By Jack Spencer
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By Reed Fischer
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Ghosts N' Ruins. Guitar N' Rasp. Back in 1992, Nirvana may have briefly seemed like the soul of wit. But Dave Grohl's MTV Video Music Awardstaunting of Guns N' Roses' dethroned metal man--"Hi Axl. Hi Axl... Where's Axl?"--seemed too cruel even at the time. After all, costume metal was already moribund. It was more fun to decode "married/buried" riddles than to watch the single-entendre video of a rock star wedding where the frontman's Victoria's Secret model girlfriend ends up in a coffin. And thus, taking Axl down to the Paradise City devolved into just taking him down.
The Honeymoon: For those of us 1980s Classic Radio Rockers too young and brainwashed to slide over to the dark side or be saved by real punk, us who had resisted the hot-tubbing tease of the hair metal and cleaved to the cock-rawkin' authenticity of the moldy oldies that buzzard-like Zoo-jocks fed us, Axl's arrival on the mainstream scene was a godsend. He was pure Hollywood, sure, but not box-office Poison. He wasn't scary, but he definitely wasn't joking around. With his angel face and devil strut he welcomed us to the L.A. jungle with a n-n-n-nuh-nuh-nobody's-fault-but-mine bravura. And for the first time, we considered making some space on the Robert Plant pedestal for a new crooner who dripped more vinegar than honey.
He was hot. He could howl. And during that four-year-long comet blast, before grunge and alt-rock truly squashed him, Axl provided a universal strip-malled under-the-bridge-kegger soundtrack for suburban kids too timid to appropriate hip hop (or too racist to embrace it). (My pal who sang, "Take me down to the Paradise City/ Where everyone reads Will by G. Gordon Liddy" really nailed a certain segment of GNR's gun-show fan base.)
But ever since his Seattlite trouncing, we seem to care more about where Axl is, how he must feel, what he's cooking up, than we do about any other hair-metal icon. Everybody else is Behind the Music-ed out--Tommy Lee is redecorating fans' houses on MTV and Bret Michaels is whining about his insulin, which makes him sound like your uncle rubbing BenGay on his old football knee. Axl retains some of his mystique. But he was always an odd duck, as Chuck Klosterman points out in his section of Fargo Rock City that ponders Axl's decision in the "Estranged" video to frolic underwater with dolphins. What could it have meant? Was it some kind of portent? For some reason, we still care. Hell, Spin slapped his mug on the cover twice post-heyday, most recently to bestow upon him the honor of best metal album of all time (with GNR beating out Zeppelin), and in 1999 just to speculate about his whereabouts, physically, artistically, and psychologically. The issues flew off the stands.
Now that crybaby nu metal is beginning its decline, by Axl-ine logic, it's high time for the GNR reunion tour. Maybe that's because the ass-shake boogie of GNR has more in common with the new rock's back bands like the White Stripes than all that broken-home Korn-husking. And at this exact moment of bash-groovy reverie, even the tykes seem to be jumping on the upcoming show tickets--like emo kids reaching back for Weezer, but much weirder and kitschier. They were sweet children themselves when "Sweet Child o' Mine" played on their older sibs' tape decks, so maybe for them it's like going back to grammar school. (Axl even kind of looked like a creepy old Botoxed marm on MTV's 2002 Video Music Awards show.)
The new record? Well, as you know, he's had Tommy Stinson locked in his basement (delaying the fabled Replacements reunion) just in case Mr. Rose got a flash of inspiration for the tracks of his years-in-the-concepting and now supposedly done Chinese Democracy album. The tour has begun--in China, for real, though nobody still has a clue what illusion he's using, politically speaking. Anyway, he's Gone N' Returned, and there's suddenly a lot of him to go around.