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  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.
Do you think that your fans take your problems seriously? Sometimes people relate to celebrities not as people but as objects or possessions – admiring the music or art isn’t enough anymore. People have to feel as if they own you.
Yeah. That’s a strange beast. And they don’t like it when I let them know that they don’t own me. Sometimes I don’t even own myself [laughs].
Let’s say a fan stopped you on the street and said: “Listen, I bought all your records, but I’m sick of your bullshit. I come to a show and you’re two hours late, and I have to work the next day. You don’t give a fuck about me.”
If I didn’t give a fuck about them, I’d come out and do a shitty show. I’d come out and tell ’em to fuck off. I’d sit down, sing the songs off-key and just not care. But I do care, and I also care too much about myself to do that. It’s confusing to me that people go, “Well, I have to work in the morning.” If you were getting laid, you wouldn’t be so worried about what time it was. I know it’s complicated, but so is getting onstage. And I’m sorry. I try to make it up by coming out and doing a good show and explaining as much as I can about what was going on in my head and why we weren’t there.
Does it ever bother you, when you’re onstage talking about something that’s really eating at you, to think that the crowd would respond the same way no matter what you were saying?
Yeah. I approached it a bit differently when we did the first show in Dayton, Ohio. We’d been told we’re the perfect house band for David Duke’s America. And it’s like, fuck David Duke, I don’t like being associated with that. I asked the crowd: “Is that what you get out of this, that we’re racists and you’re supporting it? ‘Cause that’s not the case.” I asked: “Is that all you’re getting out of the record – ‘Do cocaine and party’? ‘Cause if that’s the case, I’m gonna go home. That’s not why we’re here.” I asked the crowd about those things. I got some real interesting responses. The way they reacted was a little bit different than normal. There was silence in different places and cheering in others. You could tell that they were thinking for a minute.
A lot of people think: “Axl is incredibly rich and famous and pampered. He shouldn’t have anything to complain about, but he’s throwing a tantrum every time you see him. He’s a spoiled brat.”
You think so?
Sometimes, yeah. Yeah, I’m real spoiled. I’ve spoiled myself. I’ll get better at dealing with that, though. I mean, it’s still new. Then again, there are a lot of things I complain about that everybody else complains about but won’t do it publicly.
Like having somebody thrown out who is causing a commotion and basically obstructing the show. Most performers would go to a security person in their organization, and it would just be done very quietly. I’ll confront the person, stop the song: “Guess what: You wasted your money, you get to leave.” If a person is trying to egg me on, like “Come on out here, motherfucker, I’m gonna kick your ass,” it’s like “No, you’re not going to kick my ass, you’re going to go home. We’re doing a show, there’s 20,000 other people here, and. you’re not going to ruin it. You’re leaving.” Because if I jump in and get in a fight and then there’s no show, the crowd’s gonna love that.
Why would you feel you had to jump in? Why couldn’t you just ignore it?
Why should I ignore it?
Why should you give someone like that the time of day?
Why shouldn’t I deal with it? And why shouldn’t I deal with it publicly? It’s a distraction. I don’t go see a band just because they suck. And if someone comes to a G n’ R show for that, it’s like “Go home, we don’t want you here.” I mean, if you throw a party at your house and somebody comes to your party just to tell you you suck all night, you are going to ask them to leave your house. And while we’re onstage, that’s our house and those are our guests. I’ve been accused of thinking my shit doesn’t stink. And it does, and maybe sometimes it stinks a lot worse than other people’s. But I’m not gonna say I’m wrong until I’m shown I’m wrong. Just because someone else believes they’re right doesn’t mean that they’ve shown me I’m wrong.
You told me recently that you hate performing.
I just think it’s a really weird job. I’m not saying it’s a bad job, I’m not saying it’s a great job. But you know, it’s just the work that goes into being that athletic. I mean, do you want to go out every night and jump off, like, your car? And have to do that? It’s like it becomes your job. That doesn’t take away the sincerity or the honesty of it, but it is a job. And sometimes I’d rather be doing something else.
