T-shirtgate at the concert gates

I remember my first dissection. I was in 4th grade and they had set up tables in the school library where we would be guided through the slicing and dicing of a cow’s eyeball. I’m not overly squeamish, so it didn’t bother me too much as long as I didn’t think too hard about it. Today I’m going to guide you through a dissection and I guarantee it’s going to be messy and it’s going to be ugly.

1st June 2012. My burgeoning interest in Axl Rose was only a few weeks old, but when the report hit the news wire, family and friends made sure that I had heard: “Axl Bans Slash T-Shirts!” Look! Look what that nutjob did now! What a hateful, spiteful, petty man! {Insert giant eyeroll here} This already smelled of rotten fish. Get out your scalpels, friends, and let’s tear this hack job apart.

First cut: Consider the source. Most people who saw the article had it pop up in their newsfeed via Yahoo or GuitarWorld or some other source. But way down at the bottom of the article was a little note listing the original source: a British music magazine called NME. That won’t mean anything to the casual reader, but after having just read pages and pages of articles about Axl and Guns n’ Roses, I immediately recognized the name NME as notoriously anti-Axl. With headlines like “Axl Rose Falls Headfirst Onstage” and “Axl Rose’s Best Tantrums,” it’s plain that NME revels in any chance they get to throw more dirt at Axl. So right off the bat, we should be wary.

Second cut: The second sentence tells us that band management has banned anyone wearing Slash t-shirts from entering the gigs on the UK leg of the tour. Wow, anyone? One of the first rules I learned in my high school Written Composition class was to avoid unprovable generalizations. Marks off for poor writing skills. Next, I did a little bit of research via a couple of the main Guns n’ Roses fan forums. These people are fanatical about documenting who has attended concerts, so I knew that there would surely have been a few at this same concert. I was not disappointed to find that message threads had already been started regarding the NME article. Some people jumped on the bandwagon and bashed Axl (yay, fans!); some were skeptical, saying that they had seen people in all manner of Slash gear at shows they had attended — even people dressed in full-on Slash regalia — with no harassment from security. There was a very small minority, however, that did report either hearing an announcement regarding Slash clothing or saw security asking people to turn their shirts inside-out at a smattering of shows. So then the question is, who gave the orders?

Cut number three: In the NME article, James Revell, the Slash-clad fan, is quoted as saying, “I believe they asked me to do this because Axl Rose has some problem with Slash and if he saw me wearing the shirt he might have stormed off stage.”

Uh huh.

When the reporter asked a security guard, he said “management” had instructed them to do this; whether arena management or band management remains unclear. But, based on the conjecture of an angry 18 year old, blame automatically gets laid at Axl’s feet. Then, like a bad game of Telephone, the news wire jumps all over it and we see headlines morph from “Guns n’ Roses Bans Fans From Wearing Slash T-shirts” to “Axl Rose Bans Slash T-shirts,” with every manner of speculation and rumor-mongering contained within the articles. When we boil it down, this whole media firestorm stems from one quote by one witness. Shouldn’t there have been plenty of other half-naked Guns fans with a story to tell of how big, bad Axl Rose wouldn’t let them wear their Slash t-shirts? And nowhere was an attempt made to contact either the venue management or the band management. And, amazingly enough, this was not an issue on the remainder of the tour, including rock festivals where both Axl and Slash were playing at the same venues. Wouldn’t it be conceivable that there were fans attending both shows and possibly also wearing a {gasp} Slash t-shirt? Or are only British fans in Slash shirts offensive to Axl? Still smells like fish to me.

Fourth cut: The article says, “an NME source noticed that a member of the crowd was bare-chested under his jacket.” A bare chest? At a rock concert?! Stop the presses!! Seriously, all it took for this sharp-eyed “source” to hone in on this kid was that he was bare-chested under his jacket? Unless the kid was doing backflips or had mounted a soap box to decry the injustice wreaked upon him, wouldn’t most people just walk on by? Wow, I must not have what it takes to be a real reporter.

