Musician - 1989
If Guns n' Roses Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will
Have Guns N' Roses
If I'd gone
on through school," Axl Rose says, "I'd probably be a lawyer.
Then I could take half the people who screw with me to court. I was
watching this show the other day with four top criminal lawyers, and
they talked about feeling how, when they're in a courtroom, it's like
them against the world. I feel that way too: There's always a million
obstacles up to the time you go onstage, times I don't even want to
go on. But once I'm there, I don't know where it comes from, but it's
like, 'Boy, this is great.' Even if you're having a terrible time, you're
just jazzed that you made it."
Texas Stadium, Dallas,
and not a 10-gallon in sight. Back in the concrete bowels of the arena,
where leathered rockers and their roadies confab with pot-bellied security
guards and limo drivers, the sound from the stage is a blotch of noise.
Out on the field it's about the same, only louder.
It's a hot afternoon with a tease of fain,
like a barbeque pit that occasionally sizzles. Forty thousand kids are
having a wind-ding, sampling an international pop smorgasbord that includes
reggae prince Ziggy Marley, perennial cult icon Iggy Pop and Australians
INXS, the headliners.
Running second on the bill this day is
Hollywood garage band Guns N' Roses, whose debut album Appetite for
Destruction has rather unexpectedly sold over six million copies,
and whose "Sweet Child of Mind" is currently the nation's
top-selling single. It's their last gig at the end of a nine-month tour,
a chance to go out in a blaze of concert glory. There's just one problem:
The band doesn't want to be here. They're wasted, they're cranky, they
hate INXS. And, as usual, they're very upfront about their feelings.
"What are they gonna do," cracks guitarist Izzy Stradlin,
"kick us off the tour?"
The afterthought of Hurricane Gilbert
begins to drizzle over the multitudes as the five members of Guns N'
Roses - Axl, Izzy, lead guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer
Steve Adler - crank into "It's So Easy," their paean to the
wild life; it's all they can do to move around without falling on the
slippery stage. The band can't hear through their monitors as they slog
through "Mr. Brownstone," Izzy's "little ditty about
heroin," a ballad called "Patience" - "guess I could
use a little, huh?" Axl says by way of introduction - a bluesy
instrumental rave-up from Slash, and the band anthem, "Welcome
to the Jungle."
It's a mess, but it works. Back in the
bleachers, the faithful are singing along to every indecipherable word.
Girls - and there are many - in Guns N' Roses wear scream like in old
Beatles movies while their guys pump their fists forward. Is that static
electricity in the air, or just plain sex?
Back onstage, the band's still pissed.
"Guess nobody wants to play today," Axl admits, before taking
soccer practice with one of the monitors. Next up is "Sweet Child,"
the crowd singing "where do we go?" with gospel fervor, as
if Axl knew the answer. Then it's "Paradise City" and as quickly
as they came the band is out of here, Duff smashing his bass in frustration,
Slash cursing because he doesn't have a guitar to smash; "they
forgot to bring a cheap one." It's less than 40 minutes into a
scheduled 75-minute set. "Does it get any worse than this?"
someone asks backstage, missing the point. Even at their worst, Guns
N' Roses are real, and it connects. On the field the crowd is still
An hour later the band is relaxing in
the enclosed high-roller boxes along the loge, knocking down a few beers
and shrugging off the damage while INXS clamors below. Axl is still
"If Michael Hutchence says anything
about me," he declares, glaring at the video monitor, "I'll
go back down there and kick his ass!" Hutchence goes right on singing,
and a few moments later Rose becomes more meditative. "I hope we
learned a major lesson from this: Don't do something for money, 'cuz
it ain't gonna work. We agreed to do this show a long time ago; we've
been dreading it ever since. When we finally got out onstage it just
hit us like a ton of bricks: Who the hell are we foolin'?
