|EIGHT YEARS AGO, AXL ROSE HAD TWO ALBUMS IN THE TOP TEN AND THE WORLD AT HIS FEET. BUT RATHER THAN BURNING OUT OR FADING AWAY, HE JUST GOT UP AND LEFT. THE TRUE STORY OF WHAT HAPPENED AND WHERE HE IS NOW
BY MARC SPITZ
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AMRA BROOKS, LISA DERRICK, MARK EBNER, AND SORELLE SAIDMAN
On February 10, 1998, a 36-year-old white male with a ponytail and a reddish-blond beard was arrested for disorderly conduct at the Phoenix airport. After refusing to let airport security guards inspect his carry-on bag, the man had begun to curse at them, and was led away in handcuffs by police.
It was the first confirmed public appearance of Axl Rose in three years. It's also been the last. In 1993, Rose was one of the biggest superstars on the planet. Guns N' Roses had just finished their two-and-a-half-year world tour for the seven-time-platinum Use Your Illusion albums, and the band decided to take a few months off from what had become a five-year stream of arguments, drug problems, controversies, and even riots. At the end of the year, they released "The Spaghetti Incident?", a collection of tossed-off punk covers designed to tide fans over until their next album. And then-other than a lackluster Rolling Stones cover for a movie soundtrack about a year later-nothing. Silence.
Like other pop music icons of the past decade-Kurt, Tupac, Biggie-Rose is frozen in our collective memory at his creative peak, a snake-hipped, out-of-control badass with a bandanna and a reputation for showing up late for his own concerts. He never got old, he never got lame, and he never got fat (though plenty of Internet rumors would say otherwise). The longer he stays away, the larger his legend grows. Unlike Kurt, Tupac, and Biggie, though, Rose might emerge at any moment.
As the 12-year-old Appetite for Destruction continues to sell strongly, approaching the 16 million mark, Rose remains holed up in various Los Angeles studios recording-and trashing, rewriting, and recording again-the most anticipated comeback album of the decade. With thousands of hours of song fragments and jams on tape, he's too much the perfectionist to wrap anything up, too much the obsessive to let anything go.
For the past few months, Rose's return has seemed less of a myth and more of a real possibility. The organizers of Woodstock '99 entered ultimately unsuccessful negotiations with a reconfigured Guns N' Roses, and Rose has reportedly begun to play unfinished tracks for executives at his label. As we await the return of rock's greatest recluse, Spin goes in search of Axl, sorting through fact, conjecture, and some of the weirdest rumors you've ever heard (many of which-weirder still-turn out to be true). Thirty-five of Rose's friends, enemies, and former associates tell the story of a small-town boy who moved to the city and found out that the jungle really can bring you to your knees.
THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH
IS ROCK'S GREATEST RECLUSE WORKING HARD, EXPERIMENTING WITH ELECTRONICA, OR HANGING OUT IN THE STUDIO WITH SHAQUILLE O'NEAL? ACTUALLY, ALL THREE. SORTING AXL'S REAL SECRETS FROM THE GN'R LIES
PARADISE CITY: Sure thing ANYTHING GOES: Even bet YOU'RE FUCKIN' CRAZY: One in a million
AXL'S WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND
From 1994 to early 1998, various lineups of Guns N' Roses rehearsed at The Complex, a Los Angeles studio, in a 60'x40'x22' space complete with pool table, pinball machine, and, later, exercise equipment. according to David DeVore, the studio's general manager, they worked there every weekday from about 9 P.M. to 7A.M. When Rose decided they were ready to start recording, longtime producer Mike Clink moved them to a secure studio in the San Fernando Valley.
RATING, PARADISE CITY
AXL WILL SEE YOU NOW...
In the past five years, Rose has gone through at least three potential producers: Mike Clink, who may yet be involved in another capacity; Moby, who declined Rose's offer to produce the album; and former Killing Joke member and Verve producer Youth. The Gunners are now working with Sean Beaven, who has produced rock and techno acts such as Nine Inch Nails and Pantera. RATING: PARADISE CITY
AXL'S A LONE GUNMAN
Rose legally owns the name Guns N' Roses, and his decision to put a band on salary may indicate he wants complete control. "It's Axl's vision now," says Duff McKagan. RATING: ANYTHING GOES
GUNS N' ROSES IS A BAND
Several producers and sidemen have walked away from the project because Rose asked them to make a long-term commitment, and some believe "hired gun" bassist Tommy Stinson could even end up with Slash-level billing. "Once Guns is up and running it may not ultimately be Axl, Axl, Axl," according to a source close to the bassist.
RATING: ANYTHING GOES
AXL'S UNDER PRESSURE
Rose is laboring over a song with the working title "Prostitute," according to Youth, but past successes weigh heavily on him. "They sold millions of records in a few years," says the producer. "He had a big crew of people in the studio ... and I think that kind of pressure chokes creativity."
RATING: PARADISE CITY
AXL'S GETTING PHYSICAL
"Axl looks like he's getting stout," says DeVore. "He's been working out, getting healthy. They're not blowing themselves out like they used to."
RATING: ANYTHING GOES
AXL WALKS AMONG US
Rose just looks like another face in the crowd, according to Moby. "If you were walking down the street and Axl passed you, you'd never notice. He looks like a regular, decent guy."
RATING: ANYTHING GOES
To the chagrin of Guns purists-and, some say, Slash-Rose wants to join the industrial revolution. "They wanted to make a record that involved more contemporary production techniques," according to Moby. "At one point Rose
told me how much he liked the DJ Shadow record."
RATING: ANYTHING GOES
AXL IS A PUNK ROCKER
Never mind the bollocks-here's Guns N' Roses? Maybe "Tommy won't play in a techno band and you can't override Josh Freese," says a Stinson acquaintance. "These are punk rockers."
