Thursday, February 19, 2009
Where Do We Go?
I figured I would make this post as a happy way-belated birthday to one of my favorite Aquarians, as it is the last day of this splendid sign: W. Axl Rose, enigmatic frontman of what once was the biggest, baddest band in the world - Guns n' Fuckin' Roses. William Bailey easily ranks among the five people I'd like to have dinner with, and while he's never been my favorite member of Gn'R (that would be the former sumo wrestler of beers, Mr. Duff McKagan), he is definitely the most compelling and incontrovertibly the most fucked in the head. And I dig weirdos.
Axl didn't have the best upbringing as you probably know or could easily surmise; his home life left him with a contempt for women and anger towards authority in general. He was molested by his biological father when just a baby (which he was unaware of until being hypnotized around 1991), and then routinely beat up by his stepfather as a child and adolescent. But Axl is a man of great paradox. He taught Sunday school and sang in the choir (an angelic voice he had) and was pulled towards music and the arts, though records were banned at the Bailey residence. In 1982, William left his home town of Lafayette, Indiana and moved cross country to Los Angeles and hooked up with fellow musician and childhood friend Jeffrey Isabelle. They ditched their names (sort of: Axl legally changed his last name to Rose upon learning via his birth certificate that it was his father's surname, and he kept the W. for William) and hit the Sunset Strip young and hungry. They started making things happen with a band called Hollywood Rose, aided by guitarist Tracii Guns and after a few personnel changes, birthed Guns n' Roses. By now, Seattle punk Michael Duff McKagan was playing with them, and Duff happened to be friends with a band called Road Crew, which featured little-known guitar player Saul Hudson and drummer Steven Adler. When Tracii and Gn'R drummer Rob Gardner didn't show up for a gig one night, Duff called Slash and Steve, and the rest is history. (June 6 1985).
I suppose it's fair to say that Axl was never all that stable to begin with, but as Guns n' Roses finally exploded in the summer of 1988 thanks to second hit single "Sweet Child O' Mine" and held the music world in their palms for the next four years, our hero seemed to psychologically deteriorate. Axl, much like in childhood, was a vulnerable man capable of extreme gentleness and sincerity and also great violence and anger. Both Erin Everly and Stephanie Seymour claimed Axl hit them (which I'm sure is the truth) but they certainly got a fair share of adoration out of him, too. In fact, I don't think he ever got over Stephanie leaving him and I have a feeling some of the songs on last year's mythic album Chinese Democracy were written about her, which is actually really sad.
Axl is a difficult character. On one hand, I think he's slightly megalomanical and generally unpleasant, as in, I don't think his reputation as an asshole is unfair. And the whole violence-against-women thing, that's an issue I feel strongly about and I do not think is justifiable no matter how many times you saw your stepdad hit your mom. But it isn't easy for me to write him off as just that either--some angry, abusive drama queen. Axl is definitely intelligent. In interviews and in his lyrics, he's proved to be articulate and thoughtful. I'll never understand the bizarre beast that is fame, but it seems to me that it played a major role in Axl's demise and reclusive ways. After making an album as celebrated and successful (and just plain awesome) as Appetite For Destruction, there's no where to go but down. While the Illusions sold extremely well and produced hit single after hit single, the lightning that struck in '86-'87 just wasn't there anymore. And I think Axl realized this and knew he was fighting a battle that would ultimately be lost. And because he is crazy and paranoid and difficult by default, when people started abandoning him, he totally lost it. He seemed obsessed with staying true to this vision that he had of his music, and in that way I admire him for always doing things on his own terms. Slash and Izzy may have had the awesome riffs and bluesy guitar solos; Duff and Steven had that in-the-pocket funky groove and rhythm; but Axl was the one with something to say. And for that, I will always love him.