Shootin’ the breeze with Axl Rose

On Wednesday, 24 October, Axl Rose was the much anticipated main guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live. It was being touted as “Axl’s first TV interview in 20 years!” Eddie Trunk, d.j. and host of VH1 Classic’s “That Metal Show,” took a little exception to that since it was just last November that Axl sat down with him for TMS. Eddie was willing to concede on the point of this being a “live” TV interview and acknowledged that he was happy to see Axl on Kimmel [all via Eddie Trunk’s Twitter account].

Guns n’ Roses has a 12-date residency spread out through the month of November at Hard Rock’s The Joint in Las Vegas. The appearance on Jimmy Kimmel was to drum up a little publicity and re-introduce Axl and Guns n’ Roses to the general public. Many hardcore GNR fans were disappointed at the fluff factor of this interview, but in reality, it wasn’t for them anyways. As I have mentioned before, although Axl has been busy and actively touring over the past six years, he doesn’t command headlines like he used to. And for all those people who only vaguely remember him from the ’90s and were briefly reminded of Axl’s existence during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brouhaha, this type of interview was exactly what he needed. While obviously a tad nervous and stiff (not the first celebrity to appear that way on live TV), Axl came off exactly as I expected him to: polite, affable, generous, charming, and funny. And the general public needed to see that. Remember that violent, angry, foul-mouthed Axl Rose you thought you knew? That stays onstage for the most part and, even so, is largely a thing of the past. The vast majority of Axl’s interviews through the years have shown him to be quite calm and collected, witty and with varying degrees of gregariousness and cheerfulness depending on his mood and comfort with the interviewer. Unfortunately, all of those interviews were aired on MTV or VH1 and would have been viewed only by music fans wanting to see interviews with their favorite rock stars. Going on network television — which typically has relished in flogging Axl’s dangerous bad boy image — exposed an entirely different dimension of his personality to a broader cross-section of people. And he can only benefit from that!

To see the show, click here.

In the promo spot before Axl comes onstage, he strides up to a girl and “signs” her chest. She turns around to reveal the message, “Up next: Axl Rose.” Axl has signed many a body part in his day, but this was just a silly gag. Surprisingly, many people online didn’t seem to catch that despite Axl’s feigned writing motions. May I present, once again, ladies and gentlemen, exhibit A: It’s not his handwriting. But yes, it was funny that he played along.

Jimmy Kimmel opened the interview with a joke about Axl’s punctuality for the show, to which Axl replied with a grin, “It’s a miracle.” Axl’s timekeeping proved to be Kimmel’s fall-back joke, and Axl good-naturedly rolled with the punches. The rest of the interview was a bit of a show-n-tell beginning with an old flyer that Axl and Izzy had made up back when they were playing under the name Rose. I’ve seen a few jabs online about the bad grammar on the photo: “There [sic] living fast and they’ll die young.” Without meaning to dog Izzy, that is his handwriting (mixture of lowercase and capital) and the bad grammar is fairly typical of the writing samples I’ve seen from him. When Axl uses bad grammar, it’s to intentionally sound colloquial (ie. lyrics from “You Could Be Mine”: It don’t matter how we make it; “Breakdown”: You ain’t got no one. Etc. etc.) So why didn’t he proofread his friend’s contribution? Who knows, but that was 30 years ago, so let’s cut them both some slack.

Jimmy mentioned the proximity of early GNR’s rehearsal space to the television studio and asked Axl if he remembered it (why wouldn’t he?). Axl wryly answered, “Unfortunately,” and the internet conspiracy theorists immediately assumed that it was a jab at the old bandmates. First of all, they were talking about the space, not the bandmembers. Secondly, at that point in time, Axl was homeless and basically starving to death; he actually moved into the rehearsal space which was nothing more than a storage unit. No heat/AC, no bathroom, no windows. Ah, memories. I think Axl’s allowed to look back on that without a heart full of warm fuzzies.