RATING: ANYTHING GOES
AXL'S GOT GAME
At one point in April 1997, Shaquille O'Neal took a break from his own recording session in the same building and rapped over some Guns music. "I saw Guns N'Roses listed on the bulletin board in
the lobby of the studio so I stuck my head in to check it out," says Shaq. "They asked me to join them, so I started freestylin' over their track. It was the first time I ever performed with a rock group, and it felt good."
RATING: PARADISE CITY
AXL'S SONG REMAINS THE SAME
The new Guns N' Roses album will be "absolutely within the same pattern of Guns N' Roses music in its diversity, says a source close to the band. Former Nine Inch Nail; drum programmer Chris Vrenna, who was offered a position in Guns, agrees: "I have a feeling it's gonna be more like Appetite than people are expecting."
RATING: PARADISE CITY
AXL'S SONG REMAINS EXACTLY THE SAME
"When I walked into the studio, they were rehearsing the old songs to record for a greatest hits package," says Youth. "They were gonna do them exactly the same way. So my first project was to sort of dissuade Axl from doing that."
RATING: ANYTHING GOES
AXL'S BEEN HERE BEFORE
Rose began consulting a "past-life regression" therapist named Suzie London in 1991. "I only went twice," says Rose's former personal assistant Colleen Combs "She told me that I didn't have any past lives and later told Axl that I was a fifty-thousand-year-old being that put a hex on him."
RATING: ANYTHING GOES
AXL WANTS TO BE STARTIN' SOMETHING
Rose "wears those Michael Jackson-type disguises-fake mustaches and Members Only jackets, says L.A. scenester Vaginal Creme Davis.
RATING: YOU'RE FUCKIN' CRAZY
USE YOUR ILLUSION DOES AXL WALK AMONG US?
• In December 1997, Axl was seen on the Universal Studios City Walk in Los Angeles with a child and an older Hispanic woman. "His hair was short," according to an eyewitness. "I think I saw Aid buy the kid a Grinch stuffed animal."
• A salesman at the Los Angeles audio/video outlet Voodoo Lab sold Axl a guitar effects mixer in the fall of 1997. "I'm not sure if I should mention that," he says.
• Axl was spotted buying a pair of horsehair pants at a Melrose Avenue boutique in early 1996.
• Early this year, Axl was spied at the concession stand of the AMC Century 14 Cinema in Century City, California. According to the fan who saw him, "he was wearing jeans and a flannel."
• "He was freckly, with feathered Shaun Cassidy hair," says a moviegoer who saw him earlier this year. "l was riveted by his hair. It was thick as fuck."
• A short-haired, goateed Axl was recognized backstage at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in April 1996.
• Axl was hanging out backstage at a Radiohead show in Los Angeles in 1997. "The thing that struck me was how unrecognizable he was," says a concertgoer. "The door guy was patting him down."
• "Not only have my friends seen him in New York City - I swear I've seen him too," says another fan. "The only thing that was different about him was his hair. It looked black or brown. But maybe it was a wig."
• Two years ago, a fan took a photo of Axl on the beach in Malibu. When she had the film developed, she says the picture came back out of focus.
THE GUN CLUB
GN'R HAS INCLUDED YOUNG HOTSHOTS, OLD FRIENDS OF AXL'S, AND GUYS NAMED IZZY AND DIZZY. A BRIEF GUIDE TO LOOSE CANNONS AND HIRED GUNS
SLASH, lead guitar: In 1996, Rose sent out a press release saying he could no longer work with Slash because the guitarist had lost his "dive in and find the monkey" attitude. Slash is now at work on his second album with Slash's Snakepit - "a really good band. Fortunately, I've been lucky enough to have that happen to me twice."
IZZY STRADLIN, rhythm guitar: A childhood friend of Rose's, Stradlin left Guns N' Roses in 1991 to pursue a solo career. He reunited with the band briefly in 1993 and released his second solo album in 1998.
DUFF McKAGAN, bass: After working on new material with Rose for nearly four years while also juggling several side projects, McKagan left Guns N' Roses to start the Seattle-based punk quintet Loaded. It's "a real band," he says.
STEVEN ADLER, drums: Adler, who was fired in 1990, this year singlehandedly accepted the band's Diamond Award for selling more than 10 million copies of Appetite for Destruction. "I haven't had that much excitement since I played with the Stones at the Coliseum," he says.
GILBY CLARKE, guitar: Stradlin's replacement, Clarke was fired by the band in early 1994. "One day my paychecks stopped coming," he says. "There was no explanation-they just stopped paying me. So I pretty much took that as a hint'"
TOMMY STINSON, bass: The former Replacements bassist "hadn't worked in a long time" when Rose called, according to a source close to Stinson. "Tommy didn't get nickel one from the Replacements," the source says. -[So] he bought a used copy of Appetite, and learned the bass lines."
PAUL HUGE, guitar: Another childhood friend of Axl's, Huge is "the kind of guy who's always in the studio," according to temporary GN'R drum programmer Chris Vrenna. Another source says there's tension between him and Stinson because Huge "has the whole Guns attitude but he's never toured."
ROBIN FINCK, lead guitar: Finck is no stranger to the circus-Matt Sorum found him playing with Cirque Du Soleil. "I told Axl to see him and he said, 'That's our guitar player,"' says Sorum.
"I said, 'Bring in Robin to play alongside Slash,' but Axl said, 'I want him to play lead."'
