What GNR should have known

Last time, I introduced you to Dr. Kevin Leman and his book all about birth order and how it affects us. Axl falls neatly into the camp of first-born discouraged perfectionists (of which I am also a member). Dr. Leman says that first borns “are often the achievers, the ones who are driven to success and stardom in their given fields. You can’t ignore the first borns. If you aren’t one, you have to deal with them somewhere along the line. In some cases it can mean friction, even war.”

I began to look at other members of the original Guns n’ Roses lineup to see where they fit in and if it would shed any light on the tension and volatility for which the band was known.

First was Axl’s pal, Izzy, the rhythm guitarist. Izzy (Jeff Isbel) was the oldest of three sons. Some people may not have guessed him to be a first-born child, especially in comparison to Axl. Dr. Leman explains that there are two types of first borns: compliant or strong-willed.

Your compliant first born is the “model child” who grows up to be a pleaser of others. Compliant first borns are the reliable, conscientious wonders of the world. They have a very strong need for approval. … While compliant first borns have a strong need to be conscientious, care giving, and servants, there is another brand of first born who is more assertive and strong willed. In some cases, these power-driven first borns can acquire some badgerlike qualities. They develop traits that make them high achievers and hard drivers. They have high expectations and a strong need to be “kingpin.”

Izzy was the quiet foil to Axl’s more dynamic personality. That’s not to say that Izzy or other compliant first borns don’t have their own opinions or desires, but they are more willing to cede the position of top dog.

Slash, the lead guitarist, is also a first born, but is a bit of a different situation. His younger brother was born when he was 7 years old, meaning that Slash had a pretty good headstart as an only child. Usually, only children are just like first borns, but magnified. However, Slash’s family dynamic was a little odd in that his parents basically let him raise himself. He came and went as he pleased, dropped out of school around junior high, and got involved in drugs and alcohol very early on. All of these factors skew what should be rather straightforward first born characteristics. However, despite his rather loosey-goosey upbringing and severe drug and alcohol addictions, Slash does demonstrate plenty of first born characteristics. He and Axl butted heads from day one and this was surely a major reason why.

Now we leave the first borns and move on to other ranks in the family. Steven, the drummer, was a middle child out of a family of three boys. As Dr. Leman says, the middle child can be a bit difficult to nail down because he or she usually branches off in a different direction from the older sibling. In chapter 6, he outlines two main types of middle children. The second list seems to fit Steven to a T: “Sociable, friendly, outgoing; takes life in stride, laid back; easygoing — not competitive; peacemaker, mediator; avoids conflict.” Steven was often known for being the smiling, happy-go-lucky member of the band. Middle children also tend to see their relationships with their friends as deeper or more meaningful than their relationship with their family where they often feel squeezed out by the older and younger siblings. And, as Dr. Leman’s list indicates, peacemaking and conflict avoidance are integral to a middle child’s make-up. Probably no one was hurt more by the band’s break-up than Steven (who had already been fired due to his drug habit). It was he alone out of the original five members who held out hope for years of an eventual reunion (finally abandoning that dream when neither Axl nor Izzy attended the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction this past April).

Last but not least is Duff, the youngest of eight children and original bass player for Guns. Dr. Leman describes the youngest of a family as “charming, outgoing, affectionate and uncomplicated… they can also be rebellious, critical, temperamental, spoiled, impatient and impetuous.” The first list seems most to describe Duff, although he could probably be called rebellious. He was the lone punk rocker in a family of hippies (his words). He was a steady, unflappable presence for the band, sort of a human analog of his instrument.

So when we put this cocktail together we end up with three first borns, a middle and a youngest. It should be apparent where the likelihood for conflict lies. And, let’s face it, in any group of guys, there is going to be some grappling  to determine who is the alpha male. By sheer force of personality and by default of being the only one sober enough to conduct any kind of business, Axl came out on top from the very beginning. Most of the rest of the band was fine with that arrangement (at least at the beginning), but Slash proved to be a continual challenger to that position. It’s not impossible for two first borns to get along (my parents — both first borns — have been married for 36 years), but there is most definitely the potential for sparks depending on the personalities. And that, my good people, is where we’re heading next.


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