Music 20 Apr 2012 06:33 am
An Open Letter to Axl Rose:
So, you didn’t come to Cleveland last Saturday to accept your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you would have preferred that the museum not honor you at all.
That’s cool. It didn’t sound like your written refusal was dissing Cleveland or the Rock Hall in particular but that the whole schtick was just part of the ongoing feud with your former bandmates. That battle’s been raging for decades, after all, maybe from the time the first chords of “Welcome to the Jungle” rang out through stereo speakers across America, heralding the arrival of Guns N’ Roses. Contention and dissent are powerful muses, and the original G N’ R — either because of or in spite of them — logged some energetic, highly influential songs before “creative differences” tore the band apart.
Back then, you were the quintessential rock and roll lead singer — pushing boundaries, raising Cain, and often opening your mouth before engaging your brain.
You were one of the first rockers I ever heard who sprinkled expletives like seasoning salt throughout your lyrics. “Out ta Get Me” was so raw it made Roger Daltry’s single, muffled f-bomb in “Who Are You” sound like a nursery rhyme by comparison. You wore your addictions and not your heart on your sleeve. Other artists had monkeys on their backs, to be sure, but you were the first one to connect the beast to a chain and play music for it like an organ grinder. (I was naïve enough back then that I thought “Mr. Brownstone” was about an old man who liked to dance and not a reference to an illegal substance. Imagine my surprise.)
Of course, like anybody whose public persona hovers perpetually too close to the line, you sometimes tripped over it. Your racist rant on “One in a Million” is shameful, and your recording of Charles Manson’s “Look at Your Game, Girl” was ill-advised. (Even worse, it’s a bad song.)
Then came your 15-year absence from recording amid continual promises of “Chinese Democracy,” the long-gestating, often-delayed sixth studio album that finally arrived in 2008 as a Best Buy exclusive (not very dangerous, that) and sounded about as much like G N’ R as a Chipmunks Christmas album. Maybe that’s because your feet-dragging over that decade and a half drove off the other original members, making this in effect an Axl Rose solo album, which is how it should have been billed.
I’m not one of those fans who believes that creative types owe the public anything beyond the best work they can produce. As far as I’m concerned, you fulfilled all obligations to me each time you delivered a good album in exchange for my hard-earned money. So I don’t care if you ever reunite with guitarists Slash and Izzy or the rest of the classic lineup, something which, based on your rambling letter last week, will happen right after graves yawn open and give up the bodies of John and George to reunite with Paul and Ringo for a Beatles tour. But if you do, I’d buy that record. Or CD. Or digital download.
If anything, your letter proves you still have plenty of rock and roll street cred. I mean, rock is all about rebellion, and nothing is less rebellious than being inducted into a museum, right? It’s like the old Groucho Marx quote, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”
Besides, refusing the Rock Hall’s induction puts you in rarefied company. The Sex Pistols refused the honor when they were inducted in 2006, referring to the Rock Hall as “urine in wine” and wondering why so many subversive artists feel the need to ask “How high?” when the museum says jump.
Hey, controversy with Pistols and now Guns. Maybe the Rock Hall should stop inducting groups with weapons in their names.
At any rate, I’m looking forward to your next album in 2021. By then, China might actually be a democracy. All the best.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published in The Alliance Review on April 19, 2012.