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APPETITE FOR DISCUSSION
Welcome to Appetite for Discussion -- a Guns N' Roses fan forum!

Please feel free to look around the forum as a guest, I hope you will find something of interest. If you want to join the discussions or contribute in other ways then you need to become a member. We especially welcome anyone who wants to share documents for our archive or would be interested in translating or transcribing articles and interviews.

Registering is free and easy.

Cheers!
SoulMonster

2000.01.01 - The Simon - Axl Rose's Disappearing Act

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2000.01.01 - The Simon - Axl Rose's Disappearing Act Empty 2000.01.01 - The Simon - Axl Rose's Disappearing Act

Post by Blackstar Tue Apr 13, 2021 2:38 pm

Axl Rose's Disappearing Act

By Tony Saltzman
Jan 1, 2000

 
Did you hear the one about Axl Rose?
 
Sounds like a set up for a joke. But this is no joking matter.
 
Where the hell is Axl? Not a peep has been heard from undeniably the biggest rock star in the world for five years now. Let that thought sink in. Teenagers in Russia, Japan and Germany cite Guns N' Roses as their favorite band. Guitar players everywhere go straight from learning "Stairway to Heaven" to "Sweet Child O' Mine." Posters of Axl are sold on the streets of Paris right next to those of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. In case you had forgotten: Axl didn't die along with those other stars.
 
Rose's disappearance has deeply affected the whole landscape of popular music. The void left by Guns N' Roses, the biggest rock band in the world as of 1992, has enabled what was alternative rock (mostly grunge) to become mainstream and dominate the playlists of so-called "modern rock" radio stations. This cross-over of alternative into mainstream weakened rock music and cleared the way for rap and hip-hop to become arguably the most popular music of today. It also cleared the way for the Dave Matthews Band, a grass-roots outfit (for chrissake!), to become the biggest act in America, selling out stadiums in under an hour. Perhaps Axl's seclusion has allowed popular music to become much more diverse and exciting. But you can't help but feel something is missing when you listen to a modern "rock" station.
 
It is no coincidence that we have been bombarded with reunions, or, what one writer in this magazine more aptly termed "resurrections" of classic rock bands, that were amazing in their day, but now should stay in their nursing homes. It is no coincidence that in the last few years people have paid money to see Jimmy Page play every other note of his "Stairway to Heaven" guitar solo or Roger Daltrey lead a Rock Symphony through The Who's songs. The plain truth is that Guns N' Roses left a void. They were carrying the Rock n' Roll torch, passed along by the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, into the '90s. In the tradition of those great bands, Guns N' Roses excited on and off stage, scared parents, made headlines every other day, wrote brilliant songs and had kids all over the world lip synching to their songs in the mirror (and at those Bar Mitzvah lip synching contests). Most of all, they had in Axl Rose a charismatic, controversial and outrageously entertaining lead singer, the likes of which hadn't been seen since Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler. But Axl dropped the torch and went into hiding, and no band has taken the throne.
 
Axl, Slash and the rest of the misfits understood what a rock band is supposed to do: entertain. It starts with stage presence. There's a reason you don't see kids imitating Billy Corgan in the mirror (or at those Bar Mitzvah lip synching contests), but, five years ago, every teenager in the world was trying to learn how to mimic Axl's "snake dance." Axl and the rest of the boys put on a show: he stalked the stage, running, screaming, glaring, and sweating profusely. He often stage-dived into the crowd, sacrificing his body as fans grabbed at him. On the other hand, bald Billy Corgan is stuck behind a guitar, always standing next to the mike stand. And Eddie Vedder often just rocks back and forth in place, shaking his head and letting his hair fall down over his face so that the audience can't even see his (usually soporiphic) expressions. Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones are still around and, at well over 50, Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler still prowl a stage. But rock bands are supposed to scare your parents' generation, not be from your parents' generation. Marilyn Manson has come closest to filling the void left by Axl. He is exciting: scaring parents with his gender-bending, freakish look, cultivating rumors of strange events at his concerts, everything to add to the mystique (hell, he even cuts himself on stage!) It's just too bad that he can't make interesting music. Alas, we yearn for the great rock stars: Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, Plant, Daltrey and Jagger. But all are either dead or close to it. However, Axl Rose is very much alive and in his prime. He refuses, as he sings in one of his songs, to "get in the ring."
 
