|"Be it a song or a casual conversation/To hold my tongue speaks of quiet reservations/Your words once heard/They can place you in a faction/ My words may disturb/But at least there's a reaction."
- "Don't Damn Me"
Two minutes after the last, grand strains of "Paradise City" echo through San Francisco's Shoreline Amphitheater, penetrating the brain cavities of 20,000 satiated GN'R faithful, Axl Rose sits himself down next me at a small table in the backstage hospitality area. Covered in sweat, his eyes still ablaze from the performance, Axl looks like his skin is going to explode off his body. His onstage aura fades away after just a few moments, leaving the more-human substance behind; the Axl I've been able to talk lucidly and intelligently with for almost five years. the transformation is fascinating to watch. Out there, he's a screeching, tumbling, rock 'n' roll marathoner, pushing his physical being to the limit and orchestrating his band like Leonard Bernstein on crystal meth. Back here, after a quick wind-down, he's Axl Rose, the person, settling in to rap with an old friend.
"This is crazy, isn't it?" he says, swigging from an Evian bottle, "I mean, three f?!king months on the road - with no record! It's nuts. I sat in my hotel room all day today, looking at a pile of faxes and papers, a million things that needed my attention. And I don't know, something just came over me. I took my Halliburton briefcase and smashed every light fixture in the room with it. Sometimes I don't know what's real anymore, and what isn't."
"You know what, Ax," I respond, "where you are right now - in your career, in your life, in your whatever this mega-thing is - the only time you're in complete sync with total reality is when you're taking a shit."
With a sardonic smile, he answers, "Yeah, ain't it tragic. How the f?!k did I get so f?!king important?"
"You're the messiah, dude," I say. "The rock messiah. Guns N' Roses saved rock 'n' roll. And what happens to messiahs? Crucifixion! Ain't it a bitch?"
The public perception of Axl Rose and Guns N' Roses would take volumes to explain. they are so massively well-known around the world, it stands to reason that for every million fans they've gathered, they've attracted a million critics. On the backs of their record-breaking debut LP, Appetite for Destruction, the controversial EP, Lies, and the historic double-release of Use Your Illusion I and II, the Gunners have won the hearts, minds, souls and ears of rock fans across the globe. Of course, along with the success has come the scrutiny of an often jealous and bitter press, which has gone out of its way to exploit the GN'R phenomena. When the band finally put its foot down, refusing to play the game any longer, the resultant backlash of negative opinion from the legitimate and metal media was astounding. I began to realize then that, purely and simply, these news-hounds and gossip-mongers just didn't get it. And why not? Ah, sit quietly, my children, and ye shall find the answer.
"Nobody understands quite why we're here/We're searching for answers that never appear."
- "Dead Horse"
The thing about me and Axl is, both of us have no real life outside of this band," says Slash. "All I do is play guitar. My life is completely devoted to my own personal career and Guns N' Roses. So, like, Axl might seem like a pain in the ass to everybody involved, but at the same time. he's as dedicated to it as I am - even more so in many ways. He cares about a lot of things I don't even think about, because I'm sort of just a rock guitar player... book the gig and play it! Me and Axl have gotten really close lately, talking about this whole Guns N' Roses trip and what this band is capable of doing, and about making a few statements as far as what we're about, because we're getting sick of having other people tell us what we're supposed to be about. That really pisses me off. Rock musicians, like the guys in this band anyway, are all such f?!king sensitive and volative individuals. That's where the drug problems have come from. It's escaping reality, in a sense, to try and be happy within the confines of your career. People love the fact that we're the way we are - you know, not necessarily normal. They love that fact, because they can live vicariously through us. They don't have to have their own drug problems; they can watch ours!"
