** I began this post last October. Since then we’ve had three birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Surely the irony is not lost, given the topic. **
My husband is a punctual man. When we were dating, he’d say, “I’ll pick you up at 6:00.” And at 6:00, there would be a knock on the door. He may not have realized the full extent of what he was getting into when he married me. I am not, and never have been, punctual. If I arrive anywhere on time it’s for one of these three reasons: 1) Luck, 2) Fear of consequences, or 3) I had to skip doing something important, like eating. It’s not that I enjoy being late or even that I don’t care, because I do. Things just conspire against me.
Things? What kinds of things? Little things. Ridiculous things. A whole barrage of stupid, insignificant things that combine forces about twenty minutes before I need to head out the door. Welcome to the world of the Chronically Late.
Way back towards the beginning of this blog, I discussed how Axl’s birth order of first-born perfectionist affects and directs a lot of what he does. As Dr. Leman noted in The Birth Order Book, first-born perfectionists are often afflicted with lateness. At first, it may seem counter-intuitive. Aren’t the first-borns supposed to be the leaders? The shining beacons to the rest of society? Well, yes, but that’s where the perfectionism kicks in. Our strength is our weakness. We cannot overlook or not do certain tasks because to do so violates our sense of order. Everything needs to be in place and taken care of before leaving.
I’ll give you a real-life example: Often, I have to ready myself and my three kids for church alone since my husband has to be there early. I allot myself an hour and a half to shower, and then feed and dress us all. All of those tasks together shouldn’t take longer than about forty minutes, so where does the rest of the time go? God only knows. I sit the kids down to eat while I take a shower. When I come out, the 7 year old hasn’t finished because she has been reading the comics; the 5 year old hasn’t finished because she’s mad at her sister (don’t look for logic; there is none); and the 3 year old has dumped his bowl of cereal on the floor and knocked over his water. After cajoling the girls into eating their breakfasts, cleaning up the messes and finishing getting all the children properly groomed, before I know it, there are five minutes left until it’s time to leave and I’m still in my bathrobe with wet hair. Some of you punctual types are probably thinking, “You should just get up earlier.” It doesn’t work that way, peeps. All of the above will still happen, plus extra things to fill up all of the dead time. I realize that it sounds like I’m blaming the kids, but I was late well before they came on the scene; they just add a new dimension. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is a battle that I will never win. I will always be late; the best I can do is to strive to be a little less late.
Because I live in the world of the Chronically Late, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of Axl and his tardiness. Just like me, it’s no new thing for Axl — he admits that he has been dealing with it all of his life [That Metal Show, November 2011]. Most people can’t wrap their heads around this so, for those of us in this club, we’re left with either making jokes or pretending that nothing is out of the ordinary. Axl uses both methods. One of his more famous jokes is from a 1992 Rolling Stone interview: “I’m late to everything. I’ve always wanted to have it written in my will that when I die, the coffin shows up a half hour late and says on the side, like in gold, ‘Sorry I’m late.'”
Axl’s explanation to Eddie Trunk [TMS Nov ’10] sounds a lot like what happens to me. Things conspire!
Not complaining or to be a wuss or whatever, just a lot of times, the day of show, everything starts going wrong. People are making mistakes. You’re making mistakes; they’re making mistakes and nobody even knows why. Y’know, it’s like, things you go, “I should know this.” It’s like everybody gets hit by ADD or whatever.
And I think he and I both know that it sounds like a load of crap to punctual people. But whatcha gonna do?
In addition to things not going smoothly, Axl has also discussed the need to mentally prepare himself for a show.