Guns n' Roses dominance over alternative rock bands goes beyond just the fact that GN'R was more exciting on and off stage and had greater charisma than bands today. It also had to do with the way Axl presented himself in his lyrics and his music videos. His art was very personal - he opened himself up to listeners. A good example is his song about his girlfriend, Guns n' Roses first big hit, "Sweet Child O' Mine": "Now and then when I see her face/ It takes me away to that special place/ And if I stare too long/ I'd probably break down and cry." The success of the song is due to its endearingly straightforward, genuine lyrics. Axl could then go from the vulnerability of "Sweet Child O' Mine" to the cynical, bad-boy banter of the band's second hit single, "Welcome to the Jungle": "We've got the people you can find/ Whatever you may need/ You can have anything you want/ But you better not take it from me." The same is true of these lyrics. They are straight forward, honest and shattering in their simplicity. Just as the unadorned language used in "Sweet Child O' Mine" makes that song so endearing, accessable lyrics also make "Welcome to the Jungle" visceral and frightening. Axl is intriguing because he lived the tough life and could candidly show his hard-edged mentality in his songs, yet also allowed his vulnerable side to come out in his lyrics. Both aspects were equally engaging because he did not dilute his feelings with ornamental lyrics or complicated "poetic" terms, but simply laid his thoughts out on the table in simple, personal terms that everyone could easily make relevant to his own life.
 
William Wordsworth (stay with me here) ushered in the poetic era of Romanticism when he explained that he wanted to write a new type of poetry that used "the real language of men" to convey feelings in simple and unelaborated expressions, while avoiding "the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers." Wordsworth could not have more aptly described Axl's style.The singer wrote in real-life terms, while almost all of today's alternative rock stars write ornate, fancy, often abstract lyrics. Billy Corgan's love song "Luna" from Siamese Dream has the following lyric: " And those moonsongs/ That you sing your babies/ Will be the songs/ To see you through." What are moonsongs? And whose babies does he refer to? Only Billy could know. And that's one of the only songs from which a listener could at least decipher a general theme. Try "Quiet": "Quiet, I am sleeping in here/ We need a little hope/ Silent/ Metal mercies/ Castrate/ Boys to bone." I will use Wordsworth's term to describe these lyrics: "inane phraseology." Billy Corgan sums up the problem with his own lyrics, and the lyrics of most alternative rock bands: "We Mutilate the meanings/ So they're easy to deny." You can't pinpoint what most of these lyrics really mean. This sets up a barrier between the artists and the fans, and this distance makes the artists and their music much less engaging. On the other hand, when one listens to a GN'R album, one gets an inside look at Axl's basic thoughts. His ideas are not covered up by a haze of words but clearly conveyed through simple terms. This type of lyric-writing is more honest and leaves Axl more vulnerable than alternative rock stars (he can't "deny" the "meanings"). Consequently, Axl is more bold and entertaining than today's "rock stars."
 
Pearl Jam, another alternative rock band features Eddie Vedder with his good looks, charisma, and a rock star rebelliousness. However, even if one finds it easy, at times, to figure out the meaning of his songs, one wonders why he needs to use such elaborate phrases to explain his feelings. In his love song, "Black," he writes: "All five horizons revolved around her soul/ As the earth to the sun." Has Eddie seen five horizons? When he saw his lover, did he immediately think her soul is like the earth revolving around the sun? It seems like he thought too long of how to express his feelings and lost the spontaneity of the passion, the simplicity of the emotion. When they're covered in all that icing, lyrics just don't have the same power as when they are allowed to express simple human emotions in simple human terms. That's where Axl's power came from - you feel like Axl is candidly speaking when you hear his lyrics - there is no distance between Axl and his audience. Instead of thinking of a clever way to say something so that you don't quite get it - Axl just honestly tells it how he sees it.
 
The barrier between the listener and the artist's meaning can also be affected simply by the way in which the lyrics are conveyed. Axl's voice may be gravelly but yet he pronounces his words clearly - you never miss a line. However, alternative rock singers stylistically slur words all the time. Thus, even if the lyrics are straightforward, the listener still has a hard time understanding the meaning of the songs anyway. It started with Kurt Cobain's incomprehensible rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the song that catapulted alternative rock into the mainstream. But the far most painful example of unclear singing is Eddie Vedder's lazy mumbling of the words to Pearl Jam's most musically accomplished song, "Yellow Ledbetter." Vedder's vocal performance on that song passes for an imitation of Mumbles from Dick Tracy.
 