JOSH FREESE, drums: A former member of SoCal punk band the Vandals, Freese is now a top session drummer. "They're paying Josh an obscene amount of money for two days of rehearsal a week," says a source close to the musician. "[But] Josh has kind of an 'I don't give a fuck' attitude about it"
DIZZY REED, keyboards: Although he's not a founding member of the band - he joined to record the Illusion albums - Reed is the only oldschool Gunner left. To modernize the group's sound, he's been putting together "a monstrously cool keyboard set up [with] Macintoshes and sequencing," according to Vrenna.
NINE INCH MALES
THE TRENT CONNECTION
What does Axl Rose have in common with Trent Reznor besides a large bank account and a bad case of writer's block? Actually, the reclusive pair also share a fondness for applying the latest technology to howls of pain and anger, and studio pros like drum programmer Chris Vrenna list both as references. Reznor rode the alt-rock revolution to stardom, but few know he had an unlikely, bandanna-sportin' champion from the very beginning: A brief account of W Axl Rose's enduring fascination with the inner workings of the pretty hate machine.
LARS ULRICH: I remember late one night Axl was sitting there telling me about this band called Nine Inch Nails: He was saying, "This is the coolest thing I've ever heard:" And we were all sitting there going, "What the fuck are you talking about?" He had Nine Inch Nails support Guns N' Roses in Europe, and I remember hearing how they got booed off the stage. But he was there when the rest of us were still listening to fucking Judas Priest.
JOSEPH BROOKS: Several years ago, Axl told me to go shopping for CDs for him: He gave me a credit card, and I bought him stuff like Front 242, Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, early Prodigy-all the early techno stuff. He was really excited by it.
MATT SORUM: Axl was well-versed in what was new and happening: He was the first person to play me Nine Inch Nails: He said, "They're gonna be huge."
GILBY CLARKE: Basically, Axl said, "I want to change the sound of the band. I want to use more industrial type things." He was really into bands like Nine Inch Nails.
CHRIS VRENNA: Axl was always a big Nails fan. I was in Nine Inch Nails for ten years so I went from [playing with] Trent Reznor to Billy Corgan to Axl Rose.
APPETITE FOR SELF-DESTRUCTION
HE CAME FROM INDIANA. HE RULED L.A. HOW DID AXL ROSE GO FROM THE TOP OF THE CHARTS TO THE "WHERE ARE THEY NOW?" FILE?
HEADBANGERS BALL: THE CAST
STEVEN ADLER: former drummer, Guns N' Roses
ROB AFFUSO: former drummer, Skid Row
MICHAEL BARBIERO: mixer, Appetite for Destruction
RODDY BOTTUM: former keyboardist, Faith No More; founder, Imperial Teen
JOSEPH BROOKS: influential L.A. club DJ; former owner, L.A. record store Vinyl Fetish
MARK CANTER: early supporter of Guns N' Roses; owner, Canter's Deli
GILBY CLARKE: former guitarist, Guns N' Roses
COLLEEN COMBS: former personal assistant, Axl Rose
BAMBI CONWAY: former member, the Pandoras
ALICE COOPER: rock legend; restaurateur; golf enthusiast
MITCH DEAN: former drummer, punk band T.S.O.L.
ERIN EVERLY: ex-wife of Axl Rose
KIM FOWLEY: producer/manager, most famously of the Runaways; would-be Guns N' Roses manager
TRACII GUNS: founder, L.A. Guns; former guitarist, Guns N' Roses
LEMMY KILMISTER: bassist, Motörhead
MARK KOSTABI: artist; creator of the Use Your Illusion cover painting
BRETT MICHAELS: lead singer, Poison
MOBY: techno musician; producer
BRENDAN MULLEN: former owner, L.A. punk rock club the Masque
JIM PASDACH: owner, JL Records in Lafayette, Indiana
KEVIN QUINN: tattoo artist; guitarist, American Pearl
RIKI RACHTMAN: former owner, L.A. rock club The Cathouse; former host, MTV's Headbangers Ball
VERNON REID: former guitarist, Living Colour
JOSH RICHMAN: actor; friend of Axl Rose
STEPHANIE SEYMOUR: supermodel; former girlfriend of Axl Rose
NIKKI SIXX: bassist, Motley Crüe
SLASH: former lead guitarist, Guns N' Roses; founder, Slash's Snakepit
MATT SORUM: former drummer, the Cult; former drummer, Guns N' Roses
TC: early friend of the band
STEVE THOMPSON: mixer, Appetite for Destruction
LARS ULRICH: drummer, Metallica
ROBERT WILLIAMS: painter, original Appetite for Destruction cover
ZAKK WYLDE: former guitarist, Ozzy Osbourne's band; guitarist, Black Label Society
MICHELLE YOUNG: Slash and Steven Adler's high school classmate; inspiration for the song "My Michelle"
TOM ZUTAUT: former Geffen A&R executive who signed Guns N' Roses; copresident of the Enclave record label
MOVE TO THE CITY: 1984-1986
Born on February 6, 1962, in Lafayette, Indiana, W. Axl Rose is raised as Bill Bailey, the oldest of three children in a strict Pentacostal family that forbids him to listen to rock music. At 17, Rose discovers that his stepdad, L. Stephen Bailey, isn't his biological father; William Rose, his real father, had walked out on the family when Axl was two. A former choirboy, Rose begins to get into trouble with the law as a teenager, mostly for public intoxication. In 1980, Rose-who, Lafayette legend has it, took his adopted first name from the wheel axl of his skateboard-hitchhikes to Los Angeles and hooks up with Lafayette buddy Izzy Stradlin (né Jeff Isabelle).
JIM PASDACH: Axl couldn't get a job at the mall stores because they had all caught him shoplifting-I always had to watch him when he came in. The last memory I have of him is when he came into the store and told me he was going out to L.A. to become a rock star. I was, like, "Yeah, right."