When Slash talks about being happy within the confines of your career, he is alluding to Izzy Stradlin. For months after the band ended the first leg of their Get In The Ring tour last August 31st at London's Wembley Stadium, things were not right with Izzy and the band. I was at Wembley and saw how frustrated and tired he was. But now, we come to the theme of this article - perception and reality: The press had a field day with the rumours surrounding Izzy's departure from Guns. One pathetic metal rag even accused Axl of forcing his longtime friend and fellow Indiana native out of band. This was not the case. Hear the truth:
"Izzy resigned from Guns on November 7, 1991, because his heart wasn't in it," explains Slash. "He's just not interested anymore. It was one of those things where he just didn't want to tour again. Izzy's been keeping himself more or less clean for quite a while now, and the chaos of being on the road, especially with the rest of us driving him crazy, he just couldn't deal with it. He's been 110% sober for the past two years, and even though I'm not shooting up or anything anymore. I'm still a nutcase when it comes to extracurricular activities. He tried to come back though. He came to a couple rehearsals, but he really wasn't there. He didn't care. His heart wasn't in it. Izzy's still gonna write with us, and he might make a few special appearances on the road, but he's no longer a touring member of the band. As for me, personally, I'd rather Izzy be happy. And this is what he wants." [Again contrary to rumor, at press time Guns were still looking for a touring guitarist. Dave Navarro, ex- of Jane's Addiction, was out of the running.]
"But I can't stop thinking 'bout doin' it one more time."
- "Bad Obsession"
The night Izzy resigned from Guns, he had a meeting with Axl, Slash and manager Doug Goldstein. There was no fight, no shouting, no lawsuits. It was an amicable parting of the ways between friends who made musical history together - and may do so again someday. A far cry from the departure of former drummer Steven Adler, which was clouded by all of the above. Again, perception and reality. Slash talks about Steven now - for the first time since Adler filed his infamous legal action against the band last year - because he wants to set some things straight.
"We turned him onto drugs? My f?!king ass!" Slash say about Adler's allegation. "That's so pathetic. Steven is scared to death of me. If he sees me in public, he just turns into a grovelling heap of defeatism. He just doesn't know what to say. He mumbles. I ask him a straightforward question, 'What's your motivation behind this?"' and he doesn't know what to say. Until now I haven't said a word about Steven to the press. I haven't attacked him; I haven't insulted him. I felt sorry for him. I didn't want to hurt him. We gave him a year to get his shit together. He couldn't play any of the new shit anyway. It got to a point where the material was way beyond him. I can't believe this little f?!ker. I read the shit he said about us in Circus. By the way, f?!k that magazine. If any rag has ever gotten off on sensationalism, it's that magazine. And I don't regret what Axl said on 'Get in the Ring,' because that's got to be one of the most exploitative publications out there. Anyway, back to Steven. He said in that article he's sober now, but every time I've seen him, he's been wasted. I don't know what he's wasted on; I don't even care. I lost all concern and feeling for the guy. And I know a drug lie when I see one. We couldn't get any work done at Rumbo [the original studio where the band started work on Use Your Illusion three years ago]. He cost us a fortune. We had to edit the drum track to 'Civil War' just so we could play to it."
Slash stops for a moment to collect his thoughts. The subject of Adler is a sensitive one for him, not only because of the lawsuit, but because the two go way back to the very beginning together. There was a bond, and that bond has been shattered. The bitterness runs deep.
"At Rumbo, Steven would nod out to the point where he would be on a stool, but his head would be touching the floor. He'd say, 'I'm tired. I'm sleepy,' and he couldn't play. That was basically it. We gave him so many chances to turn around. We took him to Indiana, to play Farm Aid, and he jumps on the drum riser and almost breaks his f?!king neck. Look, Steven was a part of what made Guns N' Roses happen. He had a great energy. He wasn't an insanely great drummer, but he had tons of attitude. When the sex and drugs and the whole bit started to get out of hand, he went right along with it. But there's a certain time when you really have to control your life. I'm not preaching - I'm in no position to preach - but you must be aware of your own existence and take care of your own business. You just can't be loaded all the time and expect everything to be okay. Trust me, I know. As far as the rest of us, we bounced back, we straightened up. Steven never did. We always told each other when it was getting real bad. Everybody was there for the individual who needed help. That's how we're survived as a band. But Steven would never cop to anything, as far as telling us how bad it was. And now he's suing us. Thank you very much."
