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February, 2003
Appetite For Self-destruction
Classic Rock Magazine February 2003
Today W. Axl Rose stands alone. After the debacle that was Guns N' Roses' return to the road in the US, it seems the day of reckoning has come. As his current bandmembers desert him, Classic Rock asks: What the hell is going on in the mind of this eccentric recluse? And what will he do next- if anything? Using his illusions: Dave Ling.

FOR A GROUP THAT MADE ITS REPUTATION THROUGH ITS `unpredictability', the latest US tour by Guns N' Roses came to an all too predictable end on December 11, when the promoters issued the following terse press statement: "The remainder of the Guns N' Roses concert dates promoted by Clear Channel Entertainment have been cancelled," it read simply, while only hinting at the reasons for the cancellation when it added: "Refunds will be available at point of purchase. Clear Channel Entertainment takes pride in bringing live entertainment to the public. We apologize for any inconvenience to all the fans who purchased tickets."

Inflicting further - this time possibly irreparable - damage to the singer's already tattered professional reputation, it now looks likely, according to sources close to the band, that those carefully chosen words effectively mark the end of the current line-up of Guns N' Roses, all of whom are said to be disenchanted by their leader's latest apparently wanton act of self-destruction.

Given his band's astonishing rebirth at 2001's Rock In Rio III festival and the success of last summer's UK concerts, it seems barely credible that Axl could have shot himself in the foot quite so badly. However, the unfortunate events of last November and December have, yet again, allowed Axl to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

With the tour barely two weeks old, there had already been a catalogue of disasters, many of them depressingly familiar, including riots, no-shows, delayed appearances, cancellations, tantrums, "health problems", even reports of a 'tour psychiatrist' being hired to coax the singer onto the stage each night - a bigger problem than one might imagine, with the singer not even being in the same city, let alone the same dressing room, as the rest of the band at one show. This has caused understandable friction among the vast organisation behind such a tour, and a great deal of dismay for fans who have not had the chance to see the band play regularly in the US since the ill-fated 'Use Your Illusion' tour back in 1992.

While official sources insist the band are fine and have already gone back to adding the so-called finishing touches to 'Chinese Democracy', the album Axl hasbeen tinkering with for more than seven years now, word around the campfire is that bassist (and musical director) Tommy Stinson and guitarist Robin Finck have both tendered their resignations; guitarist Buckethead is also rumoured to be considering his options. Even old friends who have seen it all before are said to be shaking their heads in dismay and this latest downturn inevents. According to one source in America, who did not wish to be named: 'Axl has never been so totally alone before." And as the last surviving member of the original line-up, this time he has nobody to blame but himself.

As regular Classic Rock readers know, some of us have seen it coming for some time. The tale of the band's return to the road-and the scale of their ensuing topple from grace - is an all too familiar one. The signs were there for all to see when the band famously failed to show up for two consecutive British tours in 2001- to add insult to injury, the second time after manager Doug Goldstein claimed, farcically, that he "forgot" to pass the news of the 14-date tour on to, uh, the band. Which is the most ridiculous excuse since Motley Cre blamed "too much snow on the roof' for the cancellation of a show at Wembley in 1988. Were we really expected to believe, as Goldstein suggested, that Axl only found out about the tour via the internet once it had been cancelled? Apparently yes.

However, once Axl and his new-look GN'R did finally make it over here to play, at the Leeds Festival and London Docklands Arena last summer, the music was often so good that many were prepared to forgive - if not entirely forget. If we weren't quite witnessing the rebirth of a legend - only a re-formation of the classic line-up would actually give us that tantalising prospect - it was certainly fascinating to watch Axl struggle to rewrite history. "Where's Slash?" cried someone at Leeds whose memory was obviously now longer than their hair. "Up my ass," Axl snarled. One wondered how that made Buckethead feel as he prepared to replicate yet another of Slash's glorious solos...

But then Axl's take on the past has never been wholly convincing: "I wasn't gonna get in a one-on-one war with the old guys, because I thought all that would do was bring attention to their albums,' he told Michigan radio station WRIF when quizzed about the original band's demise. "I didn't want that at all. The reality was that I was going to do most of Slash's songs, in particular, but every time we got halfway near something that [could] be successful it was backed away from. There was a lot of stress.

"Izzy and those guys... none of them wanted to do the big shows. From day one, Izzy wanted to be the size of The Ramones, doing like 2,000-seaters, so there was always a little battle there, and the other guys had to be on so many substances to be able to deal with that," Axl said, omitting to mention his own weird on-tour proclivities, like the time in 1991 he kept an audience in New Jersey waiting for more than four hours while he "took a shower". To his credit, he did add: "Slash could play great guitar [while] on a lot of drugs."