MICHELLE YOUNG: I went to high school in Los Angeles with Steven Adler and Slash-I met Axl through them. Axl was always like, "I'm from Indiana." He would wear blue-and-white-striped Dolphin shorts, cowboy boots, and a cropped T-shirt. I'd say, "I'm not going down Melrose with you dressed like that!" He was very insecure, very naive, but he knew he had something.
TRACII GUNS: Izzy was the drummer in a band called the Babysitters. He wore a dress, and I think somebody beat his ass, so he joined this band called Shire, which was a Scorpions kind of metal band. That's when I became friends with him. When Axl moved out here, Izzy and Axl ended up getting this little pad on Crescent Heights and Sunset. They put together Hollywood
Rose-first it was called A-X-L, then they were Rose, and then Hollywood Rose.
STEVEN ADLER: Slash and I were in a band called Road Crew. One day we found a flyer for a band called Rose. We said, "These guys look cool-we oughta check them out." So we went to see them at [the Sunset Strip rock club] Gazzarri's and said, "We get those two in our group and we're gonna have the hottest band around." The next day, I was leaving a girlfriend's house and Axl was walking up and we got to talking. We rented a studio and we were jamming on this song called "Reckless Life" and Axl grabbed the microphone and started running up and down the walls, screaming like I've never heard in my life. From the first note, I knew this was gonna be it.
MARK CANTER: When Axl hooked up with Slash, Slash joined Hollywood Rose. Living the way they did just gave them more things to write about. "Welcome to the Jungle" was the first song they wrote together, and it tells you everything.
BRETT MICHAELS: I remember going down to see them at Madame Wong's East, just me and Tommy Lee's sister and her boyfriend at the time. There were maybe 15 people in the club and Axl was playing as if he were in front of a million people.
TRACII GUNS: A bunch of people revolved in and out of Hollywood Rose-it's the way these bands are. Izzy got an offer to join this band called London, so he left. Axl ended up singing for L.A. Guns until he got in a fight with our manager. But Axl decided we should continue writing songs together since we lived together. Then we came up with the name "Guns N' Roses"-it was like, "I'm Tracii Guns and you're Axl Rose." We pulled in Izzy,
who was trying to do another version of Hollywood Rose. Steven Adler was the next guy in the band-he had great hair. Duff was in some weird Top 40 band, but Izzy was like, "This guy's got short hair, but he's into the New York Dolls and stuff like that." He had a Johnny Thunders T-shirt on, and we were, like, "This guy's perfect."
STEVEN ADLER: We played our first show at the Troubadour and it was sold-out. It was like we were rock stars, but just in Hollywood.
BRENDAN MULLEN: Axl told me they wanted to be a cool underground band playing AI's Bar and the AntiClub, but no one would give them the time of day because of their look. So they ended up playing all the Strip clubs, and they eventually just exploded.
BAMBI CONWAY: Girls wanted Axl because they could see his butt when he played with his chaps on.
TC: The first time I saw them, it was magic. I felt like I was privy to something that was gonna be taken away.
MICHELLE YOUNG: Axl used to stay over at my house a lot because he had nowhere else to go. After they got famous, there were better places to stay-and shopping. They would call and say, "I got this. I got that. I got a new car."
STEVEN ADLER: The rehearsal space we lived in on Sunset and Gardner was disgusting. No toilet, no nothing, but who cared? We didn't have jobs. We lived off girls-off strippers. We were doing what we wanted to do. We had women, and we were playing rock'n'roll.
KIM FOWLEY: You have to give them credit for cranking out all those songs in the middle of hell. I saw where they lived-it was horrible. It looked like Auschwitz.
JOSEPH BROOKS: They slept here, there, and everywhere. Izzy made leather-studded wristbands I sold at my record store. That's what he did for a living.
COLLEEN COMBS: When we would leave the Rainbow, Izzy would drink the remnants of all the drinks on the table.
TRACII GUNS: [In 1985] I just wanted to get away for a week or something, and I recall Axl or Izzy calling and leaving a message-"We got rehearsal this week." I just ignored it. I didn't hear anything for a couple of days and then finally the whip came down-"Slash is going to play guitar because you haven't come to rehearsal."
L.A. booking agent Vicky Hamilton becomes the group's first manager in 1985, securing them bigger gigs and better equipment. Rose legally changes his name to W. Axl Rose.
STEVEN ADLER: Vicky was very sweet, very motherly. We were pretty much living in her house, having sex with strippers on the roof. We destroyed it.
JOSEPH BROOKS: I dragged A&R people to their gigs and played the "Welcome to the Jungle" demo on my show on [L.A. radio station] KROQ. I brought Tom Zutaut to see Guns N' Roses and he loved them.
TOM ZUTAUT: Joe at Vinyl Fetish was like, "There's this new band called Guns N' Roses-you should check them out." I went to see them at the Troubadour and there were a lot of A&R people. So I left after two songs-I didn't need to see any more to know they were going to be the biggest band in the world. On my way out I said [to one of the other A&R people], "They suck-I'm going home," knowing full well I was going to sign them to Geffen come hell or high water.
BRENDAN MULLEN: I booked GN'R at Club Lingerie. It was a chance-of-a-lifetime gig. The band set up and did a sound-check. No Axl. The band was freaking. Then, ten minutes before set time, he strolled in. They signed with Geffen immediately after.
TOM ZUTAUT: Axl didn't strike me as being particularly savvy or into his career. He was more like a wild animal from the African jungle. I remember Axl saying to me the Monday after the show, "Well, if you can get me a check for $75,000 by Friday, we'll sign with you." It was unheard of. Then on Wednesday, he called me and said, "Look, man, we told the A&R person at Chrysalis that if she walked naked down Sunset Boulevard from her office to Tower Records, we'd sign with her." He was dead serious. And I remember thinking, "My office is on Sunset-I'm going to have to watch until Friday at 6 o'clock, because if she does
the nude walk, I'm going to lose the band."
