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Smoke'em if you got 'em - GNR in the WSJ


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GNR in the Wall Street Journal...Imagine that. Axl's quote at the end is great.


In the Fray -- Fans Wonder: Is the Bloom Off Axl Rose?

By Janet Morrissey

5 December 2002

The Wall Street Journal

Nostalgia trip or music revolution? Washed-up rocker or rock 'n' roll messiah? That's what fans are wondering as Axl Rose -- the Howard Hughes of the music world and frontman of '80s rock giants Guns N' Roses -- hits the road on his first North American tour since 1993. This evening, he plays Madison Square Garden.

His band sold out the Garden in 15 minutes, according to promoter Clear Channel Entertainment, and Internet music forums are buzzing over Guns N' Roses' return even though it hasn't cut an album in almost a decade. Guns N' Roses is back -- well, sort of.

Rose and keyboard player Dizzy Reed are the only remaining members from the band's early '90s lineup, prompting some purists to call them a glorified tribute band and wonder if Rose can make the comeback of the decade without his former bandmates, especially Slash. They believe GN'R without Slash would be like the Rolling Stones without Keith Richards. And we've yet to see the release of the new band's much-hyped and long-awaited album "Chinese Democracy," some nine years in the making and no firm launch date set. (Former GN'R members Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Izzy Stradlin reunited recently to work on their own album.)

In the years since Rose held court, grunge has come and gone. Hip hop has become mainstream. Pop fluff bands have peaked and faded. Nu-metal names, such as Korn and Slipknot, have reached for the spotlight, and forgettable pop-rock upstarts are on MTV playlists.

But the public seems restless, and many fans think the 40-year-old rocker has what it takes to lead the masses back to primal rock. After all, he did it before. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Guns N' Roses, headed by the charismatic Rose, killed off all the hair bands and pop princesses -- from Poison to Fine Young Cannibalsthat dared cross its path.

Its groundbreaking album, "Appetite for Destruction," released in 1987, became an anthem for angst-ridden teenagers, frustrated 20-somethings, and anyone else drawn to the band's raw, blistering sound and emotional, often biographical, lyrics. That "Appetite" continues to sell more than 3,000 copies a week in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and was named best metal album in rock history by Spin Magazine is a testament to the band's enduring appeal.

Adding to the band's allure was its offstage antics. Rose attracted the most ink, jumping off a St. Louis stage in 1991 to beat up a photographer and allegedly hitting a neighbor with a wine bottle that same year after she complained about noise (charges were later dropped). Lawsuits and riots earned Guns N' Roses the nickname "the most dangerous band in the world."

But the touring and hard partying ground to a halt in 1993 when the band -- at its peak -- abruptly disappeared. Rose, reeling from a breakup with supermodel Stephanie Seymour and feuding with bandmates over GN'R's musical direction, retreated to his mansion in Malibu, Calif., where he remained for years. There were rumors of hair implants, plastic surgery and weight gain. But that only added to the mystique.

He has spent much of the past decade holed up in a studio, writing, recording and re-recording an album that is now the subject of folklore. All the while, a revolving door of musicians, from Moby to Queen's Brian May, worked with Rose on "Chinese Democracy." Some have half-jokingly suggested that democracy would likely come to China before Axl's album is released. But now he is out of the studio and on the road.

Rose has cobbled together an impressive group of musicians. Aside from Dizzy Reed, the lineup includes former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck; bassist Tommy Stinson from the Replacements; Brian "Brain" Mantia formerly of Primus; guitarist Richard Fortus, a former Psychedelic Furs and Love Spit Love member who has done studio work with artists from Enrique Iglesias to N'Sync; and keyboard player Chris Pittman. Brian "Buckethead" Carroll's guitar licks draw comparisons to guitar legend Steve Vai.

Gone are the kilts, skin-tight leather pants and Charles Manson T-shirts. Rose now sports a long football jersey, a la hip-hop style, and relaxed-fit leather pants. His long, flaming-red hair is pulled neatly back into braids underneath his trademark bandanna. Indeed, the new band's image is eclectic at best -- a traveling freak show at worst. Finck favors Goth black apparel and white face makeup. And Buckethead -- complete with Jason mask and KFC bucket on his head -- gets the prize for outlandishness. The menacing edge of yesterday is gone.

The riots are still there though. The band's kick-off date in Vancouver was marred by fans who tore up the stadium after its manager canceled the show when he couldn't find Rose. Evidently, the man was not aware that punctuality has never been Rose's strong suit.

But Rose is back now and remains defiant. "To those who are negative and want to see either myself or the new band fall on their faces," he has said in statement, "personally I can't pass up an opportunity to upset so many of them in one quick swoop. I get misty-eyed just thinking about it."

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Brian May I can almost see...Remember GNR participated in the Freddy Mercury tribute a few years ago. They've probably become friends and whatnot.

But Moby is a new one. Still, if nothing else, Axl does like music...all kinds. He's always been eclectic that way. Look at even what they've done: They started the rap/rock genre (well, Aerosmith and Run DMC did, but Korn takes more from GNR than Aerosmith, IMO), they've done blues, etc.  And they've rocked. That's what still strikes me, especiall when I listen to the Illusions. Just how versitile they've been.

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