"Usually when we get in that situation,
we get very punk," Slash adds. "We blaze, even if we don't
play that good, 'cause we get so energetic. But we didn't do that today,"
he sighs. "We cracked. We didn't take over.
"The promoters, the booking agency,
they want us to keep going. We've been getting offers to headline the
Forum, Madison Square Garden... but we knew this had to end. And Axl's
voice is getting to the point where he can't keep going." Slash
flashes a smile. "Everybody's been having a good time. The thing
is, we're burned out."
In a little more than the
year since the release of Appetite for Destruction, Guns N' Roses
have become the most popular band in America. Fighting their way out
of the remnants of L.A.'s Spandex scene, they've been heralded as avatars
of '80s rock, pop, heavy metal and even punk, in as much as punk was
always more an attitude than a musical style. Slagged by the PMRC and
slagged off by Keith Richards, neither of whom were even referring to
their music, they have a way of attracting controversy. Their lifestyles
are reflected in their songs - not celebrated necessarily, but presented
Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll was a '50s
taboo, a '60s credo, a '70s cliche. In the current climate of Reagan/Bush,
AIDS and MTV, it's become a taboo again. Critics carp that's what really
fuels Guns N' Roses' celebrity. Their record company says they're just
selling records. The boys in the band say they're just being themselves.
And the little girls understand.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle are those
five individuals who write songs, play instruments, rehearse, tour,
have scuffled years for their music and must now grapple with the expectations
that accompany success. You can't separate their lives from their music
- in many ways their lives define their music - but above all, Guns
N' Roses are a band, and for all their personal screw-ups, they've made
the most of it. Hanging together so well, one suspects, is about all
that's kept some of them from hanging very separately.
Slash (Saul Hudson) walks
into the neighborhood Hamburger Hamlet and orders a double Stoli with
O.J. Though he's just taken a shower, dark ringlets of hair are clouding
his face. "I've been up since five this morning doing phone interviews,"
he says. "Guy called me from Brazil. The album's 14 months old
and it just opened at number seven in Brazil and Greece, and in Holland
it's like number 10. So I've had to do all this..."
Slash is a deceptively dissolute guy.
He's not only the best musician in the group and a talented artist -
he designed the band's logo - he's also helped chart Guns N' Roses'
course from the start. "I'm a real workaholic when it comes to
that; anything else, I'm lazy. I worked my ass off to promote the band
in the beginning, get us from spot to spot on the club scene. Making
flyers and phone calls and screw the right people... I'm pretty level-headed
and don't make to many dumb decisions. We did negotiate our own record
deal," he points out. "We're very conscientious about what
we do and how we do it."
The band's immediate goal is the making
of a new album, and when it comes to constructing their music, Slash
says his attitude is "aggressive. I come up with the majority of
riffs, Axl the majority of melodies and lyrics, and Izzy will come up
with really good chords. We work together, so everybody enjoys doing
it. But I'm very adamant if I hear a riff in my head; I hear the whole
band and then I want to reproduce that."
Slash grew up in England; his father designed
album covers for Geffen Records, his mother fashions for artists like
David Bowie and the Pointer Sisters. Surrounded by pop music, he enjoyed
artists from Jefferson Airplane to Minnie Riperton, but the Stones,
Zeppelin, Beck, Faces and Aerosmith were "major. When I was 14
I was over at this girl's house I'd been trying to pick up for months,
and she played Aerosmith's Rocks; I listened to it eight times and forgot
all about her." He credits Jimmy Page as his biggest influence:
"that bluesy sound. And I've always been a real 'riffs' person.
"Before Izzy, I'd never been able
to play with another guitarist," he admits. "Axl was the only
guy on the whole L.A. scene who could sing, and there was no getting
Izzy away from Axl. The funny thing about Izzy and I is that we each
play what we want, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
It can be frustrating for me because he's very stubborn. He plays very
lightweight, sort of Keith Richards style, whereas if I want a heavy
riff, I'll want a heavy riff, I'll want us both to play it to make it
really stick out. There's a lot of songs on our album I'm really not
happy with that way: 'Welcome to the Jungle,' for instance. Sometimes
Duff will beef it up, like the riff in 'Paradise City.' I'm a little
more knowledgeable on guitar; Izzy's a good songwriter with a great
sense of style.