The pressure of having to do the show with whatever else is going on in my life is hard to get past. … We’re out there to win at what we do. And if that means going on two hours late and doing a good show, I’m gonna do it. I take what I do very seriously [RS 2 April 1992]
So you’re trying to sort through that and get yourself in the right headspace and physical whatever that you’ve got to work through. It’s more like sports and having to play the big game. [TMS Nov ’11]
Axl gets a lot of flack for being late and while there is something to be said for showing up when you’re expected, not all cultures are as controlled by clock time as those in the Northern Hemisphere tend to be. For an interesting revelation of what time-keeping means around the world, I recommend the book The Geography of Time, by Robert Levine. In it, Dr. Levine discusses the history of time-keeping and attitudes towards punctuality and tardiness around the world. Anyone who has traveled to another country has surely experienced a bit of culture shock when met with different views on time. Living in France was great for me because showing up 15 minutes “late” was fine and even expected. Dr. Levine learned the hard way that time in Brazil is much more fluid than in the U.S. Now, neither Axl nor I are French or Brazilian, so we can’t claim culture as the reason for our tardiness, which makes it all the harder to live in a culture that values the Anglo-Saxon view of timeliness. American and Northern European views were heavily influenced by railroads trying to get organized in the 1880s. “The moral gatekeepers of the new industrial society were equally convinced of the virtues of clock time and were more than willing to add their own voices to its promotion. The latecomer was characterized as a social inferior and, in some cases, a moral incompetent.” [The Geography of Time, pg. 69]
That’s a pretty big stigma to overcome for those of us who don’t live and die by the clock like the majority of American society. It doesn’t mean that we are excused from making an effort to conform a bit more; it just doesn’t come as naturally. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychology professor, has observed that even within cultures, individual perceptions of time can vary wildly. He contends that each of us falls into one of three broad groups: past-oriented, present-oriented, or future-oriented (For more information on his studies this little video lecture is excellent). According to Zimbardo, each of these perspectives has a direct impact on how we conduct ourselves in life. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Axl displays many behaviors of someone with the present-hedonist view of time and life (hedonist in this case doesn’t necessarily mean debauchery) — which is not to say that that’s all there is to him. Otherwise, the 14 year old kid who had dreams of being a world-renowned rockstar never would have made it out of Lafayette. It takes some future perspective to be able to achieve a goal like that (that’s also where evidence of being a first-born perfectionist again comes to light).
So, with a natural propensity for lateness — all the while knowing that it’s not socially acceptable, which adds its own stress — Axl has also been accused by Slash of using time as a power play and of not caring about his fans. For a man who wants to do his absolute best at everything he sets his mind to, this is a hard pill to swallow. To someone with a strong sense of punctuality, I can see where the late starts to shows could come across as a power play move. Obviously, I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but judging from things that Axl has said and what others have said about his habits, I find that theory less likely. Marc Canter, a friend and supporter of Guns before they were even big in the L.A. club scene, told mygnrforum.com members in August 2012, “Axl has always been late as long as I have known him; that’s just the way it is. Even for haircuts [his wife was hairdresser to the band in the early days] or a doctor visit.” Describing his childhood, Axl said,
I lived right behind my school and I couldn’t make it to the class in grade school. I had a job at the grocery store down the street and I’m running down the street with wet hair; I’m trying to tie my tie, a sandwich in one hand. It’s a comic strip. [TMS Nov ’11]
And explaining his thoughts on show days:
I don’t want to make people sit around and wait — it drives me nuts. That hour-and-a-half or two-hour time period that I’m late going onstage is living hell, because I’m wishing there was any way on earth I could get out of where I am and knowing I’m not going to be able to make it. [RS 2April92]
Recently, current guitarist Bumblefoot was asked what he perceived as the most misunderstood thing about Axl.
I think that, a lot of times, if he’s late on stage or if he’s not going to show up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or if an album is taking too long to come out – that kind of stuff – I think a lot of times people think it’s because he doesn’t care about his fans. They just take it that way. But the truth is I think, from what I see, he cares so much that it almost gets in the way. I would say he cares too much. That’s what people don’t realize about him. They take it the wrong way. They think that if he’s stalling on something that it’s that he doesn’t care but it’s actually because he cares so much that he’s so concerned about doing the wrong thing. He’s trying to feel out what the right thing is to do. That’s one thing I noticed about him: that he cares maybe too much. That’s my perspective if I were to put it into my own words. [boomerocity.com Jan 2013]
The other factor that people fail to take into account is that in the 90s when Axl developed his notorious reputation for extreme tardiness, his personal life was also falling apart, sometimes in dramatic and overly-publicized fashion. In all honesty, it’s a miracle he took the stage at all some nights.
A lot of this goes way, way back, though, to ’91 and where we were super late going onstage. And that really has more to do with, I should not have been on tour. [TMS Nov ’11]
In a 30 October 2012 interview with USA Today, Axl said, “I was expressing my emotions and took that as far as you can and still be alive. I could beat my mike stand into the stage, but I was still in pain. Maybe fans liked it, but sometimes people forget you’re a person and they’re more into the entertainment value.”
Axl has repeatedly tried to reassure concert goers in the last couple of years that “we’re doing a lot better” as far as start times are concerned. Does that mean that Axl will never be late to concerts anymore? Doubtful. But if you find yourself at a show waiting for him to go onstage, keep in mind that 1) old habits die hard; 2) he has the fans in mind as he readies himself; and 3) he’ll make it worth your time.
And there’s something to be said for giving us Chronically Late types a bit of grace, especially considering that we don’t do it on purpose in an attempt to ruin your life. 😉