Welcome To The Jungle

The hype alone is a beautiful thing. At one minute after midnight this Monday night, a good thousand record stores across America open late or opened early-will rush to sell the two new albums by Guns N' Roses, "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II." A neatly staged spectacle of spontaneous demand, the release is an event. Adolescent rage, and the appetite for it, finally get their own shopping holiday.

The event serves notice: the terms of the rock-generation gap have changed. Parental authority is no longer a dull killjoy taking the T-Bird away. In the music of Guns N' Roses, as well as best-selling acts like Metallica, N.W.A and others, authority is actively destructive. As James Hetfield of Metallica sings, "New blood joins this earth/And quickly he's subdued." This isn't rebellion without a cause. It's a specific response: to child abuse, to the violent dysfunction of a generation torn by Vietnam, alcohol and drug use, divorce. As the Houston rap group the Geto Boys describe their world, "Bitches getting raped, niggers getting murdered / Adults f-ing kids in numbers unheard of." If these experiences don't actually touch most young people's lives, they're part of the psychological landscape for a broad audience. For African-American males, add the dangers of incarceration and police brutality. The rap group Public Enemy, in its upcoming album, "Apocalypse 91 ... The Empire Strikes Black," even taps malt liquor marketed heavily to young blacks as a killing force visited from above.

At the same time, the rockers no longer present themselves as hopes for a better future. Instead, as heirs to all the damage, they're reduced to often violent survivalism. They're blameless but not necessarily innocent. "You know where you are?" singer Axl Rose asked on Guns N' Roses' first album-"You're in the jungle, baby." N.W.A characterizes its own youth culture as a kind of "Vietnam," a free-fire zone where killing is just part of growing up. Metallica sees itself as essentially animal: "I hunt therefore I am." Unlike, say, the protest musicians of the Vietnam era, these acts don't strut their own moral solutions. Instead, they're part of a moral breakdown that they didn't start. And the children coming along next are even more messed up. Metallica's Hetfield offers an ominous lullaby: "Hush little baby, don't say a word / And never mind that noise you heard / It's just the beasts under your bed / In your closet, in your head."

In from the fringes: These groups or attitudes have been around a while, but on the fringes. Most nearly, they're an outgrowth of the Los Angeles punk scene of the late '70s and early '80s. Like the punks, the groups wear their marginality as both badge and marketing banner. Niggas With Attitude-just saying their name opens wounds. But the margin is getting crowded. N.W.A's "Niggaz4life," too raw to attract buyers through radio play, became the No. 1 album in America within two weeks of release. "Metallica," playing to a largely overlapping audience,

But these numbers tell only half a story. Along with the rise of N.W.A, another margin has found success by shutting out these same concerns, For these acts-Natalie Cole, Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton, Harry Connick Jr.-love can still conquer all, and cozy traditionalism warms over all of life. These acts marginalize themselves as actively as N.W.A, and to similar, if less volatile, effect. Cole's "Unforgettable," for example, a lush re-enactment of Nat King Cole's velvety hits, sold 1.2 million albums in its first month-a No. 1 album built on quaint anachronisms. It isn't just an alternative to Guns N' Roses and N.W.A. For a largely adult audience, it is a fortress against them.

In the absence of a true pop mainstream, in which listeners of different stripes could find shared wisdoms, these two campsone brutal, the other unrealistically gentle-momentarily define the pop landscape. They're two unreasonable responses to the world, pulling ever deeper into their own unreason. They don't speak the same language. "Love is a wonderful thing," sings Bolton, "Make ya smile through the pouring rain...... So what about the bitch that got shot/F--- her," raps N.W.A's Eazy-E, "You think I give a damn about a bitch? / I ain't a sucker." The gap splitting the rock generation is becoming as wide as the one that once distinguished it.

In her book, "Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids," sociologist Donna Gaines draws the background for this gap. For the 20 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 not bound for college, whom she calls the "forgotten half," real wages are down, job opportunities are down and high schools serve increasingly to "warehouse" students before dumping them into an economy that has no place for them. This generation is "[s]tuck without hope, dreaming of jobs that no longer exist, with the myths of better days further convincing them of their individual fate as 'losers'." In the past decade, the suicide rate among 15- to 19-year-olds has increased about 21 percent. The murder rate has risen at approximately the same pace.

The irony is that this rift follows a period of conspicuous pop idealism. Just six years ago, stars from across the spectrum sang in triumph, "We are the world, we are the children." But the Live Aid concert, and the lesser knockoffs that followed, was the last promise that there was something to pop music that held people of different ages, classes and ideas together. This promise didn't hold; even then it wasn't true particularly for fans of rap and heavy metal, who were largely left out. The pop field broke itself into scattered subcults, each with its own sound, look and audience. What we're hearing now, in the vacuum at pop's center, is the triumph of two particularly entrenched subcults, and the jarring thump of tribalism.

The rage fueling rock's new generation gap ultimately burns its handlers. Guns N' Roses, Metallica and N.W.A can describe their anger-even sell it-but can't shed it. They're locked in a static battle. All reach the ends of their albums a little worse for the wear. Axl Rose, buffeted by his rage throughout the sprawl of both "Use Your Illusion" albums, eventually finds sanctuary in catatonia in the song "Coma." But this respite is as illusory as the one Mariah Carey finds in the hominess of romantic cliche. Rock can harbor a lot of things, but stasis isn't one of them. Eventually something has to give. In the meantime, though, this romance with the flame makes for the most exciting music rock has to offer.

Hey, you caught me in a coma, And I don't think I wanna Ever come back to this world again. Guns N' Roses "COMA"; I feel good, I feel nice. I've never been so satisfied I'm in love, I'm alive. Mariah Carey "EMOTIONS"

Love is... So what about the bitch who got shot. F --her You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain't a sucker N.W.A "STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON"; Love is a wonderful thing. Make ya smile through the pouring rain. Michael Bolton "LOVE IS A WONDERFUL THING"