From there, Jimmy asked about how Axl ended up in L.A. (he hitchhiked when he was 19).

What was that question, Jimmy?!

Next in the show-n-tell was a photo of Axl’s now-famous Halloween tree. He was at his most engaging during the telling of this story. He declared it one of the most evil things he has ever done. If you’re a parent, you may be inclined to laughingly agree.

Earlier in the day, fans submitted questions for Axl via Jimmy’s Twitter. Axl’s reponses to these were good-natured and let his wicked sense of humor shine. There was one question about voting and Axl had to admit that he’s not a voter (In the ’90s, Guns n’ Roses was invited to play for Rock the Vote and Axl declined, pointing out that he’s a poor example. According to him, his reasons for abstaining are that he never has time to properly research candidates and issues and doesn’t want to just throw a vote out there to say he did it. Musician Magazine Sept. 1991). Still, when pushed, Axl said that he might vote for Obama if he were to vote. It has been funny seeing little headlines and blurbs online declaring, “Axl Rose Endorses Obama! Axl Rose Is a Democrat!” I wouldn’t exactly call this a ringing endorsement: Axl shrugs, “I would lean Obama.” Don’t get too excited, people; besides, he’s not voting anyways.

The interview concluded with more talk about the Vegas residency, the Neil Young Benefit that GNR played last weekend (more on that to come in another post) and Axl’s early musical influences. Then Axl surprised the crowd by announcing that there were two sets of tickets to the Vegas gigs hidden under the seats and then treated the entire audience and crew to a burger from a Tommy’s Burger truck that he had brought along. A few skeptics have doubted that this was Axl’s doing, but I’m inclined to think that it’s perfectly in fitting with his personality. Slash, in his book, has said that Axl enjoys making grand gestures towards people.

All in all, it was a pleasant interview despite its lack of any new revelations. It seemed to be a positive experience for Axl, Jimmy, and the fans; anyone looking for something negative to report is just nit-picking.

Well done, Axl Rose.

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From one first-born perfectionist to another

One of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read is The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman. My dad gave it to me several years ago and it really opened my eyes to why I am, well, how I am; I felt like it gave me a better understanding of where other people are coming from, too. That is especially important for a first-born perfectionist like me who can tend to see things as “my way or the highway.” Dr. Leman is a psychologist who closely studied birth order dynamics and observed recurring traits in first-born children, middle children, and the youngest children. He outlines each birth order with its respective characteristics and discusses how this influences the way a person perceives the world and his or her behavior in it. After reading this book and coming to terms with my own first-born perfectionist traits, I’m pretty good at picking out other first-borns.

By now, you’ve probably guessed where I’m headed. Yes, Axl is a first-born child (followed by brother Stuart and sister Amy — half-siblings, but of course, none of them were aware of that until Axl was in his late teens). And, as much as Axl bristles at the label of perfectionist (third question down), I’m sorry, buddy. You are. But it’s ok. There are lots of us out there and most of us live to tell the tale and learn how to make it work for us instead of against us.

First, let’s take a look at Dr. Leman’s descriptions of a first-born child. Here are what he sees as typical characteristics: perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, list-makers, well-organized, critical, serious, scholarly, goal-oriented, achiever, self-sacrificing, people-pleaser, conservative, supporter of law and order, believer in authority and ritual, legalistic, loyal, self-reliant. Dr. Leman says, “Life is real and life is earnest for the first-born individual. He or she isn’t much for surprises. First-borns prefer to know what’s happening and when. They thrive on being in control, on time and organized.”

Now, some of you who know anything about Axl, may look at that list and say, “‘Supporter of law and order’? From a guy who has been arrested over 20 times?” But when you study him you will see that he does have a sense of justice and order (for example, this is why he gets so upset when fans throw stuff at him and the band on stage — it endangers him, the band, the crew and the other fans, and he won’t stand for it). And what about that “on time” business when everyone knows that Axl Standard Time is vastly different than the rest of the world’s? Here is where we get into an interesting phenomenon that occurs with a lot of first-borns that Dr. Leman calls the “discouraged perfectionist.”

