|The story is told of a birthday party that took place two Februarys ago at a Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica. A few long-haired musicians mingled with some concert promoters in suits, eating mediocre guacamole and drinking Cuervo margaritas. The gifts piled up and the crowd of about forty sampled birthday cake, but the guest of honor, Axl Rose, who was turning thirty-seven, never showed up. Axl's manager, Doug Goldstein, quieted the room. "Axl's not going to be coming, " Goldstein said. "But order whatever you want and have a good time."
This story is told not because it is considered an example of eccentric or rude behaviour on Rose's part. Rather, it is considered emblematic of the way the singer conducts his life - just another night in the off-kilter existence of a man who used to be one of the biggest rock stars in the world. "Not the least bit unusual," says a friend who was at the restaurant,laughing in there-he-goes-again style. "Typical Axl."
Except for a couple of interviews last winter, timed to the release of a Guns N' Roses live album, and a 1998 Phoenix arrest, Rose has remained out of public view since 1994, when G N' R coughed and spat to a halt. For six years he has been working on the next G N' R record, tentatively titled Chinese Democracy. None of the original band members plays on it. Most of them hardly speak with Rose anymore. Rose spends most of his time in Los Angeles recording studios behind the gate of his secluded estate atop a hill in the Latigo Canyon section of Malibu. His housekeeper, Beta Lebeis, does most of the shopping and driving. Axl reads, works out, kickboxes, plays pinball, teaches himself guitar and computers and tries to write lyrics.
Meanwhile, GN'R's debut record, Appetite For Destruction, released in 1987, marches on. The second biggest debut album in rock history (15 million copies at the last count), Appetite thirteen years later still sells a remarkable 5,000 to 6,000 copies per week - more than 200,000 units annually. G N' R caught a feeling in 1987, a raw vibe of anger and authenticity, somewhere between metal and punk, that still appeals to rock music fans today. Even in the new millennium, Appetite probably cranks inside more turbocharged Chevys than any rock record ever made.
One can divide the public Axl into two separate periods: before 1993, when the original band was together and post-1993 after the group's final recording, The Spaghetti Incident?, an unremarkable collection of mostly punk covers. Wherever he went during those years of his fame, Axl left frustrated, angry people behind. He became buried in litigation. Shelves in the clerks' offices as Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles and in Santa Monica bow under the weight of thousands of pages of legal papers concerning G N' R and Axl that have accumulated over the years, actions involving claims totalling millions of dollars. This is not to mention band- or Rose-related legal matters in Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, New York, Spain, England and Canada.
The documents tell part of the story of how G N' R succeeded and failed, and they give a picture of Axl himself. The image that emerges is one of a complicated man who can be sensitive and funny but who is also controlling and obsessive and troubled, a man changed by fame and wracked by childhood trauma who faces a lonely future surrounded by a small circle of family members and childhood friends. "His world is very insular," says Doug Goldstein. "He doesn't like very many people."
Axl is a man struggling with demons and taking radical measures to overcome them. He became deeply involved with past-life regression, a brand of psychotherapy that exists on the new age fringe. "Axl," a friend says, "is looking for anything that'll give him happiness."
As successful and wealthy as he became, friends contend, Axl still feels like a victim, unfulfilled, somewhat lost. "He seemed emotionally reserved and a little bit suspicious," says the techno whiz Moby, who spent some time with Axl in California in 1997. "He seemed a little bit like a beaten dog." And Rose, according to those who know him, remains hung up on one old girlfriend: the model Stephanie Seymour, now married to the polo-playing financier Peter Brant. Seymour and Axl's ex-wife, Erin Everly, have both accused Axl of beating them, a charge he denies.
Whether Axl's emotional and legal troubles contributed to the demise of the original GN'R is open to interpretation. There is little dispute, however, about one thing they did cause: a massive delay in finishing Chinese Democracy, which is in reality an Axl Rose solo record. This work has been six years, a roomful of studio musicians and a rumoured $6 million worth of Interscope/Geffen's money in the making. It is still not finished and probably won't be anytime soon. "So many times, I have come down to the studio, and I had no idea that I was going to be able to," Rose told Rolling Stone last November as he played twelve new tracks. "If you are working with issues that depressed the crap out of you, how do you know you can express it?"