"Guns N' Roses is sort of like, we
were the only five people in L.A. that could enjoy what each other did
enough to start a band and keep it together. Part of the magic is that
we're like this mirror of what kids really go through, what the reality
of being a teenager is about, having to work nine-to-five and having
shitty parents and dealing with cops, authority. So we're very close
to the kids we play for. That's what rock 'n' roll is for me, a kind
of rebellious thing, getting away from authority figures, getting laid
maybe, getting drunk, doing drugs at some point. We are that kind of
band and there's not too many others. There's tons of rock concerts
that are about as safe as pie! For a rock show we are doing something
more unpredictable, that have a certain amount of... recklessness. We're
very fresh with it."
Slash grins and orders another vodka double,
his fourth. His father, he mentions in passing, was an alcoholic. "This
sounds sort of childish," he says, "but I have to drink a
certain amount before we go onstage or I'm awkward and I can't play
right. Otherwise I'm too jittery. But a lot of people see me hanging
around clubs drunk off my ass, and they think that's all we're about.
We get this image for being irresponsible punks who don't care about
anything. Well, we are sort of like that," he concedes, "but
we don't do it on purpose, we're just being young! I think the Stones
were like that."
Yeah, well, one of the Stones died. And
you have a reputation for careening pretty close to the edge yourself.
"Our drug situation's not as bad
as it was," Slash replies a little more reservedly. "Yeah,
I have been out a few times - 'blue' and all that. We used to sing 'Knockin'
on Heaven's Door'; that's dedicated to my best friend Todd, who died
in a hotel room in New York a while back. We'd copped some stuff and
he got it right there. I tried to bring him back... and he was like
my best, best friend.
"That really scared me. I had a habit
and I finally stopped it. And every so often, I'll 'chip,' you know,
just for the fun of it. But that's not something you talk about because
you don't want people to think, 'He's a drug addict.'
"I'm not promiscuous like I used
to be, either. 'Cause I worry about AIDS, and also, you burn out on
it. It's not that big a thing. And so now, what do I do?" he smiles
engagingly. "We're at the MTV awards and I meet Traci Lords - and
we went out the other night." He shakes his head in disbelief.
"I'm a parody of my own lifestyle, I'll tell ya."
Ever since he's lived in Hollywood, Slash
admits, he's been drawn to the excitement on the street. "When
I was 12," he recalls, "I sneaked out one night to Hollywood
Boulevard. I was standing in front of this hamburger stand, where a
crowd had gathered, and this crazy guy on acid or something decided
he was gonna beat everybody up. And he went after the wrong guy and
he got knifed. He was just laid out on the sidewalk" - Slash shrugs
- "and I've been here ever since."
The other week he leased his first apartment;
before that he'd been living out of a hotel. He rented another apartment
next door for his friend Ronnie, a crew member who doubles as his chauffeur
and bodyguard. Slash spends a lot of time in his room. "I have
quiet. Well, I still don't have quiet, I mean, guys from Brazil are
calling me at five in the morning. But it's work-oriented, so I'm happy.
I sit in bed with the TV turned down, staring at the ceiling, coming
up with stuff in my head, trying to make things work. I put a lot of
ideas on tape. It never stops with me, 25 hours a day, the band Guns
N' Roses. And I can sit there and practice and get all my material I've
put together over the last nine months and start setting goals for our
next record. Getting drunk and going out with Traci Lords and stuff
is just what I do in my off time.
"I'm a very day-to-day person. 'Cause
that's how we've been living for a while."