"But now the damage's done/And we're back out on the run/Funny how ev'rything was roses/When we held on to the guns/Just because you're winnin'/Don't mean you're the lucky ones."
In the middle of the tumultuous break between the Wembley show and the start of the second leg of the tour last month, another member of GN'R needed the help that Slash spoke of above. What did Slash say? "We always told each other when it was getting real bad?" Well, late last October bassist Duff McKagan got bad. Long, lanky, lovable Duff was drinking too much, and his health was suffering. Anyone who knows Duff knows he looks strange anytime of the day or night without a vodka-and-cranberry in his hand. He loves the juice, but it was startin' to take its toll, and Duff was instructed by his doctor to lay off. And that's exactly what he did. Now in his third month of sobriety, Duff says, "I want to go a year, but it's gonna be tough." Duff knows, however, that the difficulty of his task will be made easier because of a couple of factors - he has the unyielding support of his bandmates, and he's in the midst of a solo project.
"It's basically something I wanted to do since I started playing guitar," explains the blond Seattle-ite. "We had some down time last spring, before we hit the road, so me and [producer/engineer] Jim Mitchell started cutting tracks. I play drums, bass and rhythm guitars. Slash plays some lead, I play some lead and Snake [Dave Sabo, from Skid Row] plays some lead. Sebastian [Bach] sings one song. It's working out very cool. We're recording it here and there, no big rush. The working title of the record is Believe in Me. It's different from a Guns N' Roses record, because it's stuff that I've written all on my own, a lot of times when I was alone. There's a lot of heavy Duff-isms.
"This is something I've always wanted to do," he continues. "And it's not to differentiate myself from Guns N' Roses. I've wanted to do this since before Guns, but now I have the opportunity and the resources. Hey, I'm not trying to depart from GN'R - everyone knows that - it's just my own little trip. You know, I've been touring since I was 15, and I'm 27 now. The time is right."
"The fire is burnin', and it's out of control/It's not a problem you can stop/It's rock 'n' roll."
- "Garden of Eden"
We were backstage, watching cops on stretchers all bloody and shit, and it was like, 'F?!k! How could this be happening?'" recalls a pensive Slash about that fateful night last summer in St. Louis, Missouri, when the crowd lost control. "I was so scared somebody was going to die. It was completely out of hand. This guy was shooting pictures the whole show. He'd been doing it, and probably having a good laugh. I saw Axl tell the security guard, 'Stop that f?!kin' guy!' and the security's watching the band. So Axl went in, and that's when it started. We wanted to go on again. I know there's a certain amount of blame that can be put on us, because if you don't know us, you might say, 'Well, you could've done something to keep it together.' But from our point of view, it all happened so fast, we didn't know what the f?!k was going on. The kids had a field day. I lost all my amps, my guitar tech got a bottle in the head, someone got knifed, our stage and video equipment and Axl's piano were trashed. I don't know. It was a fluke. It shouldn't have happened... but it did."
Guns N' Roses took a lot of heat after the St. Louis debacle. It was instantly fashionable to blame Axl for the riot, but after examining the situation from both sides and talking to people who were there, I think that conclusion may be flawed. A riot is an irrational group action often ignited by more that one spark. Inadequate security, the fervor of the GN'R-hyped crowd (the band had been playing for 90 minutes prior to the incident), Axl's stagedive, the band's inability to retake the stage... it all contributed to the tragic result. Slash tries to put it in perspective.
"I know that there were a few hundred bad eggs in a crowd of 18,000, and one of those bad eggs is probably having a good laugh right now, sitting on one of my Marshall cabinets. I know a lot of people were hurt, but a lot of our people were hurt too. It goes both ways. I'm not trying to sound like an asshole. I feel bad for what happened, but I can't just say it was our fault. And I won't blame the kids of St. Louis, either. It just happened. I'm not putting the rap on anybody."
