|The final installment of RIP's exclusive three-part interview with Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose.
I, AXL by Del James
Even in the earliest days of Guns N' Roses - I'm talking Tuesday night gigs at the Troubadour - it was apparent that W. Axl Rose had "it," the unexplainable force that draws people to him. It's a double-edged sword, this personal magnetism, because while one side of Axl needs the attention, needs to share his art, and needs to bring people closer to him, the other side wonders why those who didn't embraze him early on want to know him now. Anyone who has been able to get close to Axl understands that his needs run deeper than your average Joe's. The reason people are willing to go out of their way to accommodate him is that if the situation were reversed and one of his friends needed something from him, whether it was shelter from a storm (or, more close to home, a riot) or an understanding ear, Axl would be there as soon as the call for help was raised.
The enigmatic superstar has always had the ability to cause a stir, but it should be said here that even when Axl would rather curl up into a ball and die than step onstage, 99% of all GN'R concerts go off without a hitch. Controversy seems to follow Axl everywhere, but before judging him, one has to ask just where the controversy is really coming from. It's usually created by people (i.e., yellow journalists spicing up their stories, media selling you product and hype, overly ambitious prosecutors who see Axl as their opportunity for 15 minutes of fame, or lonely people desperate for attention) trying to get close to Axl by any means available. That's the dark side of having "it."
This third and final installment of my conversation with Axl gets quite heavy towards the end. In my many hours of interviews with him (this summer I'll begin writing an authorized Guns N' Roses biography, which will come out when the time is right) he's often revealed things that left me feeling kind of awkward. "Are you sure you want me to print this?" I'd ask, and the answer was always yes. I'm starting to understand why. Although it hasn't always gone as smoothly as he might have wished, by publicly sharing the truth about himself and Guns N' Roses, Axl is shedding layers of buried pain as well as growing spiritually. He readily faces the chaos and agony most of us hide from as he frees himself from the shackles of old conditioning. What some people haven't noticed is that he's been trying to get at the hard truth about himself and the world around him, failing sometimes, succeeding more often, but always trying, since he first stepped onto a stage. And, I've got to say, that's what makes him one of the bravest souls I know.
RIP: Let's talk about music.
AXL: Alright. One of my favorite bands is U2. They used to not be, but they are now. I used not to get it. I didn't see the world they were singing about. Love and pain and caring? Only in a few instances, like "With or Without You," could I relate or understand. That was the song I saw right before I OD'd because my relationship [with his ex-wife] was so f?!ked up. I could barely see the things they were singing about in a few of my friends, and I could believe it in theory, but my true expression didn't see it at all. I can see a different thing in U2's music now, and it has nothing to do with how it's performed or what the people are wearing. There's just a different feel in the music. I think their song "One" is one of the greatest songs ever written. Now I can see and understand why people were into U2 years ago.
RIP: U2 never had a song like "One in a Million."
AXL: My opinion is, the majority of the public can't be trusted with that song. It inspires thoughts and reactions that cause people to have to deal with their own feelings on racism, prejudice and sexuality.
RIP: But Axl Rose said "faggots" and "niggers."
AXL: So have a lot of other people.
RIP: Yeah, but it's real easy to feel self-righteous and point the finger at you.
AXL: I wrote a song that was very simple and vague. That was the type of painting I was painting for myself, because that's how I write songs. Try going to a museum and not seeing paintings that depict pain and suffering and confusion. I think I showed that quite well from where I was at. The song most definitely was a survival mechanism. It was a way for me to express my anger at how vulnerable I felt in certain situations that had gone down in my life. It's not a song I would write now. The song is very generic and generalized, and I apologized for that on the cover of the record. Going back and reading it, it wasn't the best apology but, at the time, it was the best apology I could make.
RIP: Given all of the static that's come out of "One in a Million," do you ever regret having shared it with the world.
AXL: I'm on a fence with that song. It's a very powerful song. I feel, as far as artistic freedom and my responsibility to those beliefs, that the song should exist. That's the only reason I haven't pulled it off the shelves. Freedom and creativity should never be stifled. Had I known that people were going to get hurt because of this song, then I would have been wrong in thinking that the public could handle it.
RIP: Have you written any new songs?
AXL: Yeah, I've written one, but it doesn't have a title yet. Why?
RIP: Because in the time that's been allotted GN'R, you certainly have released a lot of important music. One has to wonder what's next.
AXL: What's next is, I would like to have a cleaner, more focused expression. We've pretty much stayed within the parameters of rock 'n' roll music as we know it. I'd like to see if we could add anything to GN'R, possibly bring in a new element that hasn't been there before. Guns N' Roses is not just me. There are other members in this band, and everyone's growing. There was a certain focus we all wanted to keep for Illusion I and II, but when I did "My World," everyone dug it and wanted it on the record. By the next record I think we can branch out a lot further. I would like to move in a direction where I'm more in touch with life and love but still remain as strong in terms of exposing ourselves as GN'R has always been. I don't feel now like I did when I wrote "Estranged." I'm not as bummed out as I was then. I've grown past that.