The studio is ready. The
photographer has set up the lights; the assistants have stocked the
freezer with Stoli and beer. Now there is little to do but wait for
Axl. And wait. The photographer has flown back from Cape Canaveral just
for this assignment, unaware that getting the five members of Guns N'
Roses together for anything but a gig or a party means bucking odds
not dissimilar to the space shuttle's. An hour passes; two hours. So
far only Izzy has arrived; Duff, Steve and Slash call in periodically
to see if anyone's heard from Axl. Dream on.
"The first thing I remember about
Axl," Izzy is saying, "this is before I knew him - is the
first day of class, eighth or ninth grade, I'm sitting in the class
and I hear this noise going on in front, and I see these fucking books
flying past, and I hear this yelling, and there's this scuffle and then
I see him, Axl, and this teacher bounding off a door jamb. And then
he was gone, down the hall, with a whole bunch of teachers running after
him. That was the first thing," Izzy laughs. "I'll never forget
Stradlin has the gaunt, classic look of
a guy who was born to play guitar. When he's in the mood he radiates
a kind of shy charm, and he punctuates his stories with droll, cynical
humor. "When I was 11 or 12 I had this friend whose older brothers
were like hooligans; they rode bikes, would get drunk and fight all
the time, and they'd have these bands play at this big farmhouse, it
was like an airplane hangar. So I'd be hanging out there, getting shit-faced,
and after a while they'd be so drunk they couldn't even play and they'd
go, 'C'mon up here, little kid, and play the drums!' So that was the
first adrenaline rush. Other than that my life was completely boring."
Izzy grew up in Indiana, "so far
out in Bumfuck I could drive to somebody's house for 10 miles all on
dirt roads." His parents split up when he was a teenager; he moved
with his mother to the slightly larger burg of Lafayette, where he and
Axl eventually met and formed their first garage band. They were into
punk, and Lafayette's bars only had room for country and cover bands
- "which we hated at the time. When you're 16 you hate everything
you see when you live out there."
After trying his luck in Chicago and Indianapolis,
Izzy threw his drum kit into the back of an old Chevy Impala and headed
for L.A. Within three days he was in a band - "since I had a car
and a drum kit, I was an asset" - whose next gig was in a downtown
warehouse. "We're getting ready to go on," Stradlin recalls,
"and these guys show up completely in drag! I mean, lipstick, eyeliner,
pink Spandex, Afros... this was my band! They didn't tell me there was
a motif, you know? And it was like, slam music, one-two-three-four.
We made it through about three songs, and then all these skinheads were
onstage and beating the fuck out of the band. I took a cymbal stand,
took a few swings and was out the back door.
"That kind of broke me into the way
things were out here. After that I had no problems with how anyone looked
or sounded, or if they didn't like you. So I guess it was a good way
to break the ice."
That was 1979. The next year, Easter morning,
"Axl shows up on my front door, soaking wet with a backpack. He'd
been looking for me for about a month. He didn't know how big this place
was." A couple of years later, Izzy was playing guitar and they
were living in Hollywood, "slumming it here and there. We started
writing songs in this roach-infested pad off Franklin Avenue. We were
doing speed like there was no tomorrow, and night after night we would
just pump out this fast, upbeat, insane music. Literally slapped together
a band, and I'd tell club owners we were playing parties and could easily
bring in 500 people. When 20 would show up they'd get really upset and
we'd never get paid. But we were slowly getting it together."
The band, Hollywood Rose, eventually broke
up. After going their separate ways for a time, Izzy and Axl reunited
and decided, "let's not waste any more time. We moved up in life;
we moved to West Hollywood," Izzy jokes, "and met Slash and
Stevie and Duff. It's funny, before I even met Slash I'd seen this drawing
he made of Aerosmith in a music store. And I thought, 'I gotta meet
"Once we got that line-up together,
everything we did revolved around the music. I think 'cause we were
all so fed up, that was all we thought about. It's still that way -
so if we disappear tomorrow, at least the music's there."
