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On April 20, 1992, the band performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, an effort for AIDS Awareness in London. Guns N' Roses were a controversial addition to the lineup, as many in the gay community were still angry over Axl using a gay slur in the song "One in a Million." The band opened with "Paradise City" and closed with "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." During the famous "Paradise City" opening, Axl pointed at a group of protesters in the audience and yelled "SHOVE IT!" He had planned to address the controversy between songs, but was asked not to by the band as it would pull the spotlight from Queen and Freddie Mercury. As Slash concluded a short cover of Alice Cooper's "Only Women Bleed," bassist Duff McKagan kept an eye on Axl, who approached the front of the stage. When Slash finished the song, then strummed the beginning of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Duff walked over to Axl and shook his hand as an act of appreciation. Later in the show, Slash joined Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and the surviving members of Queen for "Tie Your Mother Down." Axl sang "We Will Rock You" and finished "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Elton John and Queen. The show was broadcast live around the world via satellite, gathering the largest audience for a music concert in history.
After the lineup was announced, the AIDS activist group ACT UP London began screeching about Guns n' Roses' participation, first demanding that Guns be dropped from the bill, then urging other artists to shun them and the Wembley crowd to boo them off the stage--a concept the members of Queen found ludicrous.
"ACT UP will have no influence on the audience whatsoever," said an angry Taylor. "And I have a two-word message for them, which I'm prepared to give them at any moment they want it."
"People seem so blind," said May earnestly. "Don't they realize that the mere fact that Guns n' Roses are here is the biggest statement that you could get? We think it's time that everybody realizes that whether you're gay or straight, you're entitled to your feelings. You cannot come down on anybody because of the way they feel. That's got to be an outdated concept, and I hope that the concert will help to bring that about."
Although the audience at Wembley was primarily there to pay tribute to Mercury, the event's AIDS agenda was never far from anyone's mind. Red ribbons and AIDS-awareness sashes transformed the floor of the packed stadium into a scarlet sea.
Guns n' Roses' set, the show's potential hot spot, passed without incident. At one point, Axl Rose, looking like he was itching to get something off his chest, sat down on the drum riser long enough to send an anticipatory buzz through the crowd, but after a moment's pause, he resumed the set with "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." (Rose later confirmed that he had been sneaking up on a diatribe-- against the U.S. government, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association, for hindering access to alternative forms of medicine that could be valuable in the fight against AIDS. "I thought about it," said Rose, "but I couldn't do that to Queen. Everybody was so happy, I didn't want to spoil the vibe.")
It was an honor just being asked to do it . . . sort of like being put on the map by people we had admired for years. But the experience was even much deeper than that.
Being the type of band that we are, the last thing we wanted to know about a few years ago was AIDS. Like most people, we thought it was only a problem for needle pushers and homosexuals, which meant we didn't have to worry about it. I was still as promiscuous as hell.
But then it started getting closer to home and everybody had to start being aware of the dangers . . . homosexuals, heterosexuals; people were even starting to get it from their dentists or whatever. That slowed my trip down a lot, but it didn't really hit home until Freddie died of AIDS because he was this huge icon in our minds.
To walk out on that stage in front of 75,000 or 80,000 people was a very emotional experience. It was like all of us in rock 'n' roll, the artists and the audience, were saying we did care and we are responsible for each other. It was a great sense of community that day and it touched something in me [Slash - Los Angeles Times, August 1992]