I have looked far and wide for the meaning of the title to Guns N’ Roses “The Spaghetti Incident?”–please enlighten me!

“It’s a very silly story,” warned Duff McKagan (formerly the bassist for Guns N’ Roses, now a member of Velvet Revolver) when I asked. The title originates from the summer of 1989, when singer Axl Rose wanted the band to relocate to Chicago. “The idea was Axl was from over the border in Indiana and he wanted to be close to home. So we got two condos and rehearsed above the Metro, and Axl never showed up.”

While McKagan, guitarist Slash, and drummer Steven Adler were waiting for Rose, they wrote a bunch of songs for Use Your Illusion, and ate a lot of Italian takeout. “And Steven was doing a lot of crack cocaine at this point, and he’d keep his blow in the refrigerator. So his code word for his stash was ‘spaghetti’,” McKagan told me. “Steven spiraled out of control. We said, Steven, we’re fucked-up individuals and we’re telling you that you gotta shape up, so you must be really fucked up.” Adler was fired in July 1990, the first member of the group to get canned (placing him years ahead of the GN’R curve).

Adler then sued the band under the novel premise that his drug addiction was their fault. Giving a deposition for the 1993 trial, McKagan was asked to cite instances of Adler’s bad behavior, and mentioned the Chicago drug stash. “So then I’m in court, with a jury and the whole thing, and this fuckin’ lawyer gets up, and with a straight face says, ‘Mr. McKagan, tell us about the spaghetti incident.’ And I started laughing.” The band ultimately settled out of court, writing Adler a check for 2.5 million dollars. When McKagan read through the trial transcripts, he was struck by the straight-faced absurdity of the phrase “the spaghetti incident,” which is how it ended up as an album title (complete with quotation marks) later that year.

You may have also wondered about the small semaphore message on the bottom of “The Spaghetti Incident?”‘s cover. McKagan never even noticed it was there; Slash peered at it and then told me, “It does have a meaning, but I’ve forgotten what.” Only Axl Rose knows what it means now, and he’s not talking.

(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)

(2015 update: two years after the publication of Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?, some fans on a Guns N’ Roses message board convincingly cracked the “small semaphore message” on the album’s cover: Axl Rose was using the same cipher employed by the Zodiac Killer (active in California in the late ’60s and early ’70s). So yeah, the dude was obsessed with serial killers (witness his Charles Manson cover at the end of the same album). And the message that remained hidden for so long? It was “FUCK EM ALL.”)