You obviously have to be getting something out of it to keep doing it. What do you get out of it?
The release of the energy. Being able to express myself as I choose. There’s a certain pride in knowing that you achieved what you came to do. Sometimes there’ll be a little flicker of communication between you and somebody that you never really communicated with. One night when I was bummed, Matt [Sorum, G n’ R’s drummer] came around and put his hand on me: “It’s all right, man.” Those little things are really special. With the new band and the new people, it’s the first time I’ve really felt at home. It used to be just the five of us against the world. Now we’ve brought some of the outside world into the band. The first night we played with the new band, I was sitting at the piano during “November Rain,” just looking at this and feeling really glad that I was a part of this thing.
I’ve talked to people who liked the band better when it was stripped down. You’ve added the horn section and the backup singers and a second keyboard player – the shows are becoming a lot more professional and polished.
But I don’t think it’s losing any of its energy. There’s a lot more energy now. I think that before, people were seeing the potential.
There are purists who prefer the raw vibe that bands like the Sex Pistols had and that Guns n’ Roses had in the early days.
Yeah, well, there are people who like a girl that had the same haircut she had ten years ago, too. I understand that. I understand that a lot. But it’s like, we’re evolving, and it’s us. I read a quote where David Bowie was saying that Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett to him. I’m like “Yeah, but to deny anything that Pink Floyd’s done after that?” Certain elements of our music and our performance and our attitude are still there, but we’re not the same people we were then. Maybe it would’ve been best for the purists if we’d died or broken up. Then they’d get to keep it the way they liked it.
We haven’t talked about Izzy. Why did he leave the band?
To get a clear answer, you’d have to ask Izzy. My personal belief is that Izzy never really wanted something this big. There were responsibilities that Izzy didn’t want to deal with. He didn’t want to work at the standards that Slash and I set for ourselves.
Can you give me some examples?
He didn’t want to do videos.
Did he say why?
He just wasn’t into it. Getting Izzy to work on his own songs on this record was like pulling teeth. When Izzy had ’em on a four-track, they were done. I mean, I like tapes like that, but we’d just get destroyed if we came out with a garage tape. People want a high-quality album. And it was really hard to get Izzy to do that, even on his own material. Izzy’s songs were on the record because I wanted them on the record, not because Izzy gave a shit either way. If people think I don’t respect Izzy or acknowledge his talent, they’re sadly mistaken. He was my friend. I haven’t always been right. Sometimes I’ve been massively wrong, and Izzy’s been the one to help steer me back to the things that were right. But I know that I wanted to get as big as we possibly could from Day One, and that wasn’t Izzy’s intention at all. I think he’s ready to do like an X-Pensive Winos [Keith Richards’s band] thing. So maybe the world’ll get another really cool band. I know that I’ll be trying to get an advance tape, just like everybody else.
Can you really fault someone for getting out of something if he didn’t feel it was right for him?
No, not at all. But I can fault someone, in the same way someone can fault me, for being an asshole about the way he went about it. A comic book says how Izzy comes to me and says, “You know, I just don’t feel I’m up to this,” and I go, “Yeah, and you’re scared, too, aw, shit.” Well, that ain’t the way it went down.
How did it go down?
We were filming “Don’t Cry,” and he had to be there. Instead, he sent a really short, cold letter and didn’t show up. We got this letter saying, “This changes, this changes, and maybe I’ll tour in January.” And they were ridiculous demands that weren’t going to be met. I talked to Izzy for four and a half hours on the phone. At some points, I was crying, and I was begging. I was doing everything I could to keep him in the band. There were stipulations, though. If he was going to do like the old Izzy did, he wasn’t going to make as much money. It was like “You’re not giving an equal share.” Slash and I were having to do too much work to keep the attention and the energy up in the crowd. You’re onstage going, “This is really hard, and I’m into it and I’m doing it, but that guy just gets to stand there.”
But there’s a certain charisma to that. It was just one more thing to get off on about Guns n’ Roses. There were five distinct personalities on the stage.