Stradlin is the closest thing in the band
to a loner; when he's on tour he likes to wander the streets by himself,
and his girlfriend mentions he'd like to buy a house in the desert.
But with success, he says, "I enjoy life more now, I'm not so pissed
off all the time. When you got no bread, drug problems, no money and
winos in your alley throwing up, it does tend to aggravate you. It's
much better now. I can live like a normal person. I mean, for the 10
years I lived here, I never had a bed. I just bought one - and it's
a futon. I guess I'm used to lying on the floor."
One night during their recent tour, Izzy
saw his father for the first time in eight years. "He comes walking
backstage unannounced, completely out of the blue. Took a second or
two to recognize him. It was a real trip. But it was definitely not"
- Izzy catches the thought and brings it back home - "well, I don't
want to get into it.
"I mean, in 10 years I've only been
back to Indiana twice. I don't even know anyone there anymore; I don't
keep in touch like Axl does. But when I look back, I do see some kind
of stability that comes from growing up in a fucking cornfield. You're
at one with the earth," Izzy laughs. "You don't give a shit
about much. It's a simple life."
So how does that explain Axl? "Well,
that has a lot to do with how he was brought up and how he sees things.
He's very uncompromised. He's the first one to say, 'Fuck this.'"
As if to prove the point, Axl never shows
up for the photo shoot. After three hours Izzy decides he'd better hit
the road. "I know this guy," he says. "If I don't leave
now and he does show up, we'll have to wait five hours next time."
Vicki Hamilton is an "independent"
A&R woman at Geffeb Records. Her beat is the street, or more specifically
the sprawling L.A. club scene where she's discovered acts like Motley
Crue and Poison. She first saw Guns N' Roses playing at the Troubadour
for about 100 fans; watching the show, Vicki found herself with "the
feeling I get in my stomach when I see a band that's going to make it.
I watched them for three months and I remember thinking, 'Why isn't
anybody [in the industry] going for this?' After meeting the band I
knew. They were definitely outlaws. And I thought, 'This may kill me,
but they're so great, I have to do it.'"
The band, she recalls, was living in a
small one-room apartment that doubled as their rehearsal space; they'd
built bunk beds above the floor. "There was a girl over there one
night, and she wouldn't leave Axl alone and he got pissed, so he ripped
off her clothes, threw her out and locked the door. So she went to the
cops and said he raped her." The upshot was that Axl ended up living
in Hamilton's apartment - "The Fugitive" - and when the police
raided their studio, the rest of the band followed. They stayed four
months, during which time Hamilton was negotiating her managing agreement
while the band negotiated its record deal. "I had four or five
labels throwing bids, and the dollars were getting bigger."
Tom Zutaut, Geffen's head of A&R,
signed Guns N' Roses to a $75,000 advance. Hamilton, who hadn't yet
signed a contract to manage, was cut loose by the band, and eventually
sued to get back $10,000 she'd invested in them. She did get a job with
Geffen, though, and says she's managed to retain good relations with
the band - save one member.
"Axl won't talk to me. Why? Maybe
because I sued them, but I gave up trying to figure him out years ago.
There are times when he's the sweetest boy you could know, but when
he gets mad, he's like a top spinning off. He's not consistently evil,"
she laughs sharply. "And he's not consistently nice either. It's
two personalities. That's what's so scary.
"But you're talking about street
creatures. They had never had any money before and suddenly it was like,
'Life's a party now.' The day they signed I was crying because I knew
what was lying ahead."
Such was the crucible in which Guns N'
Roses created their aptly titled Appetite for Destruction. "A
very heavy drug period for the band," Izzy says frankly. "A
lot of the music is a reflection of that. There's always a lot of abuse
going on in Hollywood, but at that time it was like we were in the middle
of a pinwheel."