However, his arrogance was channelled in more positive directions when the question of the band overrunning their allotted stage time in Leeds came up just before the start of 'November Rain'. Having delayed his entrance on stage by over an hour while he got himself mentally "ready", it was feared the midnight curfew imposed by the local council might be the spark that sent the singer into psychotic overdrive. But as he took his seat at the grand piano Axl made the following announcement: "The council and the promoters say that we've got to get off," he casually informed the crowd. Cue loud boos. But he added that he still had "seven or eight more songs" he wanted to play. Cue hoots of delight. "I didn't come all the way to Leeds to be told to go fucking home!" he complained, and began playing. Cue rapturous applause.

Fortunately the organisers had agreed to allow the show to overrun. Otherwise, what happened on the recent US dates might have occurred. Even being relatively good boys and actually showing up, albeit late, their appearance still managed to inspire 500 overwrought fans to gang together to fight police, knocking down and setting fire to 71 toilet blocks and a Portacabin along the way.

None of which the band can be blamed for. In fact, Axl appeared to be in extraordinary form that night. Clearly his anti-authoritarian streak was still as strong as ever, as was his legendary messiah-complex, yet he appeared focused on his music, and the results were sometimes spine-tingling.

When word got back to the US, tickets for an upcoming show at Madison Square Garden in New York sold out in under an hour. As a result, it looked like the band's first US tour for 10 years would be one of the end-of-year highlights of 2002. It's now believed that despite Axl's public protestations to the contrary, there were even hush-hush talks behind the scenes to try to get 'Chinese Democracy' released at some point during the tour - possibly February or March.

And then just as it looked like they were actually back in business, it all started to go wrong - again. Things started to happen to Axl and... well...

AS EVERYBODY KNOWS, AXL ROSE IS ONE OF THOSE people things have always happened to. Where do you start? His chequered career on the road with GN'R has been defined by its calamities and disasters. One of the biggest occurred in October 1991, when 60 people were seriously injured in St Louis after Axl started a riot when he jumped into the crowd to attack a fan who was holding a video camera, then stormed off stage and refused to come back on. Riots, cancellations, ridiculous delays and all-out madness characterised the entire two-year'Use Your Illusion' tour. At one show in Dallas, Axl decided he'd had enough, and when he left his hotel that night he instructed his driver to take him to the airport rather than to the local concert hall where the band were waiting to go on. It took literally hours for Axl's entourage to persuade him to return to the venue, by which time the promoters were desperately showing footage of topless female fans on the venue's video screens to try to prevent fans from tearing the place apart. The superstar attitude wasn't merely reserved for underlings and fans, though; while opening for the Rolling Stones in 1989, Axl famously kept the headliners waiting for three hours to rehearse a duet with Mick Jagger.

Back on tour in America last year for the first time in a decade, it was hoped Axl had left such problems far behind him, that the new, more eager to just get out and play figure he'd presented in the UK would be the one who showed up in the US.

Fat chance. According to insiders, Axl had started to unravel before the 2002 tour had even begun. Despite telling a website beforehand that the US tour was "our tour - that I have personally authorized;" and that "for better or worse, we'll be there", on the opening night at the 10,000-seater General Motors Place in Vancouver, rioting fans caused damage estimated at several hundred thousands of dollars when the band failed to perform. The reason? Having left it to the last minute to set off for the show, a delay in his flight from Los Angeles meant the singer was still in the air when the band should have been on stage. Organisers waited over two hours then cancelled the show, they said, "when it was recognised that the band could not take the stage at a reasonable time". Incensed concert-goers used steel barricades to break windows, and police were forced to use pepper-spray to disperse thousands of irate fans.

Unusually keen to give his version of events, Axl spoke to Seattle radio station KISW the following day. As usual, it was anybody's fault but his: "We were going to play, and the plug got pulled on us;' he insisted. "Basically, the building manager just decided -in all of our opinion, prematurely-that the show was just cancelled. He didn't discuss it with anyone. [The road crew] found out over the public address system. We have a legal team looking into it."

Demonstrating at least that he does still have a sense of humour, Axl brought the 10-minute interview to an end by saying he had to "get down to soundcheck before they cancel the show".

Other radio stations were contacted in the days that followed, but now a series of conditions had to be agreed to first before Axl would speak. Namely, that the interview be taped in advance, so that Axl could hear and approve it first, and that it adhere strictly to an agreed list of questions that could-and couldn't -be asked. According to one DJ who wished to remain anonymous, off-limits topics included Slash or any ex-GN'R members, rival bands or other music in general, the Vancouver riot, and any other facet of his seemingly chronic inability to start a show on time. Interviewers were encouraged to ask instead about the tour and the 'Chinese Democracy' album - specifically, and most laughably, what it was like to have spent some time in China and written songs there. The station would also be barred from previewing the interview until Axl had done it and approved it. That way, if he deemed its contents unsuitable, no one would even know it existed.

