had become an extension of my own, the object of his rage a representation of every smug, self-righteous Boomer who dared to undervalue my pimpled contribution to society.  

Looking back 20 years (and several dozen similar incidents) later, it’s hard to take Axl seriously— though I can’t definitively say if that has more to do with my own personal growth and maturity or the spectacular insignificance of the only Guns album of original material released since.

But it’s also hard to blame him. After leaving that night, Axl returned to St. Louis only once more — for his trial. He didn’t watch as the dumpy amphitheater he’d help destroy was rebuilt just as vacuous and depressing (andproblem-prone) as the original. He didn’t add his vote to the majority opposing the sale of a city’s soul to its baseball team, only to see his elected officials blink obliviously as the con job swiftly passed. He didn’t have to endure a continuing city vs. county feud that is about as rational and mature as a partisan debate in Congress.

Though Axl was convicted of property damage and assault for his involvement in the Riverport incident, he didn’t rip that amphitheater apart. St. Louis did. The same St. Louis that later tore down a nearby neighborhood to build airport runways for planes that never landed. The same St. Louis that allowed its school system to deteriorate so badly it was taken over by the state. The same St. Louis that continued to spread itself further and further apart while simultaneously complaining about gas prices and commute times. The same St. Louis that idly allowed the unregulated chaos of a few dangerous blocks to become the city’s hallmark in the national eye. 
 
But while all of that was happening, that same St. Louis also reinvigorated its downtown core. And expanded its mass transit network. And became a confluence of culinary innovation and diversity. And took a vacant shoe factory and turned it into a world-renowned urban playground. And built a free skatepark under a viaduct. And created a new kind of arts district without even trying. And survived a 500-year flood. And starred in a George Clooney movie. And retained the nation’s largest city park. And grew into the second-largest annual mardi gras celebration in the world. And created one of the largest networks of bike trails and greenways in the midwest. And won the Super Bowl. And the World Series. 
 
All Axl has done in the meantime is record Chinese Democracy and punch Tommy Hilfiger, only one of which could be considered a positive accomplishment. 
 
It’s 2011 as I write this, and I still don’t know much about anything. But I know that I like St. Louis. A lot. I might even love it.