"Bullshit and contemplation/Gossip's their trade/If they knew half the real truth/What would they say/Well I'm past the point of concern/ It's time to play."
- "14 Years"
I've had a mutated form of polio, a mutated form of rubelia, the swine flu, scarlet fever, and strep throat in my heart."
I sit slack-jawed on a dressing-room sofa in Washington, D.C., as Axl lists some of his past and present health problems. No wonder things don't always run like clockwork on the GN'R concert trail!
"It's mostly respiratory stuff," he continues. "Air conditioners in hotels circulate the same air, and on the plane everyone's breathing the same air. So if anyone's got anything, my tonsils grab it. I'm chronic like that. That's one of the reasons I've never liked touring. My resistance is low in my tonsils. I also found out it is supposedly some kind of mental thing having to do with me punishing myself for expressing myself. For 20 years of my life I was beaten by my parents for expressing myself, so part of me believes I should be punished for that expression. I do this by lowering my own resistance. Turn that around, and there you have it - self punishment. Other than that, I'm pretty healthy."
Axl's physical and mental eccentricities explain his occasional forays into arrogant. Perception and reality... part III.
This artist does not get up onstage and sing to a tape machine. He pushes his vocal ability each and every night to excruciating limits. He does it because he has to. Axl Rose cannot give a half-assed performance. Hence, if his throat or voice are not ready for the show, the show doesn't go on. Some nights when I was out on the road with Guns, Axl was at the gig, rearing to go at 7:00 in the evening. Other nights, it was well past midnight. The motivation was not to f?!k with the crowd, his bandmembers, the promoter or anyone else. Axl simply cannot get onstage until he's prepared. End of story.
That's no excuse for those who've been bitten by his tardiness or angst-inspired verbal tirades. My perspective, whether or not it helps to ease the bitterness you may harbor toward Axl for whatever reason, comes from being the only metalmag insider this band had ever opened its beastly belly to. I've been there, so I have the ammunition to comment. Ninety-nine percent of the crap spewed forth that is critical of Axl and Guns comes from the clueless metal press the band has chosen to ignore. Theses "journalists," stung by their lack of access, choose to take the vindictive route and attack rather than seek explanations. Then again, you may ask, how can these other mags be objective and offer substance if Guns N' Roses won't talk to 'em? Well, perhaps they should have thought of that before prostituting the band year after year with rampant rumor-mongering, blatant falsehoods, constant reprintings of ancient interviews and photos and overall just plain riding the GN'R gravy train until there wasn't a legitimate drop left.
One night Axl called me at home because he was upset about something he'd read in Kerrang! According to Axl, the journalist completely missed the boat in reviewing the band's performance at Rock In Rio. "We were on the second night," Axl told me. "Why didn't he see that?" Later investigation revealed that the writer missed the show entirely, because certain personnel around GN'R wouldn't give him a decent place to watch the concert from. Our conversation rambled on about the press, and I was forced to ask Axl why it really mattered. Why should a sentence in a British metal rag matter to the lead singer of the biggest rock band in the world?
"I just care," he answered with conviction. "I don't know why; I just do."
In the coming months Guns N' Roses will be touring America and Japan and making videos for "Live and Let Die," "November Rain" and other tracks from the remarkable Use Your Illusion discs. Axl wants to experiment with music, film and video, and produce clips that will no doubt redefine the genre for the MTV generation. The band plans to release a home video on the St. Louis concert, containing never-before-seen footage of the actual riot, a compilation of all their video clips to date, and a documentary detailing the making of their eerie video, "Don't Cry," that according to my sources, will answer all the questions about the clip and what it all means. So, for Axl, Slash, Duff, drummer Matt Sorum and keyboardist Dizzy Reed, the future looks intriguing. As for me, I'll be out there, reporting it truthfully, because that's the way it's always been around here. You see, we care. We don't know why; we just do.