Axl Rose should be dead.
I don’t say that with any kind of animosity towards the man. He’s never done anything to me worse than manufacturing the mediocre Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II and serving them to be “as is” instead of trimming the fat off of both albums and making one great album. And he’s threatened us with Chinese Democracy, their new album which has been in the works for the past fourteen years. My good friend Tony has been looking forward to this album for months, an album I realize has been in the works since he was fourteen. And just when you give up hope, in an age of new Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Die Hard movies, “It’s Christmas time… it’s the time for miracles.”
And then in one of the many cigarette break conversations that happen several times a day at work, my boss Larry said (as he often does) with bizarre wisdom, “Axl Rose should be dead.”
He clarified. They were a band on the top of their game for over a decade. Possibly the last great rock band before the brief Seattle grunge takeover, the Pop Band Machine flux of Britney Spears and NSnyc and the reigning Hiphopcracy. He isn’t talking about the bands created in the seventies like Van Halen and Kiss (both of which are on life support… I think my mom turned down the lead signer gig on Van Halen). He’s talking rock bands created in an era when pretty boys like Warrant and Poison (who literally wore mascara) are what passed for rock bands.
And like all good rock stars be they Jim Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Lennon, Axl Rose should have died. To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino’s Clarence (Christian Slater in True Romance), “Live fast, die hard and leave a good looking corpse.” Killed by an obsessed fan who gave him a fatal dose of cocaine before he self-affixated himself on a crashing plane. And who the hell is Axl to argue with destiny.
Nothing builds a legacy faster than death. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Nirvana all had (weirdly enough) three albums released before their demises and all of them make more money as legacies than they ever would have had they stayed alive. There is a certain ridiculousness to just how beautiful Marilyn Monroe was and that stays with her because, unlike Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley MacLaine, I haven’t had to watch them get old. I once showed a picture or Marlon Brando to Kelly, a woman I worked with. This wasn’t Apocalypse Now Brando where he looked like shaved walrus wiping the sweat from his brow. This was Guys And Dolls Brando. Streetcar Named Desire Brando where he paced back and forth like some kind of caged animal they taught how to act. Kelly just about fell out of her chair followed by the inevitable, “What the hell happened to him?”
There is reason you can always find James Dean posters and not Paul Newman or Robert Redford. It’s because James Dean had the decency to do two great films (I can live without Giant) and die. In a Porsche crash, no less. Nobody knows how Jane Russell died but we sure as hell know Jayne Mansfield went out. Veronica Lake’s Peek-A-Boo hairstyle was so popular during the forties employers restricted it in the factories because women were losing their peripheral vision and losing digits in machinery. She died of complications of alcoholism after she went from sexpot to hotel bartender. God bless Quentin Tarantino (and Jackie Brown) because if I found Pam Grier died as the cashier at a Dollar General I would be very upset.
I’ve seen Axl recently. Old and a little bloated. Wearing cornrows which for white people should have started and stopped with Bo Derek. Part of me looks at him like that guy you haven’t seen since high school and you find out he’s still working at the movie theatre banging girls that were too young for him then. He has piece of shit car and three roommates. You finish the conversation politely and telling him, “See you later,” knowing you won’t and reaffirming who you are.
I saw Chinese Democracy in Best Buy Sunday while I was holding a Martin Scorsese DVD box set and mulled over buying it. Maybe it would have taken me back to high school and the early nineties. Or maybe, like so many other revivals it would have been a poor impression of what I remember and left me disappointed. Or maybe, like the new Knight Rider, it would have been exactly what it was then and left disappointed in myself for liking it the first time.
I didn’t buy it. I just walked away and I’ll let Tony tell me how it is.