By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Precisely why Guns N' Roses' North American tour came to an abrupt end last week, days before it was scheduled to hit the American Airlines Center on December 19, may be a mystery never totally untangled. Sure, there have been hints and rumors: Front man Axl Rose insisted the New York City show two weeks ago was as good as it was gonna get; Axl refused to leave his hotel room; Axl needed a head-shrinker to coax him onstage. Oh, yes. Quite a surprise. Axl Rose is fucking nuts. But those trying to find a way into the story of how so anxiously anticipated a tour fell apart so abruptly are met only by the most impenetrable of roadblocks: Those who know the whole truth about Axl Rose are, quite simply, reluctant to talk about the Guns N' Roses singer-songwriter and just why he decided to crap all over the faithful who were promised a tour after nearly a decade of waiting, wondering and wanting.
Part of that has to do with his obsessive litigious nature; the man will sue oxygen for invading his personal space. One former insider (and, at this point, everyone ever associated with the man is a former something) agreed to speak and then asked not to be quoted--and this is from someone who had only goodthings to say about the former William Bruce Rose. These days, however, most of the conversation about Rose echoes that of another intimate insider who declined to be quoted by name beforethe riot in Vancouver on November 7 and the no-show in Philadelphia 29 days later that finally killed the disastrous U.S. tour of rock's most bizarre freak show.
"I don't have much positive to say, and Axl has enough complications without me adding fuel to the fire," reads an e-mail sent by said insider. "He's the one that turned on me after 14 years and I only recently got over the hurt. I'd rather try to take the high road." This same person admits needing "to heal from finding out Axl and I weren't really friends."
And on and on and on it goes: For every nice thing someone can say about the guy, they can't help but add a damning postscript.
"He carries a lot of baggage, which is a shortcoming, but it is who he is," says another anonymous insider who recalls that the last time he saw Rose, seven years ago outside an L.A. club, Rose said "he'd just had an exorcist 'clean' his house" of former girlfriend and supermodel Stephanie Seymour's "evil presence." Adds this old friend: "He teeters on the brink of sanity."
For about 12 seconds earlier this summer, it appeared as though this tour might actually happen. Guns N' Roses--or whatever one chooses to call a band featuring Rose, Tommy Stinson, former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, guitar virtuoso (and world-class freak) Buckethead and several other anonymous ringers--kicked off a world tour in China in mid-August. The concerts were, for the most part, well-received, as were the next two gigs in England. But even those shows were not without their problems: At the Leeds Festival in late August, the band took the stage two hours late and demanded to be allowed to finish its set; from the stage Rose promised a riot if the band wasn't able to deliver an entire set. And on August 26, when the band played London, Rose insisted not only would the band release Chinese Democracybut that it was going to keep making music--"as long as Uncle Axl doesn't act the asshole!"
Prior to those gigs, GN'R had only played two consecutive New Year's Eve shows in Las Vegas in 2000 and 2001 and the Rock In Rio festival in Brazil in January 2001. Although Rose spent most of the last decade--and, reportedly, somewhere between $6 to $9 million--writing and recording a new album, the now-infamous Chinese Democracy, he thus far has introduced a mere four new songs onstage. Instead, he resorted to using TelePrompTers to perform the songs he made famous with an original lineup now scattered to the remainder bins on their own solo projects.
Before the tour began in August, Axl was interviewed for the band's official Web site--www.gnronline.com, which hasn't been updated since the end of September--and insisted he was ready to tour and prove wrong the naysayers who proclaimed the band dead and the front man finished.
"To the ones who are negative and want to see either myself or the new band fall on their faces, personally, I can't pass up an opportunity to upset so many in one quick swoop," he insisted. "I get misty-eyed just thinking about it! I feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside! But seriously, this is our tour [that] I've agreed to, that I have personally authorized, [and] not someone else's good intentions gone awry, or a reckless promoter's personal agenda. These shows are important to us and, for better or worse, we'll be there."
Or, you know, not.
Perhaps the beginning of the end came as early as August 29 during the band's bizarre closing appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, where a bloated, corn-rowed Axl had difficulty hitting the high notes during a medley of "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City." The band also debuted a new song, "Madagascar," which was either a ballad or just performed at a stand-still pace so Rose could catch his breath.