Over the next few days the band played shows in out of the way places like Boise, Idaho, and Fargo, North Dakota, before arriving at the first major stop on the tour: New York. The Madison Square Garden show, which had allegedly sold out in 15 minutes flat, was the highlight of the band's all too brief tour. From the stage a relieved Axl told the crowd: "I managed to get enough of myself together to do this." Afterwards he reportedly told everyone he thought that it was "as good as the band could get" and that it was "time to cut their losses" and get on with things again - specifically, the US tour and the release of the new album.

Backstage, however, the circus carried on. An MTV representative allegedly heard Axl brawling with one of his managers; Buckethead's freakish refusal to remove his trademark headgear after the show also resulted in tense scenes; even the guitarist's girlfriend was unable to persuade him to unmask during the post-show revelry. According to one onlooker: "He was literally hiding behind some lockers. His girlfriend came and... I wouldn't say they were having a fight, I think she was trying to coax him into taking off that mask."

The next stop should have been the First Union Center arena in Philadelphia, on December 6. However, police were called to the 14,000-capacity venue when fans began to become "unruly" after the show was cancelled at the last minute due this time to the whole band failing to show up. Chairs and bottles were thrown during the resulting melee, though police reported no arrests. A spokesman for First Union Center later said that they had received a phone call "shortly after 11 pm" on the night of the show telling them that an unspecified band member had been 'taken ill" and that the group would not be able to perform.

A Virginia-based long-time GN'R fan called Bob who'd been following the tour later emailed the Metal Sludge website to voice his disgruntlement-and add some information of his own. According to Bob, who had been waiting for autographs outside the group's hotel in New York, all of the group - except Axl - left for Philadelphia (a two-hour drive away) at 2.30pm that day. By the time of Bob's own departure at 7.30pm, however, Axl still hadn't left the hotel in New York.

"Talk about unprofessional. What the hell was Axl thinking in leaving that late?" Bob asks, not unreasonably. "We arrived in Philly around 10pm, thinking that Axl would hit the stage by 10.30 or I Ipm, which is usual. Anyway, when we got there it was a war zone. People were leaving and the [venue] was about half full. People were booing, chanting 'Axl sucks!' When the cancellation announcement was made around 11pm, people on the floor started destroying chairs. That's kinda late to cancel a show. Security were getting bombarded by [beer] cups and trash."

The venue halted the sale of alcohol once they realised what was happening, but there were nearly more serious consequences when several female ushers later claimed to have been threatened with rape by "half-crazed" fans. Around half of the Union Center's women employees stood their ground; the rest were ushered to a safe area, where male colleagues guarded them as all around them thousands of fans chanted: "Axhole! Axhole! " Fifteen people were injured, the mixing desk was destroyed, a ceiling from a private box torn down, and obscene graffiti scrawled on the walls.

Two days later, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the singer never even checked into the city's Ritz Carlton Hotel, having remained in his New York suite to watch a basketball game. As a consequence of Axl's no-show, Philadelphia radio station 93.3 WMMR announced they were boycotting Guns N' Roses music for three weeks. They have since pledged not to play any material from 'Chinese Democracy- if and when it is ever released - until Axl calls and apologises on air. The suspicion is that they've got a long wait ahead of them.

"My friend and I are both hardcore Axl fans," continues Bob from Virginia, sadly. "He's great musically and we'll continue to be fans, but as a person he has no consideration. [He] doesn't give a fuck about people. What an asshole."

Within days of the Philadelphia debacle, the plug was pulled on shows in Washington DC, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Sacramento and San Jose; fans were warned to expect more cancellations. After that it was only a matter of time before the announcement was made that the whole tour was pulled - which it finally was on December 11.

Since the cancellation, Axl has remained ominously silent. According to an unnamed official source quoted in the New York Post, the band had been "getting along better than ever because something was finally happening", before the tour started to fall apart. "They had been previously frustrated by the delays and Axl's pathological perfectionism, tardiness and general insanity. Now they're back in the same boat, and they'll probably split."

So what now for the volcano-tempered singer? Well, there's still no release date scheduled for 'Chinese Democracy'. According to some of the gloomier sources, there never will be now, and it will go down as one of the great 'lost' albums, alongside Prince's 'Black' and the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds' - though whether it would be anything like as good as either of those epoch-defining masterpieces remains to be seen.

