Axl & Slash – The Long, Troubled History Of 2015’s Most Surprising Friendship

“It was probably way overdue,” Slash told Sweden’s Aftonbladet TV show earlier this year. He was talking, of course, about burying the hatchet with his former Guns N’ Roses bandmate Axl Rose after almost 20 years of fervid animosity.

Of course, 20 years is about as long as it takes Axl to do anything, but this was a greater step for the singer to take than that long, arduous three-hour trek between dressing room and stage, and fans have been excited about the prospect of a reunion ever since. Axl and Slash have been at loggerheads for aeons, and here’s how the major blows have gone down…

THE BIG SPLIT

Slash left Guns’n’Roses in 1996 as the band were on their uppers after poorly received covers album ‘The Spaghetti Incident’. Rumours abounded of a major clash of artistic ideas between the two, and in 2007 Slash’s autobiography cited Axl’s dictatorial control over his bandmates as a major cause of his departure. Following the departure of Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler, Axl reportedly insisted that band members had to sign contracts which Slash felt reduced them to “hired hands” and at one point reportedly demanded sole ownership of the band’s name. He was also, like so many people over the coming decades, pretty fucked off with Axl forcing the band to go on hours later than scheduled.

“It wasn’t even me necessarily leaving the band,” he told Piers Morgan in 2012, “it was not continuing on with the new band that Axl put together that he was now at the helm of, which was the new Guns N’ Roses. I was given a contract to basically join his new band, and it took about 24 hours before I decided, I think this is the end of the line.”

THE JACKO CONNECTION

According to G’n’R’s ex-manager Doug Goldstein, the root of their falling out was actually over Michael Jackson. “In 1991, we were on the road, and Slash went to my office and said ‘I’ll be leaving tomorrow to play with Michael Jackson on a tribute concert,’” he told Rolling Stone Brazil. “I told him not to do it because Axl was molested by his father when he was 2, and he believed the charges against Michael Jackson.” Slash went on to play on Jacko’s ‘Black Or White’ and ‘Give It To Me’ tracks and perform onstage with him. “[Axl] thought Slash would support him and be against all abuse,” Goldstein said. “From the point of view of Axl, that was the only problem. He could ignore the drugs and the alcohol, but could never ignore the child abuse.”

Axl had another story, blaming Slash for holding back his creative juices. “[he was a] cancer… better removed, avoided, and the less anyone heard of him or his supporters, the better,” he told Spinner, claiming that he and Duff McKagan “[did] damage to my ability as a writer… At the time of the [Use Your Illusion] tours, Slash and Duff said, ‘You’re an idiot, you’re a loser.’ I didn’t write for years. I felt I was hindered for a very long time.” Fifteen years in fact, if the wait for ‘Chinese Democracy’ – an album named after something else no-one ever expected to happen – was anything to go by.

THE BIG FREEZE

The two wouldn’t speak for many years to come, even when issues about the music they made together came up. “He hates my guts,” Slash said. “It’s over a lot of different stuff; I don’t even know. There’s just no communication between us. I talk to Duff and Steven, but when it comes to old Guns N’ Roses, there really isn’t anybody that makes decisions.” Axl even took to trying to ban fans at Guns’n’Roses shows from entering the venues wearing Slash t-shirts. Gradually, the beef became an albatross. “Because there was so much attention on the breakup,” Slash told Esquire, “it got built up into this monster that led to a kind of animosity that wasn’t the focus for me. Neither one of us wants to be down each other’s throats for no reason. At this point, I’m trying to put it to rest. So I try to avoid the subject.”

Axl was even more abrupt on the subject. “What’s clear is that one of the two of us will die before a reunion,” he said in 2009.

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES

Various books by G’n’R band members riled Rose enough for him to make a public statement in 2013 to define his side of the split. “As I’ve said before, I shouldn’t have been on tour when we started in 1991,” he explained. “That had a lot to do with Alan Niven, our then manager, and Slash. In my opinion Alan wanted money and Slash wanted the touring to get the better of me given my circumstances at the time. My safety and well-being were not their concern.”

THE ROCK’N’ROLL HALL OF FAME INCIDENT

Nothing opens old wounds, of course, like a Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame induction. When G’n’R were up for the accolade in 2014, it sparked widespread speculation over who would turn up and whether a reunited original line-up might perform. Slash doubted it. “Everyone has been asking me what’s going to happen,” he said of the event, “and they know as much as I do. I feel you’re totally obligated to be present and I would love to fucking play, but it’s just something that’s not gonna happen for whatever reason.”

In the end Slash joined McKagan, Adler and Matt Sorum at the ceremony after Axl pulled out of appearing at the very last minute. He later penned an open letter to the Hall Of Fame calling the idea of any of the peak-era line-ups standing onstage together again an “awkward situation”, claiming that an amicable compromise had been unsuccessfully sought and rejecting his induction. “The Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony doesn’t appear to be somewhere I’m actually wanted or respected,” he wrote.

Slash’s deepest hopes were dashed. “My whole thing was that I really, in my heart of hearts, wanted to have the whole original band get together and actually perform, which I sort of knew was wishful thinking,” he told Rolling Stone. “When the whole thing first came up, that’s basically what I wanted to do. It became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen.”

MAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

When asked on CBS in May 2015 about the possibility of a reunion of the late ’80s G’n’R line-up, Slash wasn’t as dismissive as usual. “If everybody wanted to do it and do it for the right reasons, I think the fans would love it,” he said. “I think it might be fun at some point to try and do that… It’s really between the guys in the band. You know, never say never.”

Then last week, the bombshell. Axl and Slash were on talking terms again. “It’s very cool at this point,” said Slash. “You know, let some of that, sort of, negative… dispel some of that negative stuff that was going on for so long.” So the reunion will be happening when exactly? “Oh, I couldn’t answer that one. Let’s get off the subject because that’s an old one.”