As rock 'n' roll stories go, this part's
not unique. But what made Appetite for Destruction special was
not simply the band's penchant for extreme experience but their ability
to reflect it in their songs without wallowing in romanticism or cheap
sentiment. The power of a song like "Mr. Brownstone," which
Izzy admits he wrote "in about five minutes, while I was cooking
something up," is in the way it evokes not only the thrill of the
fast lane (the Bo Diddleyish rhythm) but also, through Axl's frantic
cadences, its implicit terror. No matter how far-flung the band's other
themes - from the come-hither decadence of "Welcome to the Jungle"
to the prayer for deliverance in "Paradise City," the paranoia
of "Out to Get Me" or the wary, fragile hopes expressed in
"Sweet Child of Mine" - the point of view is invariable existential.
The songs ask interesting questions.
What's equally impressive is how the band's
collective spirit and individual signatures are woven into this musical
fabric, Axl's remarkable vocal shifts from song to song suggest multiple
personas, though always projected with near-palpable intensity. Slash's
guitar solos are emblems of flash and taste, skimming acrobatically
off Izzy's angular, quirky chord changes. All would make their mark
in any event - but check out the melodic, understated bass lines of
Duff McKagan, whose steady propulsion plays off Steve Adler's happy-go-lucky
drum patterns while anchoring the overall sound.
"I think the best way to be noticed
is for not being noticed," McKagan says. "In 'Sweet Child,'
for instance, I thought of old Faces/Rod Stewart bass lines - real cool,
not overplaying, but unique. Before we recorded, Stevie and I would
rehearse songs together for hours and hours each day. We got his timing
together, and my legs.
"It's funny," says McKagan,
who comes from a Seattle family of musicians, "but it was never
my idea to 'make it' by joining a commercial band. And in fact, this
is not a commercial record. Its appeal has really amazed me.
"None of us are the greatest musicians,
you know. We all have big technical holes. But what puts us apart from
other bands is that it's always rough and real. We'll never be like
Rush; we'll never be that good! But I think we're way more honest. In
some ways it's a calling of a rebel spirit to kids. 'Cause we always
do what we want."
With the album's release Guns N' Roses
hit the highway, opening for such established acts as Iron Maiden, Motley
Crue and finally Aerosmith, the band which comes as close as any to
being Guns N' Roses' role model. "We hate to admit it," Slash
admits, "but they are sort of like teenage heroes." In concert
together, Aerosmith were by far the more polished performers. But Guns
N' Roses were thrashing out the dramas of their lives, and Axl's Janis
Joplin-like stage presence connected on a deeper emotional level. By
tour's end they were the opening act in name only, drawing half the
crowds and running away with the T-shirt concessions. Record sales were
As the group's popularity ballooned, so
did their bad-boy reputation, to the point where some members began
to feel like cartoon characters. "It worried me," Izzy says,
"when these kids would come up and try to give me coke and stuff.
I'd go, 'Uh, no thanks, not this part of the tour.' 'Cause the first
two months you go for it, and the next thing you know they're dragging
you onstage from the bus."
"You know, I really liked it when
the kids loved us and we were still sort of underground," Slash
says. "Now it's gotten to the point where we're sort of a circus
act for normal society to go, 'Look at them fall down. Isn't that cute?'
Sometimes it just pisses me off. I always thought of us as basically
nice guys who were over-exaggerated about. I mean, we don't rob banks,
we don't beat up girls, we don't smash guitars over kids' heads in the
front rows. I don't see why it's such a crime to be us.
"The fact is, we're all really sensitive
people. And that's probably why, for one, I drink so much, why Axl flies
off the handle and has these fits of depression. Because we're still
living life, and sometimes that's hard to deal with.
"There's no big macho sense in this
band. Duff's married; Axl's got a girlfriend he loves very much. Maybe
sometimes we have relationships or other things that just drive us crazy.
No one wants to know about that, though. Because at this point, it's
not 'Guns N' Roses' for any of that to happen."