People who have heard the new music say it sounds fantastic. "The tracks reminded me of the best moments of Seventies Pink Floyd or later Led Zeppelin", says Jim Barber, a former Geffen A&R executive who worked on the project. "There's nothing out there right now that has that kind of scope. Axl hasn't spent the last several years struggling to write Use Your Illusion over again." In the estimation of guitarist Zakk Wylde, who sat in with the new band a few times, "Axl is one fucking smart guy."
In recent months, though, guitarist Robin Finck and drummer Josh Freese both left the project, as did computer engineer Billy Howerdel. Queen guitarist Brian May spent a week recording with Axl and returned to England. Avant guitarist Bckethead, known for wearing an upside-down Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his noggin, came on the scene. But as of now, it seems, there is no "new" GN'R.
"I'll punch your lights out right here and right now. I don't give a fuck who you are. You are all little people on a power trip." These are not lyrics to a bitter new GN'R track about lawyers, perhaps reminiscent of Axl's old rants on CD and from the stage against reporters and photographers and anybody else who failed to do his precise bidding. These words, the Phoenix Police Department reports, are what Axl shouted at security personnel at Sky Harbor International Airport in February 1998 after a screener asked to search his hand luggage. Threatened with arrest, Axl, travelling in jeans, a red sweat shirt and a gray stocking cap, rejoined, "I don't give a fuck. Just put me in fuckin' jail." He spent a couple of hours behind bars. The matter was resolved on February 18th 19999 when Rose, via telephone, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanour charge of disturbing the peace and paid a $500 fine.
Lost in the minor hoopla over the arrest was the matter of what, exactly, Axl was doing at the Phoenix airport. Was Axl coming back from a place where he often goes - Sedona, the New Age bastion in the red-rock canyons 115 miles north of Phoenix, where he sees one of the most important people in his world, a psychic known derisively in the GN'R camp as Yoda?
Though nobody knows precisely how he got involved, people who know him say Axl started visiting Sedona in the early nineties, sometimes travelling with Beta, his housekeeper, or Earl, his bodyguard. Many believers in past lives, channelling, UFOs and the predictive power of crystals pass through Sedona. The town is so tuned in, vibewise that certain canyons are understood to be vortexes for masculine energy and others for feminine forces. In the produce aisles of Sedona supermarkets, shoppers dangle crystals over the pints of strawberries.
For close to a decade, Rose has been a powerful, almost evangelical believer in homeopathic medicine. The world, in Axl's view, is a perilous place, populated by greedy doctors affiliated with the American Medical Association who prescribed dangerous synthetic medicines. When GN'R toured, homeopathic elixirs for Axl's throat were always on hand. He introduced Echinacea and protein shakes to a GN'R more accustomed to vodka and heroin.
Axl's childhood woes are well documented; he does not come, as Axl himself might say, from a healthy place. In 1992, in this magazine, Axl talked about learning at the age of seventeen that the man he thought was his real father was in fact his stepfather. Axl's biological father, William Rose, abandoned the family when Axl was two and is believed to be dead. Through therapy, Axl said, he recovered memories of being beaten and sexually abused as a child. It is these traumas, primarily, that Axl wrestles with, and it is these experiences that may, in part, be blamed for his hostile attitude toward women and his consuming need for control. A friend says "All that baggage, as he was being constructed, it all comes to bear. It's not an external issue. It's really core to his makeup."
Yoda's real name is Sharon Maynard. A rather plain Asian woman of middle age, Maynard stands about five feet five and has a medium build and dark, curly hair. Since 1978 she has run a not-for-profit business in Sedona called Arcos Cielos Corp., which loosely translated from the Spanish means "sky arcs." The company, with assets of $241,602 in 1998, lists itself as an "educational" enterprise. Aricos Cielos operates out of Maynard's rural home in Sedona, which she shares with her husband, Elliott, a gently gray-haired man. "Dr. Elliott and Sharon Maynard" are both thanked in the Use Your Illusion liner notes.
Sharon Maynards keeps a low profile in town. "She is way under, low-key," says a local business man with ties to the psychic community. None of the New Age booksellers or silversmiths I talked to knew her, and she wasn't listed in the phone book or with the Center for the New Age, where a tick three-ring binder full of psychics and past-life therapists is available for perusal - and many of those listed are available for immediate consultation in booths upstairs. This is not surprising. Much of the more high-end psychic work in Sedona is done b quiet figures like Yoda who work out of private homes.