That’s okay. But when the guy’s getting up at six thirty in the morning and riding bicycles and motorcycles and buying toy airplanes, and he’s donating all this energy to something else, and it’s taking 100 percent of our energy to do what we’re doing on the stage, we were getting ripped off. I’m hoping Izzy’s new album rocks. But at the same time, it’ll be like “Why couldn’t he do that with us?” He wouldn’t do anything.
So you’re angry with him because he didn’t want to be what you wanted him to be?
No. That’s not it. I’m angry with him because he left in a very shitty way, and he tries to act like everything’s cool. He put his trust in people that I consider my enemies. People like [former G n’ R manager] Alan Niven, who I think is his manager now. I don’t need Alan Niven knowing jack shit about Guns n’ Roses. Everybody has a lot of good and bad, and with Alan, I just got sick of his fucking combo platter. It’s like “If you’re involved with these people, we can’t talk to you.”
Let’s move on. The media contract that was put into effect before Guns n’ Roses started the tour outraged a lot of journalists who felt that you were trying to control what was printed about the band. And I think that’s a legitimate gripe on the part of the press.
Yeah. But I don’t think they understood what we were trying to do. We were trying to cut down on our exposure. There is such a thing as overexposure. We were also trying to weed out the assholes from the people who were gonna be cool. You know, if you were willing to put your ass on the line and sign the damn thing, then we pretty much figured you weren’t gonna try and screw us. There were people who agreed to sign it and then we told them they didn’t have to.
Can you understand why even a reporter who wasn’t out to get you would refuse to sign something like that?
I don’t know. I guess only if they thought that we wanted everything to look peachy keen.
That’s the way it came across, because the contract gave you the right of final approval over everything that was written by anyone who signed it.
I’m not that way. I want the real story. I never wanted “Steven Adler’s on vacation.” I wanted “Steven Adler’s in a fucking rehab.” [Adler, G n’ R’s former drummer, was fired from the group for excessive drug use.] I wanted the reality. Maybe I’d like it a bit optimistic, but I’ve always been more into the reality of the situations, because that’s what I wanted to read about the band. I can see where it would look like we just wanted everything to be right about us. But it was also trying to find a way to work with certain metal magazines. There are a lot of kids who collect those, and we’d rather they have real stories than bullshit stories. I haven’t done an interview with Hit Paraderor Circusin three or four years.
You’ve said you can’t trust them to print what you actually say.
Yeah. And it’s not that what they print is so bad. It’s just that when someone puts corny little words in that you didn’t say… like Slash saying something about “Well, we’re gonna just shake it up and see what happens.” Slash would never say that, and it made him feel really dorky. Looking back at it and reading it, it may not be that bad. But we know that we would’ve come off a lot better if it had been what we really said. I think I’ve got a pretty good track record of not lying.
When you were in New York recently, you took offense at a review Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times and invited him to come onstage to talk about it. [Pareles, reviewing a December G n’ R show at Madison Square Garden, described the audience as “oddly restrained.” Pareles was invited to come to the following night’s show and “tell the crowd why they weren’t having a good time.”]
I was actually just going to sit down and talk. I wasn’t going to make him look like an ass.
Still, he would’ve been walking into a minefield. No matter what he said, they’d boo him and cheer you.
He didn’t have the balls to stand behind what he wrote, and he got exposed.
A lot of people would say that in inviting him to talk about that on your turf, you were the one who didn’t have the balls. Why didn’t you call him and talk about it personally on neutral territory?
I’m not gonna make the New York Times any more money. It was an obnoxious piece. It was shit journalism. He could’ve written: “I didn’t like the show, personally. I think they suck.” Okay, fine. Cool. You can think we suck, and I can think you’re an asshole. But don’t just try to make it look like nobody enjoyed it.
Couldn’t he have been just calling it like he saw it?