Days go by; no Axl. Notes
are dropped off at the hotel where he's living with girlfriend Erin
Everly, the inspiration for "Sweet Child." He's spotted around
town, hanging out with Slash at a party, cutting a background vocal
track for Don Henley, helping to put the final mikes on the acoustic
tracks for Guns N' Roses' forthcoming EP. He dodges a second photo shoot,
ducks an interview appointment. Nothing personal, it's explained, it's
just Axl's way.
Vicki Hamilton recalls that on the day
Guns N' Roses were slated to begin their tour with Aerosmith, no one
knew where Axl was or even if he'd make the gig. People who knew the
band were sitting in the Hard Rock Café taking bets on it. (He did appear
that evening, one hour before showtime.) Toward the end of that tour,
Axl approached Guns N' Roses' gregarious road manager Doug Goldstein,
concerned, Goldstein says, that others felt he'd become a prima donna.
"I haven't changed, have I, Doug?" Axl inquired. "Of
course not," Goldstein replied affectionately. "You've always
been a prick."
That's pretty much the attitude regarding
Axl: frustration mitigated by sympathy and respect. Maybe because he's
so valued as a gifted (and lucrative) artist, maybe because all the
tales of drugs and debauchery surrounding the band have disguised more
serious problems related to Axl's mercurial temperament. Sources around
him say he's on drugs - the prescriptive variety - to alleviate symptoms
of manic depression. Sometimes he doesn't take them. And one thing everyone
agrees on: No one tells Axl what to do. The result is that one can never
be sure where Axl Rose will show up, and, if he does, which Axl will
One afternoon, though, Axl does appear
- a thoughtful and amiable Axl with some time on his hands before popping
over to a party for George Michael, of all people. "I've read reviews
where people who like us say we're not the kind of band that'll be caught
spinning the Faith record. And I used to have that attitude, before
I started listening to the record over and over. Now all I know is that,
listening to his record, it'll teach you how to deal with women."
The subject of women brings to mind the
first Appetite for Destruction album cover, from the same-titled
artwork by Robert Williams. The cover was pulled by Geffen - and is
now, of course, a collector's item - after protests that its imagery
condoned sexual violence toward women.
"We didn't put that out to outrage
people," Axl protests. "I thought it was a very cool piece
of art that would stand the test of time. I don't think it was encouraging
sexual abuse at all. I think it's an idea in people's heads that she
is attractive, a sexual fantasy. Like, this poor girl got abused and
you're thinking about how your husband wants to fuck her so you're upset.
People get scared of their own thoughts."
What thoughts scare you?
"That people are always trying to
provoke some kind of fight so they can sue me. I'm scared of thrashing
an asshole and going to jail for it. For some reason I can walk into
a room and someone will pick a fight. That's always happening with me.
"Like, I went into a store once to
buy a stun gun. We were headlining the Whiskey and things were getting
out of hand, so I figured, 'I'll buy stun guns. We won't have to break
their jaw; we'll just zap 'em and carry them out.' So my brother and
I walked into the store and I said, 'Excuse me, sir, can I see this
stun gun, please?' Being very polite. And the guy goes, 'Listen, son,
I don't need your bullshit!' And my brother says, 'Listen, he just got
signed, he can buy 10 of these,' and the guy says, 'I don't care, I'll
sell them to you but not to him.'
"That happens to me a lot. If I'm
breaking the law, fine. But when I'm just being a nice guy..."
Axl has delicate features and a slender
physique which belies his notoriety as a hellion. Back in Indiana, he
says, he was thrown in jail at least 20 times, though he never did anything
worse than get drunk and rowdy. "I was one of the craziest of my
friends, but also one of the smartest, so they figured I was the ringleader.
