Axl Rose on Privacy, Public Opinion and His War With the Media

Rolling Stone's 1992 cover Q&A with the Guns n' Roses frontman

February 6, 2012 1:05 PM ET

axl rose 1992
Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses performs during the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in London.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

This story is from the April 2, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.

Only a few minutes ago, Axl Rose, sprawled on the floor of his Las Vegas hotel villa, mentioned his lack of privacy. Now, as if to prove his point, someone knocks on the door. Rose gets up to answer it, peering out into the darkness to find two breathless, carefully made-up fans who've somehow breached Guns n' Roses' security.

"I hope you know we went to a lot of trouble just to say hello to you," the first girl says. "I'm only here because she dragged me here," says the second. "I'm not a very big Guns n' Roses fan or anything."

Given Rose's reputation as a hothead, the predictable reaction would be irritation – or at the very least a wry, "see what I mean" smile. But Rose greets the giggly pair like a homeowner welcoming a group of trick-or-treaters. He invites them in and, smiling, begins asking them questions: Do you live here? What are your names? How did you find out where I was? As the story unravels – it turns out the two posed as call girls to extract his room number from a tight-lipped hotel clerk – Rose seems genuinely charmed. As do his visitors. They stick around for nearly an hour, and Rose is the perfect host – cracking jokes, offering them dinner, even laughing off their occasional barbs ("So, are you going on on time tomorrow, or what?"). By the time they leave, they've been made to feel as if it were the most natural thing in the world to barge in uninvited on a total stranger.

It's the evening before a sold-out show in late January, and Rose is in an extremely good mood. Catching the singer in this frame of mind at the scheduled time for an interview can seem like a blessing from above if you've ever been around him in the other mood. When Rose is feeling pressured or angry, talking to him is a lot like dodging bullets. He tends to rant, barely stopping for breath, and even the most innocent of comments can set him on edge. It is a distinctly uncomfortable feeling to be in a room alone with Axl Rose and see storm clouds suddenly gather on his face because of something you've just said. It is a feeling of wanting to get out, fast.

But Rose can be a disarming – and formidable – conversationalist if you catch him at the right time. When he is relaxed, he seems to delight in the challenge an interview presents, and it is all but impossible to rattle him. Tell him that much of the public views him as spoiled, and he'll surprise you by agreeing. Inform him that a character in Stephen King's latest novel describes him as an asshole, and he'll ask, ever hopeful, "Was it a good character or a bad character?" The thornier the issue, the more conviction Rose displays in offering his opinion.

During this conversation, Rose covered some especially rocky terrain. He talked about rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin's resignation from Guns n' Roses late last year. He addressed his tardiness to shows, his ongoing war with the media, his reputation as a misogynist, a homophobe, a bigot. Rose also talked in detail for the first time about childhood traumas that likely played a large part in shaping his volatile nature. He spoke about some highly disturbing memories involving his biological father that were dredged up in regression therapy and also leveled serious charges at his stepfather. (Rose's natural father could not be found for comment on the issues raised in this story; his relatives believe him to be dead. Rose's brother, his sister and a family friend corroborated the allegations concerning his stepfather. Rose's mother and stepfather declined comment.)

In talking about his early years, Rose grew soft-spoken and contemplative, displaying the rarely seen vulnerability that once prompted Sinéad O'Connor to remark that Rose made you want to "bring him home and give him a bowl of soup." Perhaps more than anything else, it is this surprising air of fragility, coupled with the hair-trigger temper that has all but become Rose's personal trademark, that makes him such a compelling figure.

The same evening this interview took place, Rose's sister, Amy, strolling through the Mirage Hotel, stopped to look at the royal white tigers the hotel keeps on display. She remarked how fascinating it was that a creature could be at once so ferocious and so gentle.

"Just like Axl," someone said absent-mindedly.

Amy laughed, realizing that she had unintentionally described her brother as well.

What do you think people are thinking about you these days?
I know it's a love-hate thing. There are people that are big fans and people that really hate me.

Do you get a sense that public opinion of you has changed?
A majority of what's in the press is negative. But I think that we're also gaining more fans, people of all different ages that really like what we're doing. There's a really good vibe in the crowd, a warm vibe.

What about St. Louis? After the riot, Rolling Stone got letters from people saying that they were fed up with your attitude and that you don't care about your fans anymore.
And that's why the riot happened? Is that what they're saying?

No. But I think the riot was a turning point in terms of public opinion of you.
Well, I think that the way the media covered it made me look completely responsible for it. I don't think I was the last straw. I think that the people who decided to start throwing stuff were the last straw. We have a big problem with the people that were at that concert. We gave them a ninety-minute show. We gave them what we were contracted to do, and we gave it good. They wanted more, and they felt that they could just have it, regardless of what happened to us or how we felt about it. When we say, "Fuck St. Louis," we're talking about the people that tore up the place. They know who they are – we're not talking about anybody else. Whether I jumped off the stage for a camera or not, that's not a good enough reason to tear the place down. It was announced that we would come back onstage, and they were more into the riot than even the band playing.

One thing that has people exasperated is the late show times. Why do you go on so late?
I pretty much follow my own internal clock, and I perform better later at night. Nothing seems to work out for me until later at night. And it is our show. I don't want to make people sit around and wait – it drives me nuts. That hour-and-a-half or two-hour time period that I'm late going onstage is living hell, because I'm wishing there was any way on earth I could get out of where I am and knowing I'm not going to be able to make it. I'm late to everything. I've always wanted to have it written in my will that when I die, the coffin shows up a half-hour late and says on the side, like in gold, Sorry I'm late.

What goes on before you take the stage? What actually makes you late?
The chiropractor we work with on the road tapes my ankles professionally. I kept twisting my ankles during shows, and it still happens now and then. I have weak ankles, always have. I used to run cross-country, and that was one of the things that got in the way of that. So I work with a chiropractor. I work with a massage therapist, because I put a lot of stress in my lower back, and with what I do onstage, there's a lot of rebuilding that has to be done. There's operatic voice exercises. And I started therapy in February [1991] and, Jesus, I'm right in the middle of stuff. I mean, if a heavy emotional issue surfaces and you've got a show in four hours, you have to figure out how to get that sorted out really quick before you get onstage so that you're not in the middle of "Jungle" and have a breakdown. The pressure of having to do the show when whatever else is going on in my life is hard to get past. We did a show in Finland where I just couldn't understand why I was doing what I was doing. I sat down while I was singing "Civil War," and I was kind of looking at my lips while I was singing and looking at the microphone and looking at the roadies, and everything just shut off. Well, that doesn't make for a very good show. We're out there to win at what we do. And if that means going on two hours late and doing a good show, I'm gonna do it. I take what I do very seriously.

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