While it is customary for tour employees to submit a photograph for a laminated pass, with Axl other things seemed to come into play. Doug Goldstein is said to gather photos at the singer's instruction for psychic assessment. In Sedona, some think, Yoda would examine these photos. What does so-and-so want out of Axl? Does this person have his best interests in mind? What kind of energy do they emit?
Submitting a photo to Axl for evaluation by Yoda, some say, coincided with employment in the GN'R world. Band members, crew members, record-company executives - everybody did it. The procedure still goes on. Recalls one current employee, "I sent my picture in. Everybody gets a photo made for a pass. People made jokes about auras being read. What's this for? Nobody really knew. But I don't know anybody who got canned for anything other than not doing a good job." On occasion, according to a music-industry figure Axl recently worked with, Yoda even requests photographs of the sons and daughters of people in Axl's world.
In February 1998 in Arizona, Axl was carrying some presents he'd recently received - "going to the psychic for review," in the words of one knowledgeable source. One item in Axl's bag was a large hand-blown glass sphere. Axl was apparently worried that the security personnel at the airport might break it, and that led to his outburst and arrest.
How important is Yoda to Axl? One associate says Yoda's influence, while important, is tempered by the force of Axl's personality; "He wasn't turning his life over to somebody with a candle and a crystal. I say that with every confidence. It's just not consistent with who he is. He makes his own decisions."
Still, Yoda showed up on tour. "She came with some of her pals," a crew member recalls. "Funny dudes: Southwestern people with funny shoes. Their look didn't fit in: they were like aliens."
During a 1992 GN'R swing through the US with Metallica, Yoda apparently became concerned about energy fields around Minneapolis and ordered that a date contemplated for the city not be booked. It was later rescheduled for a different Minneapolis venue. "Axl had trouble," a tour regular says, "in areas of the country that had a strong magnetic field concentration."
Before some dates in Japan, presumably at Yoda's urging, information about atomic power sources in the country and power sources for the Tokyo dome had to be collected. A source involved in this mission says he never understood precisely what this data was used for. "It was something about the magnetic forces that exist in the universe and where those things are in comparison to where Axl would be spending his time."
Axl also sometimes took a psychotherapist from Los Angeles, a Victoria Principal look-alike named Suzzy London on the road. London maintained an area backstage for herself and Axl. He cast her as his therapist, wearing a black miniskirt, in the video for "Don't Cry."
Members of the band and its entourage took different views of Axl's various counsellors. Some showed them healthy respect. Others scorned them. "They had to accompany him to Japan to make sure that the bad-energy waves didn't capture him there," a former employee recalls. "If it was any exotic, wonderful place around the world, the advisers generally had to be flown in at some point. But if it was Kansas City, everything was really fine. I mean it was St. Louis where the riot happened." Were they with him in St. Louis? Angry at a fan with a camera at a July 2nd 1992 show at the Riverport Amphitheatre, Rose launched himself into the crowd, touching off a riot that injured more than fifty people and caused more than $200,000 in damage.
Axl has spoken in the past about his experiences with past-life-regression therapy. A typical past life regression sessions begins with hypnosis. During traditional psychotherapy, a patient placed in a trance may be able to recall traumatic events that have been repressed and that may lie at the root of current emotional problems. Freudian theory holds that recognizing and understanding such traumas, which often occur in childhood, can promote healing.
Under hypnosis by a past-life expert, the playing field expands. A patient may be able to remember back even further, to a life or lives that were lived hundreds if not thousands of years ago, and discover traumas that occurred then. Some patients may speak in the voice or the language of that long-dead being, whether it be a Roman ruler or a Southern plantation slave.
Past-life adherents tend to believe that one lives one's life with different incarnations of the same group of people. Axl, according to a confidant, believes he and Stephanie Seymour were together in fifteen or sixteen past lives.
After a shouting match with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love backstage at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards at UCLA's Pauley Pavillion, Axl told a friend that Love was trying to possess him. "He believes people are always trying to find a window through to control his energy," a friend says. How does Axl combat this? "By controlling the people who have access to him."
After he and Seymour broke up, in 1992, the model began dating Peter Brant. Axl, according to one friend, ordered subordinates to obtain a photograph of Brant's wife, Sandra. Axl intended to take it to Yoda for a specific purpose, according to a former Geffen employee: "Axl wanted to cast a spell around Sandra to protect her from Peter, because he felt that she, too, had been cuckolded as he had been, and he had a great deal of sympathy for her." Seymour, then 26, and Brant, 48, married in Paris in 1995.
