Most people have heard of Marie-Antoinette. What do you know about her?
- Said, “Let them eat cake,” in reference to starving peasants.
She’s the quintessential spoiled brat. Or is she…? What we think we know — and even what the people of the time thought they knew — is largely influenced by the media. That quote most famously attributed to her: Total bunk. In fact, it had first been attributed to Catherine de’ Medici 200 years before! And likely, she never said it either. It was one of those media chestnuts purposely trotted out at opportune times (ie. when the peasants were starving) to fuel a fire and provide a scapegoat. As for the charge of frivolity — yes, she did spend a lot of money on jewelry, parties, and building projects, largely because she had no concept of money-management. But she did not do it to spite the French people as they were led to believe. She did not have much exposure to the lower classes, but once she did learn how dire the situation was for the common people, she was genuinely moved. Here are some things about Marie-Antoinette that generally get swept under the rug:
- Tender, compassionate heart
- A good mother who bristled at the formality of the French court which did not allow her to raise her children as she desired
- A loyal friend
- Devout Catholic (in contrast to the mostly nominal French Catholics)
- Sunny, cheerful personality
She sounds like someone most of us would want to meet. And when you learn more of her story (taken from her native Austria at the age of 14 to marry a stranger; did not speak a word of French; was never allowed to return to Austria even to visit her family nor even permitted to take her childhood dog with her; was frightened to death at becoming queen at the age of 18; endured harsh criticism from the rest of the royals and slanderous personal attacks from everyone else; grieved the loss of two of her children in infancy, etc), she becomes much more human, much more accessible, and less of a storybook figure. She was not perfect, but her reputation suffered severely as a result of bad press. And once people get an idea in their heads, it’s nearly impossible to change the tide.
So what do you know about Axl Rose?
- Angry, violent lunatic usually comes to mind.
- Champion thrower of tantrums.
- Neurotic recluse
- Depraved sicko
That’s a pretty bleak picture, but if we’ve learned anything from Marie-Antoinette, we should notice that this is also an awfully 2-dimensional character profile. It reads like some kind of comic book super villain instead of a real human being. And, as the name of the blog suggests, there’s a lot more going on to Axl Rose than just this. We can’t deny that he can be angry, that he can rant and rave with the best of ’em and that he’s pretty elusive as far as the press is concerned. And that right there should tip us off. When the press don’t have access, they have to trot out the old stories, the old stand-by descriptions and pepper it with plenty of gut-reaction words like “neurotic” and “reclusive.” What if, instead, they chose to describe Axl as “pensive” and “private”? All of a sudden he sounds more like a person and less like a maniac planning the demise of the world from his secret hideout. As for depraved sicko, I may have to let that one stand because he was definitely into some kinky stuff in his younger days. I’d like to think that, at the age of 50, he may have mellowed out, but who knows. The druggie tag was never fairly attributed to Axl. He did use cocaine and heroine recreationally, but by sheer mental will-power, refused to become addicted. And once he signed his record deal with Geffen in 1986, he realized that drugs were just going to get in the way of things he wanted to achieve, so he all but stopped (and his drug usage, aside from some weed to calm his nerves, tapered off completely over the next couple of years). The rest of the band, however, were severely addicted, meaning that often — even during shows — Axl was the only one left sober! That alone should garner a little more respect for him.
In all of the research that I’ve done on Axl recently, here are some other things about him that I observed:
- Usually quite calm and composed
- Exacting of himself and others — he is a classic first-born perfectionist
- Very earnest, especially when speaking about his music
- Has a poet’s soul — a Romantic (in the classic sense of the word)
- Desires to be understood and takes criticism very personally
- Has a keen sense of humor and a quick wit
- Invests himself deeply into his relationships with other people
He doesn’t sound nearly as scary as he has always been made out to be, does he? It was these qualities that struck me as I watched that first interview with him and Slash. That tough-guy punk-kid demeanor is only part of the story and, I suspect, was a persona he developed quite early on as a survival mechanism because he was always harassed so much for being different. How does all that jive with the tantrums and rantings? It does, I promise, and I will get into that in another post. As I have discovered, I don’t always agree with Axl’s methods, but I can usually identify with his reasoning.
The major lesson to take from all this is that we often only see celebrities in the light in which the media chose to cast them. As unlikeable as a celebrity may seem in the news, we need to remind ourselves that the press has probably taken one or two aspects of their personalities and blown it out of proportion in relation to the rest in order to fill a character slot on the newspage. In some cases, it may not end up being that big of a deal, but in other cases, it may send a man into hiding or get a queen’s head chopped off.