The Rolling Stone Interview: Axl Rose

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Let's go back to your childhood. Were you a bad student?
No. On the placement tests in school, I was always in the top three percent. I dropped out in the eleventh grade, went back as a senior, then dropped out again.

Why did you drop out?
'Cause I couldn't make school work for me. I was having to read books, sing songs, draw pictures of things that didn't stimulate or excite me. It just didn't do anything for me. So I dropped out and started drawing and painting at home and spending a lot of my time in the library. Basically I started putting myself through Axl's school of subjects that I wanted to learn about.

You grew up in Lafayette, Indiana. What influence do you think your small town had in shaping you?
It made me despise people with closed minds. It made me want to break out.

What about small-town values?
That's a load of shit.

Were you in trouble a lot?
Me and my friends were always in trouble. We got in trouble for fun. It finally reached a point where I realized I was gonna end up in jail, 'cause I kept fucking with the system. This guy and I got into a fight. We became friends afterwards, and he dropped charges against me, but the state kept on pressing charges. Those charges didn't work, so they tried other ones. I spent three months in jail and finally got out. But once you've pissed off a detective, it's a vengeance rap back there.

They tried everything. They busted me illegally in my own back yard for drinking. They tried to get me as a habitual criminal, which can mean a life in prison. My lawyer got the case thrown out of court. I left and came to California. They told me not to leave, but I left anyway. My lawyer took care of it. I just didn't go back for a long time. Now when I go back to see my family, I avoid the police there. I try to avoid all police in general.

What happens when you go back now as a celebrity instead of an outcast?
It gets a little bit out of hand. I can't really go anywhere. I just go to my friends' houses, but people I don't know show up wanting autographs. People I used to go to school with, people that used to hate my guts, want me to invest money in this and that. People say shit like "Axl thinks he's too cool to party with us." But those people never wanted to party with me before. The people who are offended by this comment are the ones who should be.

How do you explain your volatile nature?
When I get stressed, I get violent and take it out on myself. I've pulled razor blades on myself but then realized that having a scar is more detrimental than not having a stereo. I'd rather kick in my stereo than cut my arm. I'd rather kick my stereo in than go punch somebody in the face. When I get mad or upset or emotional, sometimes I'll walk over and play my piano.

Your own music has been diluted somewhat by radio stations that play different, shorter versions of G n'R songs. How do you feel when your music is cut to suit the airwaves?
Not that any of our songs compare, but if you hear a short version of "Layla," I think you're gonna be pissed off, especially if you're planning on hearing the big piano part at the end. I hate the edit of "Sweet Child o' Mine." Radio stations said, "Well, your vocals aren't cut." My favorite part of the song is Slash's slow solo; it's the heaviest part for me. There's no reason for it to be missing except to create more space for commercials, so the radio-station owners can get more advertising dollars. When you get the chopped version of "Paradise City" or half of "Sweet Child" and "Patience" cut, you're getting screwed.

What kind of music and bands do you enjoy?
That's always the hardest question. Lately I've been listening to Derek and the Dominos, the Bar-Kays. I really like the first Patti Smith. I'm just starting to discover the Cure. I keep trying to find things to open myself up to. I enjoy Sound Garden. The singer just buries me. The guy sings so great. On the club circuit, I like Saigon Saloon a lot.

Today, my favorite record is Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything. I just got turned on to it. I've still got my favorites and things, like the Pistols, ELO and Queen. The two records I always buy if there's a cassette deck around and I don't have the tapes in my bag are Never Mind the Bullocks and Queen II. I think I'd be in a bind to figure out which one I'd want if I was stranded on a desert island. I might go with the Pistols, because maybe a boat would hear me if I played it.

You're also a Rolling Stones fan. There were some rumors floating around about G n' R possibly opening for them on their upcoming tour. What happened?
No formal offer has been made. I'd love to open for the Stones, but at the same time I really want to do my own record. We'll probably go back on the road sometime next year. I don't know exactly when.

