The Hard Truth About Guns N’ Roses
One of Bill Bailey’s best friends was Jeff Isabelle, known to all as Izzy. According to Izzy, Bailey “was like a serious lunatic when I met him. He was just really fucking bent on fighting and destroying things. Somebody’d look at him wrong, and he’d just, like, start a fight. And you think about Lafayette, man, there’s, like, fuck all to do.” Izzy graduated from high school in 1979 (he’s the only member of Guns n’ Roses with a diploma) and moved to L.A.
When he was 17, Bill Bailey discovered that his real last name was Rose. His natural father, a chronic troublemaker whose whereabouts are unknown, had left his wife and family. When Sharon Rose remarried, she and her new husband gave his surname to her children. Axl now considers L. Stephen Bailey his “real dad,” but he discovered his hidden past at a time when he was growing his hair, playing in bands and fighting with his parents. So Bill Bailey began calling himself W. Rose. He became so engrossed in one of his Indiana bands, Axl, that his friends suggested he call himself Axl. Years later, before he signed his Geffen contract, he legally changed his name to W. Axl Rose. The initials — W.A.R. — were, he says, merely an accident.
It’s appropriate that Axl has had two different names, because his “mood swings” reveal two distinct personalities. Onstage, releasing years of anger, he’s a remarkably charismatic figure. He sings savagely, abusing his vocal chords and working the crowd with an unequaled ferocity. Offstage, his pale skin and strawberry-blond hair make him appear fragile, almost angelic. This is the Axl who listens to the Raspberries, George Michael and Philip Glass and has written an eight-minute ballad, “November Rain,” about which he says, “If it’s not recorded right, I’ll quit the business.”
Even the other band members describe Axl in terms of a Jekyll-and-Hyde dichotomy. “He does a lot of weird shit no one understands,” says Slash, “but I love the guy. I mean, he’s a real sweetheart.”
“He can still be a tyrant,” says Izzy, “but then he can turn around and be the nicest guy in the world.”
“A lot of the things about my mood swings are, like, I have a temper,” Axl says, “and I take things out on myself. Not physically, but I’ll smash my TV knowing I have to pay for it, rather than go down the hallway and smash the person I’m pissed at.” Becoming a star so quickly has only worsened matters. “With all the pressure,” Axl says, “it’s like I’ll explode. And so where other people would go, ‘Oh, well, we just got fucked,’ Axl’s going, ‘God damn it!’ and breaking everything around him. That’s how I release my frustration. It’s why I’m, like, pounding and kicking all over the stage.”
As an example, Axl cites Geffen’s decision to cut the “Sweet Child” 45 from almost six minutes to under four minutes. “When something gets edited,” he says, “and you didn’t know about it, you lose your mind, and it’s like ‘Axl’s having a mood swing.’ ‘Mood swing’ my ass. This is my first single, and it’s chopped to shit.”
A psychiatrist has diagnosed Axl’s problem as manic-depressive disorder, a condition that can cause people to swing from impulsive, reckless and argumentative fits to catatonic and suicidal periods. “I can be happier than anybody I know,” Axl says. “I can get so happy I’ll cry. I can get completely opposite, upset-wise.” Many manic-depressives turn to drugs or alcohol to lessen the pain of their illness.
Although Axl takes lithium to combat the disorder, he thinks it’s ineffective and claims to be in control of his moods. “Did you ever see that movie — I think it was Frances?” Frances Farmer, an actress, was institutionalized because of her emotional outbursts. “I always wonder if, like, somebody’s gonna slide the knife underneath my eye and give me the lobotomy. I think about that a lot.”
“Was I, like, a major dick last night?”
It’s one in the afternoon, Detroit time, and Slash has just awakened with a hangover. After numerous rounds at the hotel bar, he was taken up to his room by Ronnie Stalnaker, a burly member of the band’s security staff. (Slash says, “His job is to follow me around when I’m drunk.”) When Slash threatened to throw his furniture through the locked windows, Ronnie removed the TV from the guitarist’s room and slept outside his door to make sure Slash didn’t sneak out.
“I’m one of those blackout drunks,” Slash says later. “I get so fucked up I don’t remember anything. I probably give the impression of being a real asshole most of the time, but I’m not really that bad.”
Slash, who refuses to divulge his given name, was born in England, but when he was still young, his parents, an interracial couple, moved to Hollywood, where he “experienced a lot of shit.” His father, Anthony Hudson, designed album covers, including Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, and his mother, Ola Hudson, was a clothing designer who made David Bowie’s suits for The Man Who Fell to Earth. Slash, who was given his nickname by a friend’s father, started playing in bands in his mid-teens. “I had total freedom, all the time,” he says. “I used to not come home for weeks.”
Because the early-Eighties music scene in L.A. was so volatile, and because the Gunners’ memories are so clouded, no one can pinpoint when the band came together. Duff, who had moved down from Seattle, where he’d played drums and guitar in 31 different bands, answered an ad Slash had placed in an L.A. paper. Axl hitchhiked to L.A., wandered around and finally found Izzy, the only person he knew in California. Izzy got together with Slash after seeing a caricature of Aerosmith that he had drawn. They played, they fought, they got high, they toyed with the idea of forming bands with names like Heads of Amazon and AIDS. They finally settled on Guns n’ Roses, combining the names of two bands that various members had been involved in, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose.
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