|The second installment of RIP's exclusive three-part interview with Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose.
I, AXL Part Two by Del James
You can't have a music conversation without W. Axl Rose's name popping up. Rock 'n' roll's favorite enigma, he conjures many images - everything from Damien Thorn [you know, the antichrist kid from the Omen] in a kilt to a mixed-up misogynist come to mind. He has certain qualities women love to mother, but if you rub him the wrong way, he can be a real motherf?!ker. If there's one thing I'd like the world to know about Axl, it's that he truly cares about his people. What few understand, however, is that we are all his people. That's why he shares his pain in his songs; that's why he performs when he feels like shit. On the days regular folks call in sick, he has to entertain 20,000 fans. If he didn't care about them, he'd shine them. When the riots were going down in L.A., Axl invited me and my family, as well as many of his other friends, up to the safer environs of his house. He was in constant communication with us throughout the crisis, when he could just as easily have kept himself locked in or split the scene entirely - but that's not his style. Even though his manners seem unorthodox at times, he does care. Maybe that's one of the reasons he's such an easy target for detractors. Cynics can't deal with sincerity.
This issue we pick up where we left off last time, Axl has just phoned me back after a short break.
DEL: At the beginning of the tour - with Skid Row, then Soundgarden - the show seemed Illusion-heavy. The majority of the songs, were off the new records. Then, towards the end of the tour, it seemed quite Appetite-heavy. Why?
AXL: That was just the mood for those nights. It was just what we felt like playing and what came out. I mean, in San Diego we opened with "It's So Easy," and we never do that anymore.
DEL: I hear you, but there are certain songs, especially newer ones, that should be in the set. If I go see GN'R, and "Estranged" or "November Rain" aren't in the set, I'm gonna be slightly bummed.
AXL: I'll remember that the night we don't play them. I'll say, "Del would be bummed," and 20,000 people in Iowa will be going, "What?"
DEL: It's just that those two songs are classics. You could put them next to "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Layla" on a cassette.
AXL: I think, musically, "November Rain" could possibly stand there. Vocally, I purposely wanted the sound I have on that. I'm very happy with it, even though it's very abrasive.
DEL: The same could be said about Steven Tyler's singing on "Dream On," and very few songs come close to that intensity.
AXL: One of the things I like about the vocal roughness in "November Rain" is that anyone can think that they can sing it as good or better. They can feel like a part of it.
DEL: You really haven't yet addressed why Izzy Stradlin left GN'R. If you would, explain what happened and, more importantly, how you feel about Izzy.
AXL: I feel like shit all over me, and I wiped it off and ain't too happy that it happened. I think for a long period of time Izzy wanted to be more independent, but Guns N' Roses took off fast, and he was such a part of it, it was hard to take that step. That's my opinion. There are certain responsibilities to Guns N' Roses that Izzy didn't want to face. He basically didn't want to work as hard at certain things as we did. He pretty much just showed up before we went onstage, would get upset that I wasn't on time, played, then split. There were times when we'd get off stage, and five minutes later he was gone. He didn't socialize with the band on any level, and he had a real problem being sober and being around us. Izzy's always been very compulsive and impulsive, and although he's quit abusing various substances, he still hasn't gotten to the base of the reason why he was abusive. He hasn't solved that, so instead of doing drugs, drinking and womanizing, he was keeping himself busy traveling, bicycling and buying lots of toys. There's nothing wrong with any of that, except that he wasn't able to do the things required of him in Guns N' Roses. Getting Izzy to work hard on the album was like pulling f?!kin teeth. Everybody dreaded it. Nobody would go by the studio while he was there, because no one wanted to deal with it. He's play something out of key, and we'd ask him to do it again, and he'd be like, "Why? I just did it." Izzy was very unsupportive of me in general. He was very concerned about his free time, and he didn't have a whole lot of understanding of what to takes me to do my job. As far as I'm concerned, he was a lazy, selfish user. There are ways that I miss him and wish it could've gone on, but he was a real f?!king asshole to me. I was always a massive Izzy fan and supporter, but now that he's working with Alan Niven [former GN'R manager], f?!k him - and you can print this. Even if we work things out between us, I won't regret what's coming out in this interview, because it's how I feel. I'm glad we got the songs out of him that we did, and I'm glad he's gone.
DEL: He really hurt you, huh?