Then that’s a person with some severe fucking personal problems, and he has no business being there writing about our show. It’s a different crowd at a G n’ R show now than it used to be. He didn’t understand it. Most people that have been into G n’ R for years don’t understand it, but they can feel it. Having a nice time is weird for people that don’t have nice times in their lives. When you don’t really know what a nice time is, a nice time is for pussies.
Where do you think that nice feeling is coming from, being that most of the songs can’t really be described as “nice” songs?
Because that’s the truth underneath all of it. It’s the underlying message. We’ll do a certain song because we want to express that anger, get that feeling out. “We did it, okay, now I can deal with the person that I just called an asshole.” You know, that’s healthy. But that’s not how the world works. The world doesn’t want you to do that.
Does it bother you that so many people think you’re misogynous, homophobic and racist?
It can bother me. But the racist thing is just bullshit. I used a word that was taboo. And I used that word because it was taboo. I was pissed off about some black people that were trying to rob me. I wanted to insult those particular black people. I didn’t want to support racism. When I used the word faggots, I wasn’t coming down on gays. I was coming down on an element of gays. I had just heard a story about a man who was released out of the L.A. county jail with AIDS and he was hooking. I’ve had my share of dealings with aggressive gays, and I was bothered by it. The. Bible says, “Thou shalt not judge,” and I guess I made a judgment call, and it was an insult. The racist thing, that’s just stupid. I can understand how people would think that, but that’s not how I meant it. I believe that there’s always gonna be some form of racism – as much as we’d like there to be peace – because people are different. Black culture is different. I work with a black man every day [Earl Gabbidon, Rose’s bodyguard], and he’s one of my best friends. There are things he’s into that are definitely a “black thing.” But I can like them. There are things that are that way. I think there always will be.
People are afraid of things that are foreign to them.
It’s that way with everything, you know? It’s that way with people who are of the same race or same gender. Maybe now and then they’ll reach a point where something happens, and they bond, and they’re really close. But they’re always going to have their differences. The most important thing about “One in a Million” is that it got people to think about racism. A lot of people thought I was talking about entire races or sectors of people. I wasn’t. And there was an apology on the record. The apology is not even written that well, but it’s on the cover of every record. And no one has acknowledged it yet. No one.
What about the songs that are perceived as misogynous? A lot of people see songs like “Back Off Bitch” and “Locomotive” as a reflection of your current views on women.
Yeah, and that’s wrong. I can understand that, ’cause the records just came out. But “Back Off Bitch” is a ten-year-old song. I’ve been doing a lot of work and found out I’ve had a lot of hatred for women. Basically, I’ve been rejected by my mother since I was a baby. She’s picked my stepfather over me ever since he was around and watched me get beaten by him. She stood back most of the time. Unless it got too bad, and then she’d come and hold you afterward. She wasn’t there for me. My grandmother had a problem with men. I’ve gone back and done the work and found out I overheard my grandma going off on men when I was four. And I’ve had problems with my own masculinity because of that. I was pissed off at my grandmother for her problem with men and how it made me feel about being a man. So I wrote about my feelings in the songs.
That anger has to have put a damper on your relationships.
I’ve been hell on the women in my life, and the women in my life have been hell on me. And it really breaks me down to tears a lot of times when I think about how terribly we’ve treated each other. Erin [Everly, Rose’s former wife] and I treated each other like shit. Sometimes we treated each other great, because the children in us were best friends. But then there were other times when we just fucked each other’s lives completely up. And so you write about that in your frustration. The anger and the emotions and stuff scare people, and it’s good that people recognize these things as dangerous. I don’t think our music promotes that you should feel this way, and if people are getting that, that’s not right. We’re saying you’re allowed to feel certain ways. Now, if you want to hold on to something that you know is bad, that’s your problem. I don’t want to. I’ve already left most of the lyrics behind. I’d already grown past a lot of the things by the time I started working on my therapy in February. It takes a lot of work to slowly dig that out. And I’ve been doing this while I’m on the road. Some of this stuff is coming out at four in the afternoon, when you don’t expect it.