The words themselves and the way he sings the words are directly related. Axl presents his feelings and thoughts clearly and sings the words clearly, confidently, with pride. On the other hand, alternative rock singers hide behind incomprehensible lyrics and singing, as if they are scared what listeners might think if they actually understood the words. This alternative rock style creates superficially appealing songs with no real substance at their root. It makes sense that alternative rock is famous for its distortion guitars. Most alternative rock lead guitar players are half as talented as their hard rock counterparts (just compare Kurt Cobain's solos to Slash's), but with enough distortion this lack of ability can be covered up with "style." This distortion of what is really there, this substitution of style for substance, is what alternative rock is all about.
 
This personal, substantive quality of Axl's lyrics also informs the way Guns N' Roses made music videos. Memorable moments from their videos include: 1) Axl lying on the couch at his shrink's office in a therapy session ("Don't Cry") 2) Axl fighting with his girlfriend over the phone, hanging up and smashing the phone ("Patience") and 3) Axl getting married - with his real-life girlfriend at the time, Erin Everly, playing his wife ("November Rain"). GN'R's music videos were insights into Axl's life. And that's why I remember these images five years later: their personal quality is memorable; they resonate.
 
On the other hand, alternative rock bands just don't make music videos with these kind of memorable moments precisely because they don't take risks. Most alternative rock videos are merely compilations of pretty images without any meaning. A perfect example is the Smashing Pumpkins' video for "Tonight," in which the members of the band walk around on planets in old-fashioned suits and hit little monsters with umbrellas. The Smashing Pumpkins, like most alternative rock bands, throw some intriguing, stylistic images on screen but they don't use the medium to show insights into real life, to better explain the tangible issues the artist is dealing with in the song. Again, they hide behind style instead of opening up themselves and conveying their thoughts and ideas in a clear manner.
 
Maybe alternative rock suits the '90s. Maybe in this post-modern age, in which there is not supposed to be just one meaning in art, lyrics should be somewhat abstract so that an audience can interpret it in many different ways. Thus, meaning can be produced by the listener instead of the author, as we are told in Critical Theory classes these days. Maybe the point is that there is no meaning, that it is cooler to not care, to not have a point of view or to impose one's own issues on an audience. Maybe that is what we want in our rock stars these days.
 
Not quite. The reason rap and hip-hop have become more popular than rock music in the past few years is exactly because their strength lies in emphasing entertainment and down-to-earth, personal lyrics. There's a reason why Puff Daddy (for all his lack of actual musical ability) is the most popular new music star in America. It can be summed up by his performance at the 1997 Music Awards. He was all about entertainment. Puff and his cohort Mase wore bright silver astronaut-like suits and dropped down from the sky (well, they were attached to wires) onto the stage. Fireworks went off as they touched down on stage and skimpily clad dancers cavorted behind them. After a thumping rendition of "Mo' Money Mo' Problems," Sting joined Puff on stage for a version of "I'll Be Missing You," Puff's ode to his lost friend, The Notorious B.I.G.
 
The lyrics to that song simply capture heartfelt, personal feelings, which is also what makes Axl's lyrics so powerful: "Reminisce sometimes the night they took my friend/ Try to block it out, but it plays again/ When it's real feelings hard to conceal/ Can't imagine all the pain I feel." Puff eloquently explains the reason for his own popularity (he writes of his real feelings), without trying to conceal his meaning, and he connects with his audience by trying to make them imagine how he feels. That is why, for the first time, hip-hop is actually America's most popular music -- alternative rock's self-indulgent music with its abstract lyrics and lack of emphasis on entertainment just doesn't pose much of a battle against the far more engaging, entertaining and personal rap music of today.
 
So does alternative music have any value? Of course it does. There are strengths and weaknesses to every type of music. Yes, sometimes it seems like alternative rock misses the visceral power of GN'R. But at times Billy Corgan's complicated, poetic musings, which require some thought and imagination from the listener, can be more satisfying than Axl's simple lyrics, which spoon-feed the meaning to the listener. Yes, popular music scene is more diverse than ever. But it's been long enough. It's time for Axl to remind us how hard a true rock n' roll band can rock.
 
https://web.archive.org/web/20040318062052/http://www.thesimon.com/magazine/articles/old_issues/0027_axl_rose_disappearing_act.html
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