AXL: You wanna know how he really hurt me? When he came up here to my f?!king house and acted like, "What's wrong, man?" It's really weird; I knew he was coming. I could literally feel his car driving up as I was getting dressed. I went outside and sat down, because Izzy couldn't come into my house. I couldn't act like he was my friend after what he'd done to me. He came up and acted like he hadn't done anything, but he let us down at a weird time. It wasn't like someone leaving the band because they couldn't take it anymore; he left in a shitty way. Izzy called up members of the band and tried to turn them against me by saying that I pushed him out, and that's not how it went down. He said a lot of shit behind my back. He tried to make a power play and damage us on his way out, and that's real f?!ked up.
DEL: Want to talk about another former member of Guns, drummer Steven Adler?
AXL: The misconception is that we kicked him out for the hell of it, and that I was the dictator behind it. The truth is, I probably fought a little harder to keep him in the band, because I wasn't working with him on a daily basis like the other guys were. They grew tired of not being able to get their work done because Steven wasn't capable of it. I've read interviews where he's saying that he's straight. Most of the time he isn't. He's the type of person who wants everything handed to him, and he did get it handed to him. He got it handed to him from me. At one point, in order to keep this band together, it was necessary for me to give him a portion of my publishing rights. That was one of the biggest mistakes I've made in my life, but he threw such a fit, saying he wasn't going to stay in the band. We were worried about not being able to record our first album, so I did what I felt I had to do. In the long run I paid very extensively for keeping Steven in Guns N' Roses. I paid $1.5 million by giving him 15% of my publishing off of Appetite For Destruction. He didn't write one goddamn note, but he calls me a selfish dick! He's been able to live off of that money, buy a shitload of drugs and hire lawyers to sue me. If and when he loses the lawsuit he has against us, and he has to pay those lawyers, if he has any money left, it'll be the money that came from Guns N' Roses and myself. At this point I really don't care what happens to Steven Adler, because he's taken himself out of my life, out of my care and concern. I feel bad for him in ways, because he's a real damaged person, but he's making choices to keep himself in that damage. There's nothing we can do at this point. We took him to rehabs, we threatened his drug dealers, we helped him when he slashed his wrists. I even forgave him after he nearly killed my wife. I had to spend a night with her in an intensive-care unit because her heart had stopped thanks to Steven. She was hysterical, and he shot her up with a speedball. She had never done jack shit as far as drugs go, and he shoots her up with a mixture of heroin and cocaine? I kept myself from doing anything to him. I kept the man from being killed by members of her family. I saved him from having to go to court, because her mother wanted him held responsible for his actions. And the sonofabitch turns on me? I mean, yeah, I'm a difficult person to deal with, and I'm a pain in the ass to understand, and I've had my share of problems, but Steven benefited greatly from his involvement with me - more than I did from knowing him. Steven had a lot of fans, but he was a real pain in the ass. I need to keep him in my life for you? F?!k you!
DEL: Now that we've taken care of that, what about the flipside of the coin: the new guys, especially guitarist Gilby Clarke?
AXL: Gilby is awesome, and a pleasure to be around. He works the stage and the crowd really well. Also, he helps give us a sense of rock 'n' roll normalcy - if there is such thing. Gilby has a way of understanding and dealing with situations that makes the whole trip more tolerable. His insights from being on the outside of GN'R helps us. He has his opinions of what's going on with us, and it helps us get a different perspective, ' cause Slash, Duff and myself have been in GN'R for so long and are so close to it that sometimes we don't see things like other people would. Every now and then he'll say something to me, and I'll go, "Wow, I didn't see it that way." He's been putting himself through his own rock-and-roll education with his other groups for years. Now he's a part of Guns N' Roses.
DEL: Is he a "member" of Guns N' Roses?
AXL: This "member" thing is quite interesting, I read in an interview where Matt [Sorum, drummer] said that if he didn't get made a member, he wasn't going to be in Guns N' Roses. The truth of the matter is, Matt's a member of GN'R, but it doesn't really mean anything. It's kind of like a clubhouse/gang thing. We're all members of this gang. What it boils down to is, whose yard is the tree house in? Matt's a member of GN'R, and his opinions are taken into consideration. As far as that's concerned, Gilby is a member too, Dizzy is a member of the band. With all the background singers, horn players, keyboardists - we look at it like we're all Guns N' Roses. But the bottom line is, the business is basically run by Slash and myself. Then we run whatever it is we're discussing by Duff and see if he's cool with it. Guns N' Roses is basically Slash, Duff, Doug Goldstein and myself, but there's a lot of other people involved that are a part of our lives and a part of our family.
