Backstage with Guns N’ Roses is like… Hebrew School?

Rock stars and I don’t often mingle in the same circles.

So when I recently found myself unexpectedly snacking on organic blueberries with Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal — and being treated to an impromptu acoustic performance of the Israeli national anthem — you could not wipe the permanent smirk off my face. More on the relevance of the Jewish “Star Spangled Banner” later…

At the Hard Rock Las Vegas, I honestly thought I was disqualified to be invited backstage because:

1. I am not an attractive 22-year-old woman (and never will be).

2. I do not have ANY pole-dancing skills.

Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal at the 2013 Rocklahoma Festival in Oklahoma, roughly a year before I was invited to sample the GNR cheese-and-crackers platter. (Photo by Ilya Mirman)

Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose and guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal at the 2013 Rocklahoma Festival in Oklahoma, roughly a year before I was invited to sample the GNR cheese-and-crackers platter. (Photo by Ilya Mirman)

Take a look at the blurry action shot below taken at the GNR concert on June 7. If you squint long enough, you’ll see two bikini-clad women dangling from poles and two bikini-clad women who prefer to dance on the ground (how odd). This is the narrow demographic I expected to exclusively see backstage.

Welcome to the Neon Jungle -- The 2014 Guns N' Roses "Residency" at the Hard Rock Las Vegas. (Photo by Ilya Mirman)

Welcome to the Neon Jungle — The 2014 Guns N’ Roses “Residency” at the Hard Rock Las Vegas. (Photo by Ilya Mirman)

Although there were no shortage of traditional female groupies at the pre-concert party, I also met a bunch of guys with no ulterior motive beyond a souvenir photo or a classic Chris Farley moment.

Bumblefoot shattered one of the classic rock-and-roll stereotypes. Instead of choosing his guests by their breasts, he picked people he thought would be interesting conversationalists. (In a similar shocking development, check out this Guardian story about how “Rock Stars Don’t Trash Hotels Anymore.)

Sharing the couch with me and my friend Ilya was the owner of a local tattoo parlor, the founder of a new crowdsourcing website for indie artists, and the former drummer of The Cult.

What did we talk about?  Mostly burgers, inspired by an earlier visit that day to the controversial Heart Attack Grill, where everything is cooked in lard to increase the shock (and caloric) value. Keeping kosher, I won’t eat lard, but also would avoid it no matter what for obvious health reasons. Bumblefoot, a strict follower of the Paleo Diet, provocatively countered that lard “may actually be healthier than we think.” (I’m not buying it.) And he shared his fascination with IN-N-OUT Burger — a chain with locations only in the Western U.S. — inviting us to join him there later after the show.

SO HOW DID I WIND UP BACKSTAGE?

Rock Photographer Ilya Mirman.

Rock Photographer (and Friend) Ilya Mirman.

I tagged along with the talented rock photographer and friend Ilya Mirman, who told me that Bumblefoot had generously offered to escort us into the concert early. We had good tickets, but why not skip the lines? Much to my surprise, Bumblefoot led us through a series of hallways and doors that led to the GNR PARTY ROOM.  I knew it was the GNR PARTY ROOM because of the photocopied sign, the same method they use at Chuck E. Cheese to let you know which birthday party you are attending when you arrive too early.

Nearly every member of the band made a cameo at this party, except for Axl Rose, who I assume doesn’t go to parties with signs announcing his presence.

Rather than being starstruck, I was more impressed by the classy selection of items on the GNR Snack Table:

The "G" in GNR is for "Gourmet."  (Photo by Ilya Mirman)

The “G” in GNR is for “Gourmet.” (Photo by Ilya Mirman)

Two items of distinction that I would like to point out on this buffet table. First are the gourmet flatbread crackers directly to the left of the deli platter — I wound up eating about half of them. Guns N’ Roses, to their credit, doesn’t settle for crappy Ritz crackers! Next, check out the crunchy Snapea Crisps to the left of the Fritos. I have it on good authority that the Snapeas are a special request from keyboardist Dizzy Reed.

SO HOW WAS MY BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE LIKE… HEBREW SCHOOL?

I’m a casual Guns N’ Roses fan, having grown up with their music in the 80s, but would get my ass kicked in any GNR trivia contest. I’m a much bigger Israel fan, particularly enamored with the country’s guts, innovation and charm despite living in the world’s most stressful neighborhood. Ilya had mentioned to me that Bumblefoot had played an electric guitar solo of “Hatikvah” (The Hope) when Guns N’ Roses stopped in Israel during their 2012 European tour. It was basically a Jewish Jimi Hendrix moment.

So when Bumblefoot leaned up against the couch and started riffing on his acoustic guitar, I nonchalantly blurted out “Up for some Hatikvah?”

I was beaming when he played it. So was Ilya, who couldn’t resist adding a selfie to his footage of this historic moment. Yeah, everyone else in the room probably thought “Hatikvah” was a new kind of bean dip and didn’t recognize the tune. But the three of us did — and this 52-second private concert instantly ranked in my Top 5 moments of Jewish pride.

After the song, Bumblefoot proudly showed us the hamsa (ancient Jewish good luck symbol) around his neck and told us a friend bought it for him in Israel.

Bumblefoot's Hamsa -- The longer I live the more I accept that anything is possible.  Can I truly attribute some good fortune to an amulet?  I don't know.  If I don't know, I have to be open to the possibility.  The power of *belief* is something real.  It's a beautiful gift from a friend, and the kindness of this gift on its own is strength for the soul." (Photo courtesy of Ron Thal)

Bumblefoot’s Hamsa — “The longer I live, the more I accept that anything is possible,” he later explained in an email. “Can I truly attribute some good fortune to an amulet? I don’t know. If I don’t know, I have to be open to the possibility. The power of ‘belief’ is something real. It’s a beautiful gift from a friend, and the kindness of this gift on its own is strength for the soul.” (Photo courtesy of Ron Thal)

I asked him how much sightseeing he got to do in Israel, and he said he only a had a limited time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with the customary visit to the Western Wall. I spent my last two minutes of conversation extolling the virtues of the Dead Sea, how he can experience the feeling of being a “human cork,” and how sadly, the Dead Sea is shrinking and that he should try to see it before it disappears.

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism owes me one.

(If there’s an IN-N-OUT Burger near you, you may catch Bumblefoot snacking in his limo at 3 a.m. Otherwise check out Bumblefoot.com for upcoming “Guitar Gods” concert dates.)

 

 

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