[Laughs] Yeah! Show time, the show must go on. But… I love women. I remember the last time in Rolling Stone, saying that I liked seeing two women together, and there were letters from lesbian organizations saying, “How disgusting.” I can be as disgusting as the next person, but it wasn’t meant to be disgusting. I think women are beautiful. I don’t like to see people used. If I’m looking at a men’s magazine and I just look at the surface, I might be able to enjoy it. But if I know that this person is really messed up and that person’s messed up and they’re being used by the person who set up the photo session, then it’ll turn my stomach.
Do you want to talk about your childhood in a little more detail?
What’s your earliest memory?
My earliest conscious memory was of a feeling that I’d been here before and that I had a toy gun in my hand. I knew it was a toy gun, and I didn’t know how I knew. That was my first memory. But I’ve done regression therapy all the way back, just about to the point of conception. I kind of know what was going on then.
Can you talk about what you’ve learned?
Just that… my mom’s pregnancy wasn’t a welcome thing. My mom got a lot of problems out of it, and I was aware of those problems. That would tend to make you real fucking insecure about how the world felt about your ass. My real father was a pretty fucked-up individual. I didn’t care too much for him when I was born. I didn’t like the way he treated my mother. I didn’t like the way he treated me before I was born. So when I came out, I was just wishing the motherfucker was dead.
Talking about being conscious of things that happened before you were born might throw a few people.
I don’t really care, because that’s regression therapy, and if they’ve got a problem with it, they can go fuck themselves. It’s major, and it’s legit, and it all fits together in my life. Everything is stored in your mind. And part of you is aware from very early on and is storing information and reacting. Every time I realize I have a problem with something, and I can finally admit it to myself, then we go, “Okay, now what were the earliest stages?” and we start going back through it.
What have you figured out?
I blacked out most of my childhood. I used to have severe nightmares when I was a child. We had bunk beds, and I’d roll out and put my teeth right through my bottom lip – I’d be having some violent nightmare in my bed. I had these for years.
Do you remember what the nightmares were about?
No, I only remember one dream. I dreamt I was a horse. You ever see those movies of wild mustangs running and how heavy that looks? I dreamt about that. I dreamt I was caught and then put in the movies. And in some really stupid movies. And it was totally against my will, and I could not handle it, and I freaked. I didn’t understand the dream. Back then, I was like “I was a horse, they tried to put me in the movies!” You know, all I could think of at the time was Mr. Ed or Francis. But I always remembered that dream, and now I understand it real well. I didn’t know what my nightmares were about. My parents had always said something really tragic and dark and ugly happened. They wouldn’t say what happened – they always just freaked out whenever anything was mentioned about my real father. I wasn’t told I hada real father until I was seventeen. My real father was my stepdad, as far as I knew. But I found some insurance papers, and then I found my mom’s diploma, with the last name Rose. So I was never born Bill Bailey. I was born William Rose. I am W. Rose because William was an asshole.
Your mother married your biological father when she was in high school?
Yeah. My mom’s eyes actually turn black whenever it’s brought up how terrible this person was. And what I found out in therapy is, my mother and him weren’t getting along. And he kidnapped me, because someone wasn’t watching me. I remember a needle. I remember getting a shot. And I remember being sexually abused by this man and watching something horrible happen to my mother when she came to get me. I don’t know all the details. But I’ve had the physical reactions of that happening to me. I’ve had problems in my legs and stuff from muscles being damaged then. And I buried it and was a man somehow, ’cause the only way to deal with it was bury the shit. I buried it then to survive – I never accepted it. I got a lot of violent, abusive thoughts toward women out of watching my mom with this man. I was two years old, very impressionable, and saw this. I figured that’s how you treat a woman. And I basically put thoughts together about how sex is power and sex leaves you powerless, and picked up a lot of distorted views that I’ve had to live my life with. No matter what I was trying to be, there was this other thing telling me how it was, because of what I’d seen. Homophobic? I think I’ve got a problem, if my dad fucked me in the ass when I was two. I think I’ve got a problem about it.
Yeah, I would imagine so. What happened later?
