[16 April 2012]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
I’ve never particularly liked Guns N’ Roses. Maybe it’s because I never really bought into the whole hair metal or power rock thing throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but I’ve always been a little dumbfounded at how much praise those guys continue to receive. No, Appetite for Destruction or the Use Your Illusion albums didn’t reinvent the wheel, nor did they offer up anything we hadn’t already heard before. They were just records that gained more popularity than their contemporaries, records made by a band whose members hated each other so much that they never even had the opportunity to tarnish their legacy by jumping at the thought of a nostalgia-packed reunion tour for a few extra bucks.
In fact, that discord is probably a big part of the reason why Guns N’ Roses continuously go down in some type of fantastical allure to a lot of music fans. Lead singer Axl Rose has never claimed to be the most pleasant person on the planet, and his penchant for public arguments with basically anyone in his peripheral has added a layer to the group as a whole that makes them a more intriguing act to follow than, say, Motley Crue or Poison, two similar bands that continue to tarnish the shiny, sex-drugs-rock-‘n’-roll legacy they left behind a couple decades ago. Sure, one might argue that Axl can screech a little better than the best of them, and yeah, Slash is sort of a neat character to contemplate in the annals of power rock history, but the reality here is that nobody in Guns N’ Roses is going to be up for a Gershwin Prize any time soon.
Are they the worst band in the world? Of course not. But do they deserve the amount of praise—an amount that seemingly lands somewhere between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Beatles—they somehow continue to receive with every spin of “November Rain” in every dive bar in the middle of every section of every nowhere in the world? My God, no.
That’s why when it was announced months ago that the group was going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I merely shrugged my shoulders and breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Laura Nyro finally got the credit she’s always deserved. Who cares, really? We all knew Guns N’ Roses would land in the Hall of Fame eventually, anyways, if only because of the constant admiration thrust upon them from every writer or critic who has ever laid pen to paper, so to speak. The announcement was more of a formality than anything, and since Genesis somehow landed a spot in the room a couple years ago, my interest in each subsequent class has waned considerably.
And then last week happened.
As we all know by now, Axl took to the Interwebs to address the possibility of a reunion at the induction ceremony on Saturday night by penning an open letter to the Hall (“Axl’s Letter”) ...
“When the nominations for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame were first announced I had mixed emotions but, in an effort to be positive, wanting to make the most of things for the fans and with their enthusiasm, I was honored, excited and hoped that somehow this would be a good thing. Of course I realized as things stood, if Guns N’ Roses were to be inducted it’d be somewhat of a complicated or awkward situation,” he wrote.
“Since then we’ve listened to fans, talked with members of the board of the Hall Of Fame, communicated with and read various public comments and jabs from former members of Guns N’ Roses, had discussions with the president of the Hall Of Fame, read various press (some legit, some contrived) and read other artists’ comments weighing in publicly on Guns and the Hall with their thoughts.
Under the circumstances I feel we’ve been polite, courteous, and open to an amicable solution in our efforts to work something out. Taking into consideration the history of Guns N’ Roses, those who plan to attend along with those the Hall for reasons of their own, have chosen to include in ‘our’ induction (that for the record are decisions I don’t agree with, support or feel the Hall has any right to make), and how (albeit no easy task) those involved with the Hall have handled things… no offense meant to anyone but the Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony doesn’t appear to be somewhere I’m actually wanted or respected.
For the record, I would not begrudge anyone from Guns their accomplishments or recognition for such. Neither I or anyone in my camp has made any requests or demands of the Hall Of Fame. It’s their show not mine.
That said, I won’t be attending The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction 2012 Ceremony and I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame”.
And boom goes the dynamite.
If you haven’t read it by now, the rest of the letter goes on to address a few more concerns he continues to have regarding his band. A few typos appear. A P.S. marker is added after his name in somewhat of an awkward gesture, considering the tone of his essay. And the word “ya” is frequently used in reference to the word “you”.
Naturally, the decision to skip the weekend’s ceremony was met with criticism and anger.
“Frontman Axl Rose composes a surprisingly cogent — though, nevertheless, staggeringly wrongheaded — letter declining to participate in Guns n’ Roses’ upcoming 2012 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”, the website Something Else wrote (“Are they still Guns n’ Roses?”, 11 April 2012).
