Tuesday 28 March 2017

Axl gets into gear for another shot at fame

The Guns N' Roses frontman has rarely seen eye to eye with his fellow bandmates, writes Barry Egan

Detroit, March, 1992. I have flown all the way to this economically distressed city -- it looked like Dublin does now -- to interview Guns N' Roses (on the foot of their imminent, sellout show at Slane Castle). There has, sadly, been a nasty riot at the show the night before I land and Guns N' Roses have sped across the border to Canada to avoid arrest.

So their management have to entertain a bored group of Irish journalists for a few days before they figure out what to do about no Guns N' Roses to interview. We are brought to seemingly all the bars in Detroit and then, when they finally run out of ideas, a dreary dive bar cum strip club downtown. Either the barman spiked my last Bourbon with Ecstasy, or there's a stripper standing astride our table wanting us (me and the group of Irish journalists) to hand over $10 so she can take her clothes off on it. The fact that she's practically naked as it is hasn't crossed her mind.

When we decline, albeit graciously, she looks at us like we're homos, communist or both, or more probably, Colonel Ghadaffi. And when I enquire of her whether such an act might be a mite demeaning, she suddenly appears certain US Customs have admitted Colonel Ghadaffi into the country.

"Excuse me?"

"Don't you find it demeaning?"

"The meaning. What meaning?"

She looks puzzled.

"De-meaning. Lowering yourself"

"De-meaning? No, can't say I have," she says, genuinely, shaking her head like Lassie.

"Where you from?" she asked, turning her silicon attentions instead to the 30-stone redneck on my right "That guy, he says I'm de-meaning!" she tells him ... and if he knows the meaning of it then I am Colonel Ghadaffi.

Two days later, myself and the Irish journalists get to interview Guns N' Roses by phone: us in Detroit and them in Montreal. In the intervening years, Guns lead singer Axl Rose (born Bill Bailey on February 6, 1962, in Lafayette, Indiana -- growing up in a strict Pentecostal home) seemed to go completely insane: a place, according to reports, he has yet to return from. He sacked the band many years ago (or they left when they could no longer put up with his increasingly bizarre mood-swings) and spent 10 years making a hideously embarrassing album, Chinese Democracy, that cost more than the GDP of most medium-sized South American countries to make: $12m.

Slash, his former Guns N' Roses partner in crime, reportedly hasn't spoken to Rose in almost 20 years. Axl doesn't appear to speak to anyone much it has to be said. It is best to remember him for Sweet Child o' Mine, Paradise City and Welcome to the Jungle. (When you listen to these songs, it is not difficult to realise why the band, formed in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California in 1985, sold more than 110 million albums worldwide -- their 1987 debut album, Appetite for Destruction, shifted 40 million copies worldwide). Best to remember him as that angry looper who told Jon Bon Jovi to give himself a blowjob and had an incredible voice that captured the zeitgeist before descending into a mess of legal and mental issues that all but destroyed his life.

"But forget all that," as Damien Cave wrote on the website Salon.com, "Rose's personal problems, legal travails and general immaturity can never overshadow his talent. Axl Rose kicks ass. He descended on the Eighties like acid, burning holes in a country that had become culturally complacent. For anyone with angst, anyone who grew up under Reagan-Bush, hating suspender suits, hairspray rock and synthesizers, Axl Rose was a saviour.

"His angry, paranoid lyrics, piercing screams and stomping stage presence all acted as antidotes for the made-up go-go conservatism of the time. He was the anti-Culture Club hero, the flat-haired, bandanna-clad bad boy who never played by the rules, never tried to look pretty -- the one guy who repeatedly made people listen, then told them to f*** off. Few rock 'n' rollers -- Johnny Rotten in his prime, Kurt Cobain -- have given the world a more sincere dedication to pure, authentic anger."

Guns N' Roses (featuring Axl with Frank Ferrer, Tommy Stinson, Richard Fortus, Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, Dizzy Reed, Chris Pitman and guitarist DJ Ashba) play The Odyssey Arena, Belfast on August 31 and The O2, Dublin on September 1. Tickets from 100 Ticketmaster outlets nationwide or by telephone (24 hours): ROI - 0818 719 300, Northern Ireland - 0844 277 44 55. Book online: www.ticketmaster.ie

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