After I was two, my mom remarried, and I was really upset by that. I thought I was the man in her life or something, because she got away from this man and now she was with me. You know, you’re a baby.
She was yours.
Yeah. And then she married someone else, and that bothered me. And this person basically tried to control me and discipline me because of the problems he’d had in his childhood. And then my mom had a daughter. And my stepfather molested her for about twenty years. And beat us. Beat me consistently. I thought these things were normal. I didn’t know my sister was molested until last year. We’ve been working on putting our lives together ever since and supporting each other. Now my sister works with me. She’s very happy, and it’s so nice to see her happy and that we get along. My dad tried to keep us at odds. And he was very successful at some points in our lives.
Where is your real father?
His brother called me right around the Stones shows, and I had my brother talk to him. I didn’t talk to him, ’cause I needed to keep that separation. I haven’t heard from him since. But I confronted my mom, and she finally talked to me a bit about it, and they told me that he was dead. It looks pretty much to be true that he is. He was pretty much headed for that anyway. A very unsavory character. I’ve had a problem with not wanting to be him. I had to be macho. I couldn’t allow myself to be a real man, because men were evil, and I didn’t want to be like my father. Around the Stones shows, some paper in L.A. wrote this piece about how “The truth will come out about Axl’s anger,” and they were making it look like I was trying to hide something. I wasn’t trying to hide it I didn’t how what had happened to me. I wouldn’t allow myself to know. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
How do you deal with knowing now?
It’s not about going, “Well, I can handle it, I’m a man.” And it’s not about going, “Well, I forgive them now.” You have to reexperience it and mourn what happened to you and grieve for yourself and nurture yourself and put yourself all back together. And it’s a very strange, long chain. Because you find out your mother and father had their problems, and their mother and father had problems, and it goes back through the ages.
How do you stop the cycle?
I don’t know. It’s finding some way to break the chain. I’m trying to fix myself and turn around and help others. You can’t really save anyone. You can support them, but they have to save themselves. You know, you can live your life the way you have and just accept it, or you can try to change it. My life still has its extremes and ups and downs, but it is a lot better because of this work. I’m very interested in getting involved with child-abuse organizations. There’s different methods of working with children, and I want to support the ones that I believe in.
Have you talked to anyone yet?
I’ve gone to one child-abuse center. When I went, the woman said that there was a little boy who wasn’t able to accept things that had happened to him and to deal with it, no matter how many children were around him who’d had the same problems. And apparently he saw something about me and childhood problems, and he said, “Well, Axl had problems, and he’s doing okay.” He started opening up, and he’s doing all right. And that’s more important to me than Guns n’ Roses, more important to me than anything I’ve done so far. Because I can relate to that more than anything. I’ve had such hatred for my father, for women, for…
Yeah. Myself. And it’s just made me crazy. I’m working on getting past those things, and the world doesn’t seem to be too tolerant of me doing that in public. It’s like “Oh, you got a problem? You go away and take care of it.” All these relatives knew little pieces of this puzzle, and nobody helped me with shit.I’m angry about that. I can’t sit and think about Uncle So-and-So and enjoy it much. And if you’re talking with any of these people, they try to get you to just tolerate it and take things back to the way they were: “Let’s not get it public.” My family did everything they could, thinking they were doing what was right, to bury it all. My stepfather was just adamant that he was going to protect Mom and himself: “Your real father does not get brought up.” And he was also trying to cover his own tracks for what he did.
Why are you talking about this publicly?
One reason is for safety’s sake. My stepfather is one of the most dangerous human beings I’ve ever met. It’s very important that he’s not in my life anymore or in my sister’s. We may be able to forgive, but we can’t allow it to happen again. There’s a lot of reasons for me to talk about it publicly. Everybody wants to know “Why is Axl so fucked up?” and where those things are coming from. There’s a really good chance that by going public I’m gonna get attacked. They’ll think I’m jumping on a bandwagon. But then it’s just gonna be obvious who’s an asshole and who’s not. There are probably people that are jumping on a bandwagon. But I think it’s time. Things are changing, and things are coming out.
