Greetings. Monte Williams here. I realize you don’t know who I am, but I’ve been a Guns n’ Roses fan for 20 years, and I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, and I hope you will take the time to read this letter.
Like you, Axl, I will always be a “small town white boy” at heart. And like many young, confused boys, I was often angry as a child, and so your music spoke to me right from the start. I’ve been a heavy metal fan my whole life, and in a genre polluted with pretty boys and their wuss rock, you and your grungy bandmates were refreshingly real and brutal, even threatening.
Admittedly, I probably didn’t quite grasp, as a fifth grader, what you were getting at with lyrics like “Here I am, and you’re a rocket queen,” and even now I struggle with complex verses like, “I think about you. You know that I do. I think about you. Only you. I think about you. Ooh, it’s true. I think about you. Oh yes, I do”. But even so, I have long felt that at your best and your hungriest, you were singing directly to me somehow. Whenever things got tough for me, I could always pop Appetite for Destruction into my cassette deck for some quick therapy. Screaming along to your words was a great outlet, and I felt like you and your music were always there for me.
But then you went away, Axl. You abandoned me, your only explanation a mumbled promise of a forthcoming Chinese Democracy. Speaking of which, do you remember when The Offspring’s Dexter Holland announced that his band’s upcoming album would be titled Chinese Democracy? Ah, we all had a good laugh. The Offspring settled instead for Splinter, of course, but Holland’s playful mockery had made its point; you’ve guaranteed the imminent arrival of the new Guns n’ Roses album nearly every year since the release of your last album, Use Your Illusion. And Axl? That was 16 years ago.
Hell, it was four years ago now that an exasperated Dexter Holland threatened to steal your title! A kid born the day Use Your Illusion was released can damn near buy cigarettes now, Axl. So tell me: where ya been? And more importantly, what can you possibly have to say to me after so many years?
Eventually, reluctantly, I moved on. When first you cast your sleazy spell, Axl, I had yet to start junior high school; now I teach at a junior high school. Among other things, I teach history, and so indulge me, if you will, as I offer a brief historical overview of just a few of the cultural touchstones that have come and gone since last you released an album of original material:
Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur revolutionized their respective music genres after you disappeared. They have both since died, each over a decade ago, and still nothing from you. Quentin Tarantino had yet to make a movie when you were last touring regularly. Nobody knew about Pixar when you were still making music, and the latest video game system was Super Nintendo. Prince had yet to change his name, much less change it back. There was no Eminem, no Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead or White Stripes or Marilyn Manson. Entire genres have risen and fallen in your absence, Axl. Hell, entire mediums!
If I had met you on your Use Your Illusion tour and discussed DVD and TiVo, you’d have had no idea what I was talking about; little surprise, then, that a YouTube search for your name offers mostly mocking results. Axl, when you were still in the news because of your music rather than your reclusive and eccentric tendencies, Oprah was simply a woman with a talk show rather than a legendary multimedia juggernaut. Star Wars remained a lone trilogy, and we’d yet to meet the Sopranos or Harry Potter. The Simpsons was a wildly popular novelty whose 15 minutes were surely coming to a close soon, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t yet a box office bomb, let alone an unlikely television triumph. Most striking of all, perhaps: our current president’s father was still the president.
Even the sillier touchstones are jarring: New Kids On The Block were still together when last you were recording. When you were still touring, Axl, so were Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. Not only was Jim Carrey not among the most recognizable superstars in the world, but he had yet to even film his first Ace Ventura movie; he was just the white guy on In Living Color. We had yet to endure Barney, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Space Jam, Pokemon, Striptease, the Super Mario Bros. movie, Elmo or the Spice Girls. Pee-Wee Herman had just been caught masturbating in a theater, and America had yet to watch in disbelief as not one but two cast members from a forgettable ’80s action movie called Predator became governors.
John Candy was still alive when last we saw your band’s name on a new CD, Axl. So were River Phoenix, Gene Siskel, and Richard Nixon, and not only were New York’s twin towers still standing, but Oklahoma City had yet to be bombed. In the time since your music last enjoyed regular rotation on the radio, your former bandmate Slash has inspired a McFarlane Toys action figure; when you were still promoting Use Your Illusion, Todd McFarlane was just the guy illustrating Spider-Man comics for Marvel, a company whose bankruptcy and Hollywood comeback were still many years distant.