In this latest incident, Guns and Axl remained silent, largely because they felt they have already dealt with it before. Oh yes, this isn’t the first time people have prattled on about the supposed Slash t-shirt ban. A big deal was made of it after a concert in Winnipeg in January 2010. Shortly after those allegations were made, Fernando Lebeis, Axl’s manager, wrote on the Guns n’ Roses message board to say, “We did not advise any security to ban any sort of apparel… If they did, they did it on their own accord, or under someone else’s order — from within their management.”

But that wasn’t good enough for some people. A moderator of a Guns n’ Roses fan site kept pursuing the story until TMZ and other outlets blew it up. And once that happened, Axl blew up and made an appearance on the message board to tell this woman just what he thought. This is another case where I agree with his reasoning, but his methods make me cringe. A few days later, on February 16, 2010, Axl addressed the situation again on Twitlonger (a lengthier version of Tweets), although with less vitriol (guess he had had enough time to cool off).

Canadian tour n’ Slash banned nonsense: which I addressed live as soon as it happened but hey fake allegations from unreliable sources bein’ negative n’ all especially w/us n’ these issues got more weight to n’ 4 aholes. Fabricated from a 2001 bs RS piece from Rock N’ Rio. Bottom line: Never happened, end of story. %@&$ TMZ, Contact Music, Spinner (I got ur attitude.)

(And, I love ya, Axl, but dude. Seriously. Commas!!)

The 2001 Rock in Rio incident that Axl references involved a front-row heckler. Axl ran down the lowest part of the stage during the second song of the set (“It’s So Easy” at about 5:44 on the video link). As he goes into the bridge, Axl leans forward, very deliberately flips off someone in the crowd and then points his finger right at him to insure that this guy knows that Axl is on to him. As soon as he finishes that line of the song (which, weirdly, also seems it could be directed at the person in the crowd — “See me hit you; you fall down”), Axl says, “Get that guy outta here! That guy right there! Are you listening to me, Mr. Security Man? That guy: gone!” He grins, then as an afterthought adds, “Hand me that shirt. Thank you,” as an unseen person tosses up a wadded shirt to him. Axl takes the shirt, picks up singing as he runs back up to the mainstage and throws the shirt out of the way. And that’s the last we see or hear of it. What was on the shirt? No one knows. It may not have even been the graphics that were the problem — there were lots of people in the crowd swinging shirts around their heads. The shirt didn’t seem to be the main issue anyways. So, from that incident where not everything is clear, we get wild and misguided stories that crop up every few years. It’s like the monster that will never die — chop off one head and another grows back. No wonder Axl gets frustrated! It would drive me nuts, too, to be continually ignored or taken for a liar.

When this latest tour ended, I contacted Jarmo Luukkonen, who is creator of the site Here Today Gone to Hell, and now allowed the privilege of touring with the band. Obviously not the most unbiased source in the world, but, from what I can tell of him through his message board, he likes to get to the truth of a situation. I asked him whether he saw people in the crowds wearing Slash gear or whether they were turned away. His response was briefer than I would have preferred, but at least he did respond. The entirety of his message was:

“Hey, I think as usual, things just get twisted and blown out of proportion.”

Which is what I suspected all along.

What’s left on our dissection table then?

  • One unhappy, bare-chested fan
  • One security guard just “following orders”
  • And one weighty accusation

That’s not a news story, folks; that’s a personal anecdote and the source who perpetrated it had no business doing so with such flimsy information. So the moral of the story is: anyone can be a journalist! Woo hoo! No, wait. The real moral is: CHECK YOUR FACTS! And before you click “share” or spout off ridiculous comments, take another look at that scandalous news article and be sure you can extract any real news from it.


French queen… Rockstar

Most people have heard of Marie-Antoinette. What do you know about her?

  • Frivolous
  • Said, “Let them eat cake,” in reference to starving peasants.
  • Beheaded.

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
  • Druggie

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.