According to more informed sources, however, after all the time and - most importantly - the money that has been spent on 'Chinese Democracy', neither Axl nor his record company can afford not to release it. And the suggestion in some quarters now is that Axl may even be persuaded to bring in a professional songwriting team - as do groups like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith - in order to at least pepper up the new album with a few identifiable hits. But then who in their right mind would want to be the bloke who went to tell Axl he needed help writing a few catchy tunes?

Could it be, in that case, that the key to Axl's future now lies in the past? With Slash, Duff and Izzy (along with drummer Matt Sorum) coincidentally now back together in LA making music, the irony is that they are a band in search of a singer just at the moment when AxI has again become a singer in need of a band - perhaps even a friend. And who really knows him better, at this point, than the guys with whom he first made it all happen?

Well, it's an idea. According to some sources, it may even be more than that, with suggestions that negotiations between the two sides are going on even as you read this. It's even been suggested by some that the same therapist who helped to mend the rift between Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora (and before that Steven Tyler and Joe Perry) will be brought in to help 'reconcile' their problems.

How much of this is true remains to be seen. The immediate aftermath of the tour fiasco is that Axl will now have to stave off a messy lawsuit from his promoters, Clear Channel. Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry publication Pollstar, believes that even if Axl wins the battle, which seems unlikely, it may already be too late to salvage his reputation in the business.

"Rose has damaged his career," Bongiovanni told Entertainment Weekly. "This makes the band a riskier situation for promoters in the future." To prove his point he cites the fact that the tour hadn't been performing as well as expected. According to Pollstar, the initial 10 shows sold an average of only 7,344 tickets each night, often in venues that could hold more than double that number of fans. Bongiovanni concluded: "The 2002 Guns N' Roses is [no longer] an arena act."

According to rumours, with the band selling less than 3,000 tickets in advance for their Washington show (in a venue that holds 18,000), the rest of the band had suggested that perhaps it would be better to scale-down the tour and revert to smaller theatres. But Axl was having none of it. Axl scale down? You can imagine Slash or Izzy chuckling ruefully when they heard that one.

Meanwhile, with Axl apparently withdrawing into his shell again the rumour mill has been churning away. 'Sources say that Rose is very close to checking himself into a psychiatric clinic to deal with "exhaustion" and a number of other emotional problems,' reported the Chicago Sun-Times in January. 'Famous for his outrageousness, the aging rocker lately has been "even more whacked than usual." The singer himself has openly admitted he's battling inner demons.'

According to former GN'R manager Alan Niven, maybe it's because "Axl requires hate to drive his muse. David Bowie once told him that this drove his creativity, and the comment made a big impression on Axl." Niven recalls how Axl was late for "everything", even when he first met him in the mid-800. "His failure to show up for the very first gig after signing a management contract [with me] rather set the tone," he says. Referring to Axl's later claim to have been abused as a child by his stepfather, he adds: "There were aspects to Axl's behaviour that I found excessively abusive of others, even considering the difficulties of whatever might have occurred in his childhood."

"He would leave the stage in the middle of every single show we played;" said original GN'R drummer Steven Adler. "Or he wouldn't get there on time. I'd say: 'What are you doing?'and he would kick me in the balls."

"I don't have much positive to say [about him], and Axl has enough complications without me adding fuel to the fire," said an email sent by an acquaintance of the singer to the Dallas Observer as the paper investigated the tour's cancellation. Another'old friend' of Axl's told the paper: "He teeters on the brink of sanity."

It should be interesting to see what he does - or doesn't do - next. Meanwhile, now that he's back in LA with lots of time on his hands again suddenly, hopefully he will take the time to at least talk to Slash, Duff and Izzy. It could well be that they are the only people left who can understand a word Axl says.

------------------------------------

ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE

And Rush have been selling more tickets than Axl!

ACCORDING TO US TRADE TITLE Pollstar, Guns N' Roses' abandoned tour scaped in at No.75 in American's top-grossing tours of 2002, which was topped- by Paul McCartney. The 16 dates that Axl and co actually managed to turn up for generated some $6.5 million averaging 8,660 tickets sold per show

So if Guns N Roses weren't exactly taking the box offices by storm the way they used to, which rock bands were doing the business? Well, Aerosmith and Rush featured both prominently in Pollstar's Top 20 with Tyler and company rated seventh, grossing $41.4 million over 55 shows; post-grungers Creed came eighth ($39.2 million in 83 shows, and Rush were 16th ($27 million in 63 shows).

Elsewhere, the Ozzfest was placed 17th ($26.3 million in 29 shows), with art-rockers Tool coming 18th ($23.1 million IN 86 shows). The co-headline jaunt between former Van Halen frontmen Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth came 50th. Just behind them - and ahead of, Axl! - Poison's string of 99 summer gigs racked up gross profits of $6.7 million, earning them 72nd position.


Thanks to Nightfall, Dilly_Bug and TCL(!)

 
  

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