Sunday, 4 March 2012

Axl Rose has a mental Molotov cocktail with a match to go

Keith Lemon does Axl Rose
We all live vicariously through the past and future, via timeless songs and 'perfect' celebrity relationships. Whenever tragedy strikes the performers of those timeless songs, or real life cracks the facade of the perfect romance, we get nostalgic. Lots of publicly uttered platitudes about Whitney Houston (although this blog post captured her legacy quite neatly and sweetly). Kitchen sink confessions here about the end of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore's model bohemian marriage. But mostly just a lot of fun poked at Axl Rose for getting fat and making a fool of himself.

A pervert in the public toilets
Axl has done a lot over the past 20 years to make himself a source of ridicule, mostly by doing nothing for so long about what was eventually released as the underwhelming Chinese Democracy album. If you've read anything about the colourful history of Guns n Roses, you'll know that his bandmates, management and groupies found him 'scary'. This was part of his huge appeal; GnR seemed genuinely dangerous. It was news to me, but bipolar disorder is a fairly new medical concept, and so while Axl was diagnosed as manic depressive no one really knew why he was so crazy. And now we know, we chortle.

Anyone who's ever listened to a GnR album will know that Axl has a novel way with words. After all, his nom de plume is an anagram of 'oral sex'. Ever since I was very young, when I would furtively read the CD inlay card lyrics for Appetite for Destruction in the British Army NAAFI in central Germany, I've been a little frightened and enthralled by GnR because of Axl's lyrics. When my brother and I pooled our savings as teenagers and bought Use Your Illusion II on cassette, we used to keep it locked away in a box and only listen to it on our walkmen in case our parents overheard it, caught wind of what was going on, and took it away from us.

It's been a long time since I listened to them, but the fascination's always remained, lying dormant over the years. Then, this Christmas, I bought Take Me Home - The Bluegrass Tribute To Guns N Roses, and Use Your Illusions I and II. Revisiting them as a 30 something I gained a new perspective. Where Appetite is tightly wound and compelling, UYI I & II are long and tedious. Izzy Stradlin contributes a few middle-of-the-road Rolling Stones rip-offs that provide some respite from the insanity. And that insanity, which makes up the majority of UYIs combined 30 songs, ricochets between ballads from the psychiatrist's couch and stock rock from inside the padded cell of Axl's mind.

His most controversial lyric is the 'immigrants and faggots' line from 'One In A Million'. Compared to the content of the UYIs, that was just mundanely offensive. Start at the end, with 'My World', which closes UYI II:

You don't understand your sex
You ain't been mindfucked yet

Back track through Bad Obsession:

I call my mother
She's just a cunt now
She said I'm sick in the head

(it's often said that mother knows best).

And onto the one-two Tourettes sucker-punch of 'Shotgun Blues' and 'Get In The Ring':

I'll stick it right in your face
And then I'll put you in your motherfuckin place
And you can suck my ass...
Ooooh, you want a confrontation?
(Shotgun Blues)

And while you're talkin about a vasectomy
I'll be writing down your obituary...
I'd like to crush your head tight in my vice
(Get In The Ring)

Finish with 'Breakdown', where Axl quotes at length Cleavon Little's character Super Soul in the film Vanishing Point. Taken out of context, it's wonderfully deranged:
There goes the challenger being chased by the blue blue meanies on wheels
The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver
The last American hero
The-the electric sintar
The demi-God, the super driver of the Golden West!
Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver
The police cars are getting closer-closer...
Closer to our soul hero in his soul mobile, yeah baby!
They about to strike, they gonna get him, smash! rape!
The last beautiful free soul on this planet
But... it is written if the evil spirit arms the tiger with claws
Brahman provided wings for the dove
Thus spake the super guru

Read Stephen Davis' Watch You Bleed, 'deranged' is pretty much the impression you get. The context is also striking; LA, or more specifically Sunset Strip, in the 80s was like the Wild West - lawless, reckless, and hazardous. Like Southern California itself, the 'hair metal' Sunset Strip bands all dreamt of becoming infinite, and did their very best to test that invincibility with all manner of risk-taking, usually involving sex, drugs, and, er, dangerous weapons. Amidst all this, Axl went from being a 'shy, humble guy who was a lot of fun to be with' according to Vince Neil, to an erratic hermit with a messiah complex, in the space of five years.

He's been called one of the greatest singers of all time by NME and Rolling Stone, and lamented as a genius with a serious mental illness. He also named a song on Chinese Democracy 'There Was A Time', which is fondly referred to as TWAT by die-hards, who've kept up with the Buckethead-era GnR. Nostalgia's funny like that.


  1. no shit. I love him.

  2. But he will always be.my baby. True love never dies.

  3. po da sotte!

  4. Damn, homie got fat!