RIP: Most bands tend to shy away from the honesty and pain that come out in your songs, especially the ones dealing with your relationships. It's not very macho to be hurt.
AXL: It's about facing your pain, and not too many people want to do that. That's pretty normal, I resist and fight endlessly to avoid having to expose certain parts of myself to myself.
RIP: When people read that you're in therapy and working on your problems, those terms are pretty vague. Do you want to explain them?
AXL: I'm continuously learning that when I get depressed there may be a reason for it that I'm not aware of. It could be something that happened a long time ago, and I've carried a base thought ever since. That base thought hasn't been exposed since it happened, and it's never been healed. I've buried it so deep that I don't even know it's there. I can talk about life and love and happiness, but beneath that there's some ugly thought. Or hatred. Or fear. Or hurt. Something I'm still acting on. By going back slowly -
AXL: There's all kinds of methods, but it's basically figuring out how you feel and what really bothers you, getting more focused. Then, with my therapist, I work on releasing my unconscious mind. Unless your true self is in pain, why would you want to be detached from it? Yet most people are detached. Who knows how to go back and heal their own pain? Having help and being able to accept it is a lot stronger and sometimes easier. Sometimes it's harder though. I mean, who wants to need help? I found someone I trust and can work with. The methods aren't necessarily important; what's important is the getting there and the healing. A therapist could talk about it better than I could; and if I do, it may throw certain people off. It probably sounds very weird, but the important thing is that it's working. I have certain emotional, mental and physical problems that I don't want to have to live with any longer than I have to, so I'm obsessed with getting over them. The only way a person can tell if they need help is if underneath however happy you think you are, you know that you're miserable. I've been miserable for a long f?!king time, and now I'm not so miserable.
RIP: There's definitely been a noticeable change - for the better - in the way you carry yourself.
AXL: I still carry certain "punk" elements, but if I lived like that now, I would be going backward. People need to go through their different stages. Some band made up of 19- or 20-year-olds who say, "Everything sucks," has a right to feel that way, and they have a right to express themselves. But there is life after 21, if you can get to it - which is a bitch for all of us. Who knows, I could get really depressed and OD next week, but I don't think so, and I'm hoping not to.
RIP: Do you take your therapist out on tour?
AXL: Sometimes, when I feel I'm going to be needing to do some work. If we weren't on tour, I would've concentrated harder on getting this work finished and then gone out, but that was impossible. The albums needed to be worked. It's not so much because I wrote them, but I feel "November Rain" and "Estranged" have a chance at getting embedded in music culture, so I'm gonna fight for them and seed them with as many people as possible. I get bummed when I hear a great track off a record and the artist says, "Yeah, but the public wasn't into it." I'm like, what do you mean? The public wasn't into "Jungle," either.
RIP: The public was into "Welcome to the Jungle."
AXL: Not necessarily, dude. We released it three times.
RIP: I remember when I was living with Duff, having to wait until 3:00 a.m. to see the video because MTV wasn't really pushing it. Then it fought its way to being the most-requested video; so it's pretty hard to remember it not being successful.
AXL: Well, it wasn't.
RIP: Check it out, Fear is playing on the 13th.
AXL: I was watching them in The Decline of Western Civilization. And people think I'm homophobic. I was going, "Man, if they were out now, and the world knew about 'em, they'd be destroyed."
RIP: Yeah, but bands like Fear, the Germs, and the Pistols could say just about anything, and the media really wouldn't have cared, because the bands were labeled punks.
AXL: When I was living in Indiana, I was labeled a punk, a punk rocker. When I moved to L.A., the punks called me a hippy and didn't want anything to do with me. The Hollywood rock scene was a war zone back then. I tried out for a punk band and didn't make it because they said I sounded like Robert Plant. I was bummed because I thought I had a gig and really liked the music. Dude, I'm building a robot.
AXL: I'm building a robot. It's about 7" inches tall, and it's called a TXR002. It's remote-controlled and kind of looks like the robot that fought Robocop in Robocop 2. It's got these lights, and it's totally radio remote. It's got a motor in each leg and walks around.
RIP: You should get two and make 'em fight.
AXL: That's cool! I haven't put a model together sinceI was a kid and I'd smash 'em. Today I was watching my Decline movies and doing business on the phone while I was building a model, and I was thinking, I'm turning into Slash.
RIP: You recently went public in Rolling Stone about your childhood abuse.
