Off the Rails

The Guns N' Roses tour collapses, and Axl folds. Is anyone really surprised?

Precisely why Guns N' Roses' North American tour came to an abrupt end last week, days before it was scheduled to hit America West Arena, may be a mystery never totally untangled. Sure, there have been hints and rumors: Front man Axl Rose insisted the New York City show two weeks ago was as good as it was gonna get. Axl refused to leave his hotel room. Axl needed a head-shrinker to coax him onstage. Oh, yes: Axl Rose is fucking nuts. But those trying to find a way into the story of how such an anxiously anticipated tour fell apart so abruptly are met only by the most impenetrable of roadblocks: Those who know the whole truth about Axl Rose are, quite simply, reluctant to talk about the Guns N' Roses singer-songwriter and just why he decided to crap all over the faithful who were promised a tour after nearly a decade of waiting and wanting.

Part of the secrecy has to do with Rose's obsessive litigious nature; the man will sue oxygen for invading his personal space. One former insider (and, at this point, everyone ever associated with the man is a former something or another) agreed to speak and then asked not to be quoted -- and this is from someone who had only good things to say about the former William Bruce Rose.

These days, however, most of the conversation about Rose echoes that of another intimate insider, one who declined to be quoted by name before the riot in Vancouver on November 7 and the no-show in Philadelphia 29 days later, which finally killed the disastrous U.S. tour of rock's most bizarre freak show.

"I don't have much positive to say, and Axl has enough complications without me adding fuel to the fire," reads an e-mail sent by said insider. "He's the one that turned on me after 14 years, and I only recently got over the hurt. I'd rather try to take the high road." But a detour beckons anyway: This same person admits needing "to heal from finding out Axl and I weren't really friends."

And on and on and on it goes: For every nice thing someone can say about the guy, they can't help but add a damning postscript.

"He carries a lot of baggage, which is a shortcoming, but it is who he is," says another anonymous insider. He adds that, the last time he saw Rose, seven years ago outside an L.A. club, Rose said he'd just had an exorcist "clean" his house of former girlfriend/supermodel Stephanie Seymour's "evil presence." Adds this old friend: "He teeters on the brink of sanity."

For about 12 seconds earlier this summer, it appeared as though this tour might actually happen. Guns N' Roses -- or whatever one chooses to call a band featuring Rose, Tommy Stinson, former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, guitar virtuoso (and world-class eccentric) Buckethead, and several other ringers -- kicked off a world tour in mid-August at Tokyo's Chiba Marine Stadium and Osaka's WTC open-air stadium. The concerts were, for the most part, well-received, as were the next two gigs in England. But even those shows were not without their problems: At the Leeds Festival in late August, the band took the stage two hours late and demanded to be allowed to finish its set; from the stage, Rose promised a riot if the band wasn't able to deliver an entire set. And on August 26, when the band played London, Rose promised that not only would the band release Chinese Democracy, but that it was going to keep making music "as long as Uncle Axl doesn't act the asshole!"

Prior to those gigs, GN'R had played only two consecutive New Year's Eve shows in Las Vegas (in 2000 and 2001) and the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil during early January last year. Although Rose spent most of the last decade -- and, reportedly, somewhere between $6 million and $9 million -- writing and recording a new album, the now-infamous Chinese Democracy, he has introduced a mere four new songs onstage. Instead, he's still using TelePrompTers to perform the classic songs he made famous with an original lineup now left to re-form without him.

Before the tour began this August, Axl was interviewed for the band's official Web site and insisted he was ready to tour and prove wrong the naysayers who proclaimed the band dead and the front man finished.

"To the ones who are negative and want to see either myself or the new band fall on their faces, personally, I can't pass up an opportunity to upset so many in one quick swoop," he insisted. "I get misty-eyed just thinking about it! I feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside! But seriously, this is our tour [that] I've agreed to, that I have personally authorized, [and] not someone else's good intentions gone awry, or a reckless promoter's personal agenda. These shows are important to us and, for better or worse, we'll be there."

Or, you know, not.

Perhaps the beginning of the end came as early as August 29, during the band's bizarre closing appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, where a bloated, cornrowed Axl had difficulty hitting the high notes during a medley of "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City." The band also debuted a new song, "Madagascar," which was either a ballad or just performed at a standstill pace so Rose could catch his breath.

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