By 1996, Slash was gone; Izzy Stradlin was long gone. Duff McKagan officially quit in ’98. They were replaced by a shifting group of collaborators, who’ve helped Rose create music that plays to his old strengths while also playing catch-up. “Oh My God” – the industrial-flavored track that surfaced on the End of Days soundtrack – is only one hint of what’s to come. Imagine Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti remixed by Beck and Trent Reznor, and you’ll have some sense of Axl’s new sound. Song after song combines the edgy hard-rock force and pop smarts of vintage Guns n’ Roses with surprisingly modern and ambitious musical textures.
In addition to the album’s almost grungy title track, tentative song titles include “Catcher in the Rye,” “I.R.S.,” “The Blues” and “TWAT,” which he says stands for “there was a time.” Another song, called “Oklahoma” – heard tonight only as an instrumental – was inspired by a court date with ex-wife Erin Everly. “I was sitting in my litigation with my ex-wife, and it was the day after the bombing,” Rose remembers with a wince. “We had a break, and I’m sitting with my attorneys with a sort of smile on my face, more like a nervous thing – it was like, ‘Forgive me, people, I’m having trouble taking this seriously.’ It’s just ironic that we’re sitting there and this person is spewing all kinds of things and 168 people just got killed. And this person I’m sitting there with, she don’t care. Obliterating me is their goal.”
Rose repeatedly speaks of “building something.” In his construction process, he’s been joined by keyboardist Dizzy Reed (who played on Guns’ Use Your Illusion I and II), producer Sean Beavan (Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails), former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, former Vandals drummer Josh Freese and longtime friend and guitarist Paul Huge. While admitting that “no one loved the old band more than me,” Rose sounds convinced he cannot work with his old band mates. Furthermore, he insists that – with the exception of the drummer Steven Adler and his replacement, Matt Sorum – the Gunners walked away and that they were not fired.
Rose attributes some of the old band’s problems to assorted drug addictions. Despite being the subject of numerous OD rumors over the years, he says that beyond some experimentation for “creative purposes,” drug use “didn’t hold my interest.” He clearly believes there was some effort inside the band to destroy him, one born partly of the jealousy that followed fame singling him out. “When we were in airports and people are ignoring Duff and asking for my autograph, that didn’t go over so well,” Rose recalls. “The guys would say, you know, ‘What am I? Linoleum? What am I? Wood?’ ” Things became progressively uglier. “There was an effort to bring me down,” he says. “It was a king-of-the-mountain thing.”
Rose seems estranged from many old associates – a scenario not helped much by the numerous lawsuits that have occupied his attention for a significant part of the last decade. He casually mentions that a while back his security camera caught an unannounced visit by Izzy Stradlin to his front gate, but he quickly adds that he had no interest in getting together with the old school buddy and former collaborator, whom he originally followed to Los Angeles from Indiana. “It wouldn’t be healthy for me,” Rose explains.
“Izzy went back to Indiana,” Rose continues, shaking his head in disbelief. “That pretty much explains the absurdity of the whole goddamn thing. The fucking idea of going back to Indiana – I am not even bagging on Indiana, I just know how much Izzy hated it. I went to high school with this guy. It’s pitiful. It was the fame and the heroin addiction and the fear of death. When Izzy woke up in New York with EKG pads all over his body and doesn’t know how they got there, and knows, ‘I think I OD’d last night and made it back home’ – that was pretty much it. Before that he was pulling away, but that was the end. Then when he got straight … I think it really has to do with what it takes to face that big of an audience. I wouldn’t call it stage fright. It’s something else, and to psyche yourself up for that, the old Guns doesn’t seem to be able to do it without medication.”
Even when it came to picking tracks for the recent Live Era ’87-’93 retrospective, Rose and Slash – whom Rose describes as “negatively seductive” – communicated their song selections only through intermediaries. “I never said that I was bitter,” Rose explains, characteristically concerned with making fine distinctions. “Hurt, yeah. Disappointed. I mean, with Slash, I remember crying about all kinds of things in my life, but I had never felt hot, burning tears … hot, burning tears of anger. Basically, to me, it was because I am watching this guy and I don’t understand it. Playing with everyone from Space Ghost to Michael Jackson. I don’t get it. I wanted the world to love and respect him. I just watched him throw it away.”