They never got me for anything, though. Once this girl picked me up
in a car; she was 16 or 17 and her mom reported it stolen. The police
tried to get me for grand theft auto, contributing to the delinquency
of a minor, statutory rape - and I didn't touch this girl! After they
filed the charges I went to her house and we had a party. Then I left
He started singing in church at age five,
the oldest child of three in a family of holy rollers. "It was
in the country; you'd get up and sing old gospel songs and hymns, and
gospel hits of the '70s. I loved to work on harmonies. I was always
getting in trouble in choir practice for singing everybody else's parts."
Axl won Bible contests, taught Sunday
school, played the piano. He saw amazing religious occurrences, miracles,
but became disappointed when nothing happened to him. Secular music
became the true revelation. He developed eclectic pop tastes; to develope
his singing, he locked himself in the bathroom every day and sang along
with Nazareth albums and The Eagles' Greatest Hits. Now he likes to
listen to Ennio Morricone and old Sinatra records.
Writing songs, "I try not to follow
any rules. Slash'll sit with his guitar and I'll run through ideas as
he plays; we connect the pieces together. We push each other. Izzy and
I write real quick off the top of our heads. We write a lot of fun stuff."
Lyrics, though, require solitude. "It has to be how the situation
really is. But it's still an abstract version. I want to write about
some of the situations I've seen and types of people I've met in the
last two years, and I don't want anyone to influence that. People look
over your shoulder and say, 'I don't know if you should say that, man,
that's a little heavy.' I don't want to be censored before I bring the
song to the band."
He mentions that there are songs on an
upcoming EP that will probably "freak people out." He's decided
to deal with it by writing a note of explanation/apology on the album
cover. He also mentions that he recently bought a custom Corvette. "It's
got a Chevy engine, a four-cam that goes 180-plus miles an hour. I'll
join a racetrack where they teach you how to drive fast. I like the
idea of having a car where I won't be so eager to put my gun in the
car and shoot somebody."
Oh. And how are you dealing with success?
"Right now it's hard. It's gonna take a little time living like
a rat in the streets to being able to manage my accounts, find places
to live, buy houses. I'm getting a place here and in the Midwest, and
eventually I'd like to live in New York, and get ideas for songs on
the street. But right now I'm just trying to move real fast, get this
crap out of the way and get myself stable, 'cause we have another record
to make, and I really want to make that record. It's like a dream: We
get to be 'the big talented artists,' respected by people in the business.
I hope to do as much material as possible, maybe a double album. So
if anything happens to the band, it'll still live on for a while. Right
now I think it's too early for people on the outside to really tell
what we're all about.
"I hope I'll be really satisfied
after that. I don't want to go solo, but there are areas I'd like to
explore - maybe movies - where I might not be able to stay in the band
to do it. So I'm not going to say we'll be around forever, but I hope
I'll write the kind of music that sticks around for a long time, whether
you hear it on the radio or not. That's what I want, to be part of a
band that gets a little place in history."
The way he says it gives the thought weight;
Axl is the kind of guy who seems almost uncomfortably alert to changes
in the weather, to the sensitivity of a lyric, the nuance of a song,
a sudden shift of mood... "Only because I react to everything,"
he says quietly. "I react to thoughts. I can be sitting here in
a good mood and think about something really fucked, and if I can't
get it out of my head, I'll react to it. If I hold it back, I walk around
frustrated for a very long period of time. When I talk with an interviewer,
it hurts my feelings if they act like my best friend, then chop me down.
I always try to let people know what they want when we're talking.
"I think I'm growing. I have more
insight into things. I know when I listen to music, I really want something
to be there. Like, I hated Metallica, but then everyone started talking
about them so I bought their records. And the song that really caught
me was 'Fade to Black.' I got addicted to that song. It was usually
around dawn. It's a song about suicide, but I would put it on before
I went to sleep and it would make me relax. For some reason it made
me want to try harder. I'd think, 'Yeah, I can get up and face tomorrow.'
The only thing that worries me about death
is, I have this record to make and I'll be really pissed off if I die
before I make it. After that I won't give a shit. That's when it's gonna