KIM FOWLEY: The day they got their check from Geffen, Axl came into The Rainbow with a Xerox of a check for $37,500 made out to Guns N' Roses. It was half of their advance, so they must have gotten 75 grand. He said, "Look, we got our deal." I said, "Congratulations," and he said, "Buy me a drink-I don't have any money."
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE: 1986-1990
In order to build a buzz, Guns N' Roses records the EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide for their Geffen-funded Uzi Suicide label. In August, the band hires Zutaut recommended manager Alan Niven (who also worked with Great White) to replace Vicky Hamilton, who later sues the band. In August, 1986, they begin recording the songs that became Appetite for Destruction.
TOM ZUTAUT: The sessions would happen at two or three in the morning-whenever the band was inspired.
STEVEN ADLER: Most of the songs on Appetite are first, second, or third takes-"Sweet Child O' Mine" we only played once. I think that's why the record did so well-it was real.
SLASH: "Welcome to the Jungle" was just a riff I made sitting in my bedroom on an acoustic guitar and Axl just happened to be there. Where he got the lyrics I really have no idea, but when we actually put the song together I think it took maybe an hour.
MICHELLE YOUNG: I'm the subject of the song "My Michelle." I was driving Axl to a gig and "Your Song" by Elton John came on the radio. I said that I wished somebody would write a beautiful song about me. But, you know the song. At the time, I didn't care because I was so fucked up, but what it says is all true: My dad does distribute porno films and my mom did die.
STEVE THOMPSON: Axl wanted some pornographic sounds in "Rocket Queen," so he brought a girl in and they had sex in the studio. We wound up recording about 30 minutes of sex noises. If you listen to the break on "Rocket Queen," it's in there.
MICHAEL BARBIERO: I didn't want to be around for recording a girl getting fucked. That wasn't the high point of my career. So I set up the mikes and had my assistant record it. If you look at the record, it says, "Vic Deglio, fucking assistant engineer." So it's literal.
Geffen Records releases Appetite for Destruction on August 1, 1987. Fearing that retailers will refuse to stock the album because of its cover-a painting by L.A.-based artist Robert Williams that seems to depict a woman who has been violated by a robot-the label decides to move the image to the inner sleeve.
ROBERT WILLIAMS: When Guns N' Roses wanted to use my picture "Appetite for Destruction," I told Axl he was going to get into trouble. Then they asked if they could use the title of the painting. I said yes, but I knew there'd be a problem. None of the guys in this band were too articulate, so they would direct the media to me to defend the cover.
LARS ULRICH: I was sitting on an airplane going through a bunch of cassettes that I had finagled over at our record company, and one of them was Appetite. When "It's So Easy," the second song, came on, it just blew my fuckin' head off. I had never heard anything with that kind of attitude. It wasn't just what was said-it was the way Axl said it. It was so venomous. It was so fucking real and so fucking angry.
TOM ZUTAUT: MTV was afraid that if they played GN'R, local cable systems would throw them off. So Appetite was up to about 200,000 and it was standing still. I got called up into the president of Geffen's office and he said, "This record is over." So I went up to David Geffen's office and I said, "Could you get MTV to play the video for 'Welcome to the Jungle'?" A couple of hours later, he said, "They're going to play it at five in the morning on Sunday as a personal favor to me." Even in the wee hours of Sunday morning, MTV got so many requests that it blew their switchboard.
Guns N' Roses begin opening arena shows for Motley Crüe and headlining small clubs with TS.O.L. as an opener. In February 1988, Rose refuses to leave his hotel room the night of the band's Phoenix concert. Rose is fired by his bandmates, then reinstated three days later. In August-while the band is opening Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation tour-Appetite for Destruction reaches No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
MITCH DEAN: We do our set in Phoenix, and the whole band is there except Axl, and they say, "Play another song." Then it's "Can you play two more?" By that time, we were in the middle of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey."
TOM ZUTAUT: I cut a deal with [then Aerosmith manager] Tim Collins for the band to open for Aerosmith. He made a rule that nobody in GN'R could be seen with a joint, hard drugs, or even a beer in front of Aerosmith. If Slash was caught in front of Joe Perry with a beer, they'd be thrown off the tour. So all the insanity was happening behind closed doors.
SLASH: When we were doing stadiums, it was like playing the Troubadour-I could never tell the difference. When the tour was over, I came back to L.A. and realized what a household name the band had become.
RIKI RACHTMAN: I was sitting around with Axl and I was saying, "Man, I should do that Headbangers Ball show." And Axl says, "I'll make some calls." Then he flew to New York with me for my audition. I walked in with Axl and they're, like, "You have the job."
On August 20, Guns N' Roses take a break from the Aerosmith tour to play the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington in Leicestershire, England. The general admission concert is overcrowded and the group stops playing three times in an attempt to calm the audience. As he leaves the stage, Rose tells fans to "Have a good fuckin' day and don't kill yourselves" - unaware that two concertgoers were crushed to death during their set.
STEVEN ADLER: Donnington was the worst show we've ever played. You don't know what's happening so you can't stop it.
TOM ZUTAUT: The band was upset about it. They wondered what kind of security they had at a gig if people could be crushed.
With Appetite for Destruction at No. 3, Geffen releases GN'R Lies on Nov. 30, 1988. The album consists of the Live ?!'@ Like a Suicide EP and four acoustic tracks, including "One in a Million, "which contains racist and homophobic epithets.
