I used to get nosebleeds relatively frequently as a kid, so I was pretty much used to them. But this time the crimson flood was leaking out of my nose directly onto the pair of ripped, stonewashed Levi’s that the 12-year-old version of me had picked out for the biggest night of my life: Guns N’ Roses at Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland, Ohio. Pair that Pollock-splattered denim with an original “Guns N’ Roses Was Here” T-shirt, and I was ready for my first real rock show.

To this day, I’m not totally sure how I convinced my mom to take me to see Guns N’ Roses perform on the Use Your Illusion Tour on a school night, but the impact this event would have on the arc of my life would prove incalculable. In fact, it’s no coincidence that for the next fifteen years of my life, I would try to harness the grandeur of vintage GNR, first using a Gibson Les Paul Studio and eventually graduating to an ’89 Les Paul Black Beauty Custom , which was not-so-ironically built during Guns N’ Roses’ most prolific era.

Anyway, now that I had a killer outfit (dried blood = tough), a hot date (my mom) and my signature prescription eyewear (bifocals), there was no way I could be stopped. We rolled into the show fashionably early and found our seats on the floor just as the opening act, Skid Row, came out to warm up the crowd. Now, I had heard profanity before, but the amount of profanity that came out of frontman Sebastian Bach’s mouth during any given sentence literally blew my mind. It was like another language that only adults in skintight leather pants were privy to—and I liked it.

After waiting for about two hours in anticipation (with the audience turning from mildly irritated to downright surly), Guns N’ Roses hit the stage. Axl looked amazing, sporting an outfit that was possibly even cooler than mine: plaid kilt, Nine Inch Nails, and a weird cast on his arm that looked like it was made in the future. However, I was instantly more drawn toward Slash. Sporting a top hat, which sat atop a mess of curly black hair, a half-smoked cigarette that seemed to be Krazy Glued to his lips, and flaunting a bare chest glistening with sweat, he was everything a rock god should be. Pure, cool danger I had never witnessed.

The centerpiece of this ensemble was a cherry sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard that was amplified via a literal wall of Marshall stacks. Although neither of the Use Your Illusion albums had been released yet (the date was pushed back many times, though nowhere that of Chinese Democracy) the iconic solos Slash blazed through on tracks like “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Paradise City” and “Don’t Cry” were like nothing I’d ever heard before in my life—and, unbeknownst to me at the time, watching the girl in front of me whose dress kept gradually slipping down her shoulders would be the closest I would get to seeing an actual woman naked for a long, long time.

Honestly, most of the specifics of the concert have long been lost to me-we had to leave early because I had a serious stomach ache (which was either due to nerves or the entire pizza I consumed prior to the show), but I do remember on the way out seeing a trucker with a mullet making out with a wasted-looking girl near the bathrooms. Looking back, it seems kind of trashy (okay, really trashy)—but at that moment I realized that I would aspire to be Slash for the rest of my life. Although Guns N’ Roses would break up a few years later, this realization was more about an ideology than wearing a top hat or drinking Black Death vodka.

Ultimately, if there was one thing I had to take from that experience, it would be the sight of Slash’s Les Paul Standard, sweat-stained under the gigantic house lights and inspiring legions of fashion-challenged preteens like me to strap on a Gibson in an attempt to make some magic of our own. Thanks, mom.