Even by loose New Age standards, Axl has received some bizarre advice over the years. After Axl's ex-wife, Erin Everly, the daughter of singer Don Everly, and the inspiration for the GN'R hit "Sweet Child o'Mine" sued Axl in 1994, charging assault and sexual battery, Everly sat for a deposition. She testified that Axl believed that she and Seymour were sisters in a past life and were "trying to kill him." As far as her own relationship with Axl went, Everly said, "Axl had told met that in a past life we were Indians and that I killed our children, and that's why he was so mean to me in this life."
Everly was asked, "Had Axl ever told you that he was possessed?
"Yes," she said.
"What did he say he was possessed by?"
Bonham, the rambunctious Led Zeppelin drummer died in his sleep after a bender in 1980. Rose denies ever saying he was possessed by Bonham.
"They're the ultimate controlled relationships," a friend says of Axl's various therapy sessions. "Starts at a certain time, ends at a certain time, you pay for it, you can stop paying for it and stop going. And as long as you want somebody to listen to you, as long as you want somebody to say the things that you want to hear, you can pay them to do it."
Once in a while, in a New Age community that embraces a certain number of charlatans, Axl got taken to the cleaners. During his marriage to Everly, Axl went for an exorcism. The exorcism apparently didn't involved the priests and crosses that viewers of prime-time television have come to expect. "Mainly it involved getting some kind of herbal wrap," Axl testified during the Everly case, some "work on my skin." The man who performed this procedure charged $72,000. Even Axl admitted, "I ended up getting ripped off for a lot of money in the long run."
Through a series of hairpin turns and steep grades, Latigo Canyon Road winds a couple of thousand feet up to the top of an arid hill near the Point Dume section of Malibu. The sun skims and slants and shimmers off the Pacific Ocean and the celebrity homes that crowd the beach below. Axl lives in a Mediterranean style compound that was valued last year at $3.8 million, a price tag fairly typical for the neighbourhood. He moved into the canyon in 1992, paying a mortgage of about $15,000 a month. Latigo was going to be the place he and Stephanie Seymour would live together as man and wife and raise their children.
Gardeners assiduously tend Axl's four acres, which are hidden from public view by trees and a fence. A lighted star on the side of Axl's house can be seen for miles by drivers on the Pacific Coast Highway. Axl's neighbours on the hill include the beach-volleyball star Gabrielle Reece.
The sound of falling water soothes the grounds, which also contain a tennis court and a pool. When Axl throws a party, the court doubles as a parking lot. The house itself is stocked with religious artefacts from Latin America, including Axl's vast collection of crucifixes. Axl plays pinball on the machines in his game room. Since the demise of GN'R he has shared the Latigo Canyon estate with tanks full of snakes and lizards, and with various friends, family members and live-in help. Axl's sister Amy Bailey, who used to run the GN'R fan club, and half-brother Stuart Bailey have stayed in the house at one time or another. Beta, who formerly worked as a nanny for Seymour, taking care of her son Dylan, doubles as chauffeur. She also travels with Axl; it was she by his side during the contretemps at the Phoenix airport in '98. "Beta moms him," a friend says. "She's as close as she's ever had to a real mother."
David Lank, a running buddy of Axl's from Indiana and an occasional Guns N' Roses collaborator (he co-write "Don't Damn Me" on Use Your Illusion I), bunked at Axl's place in Latigo Canyon for a while. Sabrina Okamoto, a masseuse, also stayed a time on the property. A striking woman in her early thirties, Okamoto met the members of GN'R during their 1991 tour with Skid Row; she became the GN'R tour masseuse, then worked for Axl after Guns split. "When his friends were in need, he was there to bail them out," a former associate says.
Axl throws a costume party every Halloween for friends and their families. Enormous pumpkins ring the swimming pool, and spider webs hang in the trees. Specially built mazes and forts rattle with squealing children. Almost as excited as a child, Axl himself has been known to dash around and toy with every attraction. One past guest gets the impression that Axl is trying to re-create his own childhood, albeit one better than his actually was. The Halloween scene in the past few years hasn't been what it once was. "His parties have been getting smaller and smaller," recalls one recent guest. "The ever-shrinking universe."