STEVEN ADLER: When I first heard "One in a Million," I asked Axl, "What the fuck? Is this necessary?" He just said, "Yeah, it's necessary. I'm letting my feelings out."
VERNON REID: When I heard that song, I was probably more disappointed than anything, because I liked the band. I thought the objectification was wack, like I'm somehow standing in the way of this guy.
TOM ZUTAUT: Axl resented being accused of being homophobic. He was also really pissed off about being called a racist.
TC: When they started to get money, they would drink all day at Barney's Beanery. Slash bought all the snakes he wanted but he was always losing them.
SLASH: I had a walk-in room where there were four or five ten-foot pythons. I had all these little rooms in the house that were supposed to be maids' rooms, but if I had a space that didn't have any practical purpose, I'd turn it into a snake room.
COLLEEN COMBS: Axl went through a couple of cars. There was a Corvette and a red monster truck with an insane stereo system that never worked right because it would drain the battery.
MICHELLE YOUNG: Axl was changing-he and I had a falling out. I was high one night and I pushed his buttons, saying, "You're famous now and you don't need your friends." He said, "Get out of my face."
In August 1989, Stradlin is arrested for urinating in the galley on an L.A.-bound US Air flight. Along with Living Colour, Guns N' Roses are booked as an opening act for the Rolling Stones' October concerts at the Los Angeles Coliseum, prompting critics to cast the show as a battle of the bands and speculate on whether Living Colour frontman Vernon Reid would address Rose's racism onstage.
TOM ZUTAUT: GN'R had a separate area backstage. Living Colour were on the other side and the Stones were in the middle, with an army of security.
COLLEEN COMBS: Axl became more and more paranoid. He really thought someone was going to take him out. He thought someone was going to kill him.
VERNON REID: We went out with a mission-I think that was true of all three bands. I made a statement about "One in a Million" onstage, and I remember afterward Keith Richards made it a point to come over to the dressing room and shake my hand. The first show was a little weird. Onstage, Axl said [that it might be the last Guns N' Roses show because] "There are too many people in this band dancing with Mr. Brownstone." He was real pissed.
STEVEN ADLER: He said to me "Just start playing 'Brownstone."' So I'm playing "Brownstone" and he comes out and says everybody's fucked-up on dope. He was so gone that I'm hiding there behind the drums thinking, "I don't know this guy."
On April 28, 1990, Rose marries longtime girlfriend Erin Everly, daughter of the Everly Brothers' Don Everly, at Cupid's Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. Less than a month later, Rose threatens divorce. The couple gets back together and then splits up again, annulling the marriage in January, 1991.
COLLEEN COMBS: Axl and Erin bought a house somewhere up in the Hollywood Hills after they got married.... They redesigned it, furnished it, pushed a grand piano through the French doors. They helicoptered in two topiary elephants. But they never moved in.
JOSH RICHMAN: Axl and Erin really wanted to be together. This was a guy who desperately wanted a family, having come from a busted family. The annulment happened right away.
MICHELLE YOUNG: Erin would call me and say, "Axl's crazy-he's throwing things around." She pushed his buttons, but I know that he loved her.
ERIN EVERLY (from a sworn deposition in her lawsuit against Rose for physical and mental abuse, which was later settled out of court): I was walking and he stubbed his toe behind me ... and started just attacking me and telling me it was my fault that he had stubbed his toe because he was coming to tell me something.
COLLEEN COMBS: Axl became vain, worrying about dyeing his eyebrows and eyelashes and going on prescription drugs for his hair and skin. He had his teeth fixed. He went on all-sushi diets.
ERIN EVERLY (from her deposition): Axl's beliefs were different than mine.... [After my dogs died] Axl believed that he had the dogs' souls transferred [into new dogs].... He said that I wasn't appreciative that he had given me the opportunity to have [our dogs] Torque and Geneva back, and that I should call [the new dogs] Torque and Geneva.
Over the course of 1990, Guns N' Roses begin work on songs for their follow-up to Appetite for Destruction. At the same time, drug problems begin to drive the band apart.
NIKKI SIXX: I'd been on tour, and I flew home, picked up Slash, and we went to The Cathouse and asked around about getting some smack. You always shoot yourself up-you never let anyone else shoot you up-but I was so drunk I said to the drug dealer, "Go ahead and fix me." I turned blue instantly.
STEVEN ADLER: I saved Nikki's life. I dragged him into the shower and put cold water on him. I had a broken arm and I was slapping him in the face with my cast. Then I finally got Slash's stupid girlfriend to call the paramedics. Nikki called me the next day and said, "Dude, what happened? My face is killing me."
JOSH RICHMAN: People got the impression that these guys were junkies, but Axl wasn't that way
TOM ZUTAUT: Steven Adler would show up at the recording studio completely high. Recording sessions would abort for several days when he couldn't put it together.
STEVEN ADLER: They said the reason they threw me out of the band was because of drugs, but I thought that was the pot calling the kettle black. I was doing [drugs] with them. It hurt more than anything. They were my family.
LIVE AND LET DIE: 1990-1999
On October 30, Rose is arrested for allegedly hitting a West Hollywood neighbor over the head with a bottle after she complained about him playing music too loud. In January, the band debut new drummer Matt Sorum and new keyboardist Dizzy Reed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before continuing work on Use Your Illusion now planned as two companion albums.
SLASH: The recording process for the Use Your Illusion records was one of the hardest experiences. It took so much to get us together to write the new songs or to rehash the old ones that didn't make Appetite. But once we'd gotten over that hump, we went into the studio and recorded 30 songs.
MATT SORUM: There had been a four-year gap since Appetite came out-Lies was put out just to keep things going. We could have done anything and people would have bought it. But we recorded everything the band had ever written.
