Farewell, then, Axl Rose. Your UK and Ireland tour with Guns N’ Roses was just a flying visit, but true to form, you made it a memorable one, stripping the Slash t-shirts from our backs, camping out in an oxygen tent, threatening to storm off, generally draping your genitals over the battlements of your ivory tower and sprinkling the peasantry beneath. Come again soon, won’t you?
Sociopathy is an admirable quality in a ‘proper’ rock star, and Rose is arguably the last one standing. But there’s one aspect of his antics that has to stop. That’s right: the time-keeping. As you’d expect from a man who took 15 years to record one album, Rose isn’t so hot at the big hand and little hand stuff. At London’s O2, he left us waiting, cattle-like, for 50 minutes. In Manchester, over an hour. In Dublin, pushing two hours. A rock star hasn’t taken so long to come since Sting in his tantric sex days. Say what you like about Chico, but at least he knows what fucking time it is.
As tick followed tock followed tick followed tock, the GN’R gigs began to feel more like a social experiment, with unseen, clipboard-toting scientists pin-pointing the exact moment when human goodwill boils into impotent rage. You might have been forgiven for picturing the scene backstage. A promoter mops his brow. A gaggle of session men stifle yawns, play Fruit Ninja and contemplate their own mortality. From a dressing-room, a nasal voice barks an order:
“Hey, Bumblefoot, stick ya head round the curtain. Do they look mad yet?”
“Not yet, Boss. Just a little restless and deflated.”
“Well then – let’s have another round of Buckaroo!”
Last week, after GN’R left the UK to infuriate mainland Europe, I hit the NME comments section expecting a geyser of venom. This I found, by the bucketload, but alongside the damning testimony, I was surprised to note pockets of support for our tardy hero. “Don’t hate the man because he doesn’t have to work 9-5 like the rest of us,” argued Robert O’Connor, in what six years ago might have been referred to as ‘the Pete Doherty defence’. “He does what he wants, when he wants to do it and couldn’t give a rats whether people like it or not. Not to be rude, but that’s my kind of rock star.”
Up to a point, I agree with Robert. There’s something depressing about rock ‘n’ roll running like clockwork, with well-drilled drones adhering to curfews and decibel limits. I’d be perfectly happy for Axl to roll in, say, 20 minutes late, breathless, doing up his flies and grinning broadly, while the atmosphere reached boiling point. But there are limits. For anyone who made it through, the GN’R gigs were often urgent and incendiary. For anyone who wasn’t prepared to sleep rough, though, these shows weren’t so much ‘Nightrain’ as ‘night bus’. Is it really acceptable – with the hot breath of redundancy on all our necks – for a millionaire to ask his fans to cough up for a gig they don’t even get to watch?
At a more abstract level, is it really ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ when someone fails to show up? Surely the fizz and danger of the legendary performances came from what happened when a performer hit the stage, from the Pistols tearing up the Free Trade Hall in 1976 to Oasis reaching critical mass at King Tut’s in 1993. In twenty years, will you really tell your kids about that time you slowly filed to the O2 exit at midnight, clutching a ticket stub and contemplating an £80 taxi fare?
Back in 1992, Rose conceded there was a problem. “I’ve always wanted to have it written in my will that when I die,” he noted, “the coffin shows up a half-hour late and says on the side in gold, ‘Sorry I’m Late’.” It’s a charming line, but in the chilly depths of recession, it doesn’t quite cut it. Get in the ring, motherfucker – or we’ll stop getting in the queue.