Last Halloween, Axl appeared outfitted as a pig, scaring a few of the children in attendance. Guests helped themselves to past and barbecued chicken; loud rock 'n' roll making made conversation difficult.
Axl usually sleeps during the day and works at night. Beta or her son drives Axl to Rumbo recorders in the San Fernando Valley, where sessions for the GN'R follow-up to Spaghetti Inicident? Have been going on for years. More and more lately, Axl conducts most of his other business over the telephone.
Much of Axl's non-music and non-spiritual business concerns legal strategy. Besides his dispute with Everly, other matters have dragged on: he has ended up in court against Seymour; the band's original drummer, Steven Adler; the replacement guitarist Gilby Clarke; and various companies that did business with the band. Lately Axl has been using threats of legal action to limit what people say about him. A few days after I talked with Alan Niven, GN'R's former manager, who was fired in 1991, Doug Goldstein called me, threatening to sue Niven for allegedly breaching a confidentiality agreement. Niven later received a letter from Axl' personal lawyer in Los Angeles, demanding he contact Rolling Stone and attempt to withdraw his comments. Failure to do so, Axl's lawyer warned would result in "swift and sure legal action."
In the early nineties, Axl demanded and was granted sole control of the Guns N' Roses name. As to precisely where and when this happened, memories are fuzzy and contradictory, perhaps lost in the mists of rock & roll tour memory. Axl, backstage somewhere is said to have basically issued an ultimatum: He'd get the name of the band or he wouldn't perform. Papers memorializing this transfer were drawn up and guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan signed them.
What would it matter really? Axl, Slash and Duff would always be, it seemed, the inseparable three. Money was everywhere. Guns N' Roses grossed $57.9 million right out of the gate in the four years from 1988 to 1992, according to documents produced during the Adler litigation. Overhead was enormous - expensive video shoots, first class everything on the road, all the clichéd rock-star excess - but a $57.9 million gross in that time span for a relatively new band is almost unheard of in rock 'n' roll history. The Rolling Stones didn't make this kind of money until years deep into their career. David Bowie raised $55 million in 1997 selling bonds tied to the earnings his first twenty-five albums. The Grateful Dead earned $40 million to $50 million a year touring, but not until the 1990s, after they'd been together for more than twenty years.
After a 17.5 percent commission to management, Axl and his band mates divvied up the money according to a specific formula, which Axl described once in court. During pre-production for Appetite, Axl said, "Slash devised a system of figuring out who wrote what parts of a song or part of a song. There were four categories, I believe. There was lyrics, melody, music - meaning guitars, bass and drums - and accompaniment and arrangement. And we split each one of those into twenty-five percent. When we had finished, I had forty-one percent, and other people had different amounts."
Axl, with Slash, had always controlled most of the band's affairs. By this time Axl has full control. GN'R began work on a new album of original material, drawing from a Geffen advance thought to be around $10 million - Madonna kind of money.
GN'R released their fifth record, The Spaghetti Incident? In November 1993. It sold well, but nothing like Appetite or the Illusion records. The band began to unravel as Axl spent more time in court. He and Seymour argued violently at home in Malibu and broke up. Axl was devastated; he had wanted to marry her. "The split had an enormous effect on him," a friend says. "That was the first time in his life had stability. And then he had nothing."
Lawsuits flew back and forth. Seymour was charged that Axl had beaten her. Axl alleged it was she who had attacked him. According to Seymour's version of events, after an argument in their kitchen Axl shattered some bottles on the floor, grabbed Seymour by the throat, put her in a headlock and then dragged her barefoot through the broken glass "while repeatedly hitting her about the head and upper body and kicking her in abdomen." Axl's story was that Seymour grabbed his balls and he was just defending himself.
Erin Everly, long gone from Axl's life soon joined the fray, filing a suit of her own in 1994. In a deposition, Everly's roommate, Meegan Hodges-Knight, Slash's former girlfriend, recalled some disturbing encounters with Axl.
"I'd wake up to Erin saying, 'Please stop. Don't hurt me, don't hurt me,' and Axl screaming at her," Hodges-Knight said. "And then all of a sudden he' d come out and he'd like, break all of her really precious antiques, and she would be, 'Please don't break them, please.' And trying to get them back from him. And he'd push her and he'd break everything he could get his hands on.
"I remember sleeping and waking up to crystal flying over my head, shattering on the floor."
Sometimes, Slash was there when Axl went off on Erin.
