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January, 2005
Radio Axl
Classic Rock 75 - January 2005

The Guns N’ Roses singer takes the role of an addled 70s rock DJ in a new computer game. Touching that dial: Geoff Barton

WE AT CLASSIC ROCK HEARD A WICKED WHISPER the other day: W Axl Rose has been and gone and made a record. We couldn’t quite believe it. Did this mean that the Guns N’ Roses mainman had finally finished the band’s drastically delayed ‘Chinese Democracy’ album, and that it was due out soon?

Sadly, no. It turned out that we’d misheard those aforementioned hushed tones. Axl hadn’t actually made a record; he played a record. Several of them, in fact.

On the new PlayStation game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rose assumes the role of a fictional DJ called Tommy ‘Nightmare’ Smith who works on K-DST, a classic rock radio station also known as ‘The Dust’. In fact, there’s a dozen or so different radio broadcasts to choose from while you’re playing the game (which involves driving around in stolen cars killing people) but only The Dust and its more contemporary rival, Radio X, appear to be rock-related. Other stations are for soul music, rap and talk shows, but each is a one-off and has been specially recorded.

Joystick firmly in hand, Classic Rock took a lengthy spin around the lawless streets of San Andreas state with our make-believe car-radio tuned in to The Dust - and it quickly became apparent that Axl has a voracious appetite for, er, disc ruction.

Rose’s ‘Nightmare’ Smith persona is perfection itself: the singer plays his part to the hilt, sounding suitably blitzed and making oh-so cynical observations as he jaws his way through a song selection that is mostly prime Classic Rock fodder.

One day, we hope all radio stations will be made this way.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is brutal in its depiction of a crime-ridden, computer-generated world. As the slogan goes: ‘This is real America, drunk, proud, unemployed and angry.’ There’s also a strong misogynist streak that some readers may disapprove of, but which is very much part of the culture of the ongoing Grand Theft Auto series of games. Or, as one trailer on K-DST puts it: “Any radio station can play songs about abusing drugs and abusing women, but we’ve been doing it successfully for 22 years. You’re listening to The Dust.”

Shoot-to-kill savagery, gratuitous swearing and wanton violence are actively encouraged, and there’s a strong substance-abuse undercurrent. (In the latter case it’s convenient that Axl’s radio station is called The Dust.) These are just a few of the many reasons why Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has an 18 certificate.

Anyway, over on K-DST, you soon discover several recurring themes to Axl’s dazed-but-not-so-confused DJ commentary. One such theme concerns death:

“Who says rock is dead? No one in this morgue, that’s for sure,” Rose laughs.

“When I die I want ‘exhume at your own risk’ put on my gravestone, you know what I mean? And if not, you’re probably an asshole.”

After a rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’: “I remember singing that song on the way to put my wife down. Just joking, people - she survived, OK?”

The embittered male sexual schtick continues with statements such as:

“This song will put hair on your chest. It certainly did on my ex-wife’s.” (Spoken before Kiss’s ‘Strutter’.)

Following a shrill shriek from Ann Wilson midway through Heart’s ‘Barracuda’:

“Jesus, did someone screw their mother?”

Axl appears emboldened by such drugged-up jingles as, “If the police can’t stop you, you must be on The Dust” and, “When all your buddies from the 70s have gone to rehab, we strongly advise you to stay on The Dust”.

“I’ve said it before,” the singer intones with droll humour, “all you need to get through this life is a little patience - and a speedball.” (A speedball being a devastating cocktail of heroin and cocaine.)

Axl continues: “Music is like a drug, but listen to the same thing for a couple of days and you’re on The Dust.”

And his piece de resistance: “San Andreas, gotta love it. Move here for the weather but they hide the sun under a cloud of pollution. Look, I like to smoke as much as the next man, but you’re supposed to hold the smoke in!”

Were Axl’s DJ links scripted? Possible not, because the GN’R leader’s well-documented egomania shines through on at least a couple of occasions:

“Great Britain has produced a lot of great musicians but I doubt anyone with more gravitas, more importance, more significance than me - apart from this man. The one, the only Rod Stewart. This is ‘Young Turks’.”

“What makes K-DST special are two things - me mainly, but also these guys with the records.”

The ‘Nightmare’ Smith character appears to be a former member of a fake 70s band called Crystal Ship; presumably named after The Doors track on their 1967 debut album. Speaking after The Who song ‘Eminence Front’, the K-DST DJ offers:

“I love that track; blows me away every time. In the 70s there weren’t many others that could hold a candle to Crystal Ship but I would’ve shared a stage with The Who any time. If only they’d had the vision to ask.”

Interspersed between the tunes and Axl’s verbiage are some marvellous spoof advertisements. One has a body, Jimmy, phoning home to speak to his mother:

“How are you?” says a delighted mum. “Not good,” responds Jimmy. “I killed a man drunk-driving. I need bail money bad. Can you re-mortgage the house?” Then the voice-over goes: “Every day is Mother’s Day. San Andreas Telephone. For those difficult conversations.”

Back in Axl land, there’s some mock rivalry between K-DST and Radio X, the other rockin’ station you can listen to while you’re punching the buttons on your hand-held controller. “Tell you what,” snarls Rose on The Dust, “I really can’t bear that chick on, what is it, Radio X, Rock X, Rock, er ... look, sweetheart, get over it.”

(In light of the above, it’s ironic that GN’R are on Radio X’s playlist but not on The Dust’s; tune into Radio X and you can hear ‘Welcome To The Jungle’.)

Additionally, there are plenty of humorous asides. After Rod Stewart’s ‘Young Turks’ has finished, Axl says: “Young hearts beat free tonight. I love that track, it’s like opera only quicker and without all the fat Italians.”

Rose also offers the following sound advice: “If you’re planning on heading out to the beach this weekend, don’t bother. It’s really not that interesting. Sand, sun, a lotta nonsense about suntans. Go out to a nightclub, drink until you puke and act like a goddamn American. You’re on the home of driving rock radio.”

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has been praised as a milestone release for the PlayStation console, and within the context of the game Axl Rose’s K-DST radio station is thoroughly believable; a mini-masterpiece of faux broadcasting by itself.

As Axl’s alter ego ‘Nightmare’ Smith puts it succinctly: “Love’s an old-fashioned word. So is the f-word. But I like that too. This is The Dust.”

What’s more, if you’re still fuming about the non-arrival of GN’R’s ‘Chinese Democracy’, then Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas offers a fresh avenue of complaint.

To paraphrase The Smiths, you can always harangue the DJ.

Thanks Gypsy.


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