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Circus Magazine - December 31, 1991
by Corey Levitan

Guns N' Roses' Year Of Painful Living

     Axl Rose used his pain. Haunted by a troubled upbringing, the singer historically repressed anger at parents, teachers, and other bygone authority figures. Yet in 1991 Rose harnessed his rage, channeling it into two of the most moving and personal albums in rock history, Use Your Illosion I and II. That same rage occasionallyoverwhelmed Rose, however, short-circuiting concerts and inviting unwelcome headlines.
     "Don't damn me when I speak a piece of mind, 'cause silence isn't golden when I'm holding it inside." - W. Axl Rose, "Don't Damn Me," Use Your Illusion I
     The new material revolved around the tortured themes of lonliness ("Locomotive," "Estranged"), betrayal ("Breakdown"), revenge ("14 Years", "You Ain't The First") and sexual frustration ("Pretty Tied Up"). It spoke volumes to a younger generation reeling from the same emotions. A week after Use Your Illusion I and II debuted (at #2 and #1, a chart first), 1.5 million albums were sold.
     Aurally, it was Guns N' Roses White Album, a double opus of lilting piano ballads, blistering raunch & roll, false endings, guitar interludes and alternate takes. Axl's voice, like a denon crooning opera, hammered its points home with nearly 40 variations of the word "fuck."
     Axl's rage could not be confined to the recording studio, however. Despite therapy - five hours a day, five days a week at one point, according to the L.A. Times - bile drenched concert stages the world over in 1991. Sometimes it produced 1991's most powerful concert moments. On June 19th at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina, for example, the band astounded fans with three-and-a-half hours of raw energy. Sometimes, however, it spelled disaster.
     The year began on a high enough note, when the Gunners pummeled a quarter-million pairs of Brazillian ears at January's Rock In Rio. Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum previewed music from their new albums, which were reportedly almost finished. The crowd embraced Sorum, hired to replace Steven Adler. The notion of a keyboard player was warmly received as well, in the person of newcomer Dizzy Reed.
     Guns' world remain rosy through the secretive warmup dates they played in San Francisco, L.A. and New York in May, which prepped the group for two years on the road. Yet signs of trouble ahead began appearing by the tour's first stop, Alpine Valley, Wisconsin.
     Axl exploded on stage here, threatening to end the show after a smoke bomb landed on stage. "I don't work five years to have some burnt 16-year-old take my eye out!" he yowled, firing more bullets after a wireless mic failed. Fans stared blankly at each other.
     Axl's ire may have been compounded by the pain of his left foot, which he injured leaping off a speaker at New York's Ritz nightclub the week before, or maybe by the pain of returning to the midwest. Three days later Axl was in Noblesville, Indiana, telling his hometown crowd they were trapped, like "cool prisoners in Auschwitz," referring to a Nazi death camp.
     That the albums were not yet ready - and would not be throughout the tour's first leg - did not mitigate Axl's condition. The hounded singer grew used to barking that the new material would be ready "when it was ready." Rumor had it there were more tunes he wanted to record, and from the stage at one show Axl announced the Illusion set might not hit store shelves at all if the band didn't win contract adjustments from Geffen.
     The record company's guestimated release date of May 18th was breached, and a dozen more balks were to follow. Half the band's show comprised of unfamiliar songs, whose choruses were catchy yet, after only one listen, nearly impossible to recall.
     "I can't believe those poor guys being out there out there on the road without a record," Sammy Hagar told Circus magazine. Hagar's Van Halen gave the Guns tour its only run for the money this summer. "I understand Axl's having a real hard time. When they play their new songs, there's not much reaction, but what do you expect? It's like they're kind of stuck."
     Worse, Axl seemed to enjoy an ongoing game of chicken with the clock. Fans in Tennessee, New York, and Texas were all kept waiting more than two hours past ticket time.
     "I'm sorry I'm late," Axl said as he arrived at Long Island's Nassau Coliseumon June 17th, dismounting a helicopter that rushed him from a Manhattan hotel. The singer explained himself from the stage, lashing out at Geffen records and Rolling Stone magazine for forcing him to sit for a long photo shoot. (He didn't mention said photo shoot occured a full day earlier.)
     Then, on July 2nd in St. Louis, Axl made good on threats he first leveled at Alpine Valley; he stormed off in mid-performance. The band claims bottles were hurled at the band - two hit Duff - as a gang of bikers intimidated front row fans. Flashes lit the stage, but not from the official photographer's pit. Axl saw a man with a camera and attacked, although he says it was a biker, not merely the innocent fan reported by the media.
     "I didn't plan on jumping off the stage to grab a biker and his camera," Axl told the Los Angeles Times. "The security guys were doing everything they could to let that guy go, which fueled my fire to make sure that didn't happen."
     Axl vanished after performing for only 80 minutes, frustrated with security and, he claims, blinded by the loss of a contact lens in the scuffle. Ten minutes later the houselights went on and the crowd went off.
     A riot erupted, revealing $200,000 in damages when the dust cleared; 60 fans were injured, 18 arrested. Axl was charged with assualt and property damage, misdemeanor counts which carry a combined penalty of up to four-and-a-half years in jail and $4,500 in fines. Owners of the venue, and a fan named Jerome Harrison, filed their own separate suits against the band.
     CNN replayed St. Louis footage throughout the next week. Associated Press assigned a reporter to cover subsequent shows, waiting for something to happen. By August, the spectre of the riot was so scary it forced police to reconsider a ticket they issued to Axl's limo driver, who made an illegal left turn outside the Forum in Inglewood, California. Axl threatened to cancel the show and police took the ticket back, just like that.
     Another thorny subject for the band this year was Steven Adler, who in July sued his former employers for defamation of character, plus royalties for his contribution to the new albums. Guns claimed he was fired for being too doped up to record the new albums. But Adler says friction with Axl, not his drug habit, precipitated his dismissal. He says he was fired simply because he was the only Gunner with balls enough to stand up to Axl's tyrannical rages.
     "It was supposed to be the best time of my life," Adler said in a tearful Circus magazine exclusive. "Axl made it the worst." Adler then appealed to Slash: "We were best friends, man. How can you desert somebody like that?" Guns N' Roses denied all the allegations; Adler's lawyer says the case could drag on for years.
     Adler wasn't the only Axl-ed casuality in 1991. Early in the year mix engineer Bob Clearmountain was replaced with Bill Price. In May manager Alan Niven got his walking papers, reportedly because Axl refused to finish the albums until Doug Goldstein, the band's road manager, unseated him.


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