Axl Rose turns 50 today. My fandom is obvious, starting with the title of this blog, and it runs through more memories, anecdotes and opinions than I usually care to admit. But here's one for February 6, 2012.
A few winters go, I hopped on a bus to New Jersey to see Guns N' Roses. GNR shows are as legendarily erratic as Axl's behavior, but that night they were magic. Two hours after their scheduled start time, the arena lights dimmed. The band started taking their places, but most of us near the front were transfixed on the expressionless figure waiting just off stage left, standing upright and holding a microphone by his side. Suddenly the man screamed, and from the eruption of the crowd it was clear that everyone in the arena knew exactly who it was.
Axl roared onto stage and didn't let up for the next three hours, sounding perfect and throwing himself into every song with an energy and magnetism that only the greatest performers hold. His handsomeness had been erased by age and plastic surgery, but the vocals and dance moves were unmistakable. Axl bounded across
the stage, occasionally stopping to spin around and stomp one foot or
unleash the snake dance. I stopped worrying that he might jump into the crowd and kick somebody's
ass, or throw down his mic and abandon us midsong. The arena could barely contain his voice.
The band, a revolving door of whoever was getting along with Axl that week, emphasized the leader's talents as much as his inability to maintain any sort of relationship. It would have been nice if he'd known someone considerate enough to tell him how goofy he looked in his Indiana Jones hat and jacket, or maybe even that "we go onstage around nine" means "we go onstage around nine." Not that it was any concern during the show--we were watching "Nightrain," "Mr. Brownstone" and "Rocket Queen" come to life. We ached along with "Estranged" and "Patience." Every time I thought the show couldn't get any better (an AC/DC cover? Two AC/DC covers?) it did.
A minute into "Sweet Child o' Mine," Axl ran up to center stage to tell a story that's even more famous than he is. At this moment--a measure or two after he opened his mouth--I noticed that about four different guys and two girls near me in the GA crowd were sobbing. I didn't, but I felt like I should have. All I could do was wonder what it must be like, to be incapable of any stability in your own life, and somehow able to make thousands of strangers feel loved.
Happy birthday, Axl Rose. Long may you run.