DEL: Do you think Matt's gonna be pissed when he reads this?
AXL: It would be nice if he wasn't. I love everybody in this band. It's kicking ass and feels really warm and really cool onstage. At this point it's the 12 of us that get onstage and f?!king go all out.
DEL: There's 12 of you?
AXL: There's Teddy, there's Dizzy, there's Roberta, Tracy, Lisa, CeCe, Anne, Gilby, Matt, Duff, Slash and me. Slash put this new band together, did all of the groundwork. He did such an amazing job that I just can't believe it really happened. I'm glad to be a part of it. It's a pretty huge thing, and we might even add some dancers, like we used to have back in the old Troubadour days. It's something we've considered.
DEL: When you and Slash aren't at each other's throats, you're really a force to be reckoned with.
AXL: Let me say something about us being at each other's throats: We haven't really been that way in the past year and a half. I love the guy. We're like opposite poles of energy, and we balance each other out. We push each other to work harder and complement each other that way. We had a run-in in Dayton [Ohio], because both myself and Dougie thought he said something shitty to me onstage. That was the night I cut my hand to the bone. Backstage we have monitors much like the ones onstage, and while I was back there dealing with my hand, I thought I heard him take a potshot at me. I wrapped my hand up in a towel and was like, "Let's get it taken care of, so I can finish the show." I came back onstage and was a dick to him and told him I'd kick his f?!king ass in front of 20,000 people. That was f?!ked up. I was wrong, and I apologized the second I realized I was mistaken. Someone who is supporting me as strongly as he does is a hand I never want to bite.
DEL: The tribute to Freddie Mercury was very cool. What was it like jamming with legends like Queen and Elton John?
AXL: The Queen gig was the most humbling experience of my life. It was f?!king intense. When we first met Brian May last summer, it was wild. None of us would let him out of the room. He's oneof the nicest people I've met. When we did "Bohemian Rhapsody," that was unrehearsed. Brian asked me to do it that day, and it felt right. I spoke to Elton before the show, and he was kind of uneasy about meeting me - you know, I'm supposed to be the most homophobic guy on Earth. When we talked, I was excited, but serious, telling him how much his music meant to me. By the end he was like "Whoa." Onstage I was trying to be as respectful to him as I could. I was purposely vibing out, and if you look close, you can see it at times, how much I love and respect I have for Elton. There was some heavy eye contact going down. It was amazing. MTV's John Norris kept saying, "This could be the last time you'll ever see Elton John and Axl Rose together onstage." Not if I have anything to do with it.
DEL: When speaking of Queen, one must speak of AIDS. How has this disease affected you?
AXL: I wan to learn more and start helping people. Freddie Mercury's death is a marker in my life that says there's no turning back, and I'm going to do whatever I can to inform the public about certain things. We can't sit idly and hope someone will change things and hope things will be alright. There are alternative forms of medicine that are having high success rates in treating AIDS victims. There's things like vibrational medicine, oxygen-ozone therapy, there's homeopathic medicines, there are Chinese medicines and different forms of vitamins. The government is denying the public this information. That's because the government, the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars off of people dying. The FDA invests money in companies they've supposed to be regulating - that makes no sense. Over the last 50 years there have been different cures for different illnesses that have been kept from us. Freddie Mercury's death made me want to fight for people to have the right to know about these alternative treatments. Everyone has got a God-given right to health, and it's being denied by power-hungry, greedy people who want control.
DEL: I take it you're not very big on the way things are being run?
AXL: Our government talks about freedom and liberty while they exercise and maintain and enforce and strive for and fight for all the control they can have over the people. Since day one we've been taught to support our own oppression, and I think it's time for things to change.
DEL: Well put.
AXL: How's this interview going?
DEL: Really cool.
AXL: To put all of this in an interview would've taken weeks a couple of years ago.
DEL: Yeah, but two years ago we were less skilled at this.
AXL: And on dope. Also, with a lot of these issues I have the support of Guns N' Roses, but I'm not necessarily speaking for the other members here. I'm speaking for myself and where I'm coming from.