Do you consider yourself the leader of the band?
That's a good question. I'm gonna do what I want to do. That may be selfish, but it's the best way for the most to come out of me. When we write a song, nobody in this band plays anything they don't really want to. When we write a song, the bass player plays his line and it ends up being what he wants to do on bass. It ends up working that way and fitting, so we end up with a set of songs that everybody likes. I couldn't say I'm the leader, like "We're gonna do what I say." It doesn't work that way.

Earlier you touched on the rock-star image and people falling into the music just because it adheres to a certain attitude and look. What about Axl Rose's longhaired, tattooed, piercednipple image?
What about it?

Is it just an image?
It's part of me. When I put on my clothes or do a photo session, I want to look the best I can. If you're going on a date, you want to look good for that person or for yourself. I've got enough money now to buy a suit I like and wear it the way I want. I don't wear suits every damn day now. Maybe I'm gonna shave and wear makeup and do my hair fuckin' way up. We're definitely image-conscious. I think if Izzy came wearing a clown suit to a photo session, we'd want to know how he could validate his presence in a clown suit. [Laughs] But if he could back it up and convince us there was a reason, then it would be cool. Otherwise, it wouldn't be. Steven has his own way of dressing, in the latest commercial-rock fashions. Steven enjoys the hell out of the clothes he wears, whereas Slash and I wouldn't be caught dead in them; then again, there's things Slash and I wear that Steven wouldn't be caught dead in either. It's just different personalities.

If we're going to do a show, I wear a headband because my hair gets in my face. When we do a photo session, a lot of the time I'll wear a headband because that's how I am onstage. If I feel real dominant and decadent, I'm gonna be wearing my jackboots and stuff like that. I try to express myself through my clothes. It's another form of the art I'm not afraid of what people think about different ways I look. I'm gonna do what I want to.

Do you get hassled much when you go out locally in L.A.?
I really only go to clubs where I know the people who work there, so I can have some privacy and hang out. It's hard when you go to a club with 600 people and you end up having to talk to 400 people. You have no time of your own to have fun. Maybe if I haven't gone out for a week, I'll go to the Cathouse, because I know some friends are gonna be there. I just want to be around my friends, even if we don't talk about anything. I just need it.

You have all these people asking you for an autograph, and it gets kind of embarrassing. I don't want to be a prick to people and go, "Get away from me." But I don't enjoy going someplace and just signing autographs all the time. It comes with the fame, but sometimes it gets out of hand and people can be very rude and obnoxious about it. I've had people break into my hotel room with cameras, waking me up and taking photos. People find out where I live and show up at my building. I've never asked anyone for an autograph.

Having to deal with autographs doesn't seem like it's the worst thing in the world. At this point in your life, what's your biggest regret?
That I didn't talk to Todd Crew before he went to New York. [Crew, the bassist in the band Jetboy, was a close friend of the band's who died due to an alcohol-related overdose.] I felt a massive need to talk to him out of concern for his well-being. But I wasn't aware enough to realize I didn't have the time I thought I did. I thought I'd have time later . . .

You seem to have an exceptionally strong bond with your friends. Do you think your values have changed any since you've become a rich rock star?
I saw a guy last night, a homeless guy on the beach. I hate panhandlers 'cause I've never done that. I just couldn't, it would have felt too weird. I walked past the man and realized I had some money in my pocket. It's not that I give everybody I see money. I don't at all. But I handed him twenty bucks and he was like "Thanks, man, I appreciate it." He can have breakfast tomorrow.

I could have just walked away, but I could tell in my heart that the guy could really use that money. He wasn't trying to scam. He looked like he was gonna get up tomorrow and look for a job or something to survive. I felt good about that, and I'm wondering if he's all right now. I don't know. The next day I was hoping he didn't go buy crack with it.

This story is from the Augusts 10th, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.

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