Axl, I was hardly the only one moved by your music and your charisma in the late ’80s and early ’90s. There were millions of us who adored you. I was such a big fan that I performed one of your songs during my one and only stint as a Karaoke superstar. Okay, that’s not true; it was actually Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. But there was this biker chick in the audience who called out, “Alright, Guns N’ Roses!” so that kinda counts. At any rate, convinced I couldn’t be the only one who feels abandoned by his hero, I perused Amazon.com, where I found no fewer than 317 user reviews of your band’s Greatest Hits collection. While these reviews might lack grammatical clarity, they have passion to spare:
“Now if only Axl Rose would get around to releasing Chinese Democracy…”
“What a waste. What a waste.”
“March 6th, 2007 has come and gone and so has the latest release date for Chinese Democracy…”
“The only reason the record label released this anyways was because Axl was taking way to long for Chinese Domocracy…”
“Still waiting for Chinese Democracy…”
“Overall, this album is a lot like Guns N’ Roses’ career: it starts off with a bang and fizzles out near the end…”
And my favorite:
“Then came GnR’s death knell, the two Use Your Illusions. Over-produced, bloated, boring and pretentious… Gone was the sound of the alley ways of Sunset Boulevard, replaced by the sound of computers, maids and Beverley Hills hookers ‘n’ blow parties. Rock ‘n’ Roll sung by a guy in custom-ripped jeans who just came out of a session with his hair stylist and manicurist.”
This bitterly amusing and painfully accurate assessment raises a point most Guns n’ Roses enthusiasts conveniently forget: it may have been 16 years since you released an album, Axl, but it’s been 20 years since you released a good album. That terrifying, ferocious howl that begins “Welcome to the Jungle” remains more menacing than probably any rock song released since, but the tired, desperate double album that followed contained nothing so memorable. You have essentially coasted for two decades on the deep reservoir of goodwill you accumulated from Appetite for Destruction.
By the time Use Your Illusion came out, your music was certainly no longer speaking to me. You had grown self-indulgent and spoiled, navel-gazing and distant. No less a cultural critic than Rikki Rachtman mocked your “Estranged” video, wherein you dive from an aircraft carrier to swim with dolphins: “Yeah, that’s street.” This was on Behind the Music, Axl, where journalist Lonn Friend noted that though you were one of the most electrifying frontmen of all time, “History has erased” you.
And that erasing began long, long ago, Axl. Do you remember when you asked Kurt Cobain to open for your band on your Use Your Illusion tour, and he declined? Looking back at that slight, do you grasp its significance? You were made to look silly, irrelevant and outdated by a man who killed himself 13 years ago. Meanwhile, I peer into the liner notes of Use Your Illusion and am greeted with a frankly startling number of photos of men sporting that most dated of haircuts: the mullet. And among those thanked: Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, Lars Ulrich (pre-haircut), and Shannon Hoon (1967-1995).
So now, Axl, I pay my first ever visit to the Guns N Roses website where, in a missive dated Dec. 14, 2006, you wrote, “This is not a promise, a lie or a guarantee, but we do wish to announce a tentative release date of March 6.” I am reminded of the affection Douglas Adams expressed for deadlines: “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” And isn’t it telling, Axl, that it hadn’t occurred to me to peruse your website sooner; when last you were in the spotlight, the internet revolution had yet to take place. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that Guns n’ Roses would have a website.
I have read a few times now that Chinese Democracy sounds like Use Your Illusion with a few “modern” flourishes. But then, I first read that 10 years ago, which begs the question: how modern can these flourishes be? And after waiting for nearly 20 years, will any of your fans be satisfied with a retread of a masturbatory piece like Use Your Illusion? I doubt it. I think you keep tinkering with Chinese Democracy because you know it’s a hollow work. I think you have stayed silent all this time because you have nothing to say, Axl. You have lost not only your relevance, which after all can be reclaimed with effort, but indeed, and far worse, you have lost your hunger.
But you know what? Prove me wrong, Axl. I would like nothing more than for you to make a triumphant return. But know this: nobody needs the return of Axl Rose the pampered diva who threw embarrassing tantrums onstage. We now have Paris Hilton and her ilk to make such spectacles of themselves. No, Axl, you won’t prove me wrong just by returning from hiding, else your sudden, forgettable performance at the 2002 Video Music Awards would have rendered this letter unnecessary.
Please, prove that you are not an embarrassing relic with all the relevance of the mullet and the fanny pack. Prove that you are more than a “small town white boy,” ’cause Eminem’s got that base covered now, along with your tiresome misogyny / homophobia gimmick. Prove that you’re still hungry, Axl. Scrap Chinese Democracy and write and record one song a day for two weeks and release the result. Do something, Axl, ’cause for all your faults, you were at one time dangerous in a way that rock ‘n’ roll has since forgotten to be. And don’t let any of this intimidate or overwhelm you, Axl, ’cause I’m not asking you to save rock ‘n’ roll. I’d be happy if you just managed to create some.