AXL: I definitely get my share of sticks and stones and rocks and stabs from people trying to bait me into something for whatever reasons. I would like to be more "actionary" than "reactionary." I have a lot of damage and I'm not saying that like "Oh, pity me," or anything. Instead of being myself, I was definitely a product of my environment, and that was something GN'R has thrown back in the world's face. "You don't like us? F?!k you! You helped create us! Your ways of doing things helped make sure we exist the way we are. We didn't have a choice to exist any other way." When you feed someone shit, and they have the balls to tell you what it tastes like, most people have a problem with that. As a child I was beaten a lot. People can't handle a troubled child who doesn't know how to accept help.
RIP: What do you mean by that?
AXL: If a kid's being beaten, and someone offers help,and the kid goes off, a lot of the time the punishment is just compounded. Instead of helping him and trying to break through to him, it's like, "No, you're going to work on your problems right now! Do you understand me?" That doesn't work. "Shut up, sit down" commands are outdated if you're trying to help someone heal. I was brainwashed in a Pentecostal church. I'm not against churches or religion, but I do believe, like I said in "Garden of Eden," that most organized religions make a mockery of humanity. My particular church was filled with self-righteous hypocrites who were child abusers and child molesters. These were people who'd been damaged in their own childhoods and in their lives. These were people who were finding God but still living with their damage and inflicting it upon their children. I had to go to church anywhere from three to eight times a week. I even taught Bible school while I was being beaten and my sister was being molested. We'd have televisions one week, then my stepdad would throw them out because they were satanic. I wasn't allowed to listen to music. Women were evil. Everything was evil. I had a really distorted view of sexuality and women. I remember the first time I got smacked for looking at a woman. I didn't know what I was looking at, and I don't remember how old I was, but it was a cigarette advertisement with two girls coming out of the water in bikinis. I was just staring at the TV - not thinking, just watching - and my dad smacked me in the mouth, and I went flying across the floor. Someone can say, "Dude, just get over it." Yeah? F?!k you! Whether I wanted it there or not, that incident was locked into my unconscious mind. Whenever there was any form of sex, like a kissing scene, on TV, we weren't allowed to look. Whenever anything like that happened, we had to turn our heads. Dad had us so brainwashed that we started turning our heads on our own. We scolded each other. My mom allowed all of this to happen because she was too insecure to be without my stepfather. She assisted in me being damaged on a consistent basis by not being there for me or my sister or my brother. I've always felt this great urge to go back and help my mom. I felt obligated to, but I don't anymore. She fed me and put clothes on my back, but she wasn't there for me. I'm still experiencing anger over this situation, but I'm trying to get over it. Burying it doesn't work for me anymore. I buried it for too long. That's why there's a gravestone at the end of the "Don't Cry" video. I watched almost everyone in this church's lives go to shit because their own hypocrisy finally consumed them.
RIP: What effect did this have on the kids?
AXL: Well, it gave us a real high opinion of God. It really confused things. The Bible was shoved down my throat, and it really distorted my point of view. Dad's bringing home the fatted calf, but I was just hoping for two hamburgers from McDonald's. We were taught "You must fear God." I don't think that's healthy at all. I'll tell you, I don't know what God is or isn't, but I don't fear him or it. I feel a helluva lot better about that. I'm not afraid of it anymore, and I don't feel like I'm being punished by it with the obstacles that occur in my life. If I sound a bit self-righteous, I'm not. I'm just pissed off for, not at, people. I don't like seeing people miserable, and I don't like watching people killing themselves while they're telling me they're happy. With the help of regression therapy I uncovered that my real dad, not my stepdad, sexually abused me. The most powerful anger was this two-year-old child's anger because it was hurt. Nothing could really scare me, because I'd already seen hell. I'd been killed at two and lived through it, and I was miserable because I'd lived through it. I was miserable for 28 years. My stepdad came into my life when I was three or four, and I didn't even know my real father existed until I was 17. I was separated from myself at an early age, and my stepfather made sure I never put myself back together, with his confusing mixed messages of love and brutality. He'd love me one minute, then beat me the next. I've had to learn how to shed both of these men's personalities. I'll take two steps forward, then one step back, but I'm into it. A lot of things are new to me now, but I won't let my fears stop me from progressing.
RIP: How do you think your childhood traumas affected your adult sexuality?
AXL: I couldn't be with someone sexually in a nice way, because I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong - even if it was someone I liked. The only way I could enjoy sex was if I got into being the "bad guy." Finally I grew tired of being the bad guy. I love this person I'm with. Why do I have to always maintain a low level of self-esteem in order to feel alright? I don't feel alright feeling like a piece of shit, and I don't want to be a f?!king piece of shit. Even though it was put into my head years ago, by reading up on abuse and doing the work I'm doing, I've found out that's how it works. It's a real weird thing to have to deal with. You know, I'm grown up now. That was a long time ago. I'm supposed to have gotten past that. Yeah, maybe.