Nocturnal Emissions IV
- or How Axl Rose Re-Wrote Beckett
or maybe just Axl In Exile: Rock Star Perfection’
Recently I’ve found thoughts returning to the same subject: Axl Rose. A lot. Almost an unhealthy amount in fact, and at various times throughout the day — and for random reasons. Like, I’ll have a gang of kids accosting me on the street for wearing the wrong shoes and all I’ll be able to do is think is: what would Axl do?
Bills to pay, damaged religious salesmen banging at the door every day, neighbours MC-ing badly at 4am… what would Axl do?
Just how is it that a rock star who hasn’t released an album in 14 years and a decent album in two decades can occupy a mind so frequently?
There are many reasons. One is the fact that Guns N’ Roses changed my life and millions of others like me (slavish dreamers, hedonists, bedroom-bound outlaws, geeks) when it was ripe for changing. At fourteen their singer Axl Rose showed us that sex and danger and common-or-garden profanity were healthy pursuits, and that, in the right hands, cheesy-cocked old rock ‘n’ roll could still encapsulate inexpressible feelings of rage, subversion and wanton fucknuttery, and that our energy and dreams were not yet not fully mediated by government-approved corporations. Naive perhaps, but the feelings were real.
Because the other reason thoughts return to Axl is that Axl is a nuttah. Properly mad. The very fact that the rock business is still interested in this tyrannical little despot with hair plugs tells us that the planet remains devoid of any rock stars of true worth or interest or that much-loved social commodity: eccentricity.
Go through the list: there are none.
Or least none who are selling records in huge amounts, or not touching children – because rock stars are fairly boring if they’re not in a position to drop ten mill on crazy stuff like rollercoasters in their back gardens or marble fountains tinkling with their own golden piss, or MacCauley Culkin’s kid nephew…
And while we’re on the subject, when we refer back to that redundant epithet ‘rock star’, we can assume we are referring to the thin wedged high-end of the multi-million selling high-spending, lawless, morally questionable drinking, drugging, delusional, messiah-like ego-inflated pricks we all secretly wish we could be. The type of spun-out recluses who makes house-guests sign confidentiality contracts.
After all, are we really content to graze languidly on the bland nothingness of Coldplay, the inaudible, wonky-hatted rasp of failed potential of Pete Doherty or the anorak anonymity of the Arctic Monkeys when we can dream of a man who once crushed his balls against his grand piano overshooting his Harley driving — yes driving — across the stage to play a solo on some pompous epic rock song? Are we so nullified we could settle for the kindergarten abstractions of “I wrote a song for you / And all the things you do / And it was called yellow” over the poetic heart palpitations of “With your bitch slap rappin’ and your cocaine tongue / You get nuthin’ done”? No. This is for thoughtless arseholes that like their music how they like food, their clothes, their movies, their entire culture sold back to them by aggressive little trend-setting cokeheads in Soho and Manhattan, Kensington and Hollywood.
Axl is far from thoughtless. He’s spent entire years dwelling on this shit.
Now, twenty years on from the twelve slabs of musical awesomeness (and I never use that word) of Appetite For Destruction and I find myself writing for the world’s biggest hard rock magazine, Kerrang! It’s a role that is at direct odds with my other life as a writer of poetry, and indeed many of my opinions on the roles of large publishing houses, music and the nefarious music industry at large, but I like it that way (besides, poetry never lead to meeting Axl’s arch nemesis, the Ming to his Flash Gordon, the yin to his yang: Slash).
Every January the magazine previews the big albums of the coming twelve months and every year Kerrang! is told on good authority that Axl’s long-awaited Chinese Democracy album is in the bag and on the way and a preview piece is subsequently penned. But it never arrives. It’s the Waiting for Godot of the hard rock world, an endless act played across the stage of the gossip columns and rock rag new round-up’s, where our anticipation of this unseen entity far exceeds its actual arrival. Maybe it will never arrive. Maybe we’ll be left stranded at the road-side like the two tramps Didi and Gogo, forever waiting and grumbling then, as the void left in place of ‘Chinese Democracy’ opens wider still, proselytising about worthier issues such as the meaninglessness of life, work, money and culture.
