Spin Cycle (1.14.07)

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Axl Rose has not aged gracefully.

I was flipping around the television a few weeks ago when the remote landed on Axl’s puffy, pock-marked visage mumbling about “the future of Guns N’ Roses.” First of all, WHAT future of Guns N’ Roses? Axl is the only remaining original member of the supergroup and the fact that he continues to tour under the moniker is a bit like Roger Waters touring as Pink Floyd without even David Gilmour and with poor Syd Barrett locked away in an institution counting Cheerios and chewing on rubber bands. Secondly, has Axl just been watching the movie 10 on endless loop? Unless you are Eddy Grant or Lisa Bonet, you are not allowed to sport corn rows. Especially not if you’re a pasty redheaded white guy from the Midwest with a goatee. Finally, his portly midsection certainly makes me feel a lot more comfortable with the 15 pounds I’ve gained in the last 20 years.

I’m pretty sure the interview was part of some “2006: Year in Retrospective” special on VH1. 2006 was a banner year for our dear W. Axl Rose. In the past year, Axl: (a) has fallen down on stage—due not to a Jack Daniels-besoaked stupor, but rather because—in his own words—“the stage was slippery”; (b) was arrested in Sweden after biting a hotel security guard’s leg; and, (c) almost got his ass kicked by Tommy Hilfiger. Let me repeat that last one: the wild-eyed bad boy frontman of GN’R almost got his ass handed to him on a cashmere-blend plate by a FASHION DESIGNER. Oh, Axl, why hast thou forsaken me?

Boy howdy, was I one enormous GN’R fan back in the day. My original vinyl pressing of Appetite for Destruction (featuring the banned Robert Williams cover art) was purchased at Tower Records the day it was released. I had an 8-foot nylon-polyester banner of the band draped across my ceiling in college. I have even performed “Sweet Child o’ Mine” live onstage at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas with a cover band in front of a bunch of motocross dudes.

I was just 20 years old when, in 1989, I met the notorious Mr. Rose on a trip to Los Angeles.

A girl I knew from high school was working as a RIP girl in Hollywood. RIP was a smarmy metal mag, plastered with sweaty photos of hirsute L.A. bands. The rag was also peppered with various shots of buxom, smiling women in RIP crop-tops posing with the band members. The whole job of a RIP girl was to go to as many clubs, gigs and after-parties as possible and get herself photographed with the band. It was tough job, but someone had to do it! Through her position at RIP, Cathy met a ton of rockers and their affiliated entourages. One of the people she encountered during her tenure as a stewardess on party-girl airlines was the photographer, Robert John.

Robert John was the official photographer for GN’R and was responsible for most of the band’s publicity shots in addition to several “lying-on-the-floor-in-a-pool-of-whiskey” images. Cathy even had John do her headshots for what she hoped was a budding acting/modeling career (though there was no pool of whiskey in any of those).

I had traveled to L.A. for New Years Eve that year. I wasn’t yet 21, but had a really good fake ID (the expired driver’s license of an older friend from college who looked like my older sister). Just before I got on the plane, my wallet was stolen and, sadly, my fake ID went with it (along with a $150 from Christmas and all my credit cards). My dreams of whooping it up at every bar on the Strip were crushed like an unfiltered cigarette before I even arrived in Hollywood. A friend of a friend paid the doorman at the Rainbow a Benjamin to let me in on New Year’s Eve, but I was eventually unceremoniously REMOVED from the bar (and thrown out in the rain) when I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. I now know that no one over the age of 21 actually orders a Long Island Iced Tea.

My friends were all feeling sorry for me after the New Year’s incident, so Cathy suggested going to a club called English Acid where she knew the doorman and I wouldn’t be carded. It was a club on Wednesday nights that the guys from L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat frequented. The club itself was relatively uninteresting, but we did run into Cathy’s good friend, Robert John, there. We were a group of 5 girls, ranging in age from 19 – 25 with big hair and short skirts. Robert John wanted to know what we were doing after the club and mentioned that Axl was staying at a hotel up the street and kept calling him to come hang out. Of course, we were thrilled at the idea of partying with Axl Rose! At the same time, I was skeptical and didn’t really believe that Axl was just sitting around some lonely hotel room hoping for a roving girl-party to come calling.

