|Posted by Sam Jordison Monday 29 December 2008 12.27 GMT
With the new Guns N' Roses album, Axl Rose shows why Holden Caulfield remains a teen for our times
One of the many excellent things to have resulted from the release of Chinese Democracy is that Axl Rose has again started talking publicly about what's going on in his head. Say what you like about the Guns N' Roses frontman, there's no denying that this is an extraordinary place.
The latest outpourings on fan forums and the Guns N' Roses website aren't as harrowing as the famous 1992 Rolling Stone interview where Rose explained how his miserable childhood gave birth to the demons that chase him, but there's still plenty of car-crash fascination here. Especially in the bemusement he expresses at the "crazy" and "ugly" lawyer-filled life he's been living for the past 15 years and his continuing fury with erstwhile band-mate Slash.
In spite of the anger, there's also something endearing about Rose's latest screeds. There's a little-boy-lost quality to the singer a combination of wide-eyed enthusiasm and vulnerability that makes him uniquely interesting. It might seem contradictory to talk about someone with such a diabolical line in snake dancing as an innocent, but I know what Sinιad O'Connor meant when she said she wanted to "bring him home and give him a bowl of soup".
You get the impression that Rose, like Elvis Presley, is in way above his crazy haircut. Like Elvis, too, he appears to be one of life's great enthusiasts. At his fans' prompting he seems to delight in discussing his favourite steak houses, Led Zeppelin, getting in touch with his already noted "innocent side" at Disney World, and of particular interest for this blog literature.
Once you've got over the strange image of a rock banshee like Rose hitching his kilt, putting his feet up and settling down with a nice paperback, his views on books repay attention. His list of favourites, for a start, is fun: "The Stand [by Stephen King], A Scanner Darkly [Philip K Dick], Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, James Dean: The Mutant King [David Dalton] and Zodiac [Neal Stephenson]."
I haven't read the last two, but the other three I love. Not books you would choose if you wanted to show off, but all enjoyable and provocative. My web-stalking of David Dalton's study of James Dean and his influence on teenage America also gave me the impression that it's excellent. Ditto Zodiac.
More interesting still is Rose's explanation of how his recent track The Catcher in the Rye was inspired by JD Salinger's classic novel (click here and scroll right down).
There's something very neat about the fact that Rose and Salinger, two of the great recluses of modern times, should meet thus in song especially as Salinger is probably the only living person to have frustrated more people than Rose with his disinclination to put out new product (it's 45 years and counting for Salinger, putting Rose's 15 in the shade although rumour has it that something might arrive next month).
It also seems fitting that the eternally adolescent and angry Rose should empathise with Holden Caulfield, the teen narrator who has such trouble with the "phoney" adult world. But Rose is striving for something beyond these simple parallels. His explanation on the forum suggests he was thinking quicker than he could type, but his meaning is clear:
"It started as fascination and curiosity with Holden Caulfield syndrome and what was or could possibly be in the book that obviously certain vulnerable people have seemed to become so passionate about and resort to outrageous public attempts or acts of violence."
He's referring, of course, to Mark Chapman's notorious conviction that that he was Caulfield, that John Lennon was the phoney he had to kill and that chillingly he sat reading the book after shooting the ex-Beatle, quietly leafing through it as police hurried to the scene and Lennon's blood flowed away.
Why Chapman plumped for Salinger's book in this way is unanswerable, but even for those less deluded than him, the book has mind-blowing qualities. It's one of those rare and precious books that, if it catches you at the right time, can change your world. With its lonely desperation and hints at mental instability, it's also pretty disturbing. Using it as Rose did in an attempt to channel Mark Chapman must have been weird at best. It's small wonder Rose says he destroyed his copy after finishing the song.
It doesn't surprise me, either, that the end product is excellent. Like most of Rose's music, and in spite of the painstaking production, it's mercilessly catchy. When he sings them (rather than on paper), the lyrics are also as haunting and unsettling as they ought to be, given their context. It's proof again of Rose's strange genius and a fitting testament to the continuing relevance of both himself and his inspiration, JD Salinger.
Of course, I'm sure the many Rose cynics out there will disagree. To you the response is naturally get in the ring. The comments board is open.