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1988.12.25 - Interview with Axl in Los Angeles Times

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1988.12.25 - Interview with Axl in Los Angeles Times

Post by Soulmonster on Wed May 07, 2014 10:44 pm

Taste Makers : Axl Rose
December 25, 1988|ROBERT HILBURN

Calendar's choices of Taste Makers--people who move and shape our arts and entertainment in 1988--run the gamut. If the eight faces on the cover form a rather curious collection, it's because creative abilities come in many forms.

As a result, our group's pursuits range from directing the distinguished PBS series "American Playhouse," to fronting the hard-living, hard-rock band Guns N' Roses. All eight individuals have been significant players in 1988 and we feel will continue as leaders and creators in the future--as have the Taste Makers of previous years

In this fourth annual survey, we hope to present an insight into what stimulates and influences these people of influence.

Lead singer of the hugely successful L.A.-based band Guns N' Roses. His concern: Not growing stale.

James Dean has been an anti-hero model for legions of rock 'n' roll singers, so it's not surprising that Axl Rose cites a biography of Dean when asked about books that have meant something to him.

What is surprising is that Rose says it's not Dean's celebrated live-fast/die-young saga that interested him about David Dalton's "The Mutant King," but the way the book went into such detail about Dean's dedication to his craft.

"I always thought James Dean was kind of cool, but I don't like having idols or anything," Rose, 26, says. "I got into Dean more on the level of how he thought and directed himself rather than the fact, 'Hey, I'm going to go out and get a red jacket and a white T-shirt and be him .'

"I was (intrigued) by a lot of the ways Dean went about his acting . . . his seriousness about his career. I took a lot of those things to heart. I thought it was one of the best teaching books I've ever read."

If it's unusual to hear the leader of rock's latest "bad boy" brigade talk about dedication to craft, it's just one tip-off that there is something quite special about this band and this singer.

Most hard-rock/heavy-metal groups deal in a corrupt brand of rock that panders to rather than challenges or inspires its audiences. They are heavy on rebellious rhetoric and maverick posturing, but often void on imagination or genuine emotion.

However, Guns N' Roses--whose debut album has sold more than six million copies--is a band that stands apart from the loud, but faceless herd. After building such an intimidating reputation for rude and rowdy behavior that some record company scouts branded them simply incorrigible, they were signed by Geffen Records in 1986.

The debut album, "Appetite for Destruction" was filled with songs about the usual hard-rock topics: sex and drugs and wildness. Instead of simply celebrating hedonism, the group's songs speak of temptations and consequences--and there is a sharp eye for social hypocrisy.

On stage, Rose--an Indiana native who moved here around 1980 and quickly got caught up in the volatile and often decadent L.A. hard-rock scene--comes across as an individual rather than a macho caricature despite all the normal hard-rock trimmings: tattoos on his arms, black leather pants, long blond hair and a headband on stage. To some, he is the most interesting and charismatic figure on the local scene since Jim Morrison.

Asked where the band gets ideas for the songs, Rose says flatly, "Our life. . . . This band (grew up) on the streets of this town and that's where these songs are (rooted)."

If life on the street provided much of the themes for the "Appetite" album, Rose--who writes most of the band's lyrics--said his writing style has been shaped by reading novelists like Stephen King or the late Philip K. Dick, whose "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" was the basis for the film "Blade Runner."

"I was really into early Stephen King," Rose recalls. "He was writing science fiction or horror stories, but he made everything seem so realistic that you felt it could really happen. The stories were up-to-date and sometimes very brutal in their frankness.

"That's what you need if you are going to write about the street. You have to tell it the way it actually happened, including the language."

Guns N' Roses has been criticized for its blunt language, especially a song in the new "GN'R Lies" album that is punctuated with graphic epithets about blacks, gays and others. A sticker on the front of the album warns of potentially offensive material.

"We were aware of what kind of flak we were going to get, which is why I put an apology right on the cover of the record," he says. "Living on the streets you go through a lot of hard times and a lot of my hard times were with people of different races or different beliefs. I haven't anything against those people. I'm not a racist. The songs are just (an account) of what happened to us. If you change the words or soften them, you change the truth."

Though not a TV or drama fan, Rose does see a lot of movies. "They're my favorite hobby," he said. "I especially like things with good actors . . . DeNiro, James Woods. I like to watch how they use their bodies to communicate.

"I am very shy and can be very insecure sometimes, but you have to find a way to communicate your feelings every night on stage. You have to try to win the audience over. It's very challenging . . . like an actor on the screen, in a way. The only difference is that I'm not playing a part. I'm playing myself, but I'm always looking for ways to go beyond the music itself to express what I'm feeling."

Another Rose passion: the radio.

"I wasn't allowed to listen to the radio when I was young because rock was considered evil in our house," Rose said. "But I won a radio when I was in the sixth grade and it quickly became my best friend. I drive my friends crazy now because I change the stations all the time. I'll go from listening to a Frank Sinatra tune to a symphony thing to a Metallica song to the Carpenters.

"I like variety in music. I don't want us ever to hem ourselves in. I think you can go from writing a heavy metal song to writing a mellow song without selling out. The important thing is approaching the music with the same conviction."

This project was edited by David Fox, assistant Calendar editor.
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