He may not have been punctual at the Reading and Leeds Festivals, but Axl Rose doesn’t have to play for our timetables, argues Jeremy Allen
Few legends come with ‘punctuality’ on their résumés. Mark E Smith is never on time. Amy Winehouse, a fledgling legend if you will, is dependably tardy.
You know your friend who always turns up an hour late for coffee or doesn’t show at the cinema for that Werner Herzog double bill you’ve been excited about for months then texts you at 2am as you’re dozing off with a lie like: “Bus hit child. FML”.
Well, Axl Rose is a bit like your friend, only less considerate.
He might look like Mick Hucknall at a linedancing convention, or ex-footballer Alan Brazil wearing a Stetson these days, but there’s one thing you can be sure of, he’s Axl fucking Rose, that’s who. His appetite for destruction has not withered with age, it just takes him longer to leave the house.
“I was standing down the front for the whole fucking first hour that they were meant to be onstage. What a total fucking shambles,” complained Milo Cordell from The Big Pink, a not untypical reaction. “Then I left before it all kicked off at the end. Disaster.”
But Milo, were you not aware this was the man behind ‘Chinese Democracy’, a record in gestation for 15 protracted years? Axl’s procrastination became such that, in 2003, The Offspring threatened to release ‘Chinese Democracy (You Snooze You Lose)’.
With this knowledge the question must be asked: why the surprise? Here is a lunatic who nearly caused a riot in Newcastle in 2006 when he refused to appear until somebody had cooked him a roast dinner. If you were confounded by Guns N’ Roses’ late late show then you need to learn some rules of life:
1) Never skimp on haircuts or razors.
2) Always leave the house with clean pants in case you’re in an accident.
3) Nothing is certain except for death, taxes and Axl Rose refusing to play ball ’til his Aunt Bessie’s have risen.
“What’s so civil about war anyway?” he wailed profoundly in 1991, and it’s “war” he’s declared on the organisers, claiming they had some kind of deal in place so GN’R could play happily ’til dawn regardless of needless, tedious district council regulations.
Organiser Melvin Benn was not surprised. Prior to the shows he’d told NME “there isn’t an option for them to carry on late” and afterwards said “bands often say things like that when they are curtailed”. Axl clearly didn’t see it this way.
“The cops and the promoters wanna fuck us in the ass!” he screamed at Leeds. “Fuck you!”
But the thing is, we mere mortals with our despot alarm clocks and tinpot timetables, dancing to the beat of our circadian rhythms and clocking on and off, we have no concept of what it’s like to sporadically hire and fire a man called Buckethead. So let’s allow Axl to be a legend in his own time, OK?
In NME last week, Tim Chester called Rose “one of music’s biggest jokes”. But the thing about those shows, most importantly, is that the assembled still got to hear ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘You Could Be Mine’, ‘November Rain’, at Reading an exclusive acoustic ‘Paradise City’ with the sound cut and, er… DJ Ashba’s guitar solo.
The latter element aside, not that bad considering the fuss that’s been made and the slaggings. Joke perhaps, but an entertaining joke, a diva, a dictator and a demigod he is also.
On the Friday he was crucified, but at Leeds on the third day, he was just Axl Rose. What else did we expect – and really, would we have wanted anything else?
This article originally appeared in the September 4 issue of NME