"I remember asking Slash to do something, or I was going to do something," Hodges-Knight remembered. "I said, 'I have to do something' or something like that. And he said "No, you're going to make it worse.'"
Hodges-Knight testified that Axl kicked Everly with his cowboy boots, and dragged her around by the hair one night while she was wearing a see-through tank top and panties, threw a television set at her (it missed) and spit on her. "That pig," she said. "He spit on her."
Everly herself claimed Axl sexually assaulted her. She described a day when Axl ordered her to take off a bathing suit she was wearing, after which he tied her hands to her ankles from behind, put masking tape over her mouth and a bandana around her eyes, and led her, naked into a closet, where she remained for several hours while Axl talked to a friend of hers in the living room.
Later, according to Everly, Axl untied her, picked her up and tied her, face down, to a convertible bed. And then, "he forced himself on me anally really hard. Really hard."
"Were you screaming?" she was asked.
"How long did that last?"
"I don't remember."
"What happened when it was over?"
"He took it out and stuck it in my mouth."
An unreleased version of the video for GN'R song "It's So Easy", directed by Englishman Nigel Dick features Everly in bondage gear, with a red ball in her mouth as Axl screams, "See me hit you! You fall down!" The singer, according to a former associate, went to some lengths to gather up the few existing copies of the tape after Everly went to court against him.
Both cases were eventually settled. Seymour's lawyer, Michael Plonsker won't comment except to say that the suit was resolved "amicably". Despite their claims of injury and abuse, neither Erin Everly nor Stephanie Seymour ever filed criminal charges against Axl Rose in connection with the events described.
Rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin's replacement, Gilby Clarke, meanwhile left the band. And rejoined. And left again. "As you are aware, Gilby has been fired at least three times by the band in the past month and has been rehired at least two times," Clarke's lawyer Jeffrey Light wrote in an April 14th, 1994 letter to GN'R lawyer Laurie Soriano. After failing to receive royalties he claimed were due him, Clarke sued the band in 1995. Clarke says he didn't want to go to court but nobody in the GN'R camp would call him back. G'n'R countersued. The matter was settled with an undisclosed payment to Clarke.
Unsure of Axl's intentions, Slash and Duff drifted into other projects. Slash, Duff and drummer Matt Sorum participated in numerous sessions for the new record. Complementing this ensemble were the loyal GN'R keyboard player, Dizzuy Reed, and Axl's old friend from Indiana, guitarist Paul Huge. Paul is part of the Axl and David Lank crew. Slash and Duff didn't click with him. "Nice enough guy," says a friend of the three musicians. "But they 're Guns N' Roses for God's sake - great band, great players. He's not that good. Doesn't have the chops." In 1996 Slash walked away. Sorum was fired. Duff hung on until the end of 1997 then quit in disgust. "The record wasn't going anywhere," says a GN'R source. "Duff reached a point where he said 'I don't need this in my life anymore. This is too insane. This is rock 'n' roll. It's supposed to be fun."
Slash is angry, now, about giving up rights to the GN'R name. "I was blindsided by it, more or less a legal faux pas," he complained to the Internet news service Addicted to Noise in January 1997. "I'd be lying to say I wasn't a little bit peeved at that. It'd be one thing if I'd quit altogether. But I haven't, and the fact that he can actually go and record a new GN'R record without the consent of the other members of the band."
Slash continued, "Axl's whole visionary style, as far as his input in Guns N' Roses is completely different from mine. I just like to play guitar, write a good riff, go out there and play as opposed to presenting an image."
The relationship between Axl and Slash, the cornerstone of the band, remains deeply fractured, though Slash has never closed the door on getting back together. The two men have not spoken to each other in four years. When work was under way last year on a long-overdue live GN'R double album, Live Era '87-'93, Axl and Slash interacted only through their respective managers, Goldstein and Tom Maher. "It was all very odd." Says a source. "Slash and Duff would get together and work on it, and Axl would be sent CDs. He never came to the studio when they were there. It was done in shifts."
