Reclusive singer has mixed it up with fans online several times in recent days.
By Gil Kaufman
You might not see him on the late-night talk shows or the covers of major magazines or hear him sitting in with the morning-zoo show in your hometown, but that doesn't mean Guns N' Roses leader Axl Rose isn't reaching out to fans.
The typically reclusive singer — who is the only remaining original member of GN'R — has done little to no promotion for his band's 13-years-in-the-making Chinese Democracy album, but over the past few days, he's been a staple on the message boards of several GN'R forums. On Sunday, he penned a 4,300-word open letter to fans in which he tried to clear up many of what he called the misconceptions and outright lies about his band and the album, which, despite the hype, has been quickly sliding down the charts after a worse-than-expected opening bow.
The sudden chattiness began Friday, when Rose popped into the "MyGNRForum" and mixed it up with fans. Some took him to task for being a hermit, even as he explained why he's often late for his shows (apparently he's a lifelong night owl) and wished the best for troubled former GN'R drummer and "Celebrity Rehab" castmember Steven Adler. He also mentioned that a video for the song "Better" was slated for release any day now.
Rose then hit the boards again Saturday, talking about an in-process autobiography/ legal record of the original band's breakup and the possibility that he would reunite with the original GN'R lineup for a charity concert, as long as the cause was right.
But it was his expansive letter on Sunday that really got Guns boards buzzing. After vehemently denying that he tried to pull a fast one by securing the Guns name for himself, explaining that it was a legal maneuver to protect the band and himself from the group's then-manager, Rose asked, "Why keep the name" considering all the other original members are gone?
"I'm literally the last man standing. Not bragging, not proud," he wrote. "It's been a f---ing nightmare, but I didn't leave Guns and I didn't drive others out. ... I earned the right to protect my efforts and to be able to take advantage of our contract I'd worked hard for where Slash's exact words were that he didn't care."
Rose wrote that he understood some fans favor a particular lineup of the band, but even with all new players onboard, he was adamant that Chinese Democracy is not a solo album. "A solo record would be completely different than this and probably much more instrumental," he explained. "I made a Guns record with the right people who were the only people who really wanted to help me try, were qualified and capable while enduring the public abuse for years. The songs were chosen by everyone involved. ... There's been a lot of pressure to go with using my name (all external), but that never felt right to me for this band, and the parameters in regard to this music have lots more to do with the mind set of Guns than something else.
"As far as a new name ... this is who I am, not whatever else someone else thinks of. I don't see myself as solely Guns, but I do see myself as the only one from the past making the effort to take it forward whether anyone approves or not and giving beyond what many would."
In fact, Rose wrote, retaining the name helped him keep pushing forward with the album, regardless of what anyone else thought or the reportedly astronomical $13 million-plus budget. And despite years of recording, an army of players and producers and what has been described as endless tinkering, Rose said the state of perfection he was looking for literally didn't happen until the "last round of mastering and swapping out a version of a track at the pressing plant that had gotten inadvertently changed at the last minute. Also, the name was what the industry wanted as well and the burden of keeping it was something to endure in order to make the record."
Rose frequently came back to what sounds like a wide array of legal battles that he suggested constantly delayed the album's release. But in the end, he said, he's made peace with the fact that some people will never think of the current lineup as the "real" GN'R. In fact, he admitted that even he refers to the current band as "Guns" and the classic Use Your Illusion roster as "Old Guns."
"They are amazingly supportive and do their best to keep me in up spirits and focused, which I had less and less of in Guns way before 'Sweet Child' caught on," he said of the current lineup. "If that were to change, then that may be something to look at. I hope for us to grow more together as we continue, so who knows. If I hadn't secured the rights, I don't know where I'd be, and I'd probably call what would then be the current lineup 'Those motherf---ers!!'
"The name is something I take great pride in, as I feel anyone who's been a part of it should, the same as other bands or teams etc.," he continued. "The burden when it is such is a nightmare but not as much or as hopeless as I'd imagine without it could have been. ... Having the name kicks your ass every night, as it's not some side project or something u can f--- off in. You don't deliver u get your ass handed to u. So it makes us work much harder than I feel we would outside of it and it hasn't been too ugly yet."
As for why the original band broke up, Rose portrayed his role as "goin' down with the ship," in the sense that he knew it was over before the band toured in support of their final original studio album, the two-part Use Your Illusion. But he held on until the end, he wrote, when the other members "felt for whatever reasons they either couldn't or wouldn't give what Guns required." He also disputed long-simmering claims that part of the reason the group fell apart was because he changed up the band's hard-rock style. At one point he claimed that Slash "hated a good portion" of the songs on the band's landmark 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, and that things between the onetime good friends began deteriorating not long after GN'R started touring in support of the debut.
"The music changed after Slash and I parted so the direction was where I took Guns not where I had intended or tried to go previously," he said. "It had a lot to do with not finding or knowing a more blues-based player that I found inspiring and I was really knocked down and beat up. ... I wasn't doing what was written so often about chasing fads, etc."
Finally, after all the rancor, the dredging-up of old wounds that are clearly still fresh (including Axl's apparent ire about the use of "Welcome to the Jungle" on "Guitar Hero"), the last man standing thanks his fans and wishes them happy holidays — until the next time he decides to open up a vein and let it bleed