Well before he gunned down 32 people at Virginia Tech last week, it appears Seung-Hui Cho was obsessed with Guns N’ Roses. In Cho’s now-widely-disseminated play “Mr. Brownstone,” the GNR song of the same name played a central role. In one scene of the play, a character called John regales his friends with his hatred of a math teacher named — you guessed it — “Mr. Brownstone,” while singing nearly the entire lyric of GNR’s song to a friend. John then pauses to emphasize a particular phrase — “That old man, he’s a real motherfucker, gonna kick him on down the line” — to suggest what he’d like to do to his math teacher. Might another lyric from “Mr. Brownstone” have played a part in Cho’s real-life revenge fantasy?
One of the many open questions for investigators concerns the two-hour separation between the slayings. Part of that interval is, of course, accounted for: after murdering two students in a dorm, Cho delivered his infamous “multimedia manifesto” to the post office, bound for NBC News. But listen to GNR’s song again. Could Cho’s obsession with it have provided him with the blueprint for mass murder?
In the Guns N’ Roses song, Axl Rose (whose name, incidentally, appears to resemble Cho’s pseudonym “Ismael Ax”) sings:
“I get up around seven
Get outta bed around nine...
The show usually starts around seven
We go on stage around nine...”
That, of course, mirrors the basic timetable of the shootings: Cho shot his first victims, at West Ambler Hall, at around 7am (the 911 call came in at 7:15); he mailed his videotape and pictures to NBC (his “show,” if you will) at 9:01am. The first 911 calls from Norris Hall, where Cho killed dozens and wounded dozens more, came in at 9:45.
There’s reason to believe that the times are more than a coincidence. Cho’s obsession with Guns N’ Roses and “Mr. Brownstone” are eerily apparent in his writing. In Cho’s “Mr. Brownstone,” characters John, Joe, and Jane are talking in a casino. Over the course of two pages they sing verses of the GNR song to each other.
JANE: Oh, I love that song.
JOE: That is my favorite song of all time.
Cho’s Mr. Brownstone is a teacher whom John and Jane dislike intensely. At one point, Jane says, “I wanna watch him bleed” — echoing another Guns N’ Roses lyric, from “Welcome to the Jungle” (“I wanna watch you bleed”). At the end of Cho’s twisted play, the three friends win five million dollars in one shot, only to be robbed of it by the “evil” teacher and a casino guard who mistakes them for “gangsters.” In the end, Cho’s hated Mr. Brownstone gets off scott free; his next targets weren’t so lucky.