We eventually left the club and went back to Cathy’s apartment at Orange and Sunset. We giggled and drank some more vodka and then started to get ready for bed. I actually had one contact lens already in the case when the phone rang and the machine picked up. A strained, quiet male voice began talking into the machine. “Um…hello? Uh…Hey. This is…Axl. Robert John said I should call you.” I screamed. My friend Coretta ran to the phone and grabbed it. “HELLO????” she said anxiously into the receiver. The machine clicked off and the rest of us hovered around Coretta as we heard her one-sided conversation with Axl Rose.

“No way. This is NOT Axl Rose. No WAY!” And then, “How do I know it’s you? Tell me something only Axl would know.”

There was a pause, and apparently he said something that only Axl would know (though, technically, I’m not really sure how Coretta would also know it, then) and she squealed, “This is so cool!” Coretta then covered the receiver with her hand and looked at all of us (our mouths completely agape), whispering “It’s really him!”

Coretta chatted with him for another couple of minutes and then she motioned for a pen and some paper. It instantly materialized and she was soon writing down an address and a strange person’s name. Coretta hung up the phone and clutched the paper to her chest. “We’re going to party with Axl Rose!” she yelled. We all put our cute clothes back on (and I put my contact lens back in) and we drove over to the Bel Age Hotel where Axl was staying. He had told Coretta to ask for a “Mister Wong” and gave us his room number. A valet parked our car and we went up the elevators to his room. I don’t think I entirely believed that we were really going to see Axl Rose on the other side of the door. I think I believed it was all an elaborate joke. But, it wasn’t. A thin, wan, scraggly guy opened the door and invited us in—Axl, himself. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and a black blazer with the sleeves rolled up. He stared at the floor and sort of shuffled into the living room of the suite. There was a bottle of Jack Daniels on the coffee table and the remnants of some prior cocaine enjoyment.

He offered us the couch and the comfy chairs as he pulled up a chair from the dining table. He never looked any of us in the eye, but offered us “Jack, coke, weed, whatever.” We all were too stunned, honestly, to take him up on any of it. Cathy seemed the most comfortable and sat near him, talking about Robert John. I noticed that he had really brown teeth (no Crest Whitestrips back then!). He opened up a little and then began talking about this new record he had been working on with his best friend, Wes. He told us that Wes had been a big part of the writing of Appetite, but that the record company didn’t really want to give him credit. He told us that the “new record” was going to brilliant and Wes would be all over it. Axl then walked into the bedroom and came back with a boombox. He set it on the glass coffee table and pushed “play” on the cassette player.

The track began with some mumbled voices and then a few notes on a piano. Eventually, the song successfully started and it was just a piano and Axl’s voice. It was a song I had never heard before and it was glorious! It was recorded in a garage on a 4-track, so the quality was a little unbalanced, but it was very simple and beautiful and haunting. The whole song was only about 4 minutes long and when it was over, Axl clicked off the tape player. “Wes wrote that,” Axl said, staring at his shoes, “that’s Wes at the piano.” He promised that it would be on the forthcoming GN’R record and that Wes was finally going to get his due.

At one point, I excused myself to use the ladies’ room. Once inside, I noticed a phone next to the toilet and, when I couldn’t think of whom to phone at 4 in the morning, I called my mom. “I’m in Axl Rose’s bathroom at the Bel Age Hotel!” I whispered. My mom told me to just “be careful” through her sleepy haze and then we hung up.

The entire time we were in his room, he sat in the straight-backed chair with his hands clasped between his knees. All of the rock n’ roll bravado that he displayed in videos and on stage was mysteriously absent and all that remained was a quiet, lonely man who needed his photographer to bring a party to his room. Before we left, he said that the song he had played us was called “November Rain.”

None of us slept with him. None of us made-out with him. None of us did a line of blow off that glass table or took a bath in that massive bathroom. Allegedly, he gave Coretta bus fare when she asked for it.

In the years that followed, Axl seemed to get stranger and stranger. In interviews, he was always tirading about someone or something and was arrested about a billion times for hitting people. The infamous “next record” turned into the epic Use Your Illusion I and II and that lovely little piano tune became an overblown, orchestral 24-minute monstrosity that made the Carmina Burana look like a mouthwash jingle.

Guns N’ Roses WERE rock n’ roll and Appetite for Destruction remains one of the greatest rock records in my collection. But, GN’R is best left as a fantastic, excessive, metal memory. Axl has become the human version of “November Rain”—bloated and tedious and too long in the tooth. I find myself praying that he will just let it go, maybe go back to the garage and the four-track and comb out those corn rows. The party is over…and I hear Karl Lagerfeld has a mean left hook.

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