And that goes for all you punks in the press
that want to start shit by printin' lies instead of the things we said
That means you, Andy Secher at Hit Parader
Mick Wall at Kerrang!
Bob Guccione Jr. at Spin,
What, you pissed off 'cuz your dad gets more pussy than you?
Suck my fuckin' dick!
You wanted the best?! Well, they didn't fucking make it!
W. Axl Rose (his legal name since 1985), born William Bruce Rose on February 6, 1962 in Lafayette, Indiana, USA, was/is indeed the flamboyant frontman for the legendary rock band Guns N' Roses. Some have said his real name was William Bruce Bailey, but this is incorrect. His step-father was named Bailey, and Axl was unaware of the existence of his real father (surnamed Rose) until he was 17. When he found out about his real father, he changed his name from William Bailey to William Rose, and then changed it again in 1985 to W. Axl Rose (the W representing his given first name, and "Axl Rose" being an anagram for "oral sex"). During the latter half of the 1980s and the first few years of the 1990s (leading up to grunge crushing all other popular music styles), he was practically worshipped by millions of rock fans and reviled by just as many religious figures, music critics, law enforcement officials, and concert promoters.
He and then-future bandmate Izzy Stradlin moved from the suburban confines of Lafayette to Los Angeles, in 1983, with the intention of starting a rock band along the lines of the Rolling Stones crossed with the Sex Pistols, mixed with the hair metal (a style of music that I try to make painstakingly clear is not glam rock; David Bowie, T-Rex and Roxy Music had defined that a decade earlier in Britain) that was de rigueur in LA at the time. They succeeded around 1985 by recruiting members of the hair metal band L.A. Guns (hence the name Guns N' Roses), and Guns N' Roses was born, releasing their first album (Live?!*@ Like a Suicide) in 1986.
A wild man from the get-go, Axl has been arrested over 30 times, mostly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, for various misdemeanor offenses, usually for drunk and disorderly and for his subsequent prediliction for resisting arrest. He incited a riot on at least two occcasion (the first in St. Louis, described below, and then a year later at a concert with Metallica in Montreal, Quebec, in 1993, which the two bands were co-headlining; the event at which James Hetfield of Metallica was badly burned by poorly-timed or malfunctioning pyrotechnics) by walking offstage mid-song; he attempted to pick a fight with Kurt Cobain backstage at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards because Kurt had insulted him in an interview given a few weeks prior to the event; he was a heroin addict for a few years prior to Guns N' Roses' rise to popularity; the infamous incident in St. Louis, Missouri, involved him jumping offstage mid-song and attacking a fan at Riverport Ampitheatre in mid-1991, an experience he later commemorated by having t-shirts printed that read "ST. LOUIS SUCKS," which he often included in his multitude of onstage outfits and in the video for Dead Horse (some of his other well-known t-shirts read "KILL YOUR IDOLS," which pictured Jesus the Christ; and "NO MARTYRS"); he can even be seen to be wearing a white Nine Inch Nails Sin tee at one point. (NIN had been the opening band for the European leg of GNR's 1991 world tour.)
And then quite suddenly he disappeared after it seemed that whatever fight he got into with Kurt Cobain had been lost, as Nirvana and their contemporaries more or less buried Guns N' Roses and other arena-touring, whiskey-swilling, line-doin' bands from the 1980s.
Rose's often belligerent, misogynistic, homophobic and racist comments made him a neverending source of cannon fodder for the music press and all manner of the "anti-" groups of the time, from the American Family Association to MTV News, though that aspect of his personality seemed more like hype when compared to the personality he displayed in his songwriting. In the beginning of Guns N' Roses, Axl was little more than a Robert Plant-crossed-with-Johnny Rotten clone that happened to front an astoundingly popular band. As time passed and the band's sound became more refined, he kind of morphed into someone like Elton John, only less gay -- he became a master balladeer and an extremely skilled writer of lyrics. The 10-plus-minute opuses found on the Use Your Illusion albums attest to this, as does the fact that Axl played a duet (Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody) with Elton at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992. An unlikelier couple I can't imagine.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of the All Music Guide said it best, perhaps, when he wrote:
"The two guitarists (Stradlin and Slash), particularly Stradlin, are trying to keep the group closer to its hard-rock roots, but Axl has pretentions of being Queen and Elton John, which is particularly odd for a notoriously homophobic midwestern boy."