It’s only been in the last few years that people have really been talking about what constitutes abuse. I’m not talking about molestation but emotional abuse.
All parents are going to abuse their children in some way. You can’t be perfect. But you can help your child heal, if he’s able to talk to you. Then he can say, “You know, when I was five, I saw this.” I wear a shirt onstage sometimes that says, tell your kids the truth. People don’t really know what that’s about. Up until early this year, I was denied what happened to me, who I was, where I came from. I was denied my own existence, and I’ve been fighting for it ever since. Not that myself is the greatest thing on earth. But you have a right to fight for yourself.
If you don’t have a sense of your own identity, everything’s going to seem like a losing battle.
My growth was stopped at two years old. And when they talk about Axl Rose being a screaming two-year-old, they’re right. There’s a screaming two-year-old who’s real pissed off and hides and won’t show himself that often, even to me.Because I couldn’t protect him. And the world didn’t protect him. And women didn’t protect him and basically thought he should be put out of existence. A lot of people out there think so now. It’s a real strange thing to deal with on a consistent basis. I’m around a three-year-old baby now and then, and sometimes after a few days it’s just too overwhelming for me. My head is spinning because of the changes it’s putting me through.
You mean Stephanie’s son?
Yeah. Stephanie [Seymour, Rose’s girlfriend] has been very supportive in helping me deal with all this. People write all kinds of things about our relationship, but the most important thing in our relationship is that we maintain our friendship. The romance is a plus. We want to maintain our friendship and be really protective of how our relationship affects Dylan. Dylan gets priority over us, because he could be greatly damaged, and I don’t want that to happen.
You were talking about Dylan last night.
Oh, man, they jump off things and stuff. It scares me. It’s like they could break at any time. It scares the shit out of me. I’ve been with Dylan and he’ll be upset about something, and I’m trying to help him, and he gets mad at me, and I’ve been offended. I’ve thought, “The only way I can deal with this is ‘Okay, he’s just being a jerk right now.'” But it was pointed out to me that he’s not being a jerk, he doesn’t know. What he needs is love. I thought about it, and I was like “Yeah, because I was told that, too.” About my music, which is pure expression and honest emotion and feeling. I mean, I’ll be singing something and know “Man, they’re not gonna like this” and “This isn’t right.” But it’s how I feel. The way I’ve been attacked has been strange. The press has actually helped me get my head more together. You know, my stepfather helped me, too. I learned a lot of things. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t also being an asshole. It’s not quite fair to bring a two-year-old into the realities of who’s an asshole and who’s not. There’s a part of me that’s still two and getting a little better every day.
That would explain a lot.
One thing I want to say is, these aren’t excuses. I’m not trying to get out of something. The bottom line is, each person is responsible for what they say and what they do. And I’m responsible for everything I’ve said and everything I’ve done, whether I want to be or not. So these aren’t excuses. They’re just facts, and they’re things I’m dealing with. And if you’ve got a real problem with it, don’t come to the show. If you gotta be home at fucking midnight, don’t bother. Do yourself a favor. I’m not telling you to come – I don’t think that I’d want to. If you’ve got a problem with me trying to deal with my shit and doing the show the best I can, then just don’t come, man. It’s not a problem. Just stay the fuck away. Because you’re getting something out of it, but I’m also there for myself. I’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot of work to do. I’ve done about seven years’ worth of therapy in a year, but it takes a lot of energy. And Guns n’ Roses takes a lot of energy. It’s a weird pressure to try to deal with both at the same time. And I’m gonna do it the best I can when I can and how I can. And I’m the judge of that – not anybody in the crowd.
How do you think all of this will affect your songwriting?
I really think that the next official Guns n’ Roses record, or the next thing I do, at least, will take some dramatic turns that people didn’t expect and show the growth. I don’t want to be the twenty-three-year-old misfit that I was. I don’t want to be that person.
Who do you want to be?
I guess I like who I am now. I’d like to have a little more internal peace. I’m sure everybody would.