Whoopsies. Axl Rose Once Paid $75K for Guns N’ Roses Album Art That Was Free

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In a newly published interview with former Guns N’ Roses band manager, Alan Niven, Niven goes deep on his time with the legendary band. He explains his initial trepidation about working with Guns N’ Roses, why Axl Rose should never have paid for the Use Your Illusion album art and much more.

Former Guns N’ Roses Manager Alan Niven Explains How He First Met Guns N’ Roses:

While you’d assume most managers would’ve jumped at the chance to be involved in the business of Guns N’ Roses, Niven actually wanted no part of it at first. He recalls:

“The band first came on my radar when Zutaut [Tom Zutaut, GN’R A&R] asked me to be part of a cattle call for management. I wasn’t interested. Having secured a new contract for [Great White], I was going to apply myself exclusively to their progress. No distractions.

[Zutaut] came and asked again. Having done some research on them, my reply was, “Good fuckin’ luck.” They were a disaster waiting to happen on a regular basis.

He came a third time and asked me to pretend to manage the band. Rosenblatt [President of Geffen] had refused to let them start recording until they had a manager. Tom, then and once a friend [my first wife worked as a receptionist in his office], I told him there was no way I would involve myself in such a lame ploy, but, alright, I’ll meet with them and see what transpires.”

Niven Shares His First Impressions of Guns N’ Roses:

When asked to elaborate about his first impressions of Guns N’ Roses, Niven didn’t hold back:

“Fuck-ups. But that meant they weren’t your typical, calculating L.A. wannabes who had more ambition than talent. Y’know, throw a demo together, shop it, not get signed, all change, join other musicians. Every three months.

A band is something that must be forged in the fire of adversity. Stay together and allow personal chemistry to percolate. Take on impossible odds. Fuck ’em all; it’s us against them. That was Mötley. That was Great White. That was Guns. Us against everything. One for all and all for one. I am raised British – we invented the fuckin’ underdog and took one-sixth of the planet for empire while being a tiny country no bigger than New Zealand.

Keith Richards told Slash he could never leave the band. Keith understood this to the marrow. He may have hated Sir Mick at certain points and thought the knighthood a betrayal of the blue-collar rock ‘n’ roll spirit, but he was Keith’s knight of the realm. So, fuck ya all.”

Axl Rose’s $75,000 Use Your Illusion Album Art Purchase Mistake:

The Use Your Illusion (I & II) album artwork was iconic pretty much the second the public laid eyes on it. In this older audio interview, Axl explained how he came across the art. We’ve transcribed it below:

“It’s an artist by the name of Mark Kostabi, and I picked that painting because I was really tired, and I was having dinner somewhere, and there was an art gallery across the street. And I went ‘wow… I had never walked in to an art gallery before and been able to afford something.’ And I went in and I happened to know this guy who had worked with Billy Idol who was working there. I wandered around and then I walked into the office when no one was around, and they had all these other paintings. I had just written ‘Locomotiv [Complicity]’ where it said ‘I bought me an illusion and I put it on the wall.’  

And I found this painting that I really liked and then I looked at the back and the title was use your illusion. And it was just kind of like meant to be and it was the first painting that I’d ever bought. I took it home and it took everybody a little while to warm up to it. But, everybody finally got into it and Slash decided that it said a lot.

And we agreed as a band that it was pretty cool. And I also wanted to use that picture because it was art that had a lot of controversy around it because of Kostabi’s methods of doing the paintings- the background was taken from a very old paining, but it’s still something really nice to look at and I don’t know how I feel about how it was done… I just know I like it.”

So while Axl was seemingly aware of the controversy surrounding Mark Kostabi art and his not so traditional ways of “borrowing” from existing art, Niven lost his mind when he found out that Axl had paid for a version of Raphael’s “School of Athens,” which was free for commercial public use.


Here’s Niven’s take on why Axl got “ripped off”:

“The biggest giggle I got was Axl paying [Mark] Kostabi $75,000 for the cover paintings without asking me about the idea first. He did not understand the images were in the public domain – we didn’t have to pay Kostabi anything for their use on merchandising. But then, look at how Yoda, Sharon Maynard, conned him. Another $75,000 for an “exorcism.” The vulnerable being taken advantage of, and Goldstein not minding the door.”

Oh well. One would have to imagine that since this was post Appetite for Destruction, $75,000 was but a drop in the ‘ol bucket for Axl.