The discouraged perfectionist has — consciously or not — set the bar high for himself. If he perceives that he is not meeting this golden standard that only he has imposed on himself, he begins to feel like a failure. Dr. Leman addresses this in chapter 5:

Discouraged perfectionists may act out of character — be sloppy, for example, but it is all a cover to hide their frustration with life’s less-than-perfect warts and bumps… Many discouraged perfectionists really have difficulties in handling time. They’re the expert procrastinators who sometimes do a little bit and then walk away from the task. They seem to be “either or” kind of people. When they’re running hot, watch out. They’ll trample you getting all that work done. But when they’re running cold, it’s tough to get them to move at all.

I will stop here for a moment to raise my hand and acknowledge that I, Jen, am a discouraged perfectionist. I see it play out everyday in my life. Being aware of it has helped me reduce some of the pressure on myself, but I’m by no means “cured.” I am late to everything I ever go to and once I arrive, I couldn’t really tell you what I had been doing all that time. I am a champion procrastinator, which my parents have teased me about all my life. I can paralyze myself with the feeling of, “If I start this project and cannot have it turn out XYZ, then it’s better not to start it.” I sat here in front of my computer for 6 hours today before I started this post until my husband told me to just get on with it. While many people will point to the excruciatingly long production time for Guns n’ Roses latest album “Chinese Democracy” as being all due to Axl’s perfectionism, I think there were several more things at play in that situation which are topics for another time. But, I can look at some of his earlier behaviors — that seem odd to most people — and recognize it as a discouraged perfectionist in action. Or inaction, as the case may be. Axl himself has said several times that he does not like to go on stage until he feels mentally and emotionally ready to perform an entire show to the best of his ability. I’ll expound on the lateness in another post, but did want to touch on it here since it is such an integral part of the way a first-born discouraged perfectionist tends to function.

Another interesting thing that Dr. Leman notes about discouraged perfectionists is the way they treat others.

Because discouraged perfectionists are often stubborn, opinionated, and strong-willed, they become known for telling people exactly what they think. And what happens if you tell everyone what you think? You drive them away. You lose your friends. Even your enemies don’t want to hang around long enough to try to insult you. When the discouraged perfectionist is told he’s too outspoken, he says, “Okay fine… I’ll just keep everything inside. If you guys can’t handle it, I won’t say anything.”

Sound like anyone we know? It seems that Axl has gotten better about this in recent years, but his mouth has definitely gotten him into trouble in the past.

A lot of people have played armchair psychologist with Axl over the years and many of them have declared him as bipolar or manic depressive. In December 2008, Axl answered fan questions on a Guns n’ Roses message board and one fan asked him about being bipolar. His reponse was:

I’ve not been diagnosed as being bipolar though many misconstrue statements I made earlier as alluding to such and unfortunately there’s been an abundance of misguided or unqualified speculation of various events but I definitely can relate to needing my own space.

In my world all bi polar means (and not to offend or make light of those suffering from a genuine condition or involved with those who are) is that someone can try to take cheap uneducated shots or try to claim I’m bipolar thus justifying why they should get paid a financial settlement for whatever nonsense they’re up to. Fortunately that hasn’t proved successful.

Because of Axl’s often erratic behavior and the “trendiness” of being bipolar, it’s easy to see why people would draw that conclusion. I’m inclined to believe him that he’s not; he has never shied away from talking about his personal struggles and I tend to think that if he were, in fact, bipolar, he wouldn’t have a problem saying so publicly. What I see is a first-born child saddled with perfectionism, anger and resentment built up during a lousy childhood, and a healthy dose of testosterone. Add that all together and explosions are to be expected.

Stay tuned for next time when I take a look at how birth order dynamics can affect a band.