Time Out explores the mad existence of Abu Dhabi-bound Axl Rose
As a man who, by his own admission, once broke into a lunatic asylum (‘because I didn’t know how to go around the building’), there can be no doubting W Axl Rose’s rock credentials. Ever since his first appearance with the self-titled ‘most dangerous band in the world’ a quarter of a century ago, the man has courted the kind of controversy that makes Elvis Presley and his flexi-pelvis look like a quiet Sunday at granny’s house. On December 16, he brings it all to Abu Dhabi. Do we know what we’ve let ourselves in for?
Getting you up to speed: Axl was born William Bruce Rose in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1962. His father ran off two years later and his mother remarried a man who (Rose claims) physically abused his new family so regularly that the young musician grew to believe that such behaviour was normal. His own marriage was similarly explosive. Ex-wife Erin Everly (daughter of Don Everly, of the clean-cut ’50s duo The Everly Brothers) has stated that, by way of marriage proposal, Rose turned up on her doorstep at 4am and insisted they head to the church, revealing he had a gun in the car and that he’d kill himself if she said no. In 1991, just one year later, the marriage floundered. Everly filed a heavy civil lawsuit against the singer in 1994, citing domestic abuse as the reason for their separation. Subsequent relationships have ended similarly.
His relationship with music is just as flawed. At one end of the spectrum are the halcyon early days, back when the original line-up (Axl, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler) put together the seminal Appetite for Destruction – a slow-burning 1987 release that eventually became the world’s biggest-selling debut album and slapped us with bona-fide stadium classics ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and the sublime ‘Paradise City’. At the other end is Chinese Democracy, an album that took Rose 15 years to put together, features a bloated line up of 12 musicians, and is generally regarded by fans as having only one decent song (‘Better’, in case you’re counting).
That Slash is no longer a band member ought to be old news, but you’d be surprised how many emails Time Out Dubai received questioning his appearance. Axl is the only original member that will show up in Abu Dhabi, though Dizzy Reed, who joined the band in the Use Your Illusion era, is likely to be in tow. Slash – the mastermind behind many of the band’s greatest riffs – left the group in 1996, and now performs in Velvet Revolver with a handful of ex-Roses. It’s indicative of his continued influence that most people still can’t envisage a Guns N’ Roses line-up without the tight perm and top hat slouching around stage-right; perhaps the only person who has no trouble with this is Axl. ‘Half man, half beast,’ he once said of his former friend. ‘I don’t know what it is, but it’s weird and it’s p***d off and calls itself Slash.’ Safe to say, their severed alliance goes beyond mere musical differences.
Bringing his saga right up to the present, the 48-year-old Axl Rose that will take on Yas Island is something a bit peculiar, even by his own oddball standards. Still given to chronic outbursts, the man who once responded to an over-zealous security guard by gnawing on his shin has begun to look a little like a tardy school teacher. No longer given to drink and drugs scandals, the worst Dhabi is likely to experience is a very late start and a bit of a telling off if you don’t enjoy yourselves. Most commonly, he seems to employ a ‘three strikes and you’re out policy’, with stroppy stage exits coming well before curfew if you happen to displease him (ironically, he’s not very big on raucous behaviour). Conversely, he’s well-known to delay the start of a concert if he’s not feeling up to it. He’s frequently apologetic about this (‘I’ve always wanted to have it written in my will that when I die, the coffin shows up a half-hour late and says on the side, like in gold, “Sorry I’m Late”’) but seemingly unwilling to change his ways – not even when his actions lead to a full-scale riot, such as the one that devastated the area surrounding Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in 1992.
That said, he’s not known as one of rock’s greatest frontmen for nothing, and his ability to whip a crowd into a frenzy is legendary. Come December 16, Abu Dhabi might not know what’s hit it, but Axl will put it in its place. ‘Do you know where you are?’ he’ll cry; ‘You’re in the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die!’ You’d be a madman to question his logic.
Gun for good? Few bands can surpass Guns N’ Roses when it comes to line-up changes. Here’s what happened next to some notable former members.
Slash With his tight perm, top hat and permanent Marlboro dangling from his lip as he pulled off a blinding solo on his Les Paul, Stoke-on-Trent’s finest was too cool an icon to fade away after he quit the band. He continued to rock hard by forming the superb Velvet Revolver with GN’R bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum, and has just released a solo album.
Izzy Stradlin The original rhythm guitarist was arguably the best songwriter in the band, co-writing classics such as ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.’ But he was never comfortable with the giant commercial monster the band grew into and walked out halfway through the Use Your Illusion tour. He formed his own outfit, Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, but has made the occasional guest appearance with Axl’s new GN’R line-up.
Buckethead This oddball guitarist, who played lead in GN’R between 2000 and 2004, always took the stage with a KFC family bucket on his head, which was either an anti-consumerist statement or because he loved Colonel Sanders’ blend of herbs and spices. He quit over the delays in getting Chinese Democracy to press, going on to release a string of solo albums packed with his trademark shredding axe solos.
Duff McKagan Duff lasted longer than most in the GN’R maelstrom, calling it a day in 1997 after 12 debaucherous years. After parting ways with Axl (and plenty of rehab), he found that education was the way forward and studied for a degree in finance. But he soon realised that being a rock bassist was far more fun than accountancy and he later joined Velvet Revolver with Slash.