It seems that beyond a connection Axl has with Beta, Yoda and Bert Deixler, his lawyer, Axl's relationship with Doug Goldstein is one of the few that the singer has gone out of his way to maintain. A former security guard for Air Supply, Goldstein joined the G N' R camp as tour manager in 1987 and eventually took over management of the band upon Niven's 1991 firing. Goldstein operates Big F.D. Entertainment in Newport Beach, California. Besides Axl, BFD's clients include Chris Perez, Selena's widower, and the metal band Jack Off Jill. Mostly, Goldstein concentrates on Axl. "If Axl says, `Jump,' he says, `Fine,' " says a music-industry source. "If he's in the air, he says, `How much higher?"' Finally released last November after long delays, Live Era was not the blockbuster everyone had hoped it would be. Sales have been underwhelming: 403,000 units as of early April. Promotion of the record was limited to television and print advertising. There was barely a peep from any of the old band members -- following, some believe, an Axl decree.For the new G N' R studio record, Axl hired a legion of talented players from across the popular-music spectrum: Tommy Stinson, the former Replacement; Dave Abbruzzese, Pearl Jam's former drummer; Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails; Dave Navarro, former Jane's Addiction guitarist; Josh Freese of the Vandals; and Zakk Wylde from Ozzy Osbourne's band. They jammed at the Complex in Los Angeles and at Rumbo Recorders for weeks and months at a time, usually at night. Axl brought in a showroom full of guitars and effects. "It's a musical-instrument convention," one observer says. "He has more knobs and keyboards and strings and wire and
wood in there than you could possibly imagine could even be manufactured." Of Axl's guitar setup, Abbruzzese recalls, "You could hunt buffalo with his rig. It had a lot of lights, a lot of blinking lights, a lot of things that you stepped on. It sounded like a freight train that was somehow playable."
Axl was distracted by events tragic, potentially tragic and strange. His mother, Sharon Bailey, died in May 1996 at the age of fifty-one. Wildfires nipped at the edges of Axl's Latigo Canyon property the same year. The following May, Axl's old friend and songwriting partner West Arkeen died from a drug overdose at the age of thirty-six. A frequent visitor to the studio says. "When Stephanie Seymour's birthday came around. Axl seemed to shut down for weeks. A lot of this record is about Stephanie: She was his perfect woman, at least his image of what she should be."
Though plenty of nights passed when little was accomplished, Axl was usually all business in the studio. Excessive use of drugs or alcohol was frowned upon. Axl composed at the piano. The other musicians contributed ideas and riffs, but Axl was clearly in charge.When Zakk Wylde arrived at the Complex, where Axl was rehearsing, he was slightly surprised. "There were never any melodies," Wylde recalls. "There were never any lyrics." The music Wylde heard during a period of several months sounded like "Guns on steroids." Wylde felt sorry for Axl. "The poor fuckin' guy's got every fuckin' cunt trying to sue his ass," Wylde says. "I'd be on the phone with him. He'd be telling me about all these strategic moves his lawyers were making. I was listening to him playing Axis and Allies on the fuckin' phone." Wylde left to record with his new band, Black Label Society."They were trying to get ideas together, see who was compatible with who as far as a band vibe," says former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna, who came in for a few sessions in the spring of 1997 when latenight jams (10 P.M. to 6 A.M.) were still taking place at the Complex. Vrenna turned down a drumming spot in G N' R to work on a record of his own. "It was going to be a long commitment," Vrenna says. "There was no firm lineup. Axl had a definite direction he ultimately wanted to head toward, but at the time there wasn't even a song yet."
Producers came and went like pizza deliverymen: Youth, Moby, Mike Clink and Sean Beaven. Axl's legal troubles continued to distract him. Finally, a wall full of tapes, hours and hours of scraps of music, riffs, ideas, stacked up. Some of the music reportedly sounded like U2 during their Achtung Baby period, powerful and melodic. Some gave off a whiff of Nine Inch Nails or Nirvana. Touring was on the horizon. All the new songs, Axl announced, would have to work live.
"I found it difficult to chart a linear development of the songs that they were working on," recalls Moby. "They would work on something, it would be a sketch for a while, and then they'd put it aside and go back to it a year, six months later.
"He became a little bit defensive when I asked him about the vocals. He just said that he was going to get to them eventually," Moby continues. "I wouldn't be surprised if the record never came out, they've been working on it for such a long time."
