Back in the day of big hair and tight jeans that zippered above the waist, I was in love with Axl Rose. I guess I was never really “in love” with him, the way I was with my first boyfriend, my current boyfriend, or a couple of the hot sex flings I had between the two, but as a not-so-rebellious teenager growing up in Long Island in the late 80’s/early 90’s, my guilty pleasure was long haired, heavy-ish metal lead singers who could easily pass as beautiful, statuesque women. My first love was Sebastian Bach from Skid Row. For him I’d do anything, even follow him to Broadway to watch him perform mediocrely in both Jeckyll and Hyde and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Next up was Bon Jovi, Brett Michaels (way before VHI remade him), Axl Rose, Steven Tyler and even Jani Lane of Warrant, especially around the Cherry Pie and Down Boy days.
I had other crushes too, but when it came to hair metal, these were my top guns. And with the release of the first Guns N’ Roses album in over 17 years (if you can call it a Guns N’ Roses album) I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular fiery, fearsome high school crush. I was young enough and naive enough not to see the bad in Axl. I was way more enamored with his snake-like dance moves then his bad-to-other-people MO. And now 13 years after the start of Chinese Democracy, Axl is back in the news, and it seems that while Rose is not over at all, my love for him is.
Why I loved Axl had everything to do with the way he moved and the way he sang. He had a unique voice, one that made me teary when I heard “November Rain,” nostalgic when I sang along to “Civil War,” and riled up when I listened to “Get in the Ring.” But that’s all just off the Use Your Illusion albums, and any illusions of Guns N’ Roses I once had were shattered when I saw him appear on MTV back in 2002. This wasn’t the same Axl that stood up a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden (years later I found out that when I went to see him play that night, the band wasn’t even in New York when it was time for them to go on), no, this was a very different Axl. Not only still full of himself, but full of botox, bloat, and a bad hair weave.
It was a low moment for what was left of Guns N’ Roses. Not only because there was no release date for this new album (it took six years from then til its release now), and not only because it was being called Guns N’ Roses without uhm, Slash, Izzy or Duff, but also because seeing Axl up on stage that night is like seeing Brett Michaels on TV - embarrassing. I mean, Buckethead? Who the f*ck is Buckethead?
If only Bon Jovi and Steven Tyler would write a book for aging hair metal lead singers about how to stay relevant and hot, perhaps Axl could have been saved. But he sold his soul to something much worse than the proverbial devil many years ago (I would say that was around the time he beat Stephanie Seymour or wrote the song “One in a Million.”)
Whatever has happened, Axl Rose has risen from the dead. And while I have not heard most of Chinese Democracy, just clips of it being played on Sound Check on NPR, I know that my love of Axl ended sometime in those 13 years he spent on his comeback. If it takes that long to get it right (and it’s the only effort you’re making), perhaps it’s not right to get it at all. Still, for the love of Axl, I will listen to Chinese Democracy at some point before the new year. I will try not to cringe, or critique, the album until I’ve heard it all the way through. I’d like to give him a fair chance at making his way back into my heart, but I’m not convinced he can do it. No matter what, when I think back to Appetite or Use Your Illusion (1 and 2), I will think of better times. But seeing Axl these days reminds me of the fleeting urgency of love. Of how it’s great when you’ve got it, but not so easy to get it back once it’s gone.