A few nights ago, I was hanging out with my 10-year-old daughter Marion and her fifth-grader friend Emma as they took turns showing each other their favorite YouTube videos on a laptop. They surfed from one video to the next as children do, giggling their way through goofy stuff like “Banana Song (I’m a Banana),” a surreal depiction of a guy singing a banana suit, which has garnered 23 million views. All of a sudden, the banana song stopped, and I heard a grinding rock and roll guitar riff.
“Slash!” my daughter and Emma shouted.
I took a close look at the video screen. Yup — that Slash, or at least an animated version of him, was blasting his way through the song “Kick It Up a Notch” onstage with the animated Disney characters Phineas and Ferb. Meantime, Marion and Emma played air guitar and gushed about his famous opening riff on “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” a song they’d discovered after the fun-loving Phineas and Ferb introduced them to the guitar god in the top hat.
Slash has come a long way since his hell-raising days as lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, a band that defined debauchery on its way to joining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. To put matters in perspective, this is the same guy whose 2008 biography contains passages like, “We were taking turns having sex with her, but Izzy wasn’t wearing protection” and “I’ve never been able to get high doing it any other way than with a needle.”
His appearance in a Phineas & Ferb video in 2011 is the latest landmark in a public rehabilitation from Slash, the out-of-control heroin addict to Slash, the approachable and even warm hero to children.
The video was no lark; he did it to promote the Disney Channel movie Phineas & Ferb: Across the Second Dimension, whose soundtrack contains the tune. And, as many young gaming enthusiasts know, in 2007 he appeared as a playable character in the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which opened up his brand to a younger demographic.
So what happened?
1. His career changed
When Slash left GNR in 1996, he didn’t just leave a band — he departed a juggernaut whose first three albums sold more than 63 million copies worldwide, filled stadiums with their concerts, and gained a reputation as “the Most Dangerous Band in the World.”
When Slash was a member of GNR, his fame came about as a result of a group collaboration (most notably with Axl Rose); but as a solo artist, Slash became responsible for creating his own mythology.
2. The industry changed
The music industry today is nothing like the one Slash crashed in the 1980s. Nowadays even famous 46-year-old rock gods can’t count on radio to find an audience and CD sales to generate revenue streams. Reaching today’s distracted, multi-tasking audience means crossing into the media they consume (like video games) and cozying up to the brands they care about.
3. Slash has changed
The man who says he flat-lined three times (“that I know of”) is reportedly six years clean and sober, the father of two sons, and recently celebrated 10 years of marriage to Perla Ferrar. He professes to like playing Lego with his kids, and his involvement with Phineas & Ferb stems from his personal enjoyment of the children’s cartoon.
Celebrating 10 years of marriage the Slash way
In 2009, Slash joined one of his most successful groups to date, the Collective. Never heard of the Collective? Few people outside of the music business have. The Collective in Slash’s life isn’t a band — it’s an entertainment company that helps manage and market artists. According to Billboard, the Collective has negotiated successful distribution deals globally for Slash’s 2010 solo album and branding relationships such as his relationship with Monster Energy Drinks, which resulted in Slash’s image appearing on 100 million drink cans to promote his music.
Slash also runs his own label (Dik Hayd) and has marketing relationships with the likes of Harley-Davidson in Canada and Guitar Center in the United States. Nearly 7 million people (including me) are fans of his entertaining Facebook page and 1.2 million people follow him on Twitter. Last year, he described to Billboard his willingness to creatively market himself this way:
It just seems like the way of the world at this point, that you have to do certain deals in order to be able to make a record, to be able to do a tour and all that kind of stuff. I mean, there’s no money in making records. If you have that big pop or hip-hop record, there seems to be a lot of money in that. But, obviously, I’m not really headed down that road.
For Saul Hudson, who we know as Slash, being cool means playing Lego with your children, celebrating 10 years of marriage with your wife, enjoying Phineas & Ferb, managing a businesses, contributing to environmental welfare programs, and looking like a badass in a top hat while you play a killer guitar solo onstage.
Now that’s what I call cool.