I asked Moby whether Axl seemed at peace. Moby thought carefully. "He seemed like he had an idea of what being at peace would be like, and he was working toward that." Axl's record would address the issue of domestic violence. So went the industry gossip. "It's Guns N' Roses music," Goldstein says. "There's rumors about it being a techno record. It's what Guns N' Roses has always been: diversified." Jim Barber, the former Geffen executive, recalls, "An artist [like Axl] who's had as much success with Guns N' Roses as he has gets to a point in his career where he can settle into one sound and do it over and over again, usually with diminishing returns. Axl is determined not to do that. There's a sort of ruthlessness about pushing Guns N' Roses to grow, and to find some depth in their music, and to evolve." A new single, "Oh My God," was released last November as part of the End of Days soundtrack. Even though it was the first new material from the band to be released in nearly six years, the song disappeared without a trace. Musically, at least, Axl seems to have what he wants: complete control. If the new G N' R record becomes a spectacular hit, the six-year delay in making it and the millions spent on it won't matter. Axl will have proved his doubters wrong and probably will have also ended any hope of getting the original band back together. But there is such a thing as having too much control."One of the aspects of being a megalomaniac is the discovery that some times being in a decisive situation is not so appealing as you thought it was," says a source. "When you have a support system and decisions are made communally and quickly, things move. There's energy. It becomes alive, it becomes real. Once you're on your own, you drive it yourself, you make all the decisions yourself. You sit and worry about it." In August, guitarist Robin Finck abruptly quit G N' R to return to Nine Inch Nails. Axl ordered some of Finck's parts erased. In March, drummer Josh Freese departed to concentrate on other projects, including a solo record, due in July, and a tour with A Perfect Circle in support of Nine Inch Nails.
Neither Finck nor Freese will discuss what happened.
Whether Chinese Democracy comes out or not, Axl himself, friends say, seems healthier, less angry - and still a maze of contradictions. He likes to think he makes all the decisions in his life, yet he listens carefully to New Age counselors. He feels like the world revolves around him, but he refuses most requests to speak publicly about himself. He believes in justice, but he doesn't believe he has to be fair. He can be an incisive observer of human weakness in his songs, yet when it comes to his own conduct, he has little perspective. "Axl's really easy to hate, and he doesn't understand why," a friend observes. "He lives in a fantasy world, a parallel universe. He's selfcentered, like a child, but not so naive. When he calls, all he wants to talk about is his record and how Interscope can't fix things for him."
"A family is what Axl wants more than anything in life," another friend says. "He wants to find within himself the ability to show affection. He's really, really incapable of showing gratitude and affection."
As long as he remains on his mountain, behind his fence, rumors swirl and the appetite for his return grows.
Or does it? How much of a G N' R audience is really left? Who wants to watch a G N' R show that will probably include only one founding member: Mr. Rose himself?
On September 22nd, Axl issued a statement, his first in years. The document was by turns bitter (Axl referred to Matt Sorum as a "former employee"), funny ("Power to the people, peace out and blame Canada," he signed off) and incomprehensible. Its stilted phrasing and syntax sounded like just the sort of thing you'd expect from a man too long immersed in selfhelp books and too long isolated from the world. Axl announced, "OH MY GOD etc. deals with the societal repression of deep and often agonizing emotions - some of which may be willingly accepted for one reason or which (one that promotes a healing, release and a positive resolve) is often discouraged and many times denied." Whatever that means. "The appropriate expression and vehicle for such emotions and concepts is not something taken for granted." Axl, in recent months, promised, through his manager, to take time from his recording schedule and pen exclusively for ROLLING STONE his version of how and why Guns N' Roses broke up. Months went by, and this missive never materialized. Then, days before this story went to press, Doug Goldstein proclaimed, "Good news!" Axl was ready to hand over a 10,000-word-plus essay. A day later, Goldstein withdrew that promise and ended all communication with ROLLING STONE.
Axl may not yet know who he is. That search continues. He knows enough to still be in charge. Ultimately, that may be his victory and his curse. There is only one certainty in Axl's world now. When, and if, his new record comes out, he will have to take complete responsibility for it. Nobody else will get the credit or the
blame. David Bowie exiled himself to Berlin in the 1970s, and Berlin motivated him. Working with Brian Eno, Bowie made three of his best records, Low, "Heroes" and Lodger. After the Doors tour of 1970, Jim Morrison retreated to Paris to try and dry out, write poetry, walk the streets and consider new challenges. For Axl Rose, the arc of his fame remains stuck, languishing near its 1993 high point. Self imposed exile seems to have failed him. Unlike Bowie or Morrison, Axl Rose did not seek a new environment for inspiration or salvation. He only looked inward. He went home, retreating to an airless room from which he has yet to emerge.
Transcribed by Mike