SLASH: "November Rain" was a song that was being kicked around on piano and acoustic guitar when we were doing preproduction for Appetite.... When we first wrote it, I think it was about 15 minutes long.
ALICE COOPER: I was staying in L.A. at the Sunset Marquis when Axl called me to do the vocal on "The Garden." When you're in the studio one-on-one with him, he's really amazing-the guy can really sing. I did my bit maybe three times, but Axl was a perfectionist-almost to the point where you want to say, "At some point, Axl, it's gotta be good enough."
MARK KOSTABI: Axl wandered into this gallery and saw the "Use Your Illusion" painting. The next day, one of his representatives called and asked if he could use it on the cover of his next record. He said that he had been writing about illusions, so it made sense.
JOSH RICHMAN: Axl said to me, "I want to make videos more out-there than Michael Jackson's." When we made the "November Rain" video, we brought all these models
in. Axl desperately wanted Stephanie Seymour-period. That night they went to the set, which was being built in an airplane hanger out in the Valley. That was their first date. She left Warren Beatty the next day.
COLLEEN COMBS: Axl told me, "I've been hit by a Mack truck and the license plate said 'Seymour.'"
Expecting that the Use Your Illusion albums would be ready for release by summer, Guns N' Roses begin their "Get in the Ring Tour" (with Skid Row as an opening act) in late May, 1991. At Rose's "homecoming" show in Indianapolis, he compares young people there to "prisoners in Auschwitz" and is fined for performing past curfew. On July 2, Rose starts a riot at the Riverport Amphitheatre near St. Louis by leaping into the crowd to take a fan's camera; more than 50 people are injured and $200,000 worth of damage is done to the venue. As a result, the band's next two shows are canceled.
TOM ZUTAUT: On the eve of the tour, Axl told the rest of the band that the only way he would play was if they'd give ownership of the name to him. They were looking at canceling the tour and losing millions and millions of dollars, [so] they capitulated.
ROB AFFUSO: You always wondered if Axl was going to show up onstage. Sometimes the tour manager would run out and say, "We can't find Axl-keep playing." It got to be a commonplace thing. We were like, "What's going on with this guy?"
MATT SORUM: We'd spend $100,000 a night on parties. For two and a half years, there was something every night. One night was a Greek night-four greased-up, muscle-bound guys carried in a roast pig. I was so pissed off-I love pigs.
SLASH: If anything, the lifestyle became more of a hindrance, because we were a pretty volatile band that hadn't grown up much, [and we were] given all these opportunities to take advantage of the lavish surroundings and chicks.
MATT SORUM: We had limos on-call 24 hours, burgers at the Trump Tower that cost $35. The first night we played Giants Stadium, there was one pinball machine and a few bottles of booze backstage. Axl came in and said, "This isn't the Rolling Stones!" So the next night there's a full casino, tons of lobster, and champagne flowing everywhere.
After numerous delays caused by arguments over the final mix, Use Your Illusion I and II are released at the end of September. They debut in the top two spots on the Billboard album chart. Frustrated by Rose's increasingly erratic behavior, Stradlin announces that he will no longer tour with the band.
TOM ZUTAUT: The band was paying hundred of thousands of dollars in curfew violation fees. Izzy finally had it and went over to Axl's house and told him that if he insisted on going on late, the late fees should be charged to him. That was it-Izzy was out of the band.
GILBY CLARKE: I had known the guys through the early years-there was a very small contingent of people who thought bands like the New York Dolls and Hanoi Rocks were cool. When I heard Izzy was leaving, I threw my hat in the ring.
On April 20, 1992, despite objections from gay rights groups, Guns N' Roses participates in a Wembley Stadium tribute to late Queen singer Freddie Mercury, one of Rose's childhood heroes. The following month, the band-now augmented by a horn section and female back-up singers-begins the European leg of their tour, with Soundgarden and Faith No More as opening acts.
GILBY CLARKE: The best experience I had in the band was the Freddie Mercury tribute. Axl was awesome-he really respected Freddie Mercury. We went on on time, we played great together, and everybody got along. I thought it was very moving.
RODDY BOTTUM: Opening for them was an absurd situation for a band like Faith No More. Their scene was about excess, excess, excess. There were more strippers than road crew. We weren't into that type of male bonding. The only time I saw their show was when we were reprimanded for laughing about the absurdity of the touring environment in the press and told that we'd have to apologize to Axl or leave the tour. We made an attempt to explain where we were coming from, but I think it went over his head because as a sort of peace offering he brought us to a trailer backstage where two naked women strippers were having sex.
KEVIN QUINN: They had been on the road for so long by this time that they brought me out for their amusement "Let's get Kevin to fly out and tattoo us." They would give me aftershow passes to give to pretty girls, only the average age of these girls was 14 or 15. What were we gonna do with them-serve them soft drinks and thank them for coming to the show?
In an interview in an April 1992 issue of Rolling Stone, Rose says that therapy helped him recover memories of childhood sexual abuse. When he returns to America in July, Rose is arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport for assault and property damage charges relating to the St. Louis riot. The following month, the band begins a stadium tour with Metallica.
GILBY CLARKE: By then, Axl had a separate dressing room. We would be ready to play. What Axl was doing I had no idea.
JOSH RICHMAN: If there was a bad review, [manager] Doug Goldstein and I would be in the hotel stealing all the newspapers, because if Axl read it, who knows if he would get on the plane to the next city.
On August 8 at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, Metallica cut their set short after singer James Hetfield is seriously burned by onstage pyrotechnics. Rose walks offstage after 15 minutes, and more than 2, 000 fans clash with police while exiting the venue, resulting in 13 injuries.
