Re: Axl Rose: The Lost Years (Rolling Stone, April)
Axl Rose: The Lost Years
The inside story of rock's most famous recluse
PETER WILKINSON Posted Apr 14, 2000 12:00 AM
The story is told of a birthday party that took place two Februarys ago at a Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica. A few long-haired musicians mingled with some concert promoters in suits, eating mediocre guacamole and drinking Cuervo margaritas. The gifts piled up and the crowd of about forty sampled birthday cake, but the guest of honor, Axl Rose, who was turning thirty-seven, never showed up. Axl's manager, Doug Goldstein, quieted the room. "Axl's not going to be coming," Goldstein said. "But order whatever you want and have a good time."
This story is told not because it is considered an example of eccentric or rude behavior on Rose's part. Rather, it is considered emblematic of the way the singer conducts his life - just another night in the off-kilter existence of a man who used to be one of the biggest rock stars in the world. "Not the least bit unusual," says a friend who was at the restaurant, laughing in there-he-goes-again style. "Typical Axl."
Except for a couple of interviews last winter, timed to the release of a Guns n' Roses live album, and a 1998 Phoenix arrest, Rose has remained out of public view since 1994, when G n' R coughed and spat to a halt. For six years he has been working on the next G n' R record, tentatively titled Chinese Democracy. None of the original band members plays on it. Most of them hardly speak with Rose anymore. Rose spends most of his time in Los Angeles recording studios and behind the gate of his secluded estate atop a hill in the Latigo Canyon section of Malibu. His housekeeper, Beta Lebeis, does most of the shopping and driving. Axl reads, works out, kickboxes, plays pinball, teaches himself guitar and computers, and tries to write lyrics.
Meanwhile, G n' R's debut record, Appetite for Destruction, released in 1987, marches on. The second-biggest-selling debut album in rock history (15 million copies at last count), Appetite thirteen years later still sells a remarkable 5,000 to 6,000 copies per week - more than 200,000 units annually. G n' R caught a feeling in 1987, a raw vibe of anger and authenticity, somewhere between metal and punk, that still appeals to rock-music fans today. Even in the new millennium, Appetite probably cranks inside more turbocharged Chevys than any rock record ever made.
One can divide the public Axl into two separate periods: before 1993, when the original band was together, and post-1993, after the group's final recording, The Spaghetti Incident?, an unremarkable collection of mostly punk covers. Wherever he went during those years of his fame, Axl left frustrated, angry people behind. He became buried in litigation. Shelves in the clerks' offices at Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles and in Santa Monica bow under the weight of the thousands of pages of legal papers concerning G n' R and Axl that have accumulated over the years, actions involving claims totaling millions of dollars. This is not to mention band- or Rose-related legal matters in Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, New York, Spain, England and Canada.
The documents tell part of the story of how G n' R succeeded and failed, and they give a picture of Axl himself. The image that emerges is one of a complicated man who can be sensitive and funny but who is also controlling and obsessive and troubled, a man changed by fame and wracked by childhood trauma who faces a lonely future surrounded by a small circle of family members and childhood friends. "His world is very insular," says Doug Goldstein. "He doesn't like very many people."
Axl is a man struggling with demons and taking radical measures to overcome them. He became deeply involved in past-life regression, a brand of psychotherapy that exists on the New Age fringe. "Axl," a friend says, "is looking for anything that'll give him happiness."
As successful and wealthy as he became, friends contend, Axl still feels like a victim, unfulfilled, somewhat lost. "He seemed emotionally reserved and a little bit suspicious," says the techno whiz Moby, who spent some time with Axl in California in 1997. "He seemed a little bit like a beaten dog." And Rose, according to those who know him, remains hung up on one old girlfriend: the model Stephanie Seymour, now married to the polo-playing financier Peter Brant. Seymour and Axl's ex-wife, Erin Everly, have both accused Axl of beating them, a charge he denies.
Whether Axl's emotional and legal troubles contributed to the demise of the original G n' R is open to interpretation. There is little dispute, however, about one thing they did cause: a massive delay in finishing Chinese Democracy, which is in reality an Axl Rose solo record. This work has been six years, a roomful of studio musicians and a rumored $6 million worth of Interscope/Geffen's money in the making. It is still not finished and probably won't be anytime soon. "So many times, I have come down [to the studio], and I had no idea that I was going to be able to," Rose told ROLLING STONE last November as he played twelve new tracks. "If you are working with issues that depressed the crap out of you, how do you know you can express it?"
People who have heard the new music say it sounds fantastic. "The tracks reminded me of the best moments of Seventies Pink Floyd or later Led Zeppelin," says Jim Barber, a former Geffen A&R executive who worked on the project. "There's nothing out there right now that has that kind of scope. Axl hasn't spent the last several years struggling to write Use Your Illusion over again." In the estimation of guitarist Zakk Wylde, who sat in with the new band a few times, "Axl is one fucking smart guy."
In recent months, though, guitarist Robin Finck and drummer Josh Freese both left the project, as did computer engineer Billy Howerdel. Queen guitarist Brian May spent a week recording with Axl and returned to England. Avant guitarist Buckethead, known for wearing an upside-down Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his noggin, came on the scene. But as of now, it seems, there is no "new" G n' R.
"I'll punch your lights out right here and right now. . . . I don't give a fuck who you are. You are all little people on a power trip."
These are not lyrics to a bitter new G n' R track about lawyers, perhaps reminiscent of Axl's old rants on CD and from the stage against reporters and photographers and anybody else who failed to do his precise bidding. These words, the Phoenix Police Department reports, are what Axl shouted at security personnel at Sky Harbor International Airport in February 1998 after a screener asked to search his hand luggage. Threatened with arrest, Axl, traveling in jeans, a red sweat shirt and a gray stocking cap, rejoined, "I don't give a fuck. Just put me in fuckin' jail." He spent a couple of hours behind bars. The matter was resolved on February 18th, 1999, when Rose, via telephone, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace and paid a $500 fine.
Lost in the minor hoopla over the arrest was the matter of what, exactly, Axl was doing at the Phoenix airport. Was Axl coming back from a place where he often goes - Sedona, the New Age bastion in the red-rock canyons 115 miles north of Phoenix, where he sees one of the most important people in his world, a psychic known derisively in the G n' R camp as Yoda?
Though nobody knows precisely how he got involved, people who know him say Axl started visiting Sedona in the early Nineties, sometimes traveling with Beta, his housekeeper, or Earl, his bodyguard. Many believers in past lives, channeling, UFOs and the predictive power of crystals pass through Sedona. The town is so tuned in, vibewise, that certain canyons are understood to be vortexes for masculine energy and others for feminine forces. In the produce aisles of Sedona supermarkets, shoppers dangle crystals over the pints of strawberries.
[Excerpt From Issue 840 '” May 11, 2000]