Quote source: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=Agxknikm6bb29
Just as Axl and Guns N' Roses were reaching a litmus of complex lyrical and musical masterpieces, they released an album full of rather bad, completely unmemorable punk rock covers called The Spaghetti Incident? and then promptly fell off the face of the planet upon the dizzying rise of grunge metal in 1992/93. When this happened Axl became a recluse (a lifestyle which was probably much aided by the heroin overdose death of his friend Shannon Hoon in 1995) and declined to be interviewed for years, all the while working on restructuring Guns N' Roses and writing new material. Apart from pianist Dizzy Reed (the only original GNR member other than Axl to still be in the band), Axl hasn't been on speaking terms with any of the original members of GNR since their parting ways in 1994 (apart from Dizzy), mostly due to the fact that on a personal level, they all grew to despise him over the years, a feeling which was probably mutual, given Axl's megalomania. When the live GNR compilation Live Era: '87-'93 was released in 1999, the tracks were selected by Axl and Slash, but only through intermediaries, not direct contact. Slash has said in various interviews that he'd like to patch things up with Axl and get the GNR train a' rollin' again, but Axl seems uninterested.
Axl resurfaced in 1999 with a new single, the pseudoindustrial Oh My God, for the End of Days movie soundtrack. The following year the new GNR played a few shows in Las Vegas and at the infamous Rock In Rio festival in Brazil, both times to huge audiences. However, Axl had a strict stipulation in his concert rider (that is, his performance contract with the operator(s) of the concert venue) with the promoters of each show: if any previous member of GNR (i.e., any that were not on stage with the band at the time) were to show up and if Axl should see them, he'd walk offstage and end the show. Slash attempted to enter one of the Las Vegas shows and was denied entry by a large staff of bouncers.
The live shows, by the way, were a mixture of classic GNR tunes (all of which Axl owned the copyrights for) and new songs from the prepetually forthcoming album Chinese Democracy, which, despite rumours to the contrary, will probably stay on the shelf. After all, it's been "in development" since 1995 at least, and I doubt that by the time Axl deems it right to release it, anyone will have the slightest interest in hearing it. Not that there are a lot of people out there right now who could be bothered to give it the time of day; with each passing year it remains unreleased, the fewer people exist who want to hear it. Axl himself isn't getting any younger, either; he's approaching age fifty, and years of belting out vocals, yelling at subordinates, smoking, Jack Daniels and heroin have reduced his previously 2.5-octave voice down to a hoarse groan.
On August 29, 2002, Axl, then 40 years old, made his triumphant return to MTV, playing a three-song set with the new GNR at their annual Video Music Awards show. GNR's appearance at the show was kept a complete secret until just before they went on, and for the duration of their miniature set, multicolored confetti fell by the ton from the rafters of Radio City Music Hall, and all the pretentious, RIAA-owned musicians in attendance stood up and cheered. Axl, bedeviled in hundreds of tight braids in his hair, his trademark bandanna, and a number 80 football jersey, had returned, to the delight of the show's attendees, all of whom were standing, shouting, clapping, just generally going nuts to see Axl again. Little did they know that four years later (I'm updating this writeup on September 9, 2006), Chinese Democracy still hasn't seen the light of day.
In a slight break from seclusion, Axl found the time, in 2004, to provide a voice for Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, as radio DJ Tommy "The Nightmare" Smith.
Chinese Democracy was finally released on November 23, 2008, after about fifteen years of development. You could almost hear either everyone in the world not noticing, or their huge collective yawn.