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The Rolling Stone Interview: Axl Rose

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Any specific titles for the next album you can talk about?
Well, there's a song called "November Rain" and another one called "Breakdown." There's also a song tentatively titled "Without You." Last night, I wrote a whole new intro to that. It just appeared out of nowhere, like the verses – just little pieces that have come whole.

How do you write complete songs from separate bits and pieces?
They'll just show up. I keep them on file in my brain and then add them together. Like, I'll be brushing my teeth and all of a sudden a prechorus will come, and I won't know why. Then a bridge came about a year ago. Six months ago another part came. Last night a whole intro came. When I was writing it, I wasn't planning on putting it with this song, but all of a sudden it just flowed.

The G n' R Lies EP surprised a lot of people because of its emphasis on acoustic material. Aren't you afraid that some people may be turned off by the band straying from the sound that got them to the top?
We're not getting away from hard rock, but we don't want to be limited or contained in any group. Our basic root is hard rock, a bit heavier than the Stones, more in a vein like Aerosmith, Draw the Line-type stuff. We love loud guitars. George Michael was telling me he really loved our melodies and wondered why we covered so much of it up with the loud guitars, and I said because we love that. I told him he should put some more loud guitars in his music. He has such beautiful melodies, and it'd be nice to hear some loud guitars in there. At the same time, I have my favorite symphony pieces, orchestra pieces if you will.

I've always looked at things in a versatile sense because of Queen, ELO, Elton John, especially early Elton John, and groups like that. With Queen, I have my favorite: Queen II. Whenever their newest record would come out and have all these other kinds of music on it, at first I'd only like this song or that song. But after a period of time listening to it, it would open my mind up to so many different styles. I really appreciate them for that. That's something I've always wanted to be able to achieve. It's important to show people all forms of music, basically try to give people a broader point of view.

Speaking of versatility, you're known primarily as a singer, but you've been playing piano quite a bit lately.
I've played piano my whole life. I took lessons, but I only really played my lesson on the day of the lesson. All week long, I'd sit down at the piano and just make up stuff. To this day, I still can't really play other people's songs, only my own. I haven't had a piano for years. I couldn't afford one. I couldn't figure out where I was sleeping at night, let alone try to have a place for a piano. So I had to put it aside and have the dream that I'd get to it. Now I really want to bring the piano out.

So far the song that's inspired the most controversy in the band's short career has been "One in a Million." How did you come to write that song?
"One in a Million" was written while sitting in the apartment of my friend West Arkeen, who's like the sixth member of the band. I wrote it at his house, sitting around bored, watching TV. I can't really play guitar too well, I only play the top two strings, and I would write a little piece at a time. I started writing about wanting to get out of L.A., getting away for a little while. I'd been down to the downtown-L.A. Greyhound bus station. If you haven't been there, you can't say shit to me about what goes on and about my point of view. There are a large number of black men selling stolen jewelry, crack, heroin and pot, and most of the drugs are bogus. Rip-off artists selling parking spaces to parking lots that there's no charge for. Trying to misguide every kid that gets off the bus and doesn't quite know where he's at or where to go, trying to take the person for whatever they've got. That's how I hit town. The thing with "One in a Million" is, basically, we're all one in a million, we're all here on this earth. We're one fish in a sea. Let's quit fucking with each other, fucking with me.

The lyrics have incited a lot of protest, so let's go over them line by line. Let's start with one of the verses, "Police and niggers, that's right/Get outta my way/Don't need to buy none/ Of your gold chains today."
I used words like police and niggers because you're not allowed to use the word nigger. Why can black people go up to each other and say, "Nigger," but when a white guy does it all of a sudden it's a big putdown? I don't like boundaries of any kind. I don't like being told what I can and what I can't say. I used the word nigger because it's a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word nigger doesn't necessarily mean black. Doesn't John Lennon have a song "Woman Is the Nigger of the World"? There's a rap group, N.W.A., Niggers With Attitude. I mean, they're proud of that word. More power to them. Guns n' Roses ain't bad . . . N.W.A. is baaad! Mr. Bob Goldthwait said the only reason we put these lyrics on the record was because it would cause controversy and we'd sell a million albums. Fuck him! Why'd he put us in his skit? We don't just do something to get the controversy, the press.

How about the next verse? "Immigrants and faggots/They make no sense to me/They come to our country/And think they'll do as they please/Like start some mini-Iran or spread some fuckin' disease." Why that reference to immigrants?
When I use the word immigrants, what I'm talking about is going to a 7-11 or Village Pantries – a lot of people from countries like Iran, Pakistan, China, Japan, et cetera, get jobs in these convenience stores and gas stations. Then they treat you like you don't belong here. I've been chased out of a store with Slash by a six-foot-tall Iranian with a butcher knife because he didn't like the way we were dressed. Scared me to death. All I could see in my mind was a picture of my arm on the ground, blood going everywhere. When I get scared, I get mad. I grabbed the top of one of these big orange garbage cans and went back at him with this shield, going, "Come on!" I didn't want to back down from this guy.

Anyway, that's why I wrote about immigrants. Maybe I should have been more specific and said, "Joe Schmoladoo at the 7-11 and faggots make no sense to me." That's ridiculous! I summed it up simply and said, "Immigrants."

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

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