GILBY CLARKE: Somebody said there was a big accident and it would be really great if we could go on early. So we did. But because of all the frantic stuff, the sound wasn't together by the time we got onstage. I remember Axl coming up to me and going, "I can't hear myself." The next thing you know, he left.
LARS ULRICH: After we left, it was up to Guns to play a blinding three-hour set, but that didn't happen. And quite a few kids who were upset about it found ways to show their displeasure toward the fine facilities of Olympic Stadium. Axl's so pure or set in his own ways that if he can't go out and deliver 110 percent, he'd rather not deliver. That was the wrong night to have monitor problems.
LEMMY KILMISTER: We played with Guns N' Roses at the Rose Bowl then, and they were already fragmenting. Axl was on his own-it didn't feel like they were thinking as a band anymore.
Already feuding with Motley Crüe and Poison, Rose trades insults with Kurt Cobain and wife Courtney Love backstage at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards. At the end of the year, he disrupts a planned Christmas party at the Malibu home he shares with Seymour and allegedly physically abuses her-an incident that leads them to file lawsuits against each other.
TOM ZUTAUT: Courtney Love said something rude to Axl and it got ugly. Guns N' Roses were the ultimate rock stars and Nirvana were the ultimate anti-rock stars. It was particularly painful to Axl because he loved Nirvana's music.
STEPHANIE SEYMOUR (from her sworn declaration in connection with legal action against Rose): I had a verbal argument with Rose ...[and he] announced that there would be no Christmas party.... Guests began to arrive in the late afternoon [and] at some point in the middle of the party, Rose entered the house, slammed the door, was obviously very angry, went upstairs and then came downstairs and left the house again.... [My mother] went to speak to him ...[and] Rose began yelling and screaming at her and ultimately told her in no uncertain terms that she was not welcome in his house. Thereafter, most of the people at the party left.... When I attempted to talk to Rose to address the issues that had upset him, Rose started yelling and swearing.... He then lifted up the kitchen table, knocking off bottles and glasses. I reached for Rose in an attempt to calm him. However, he would not be consoled and he was clearly out of control.
In May of 1993, after two and a half years on the road, Guns N' Roses ends their Illusion tour. In December, Geffen releases "The Spaghetti Incident?", an album of punk rock covers the band had recorded during the Illusion sessions and on the road. Despite the group's pledge to donate the royalties to the son of one of his victims, their inclusion of a song by Charles Manson as a bonus track prompts calls for a boycott of Geffen. In 1994, at the L.A. studio The Complex, Rose experiments with updating Guns N' Roses' sound, alienating Clarke and Slash, who both record solo albums. The group records the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" for the soundtrack to Interview with the Vampire as of now their last released song.
GILBY CLARKE: Axl played me the Manson song, "Look at Your Game Girl," and I said, "That's pretty good." Then he told me what it was and I just went, "What?"
TOM ZUTAUT: The Manson thing was much more problematic than "One in a Million." I could never understand why that song was so important to Axl.
MATT SORUM: I had produced [techno songstress] Poe and there were drum loops in the songs, and Axl wanted that. But Slash is a rock guitarist. He doesn't want to do techno-industrial.
GILBY CLARKE: I just wanted to play guitar in a loud version of the Rolling Stones. Axl wanted to change the direction of the band, and I was the first one dumped.
TOM ZUTAUT: Axl had a vision that GN'R should change and Slash had an attitude that Guns N' Roses was Guns N' Fucking Roses and that's who they were. I don't think they could get over their breakdown in communication. It wasn't announced publicly because nobody wanted to say the band had broken up.
SLASH: I went into the studio, and I think we got the Slash's Snakepit record together in two weeks. Once the record was finished, the GN'R hiatus was extended even longer, so I took the thing on the road, and that was that.... There's really not much to say. I'm not a person to quit anything, but it got to the point where it was a miserable experience and I had to leave.
MICHELLE YOUNG: Axl's anger had quadrupled from the person I used to hang out with. He used to be very carefree.
As various versions of Guns N' Roses continue to rehearse at The Complex, Rose is sued by Clarke for using his likeness in the band's promotional material. Over the course of 1996 and 1997, Rose briefly adds guitarist Zakk Wylde, drum programmer Chris Vrenna, and former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abruzzese, and parts ways with Slash, Sorum, and McKagan.
MATT SORUM: Axl got metaphysical and started spending a lot of time in Sedona, Arizona. These people were taking advantage of a guy with millions to blow on lunacy.
ZAKK WYLDE: Axl called me up and said, "Hey, you want to get together and do some jamming?" I'd say "Dude, did you come up with any lyrics yet?" And he's just like, "Dude, I got people suing me right now." He's on the phone with his lawyers 24-7. He was, like, "I can't come up with any lyrics right now-they'd be about every other lawsuit I got going."
MOBY: Being the most successful rock star on the planet for a few years really took a psychological toll, and I think he invested a lot in his marriage and his friendships with the people in the band-and those things fell apart.
SLASH: I still play with Duff, with Matt, and with Izzy from time to time. I keep in touch with pretty much everybody. And I don't want to say that I don't miss working with Axl. I just miss working with him under the circumstances that I would consider optimum.
MATT SORUM: It got really bad. The band was going down the toilet. We grew up listening to great bands like Led Zeppelin and the Stones. Guns N' Roses made that kind of music and the lifestyle we wanted went with it-rock music, drugs, and women. You see these bands today talking about the excess and shit on VH1. It's all, "Waah waah, whine whine." It wasn't "waah"-it was a blast.
Working with several other musicians and producers, Rose amasses thousands of hours of tapes with song fragments and musical ideas, none of which have been heard publicly. On February 10, 1998, he is arrested in the Phoenix airport for disorderly conduct. He has not made a public appearance since then. -