Axl Rose: The Rolling Stone Interview
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.
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