“He’ll think, ‘I should have done it’”, Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones and the Small Faces/Faces (who were also inducted Saturday) told The Associated Press. “Drop all the qualms and all the differences.” (“Ronnie Wood: ‘Axl Rose will regret skipping ..”, NME, 14 April 2012)
... But I’m not so sure that’s the case.
Rose’s letter was surprising because of its unexpected thoughtfulness. It’s clear that at some point, Slash and Axl—the two most celebrated members of the classic lineup—had a falling out. Slash continues to remain flippant in present day interviews about the rift, recently saying that “he doesn’t even know” why Axl “hates his guts” and that “it’s over a lot of different stuff”. The singer, meanwhile, has called the guitarist “a cancer” in the past. (“Slash: ‘Axl Rose Hates My Guts’” Rolling Stone, 2 April 2012), So, yeah, we get it. Axl and Slash don’t get along and the possibility of them getting on a stage together to perform ever again is as unlikely as Lana Del Ray (Axl’s rumored current girlfriend) putting out an album that actually lives up to the hype she once enjoyed.
And with that in mind, we must ask the following: Why are so many people seemingly so quick to begrudge this move?
For once, Rose did something by writing that letter that he’s almost never publicly done before—he showed an ability to act responsible. He knew that no matter how many good intentions everybody involved may have had before the evening, his presence would ultimately result in a visible mess of ego and baggage that has been begging to boil over for decades now. He clearly took a look at the gaping hole of a difference between the risk level and the reward level and rationally decided against a situation that had all the ingredients to be contentious if not embarrassing.
To argue that he was merely being stubborn and child-like is unfair if not unfounded. Granted, he’s never been one to play nice in the past, but the backlash he received for opting not to attend Saturday’s ceremony proved to be both reactionary and irresponsible.
“The five-and-a-half hour show wrapped up at 1:30 a.m., and as the crowd poured onto the Cleveland streets in search of their cars or an after party, not a single person was talking about Axl Rose”, Rolling Stone‘s Andy Green wrote, “It turns out they didn’t even need him”. (“Guns N’ Roses, Chili Peppers Bring Magic to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, 15 April 2012)
Wait a second. Who’s that dude at the head of the increasingly irrelevant Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, again? You know—the one who insisted on organizing a series of made-for-TV “Hall of Fame” concerts a couple years ago that ultimately proved to be nothing more than a series of giant “Hey, look at how many friends I have” reminders. And—wait—what mainstream rock magazine did that guy begin publishing decades ago, again? Ahh, that’s right. Diss the Hall, and the Hall—along with all its unquestionably massive reach—will diss you right back.
But back to Axl. Interestingly enough, his decision to skip the ceremony, when dissected objectively, actually had the ability to teach Guns N’ Roses fans a lesson. When considered thoroughly, one must ask the question of why most fans ultimately wanted to see the group unite for this one evening in the first place. Would it be for a reunited performance? Probably. Would it be to celebrate the victory lap that being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame proves to be? That might be a little part of the reason. But most importantly, would the desire to see something like this occur have an undercurrent laced with a sentiment completely immersed in unpredictability? Of course it would.
And that’s precisely why Axl was justified in saying “no” to the Hall. Everyone’s unshakable quench for seeing things blow up drove the desire to see this band get back together for one night. Even the most dedicated of fans unquestionably knew that getting them all in a room together had just as much potential to result in something ultimately degrading and humiliating, yet the cry for them to “suck it up and do so” was loud and clear. Such an argument is selfish for reasons both un-pure and ignorant, considering the people making those arguments more than likely have a good grasp on exactly how much hatred lies between the lead singer and the rest of his band.
You can argue that Guns N’ Roses hasn’t been Guns N’ Roses for a while now, and you’d probably be correct. Axl Rose assembling a band of players every couple years to reclaim its spot as the best Guns N’ Roses tribute band in the world is a far cry from seeing the original members gather onstage with pianos, top hats and enough pyro to outshine the sun. But the one thing you can’t do is argue that it’s a good and/or productive idea to force a proverbial square peg into a proverbial round hole if the peg feels the hole isn’t ready. Sure, it might be a site to remember, but at what point do you begin to question the reasons that site was forced upon us in the first place, especially if you claim to be an uber-fan of what that site entails?
Ultimately, not showing up for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was probably the most rock and roll thing Axl Rose could have done. More importantly, though, it was also the most pragmatic and judicious action the bad boy lead singer may have ever offered publicly throughout his oftentimes ridiculed musical career.
And you don’t have to be a fan of Guns N’ Roses to appreciate that.