But maybe Axl isn’t cast in the role of Godot, and is even way more Machiavellian than we already suspect he is. Maybe Axl is Beckett, the puppet-master pulling the strings and asking more pertinent questions of his audience; maybe he’s toying with us, forcing we, the slaves and peasant-minded congregation, to reach deeper. Maybe this is all a carefully orchestrated plan to make us really consider what is we want from our culture, how long we’re prepared to wait for it in these accelerated times of disposability, how much mental anguish we must endure before we’re sated, and, perhaps most importantly, what the role of the ‘rock star’ has become. Maybe Axl Rose is merely using rock music – still one of the great American propaganda machines’ most durable tools – to adapt Beckett’s existentialist ideas into a new age.
Maybe he’s run out of ideas and this waiting game has been the ultimate in absurdist
theatre played out really slowly through all the usual rock channels. In casting himself as the messiah, perhaps, as with Beckett’s Godot character, Axl, by his very absence, is essentially telling us that God no longer exists: I’m done, he says. There’s nothing to see here. More fool you for falling for one more false prophet.
He’s laughing at us, basically.
But do we laugh with him?
Ultimately we can only speculate as to which will come first – and which will be more important: Chinese Democracy or actual democracy in China? And speculate is what I, another idiot slave, have been doing far too much lately. Of course, the best thing Axl could do is keep us waiting. Ensconced in his ivory Hollywood towers, holding court amongst his therapists, psychics, lawyers, accountants and, for all we know, a bunch of pre-pubescent dancing boys mail-ordered from Tangiers and a pile of some great, neat new drug the rest of is are too uncool to be privy too, he would remain all the more mysterious; unobtainable, untouchable, snake hips forever freeze-framed in the ‘Paradise City’ video. The perfect rock star in exile, insatiable appetite for his own (self) destruction finally filled as he but finds solace in his role as the only true rock star left on the planet. A flame-haired effigy cast in wrist bangles and cracked leather.
Somewhere in Hollywood he lights a cigar, cracks a grin…
It has reached the point where the only way I can get Axl out of my system is to embark on what may prove to be my least commercially successful literary endeavour yet: a ‘poetic re-imagining’ of the last fifteen years, entitled Axl Rose: The Lost Years or maybe to stick in the craw of the man himself, I’ll simply call it Chinese Democracy. I can’t help but feel it will fill a gap in the market.
Below are three short extracts.
No tight white cycling shorts were worn during the writing of this.
everyone pushed me around
my asshole stepfather
finally you just go
fuck it fuck you
Los Angeles to become
a rock star
I hope you die
a slow death while
plays in the background
said I had
“overwhelming anger issues”
to early adolescence
so I said
fuck you too, Jack
and hired someone
better now –
I barely think
about the past
People Who’ve Been In This Fucking Band
That bit is easy.
Then details get
(he was in The Replacements,
who pretty much ruled)
Brian ‘Brain’ Mantia
that dude Buckethead
Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal
Sebastian Bach, kinda
Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis
and some other guys
Oh and me, Axl
– it’s my fucking band.
I bought the rights.
In The Studio
“You know if they dropped
the fucking bomb on the planet
and just levelled the place
and you were, like, the only survivor
and you’d be walking along
and at first you’d just see your basic destruction,
like collapsed houses and sparking electrical cables
and shit, but as you keep on walking
you’d see, like bodies, scattered here and there,
and maybe they don’t look superficially damaged
but they’re dead alright, and you keep walking
and you see smoking shoes lying in the street,
and bodies, all bald and burnt and shit,
like charred down one side or something,
and everything would be
quiet except for the low whistle of a warm
nuclear wind blowing in from the east,
and then you start seeing more bodies,
piles of them, flesh ripped from their bones,
eyeballs incinerated in their sockets,
their hands twisted into burned claws, skulls
grimacing, frozen rictus, the strangely sweet smell
of burning flesh everywhere, blackened stumps,
the sky dashed with red hues, no birds,
everything dead and useless,
gone and hollow, and you just stand there,
grabbing at your face, screaming, screaming
screaming into a void of nothingness.
OK? Well, that’s exactly how I want your
drum fill to sound, bro.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Myers is a writer, poet and journalist. His recent fiction has been published online at Zygote In Your Coffee, Laura Hird.com, Scarecrow, Dogmatika, Straight From The Fridge and features in a number of forthcoming anthologies. As a founder member of The Brutalist writers he is an exponent of DIY culture and runs an independent record label. He currently lives in London, UK.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007.