There’s a certain spot in rock and roll history reserved for the divas of the genre. For every great musician that’s only in it for the music, there are more than a few that just have their eye on the money and the adulation from fans, and occasionally play music as part of their side hustle.
It’s the nature of the beast to have artists that are a bit egotistical, but Axl Rose seems to fall into his own separate category. Throughout the history of Guns N’ Roses, Axl has lived up to his diva persona more than a few times, either not showing up for sell-out crowds, making insane demands backstage before he went on, and even refusing to attend his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with his former bandmates.
It’s his prerogative to do what he wants, but that doesn’t get you out of some ridicule over the years. For as long as Axl has been being Axl in the press, he has notched up more than a few people that have had some choice words to say about his antics, from refusing to tour behind him to just getting annoyed at the kind of person that he can be both on and off the stage. Even if he’s not always shown in the most positive light, you can’t say that Axl doesn’t know how to at least stay in the headlines.
The entire musical distance between Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana seems like night and day. Even though the Illusion projects were released just a few months before Nevermind, Kurt Cobain’s more disaffected brand of rock and roll almost seemed designed to stomp out the kind of macho posturing that Guns was becoming more known for at the time.
And it’s not like Kurt necessarily went out of his way to hide his animosity or anything. The first shot came when Axl offered Nirvana an opening slot on the tour, which Kurt shot down immediately because he was not taking kindly to Axl’s more suggestive lyrics and what he saw as misogynistic behavior. In the media is where things really started to get ugly, as Kurt went on several tirades about how Guns N’ Roses was probably one of the most overrated bands popular at the time, saying famously:
“[Axl is] a fucking sexist and a racist and a homophobe, and you can’t be on his side and be on our side. I’m sorry that I have to divide this up like this, but it’s something you can’t ignore. And besides, they can’t write good music.”
Kurt may have definitely exaggerated some of his feelings in the press, but he also remarked that things got a little too real at an appearance at the MTV Music Awards, where Courtney Love taunted Axl, mockingly asking him to be the godfather of their newborn daughter, which Axl did not take kindly to.
Nirvana did end up getting the one up on him when they actually got up to play though, with the band trashing their equipment after the song was over, and Dave Grohl coming up to the mic and acting like a starstruck fan by yelling Axl’s name and trying to pick him out in the crowd. Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana are two completely different flavors of hard rock, but when you look at everything that went on between them, Axl tends to look more like the school bully next to Kurt Cobain’s more laid-back demeanor.
As the ‘90s started, you couldn’t really script a better bill for hard rock than Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. While GNR were coming off of the recording sessions for their massive Use Your Illusion project, Metallica was in the midst of their mainstream breakthrough, gaining more momentum off The Black Album and playing to some of the biggest crowds that they had ever seen.
After a while on the tour though, James lost less and less respect for Axl once things started to get out of hand. During the infamous show in Montreal where James was badly burned in a pyrotechnic accident, Guns N ‘Roses could have saved the day by playing a little bit earlier and closing out the show, but Axl’s antics caused him to cut Guns’ show short as well, leaving after only a few songs complaining that his voice was giving him trouble.
While there had been some issues regarding the sound during the tour, that wasn’t enough to get Axl off the hook in Hetfield’s eyes, saying that Axl had made the situation even worse and really jeopardized the lives of some of the fans who were coming to hear them kick some ass. Granted, Metallica were at least willing to learn from Guns’ bad example, remarking that there were more than a few times on the tour when they realized what not to do when you became the larger-than-life rock star.
Although the joint tour ended up running for a few more weeks after the infamous Montreal gig, Slash admitted to not being able to look any of the members of Metallica in the eye for the rest of the tour.
If there’s anything that really killed the golden age of hair metal, chances are GNR got to it long before Nirvana came in and flipped the entire situation. Kurt Cobain may have expressed some disdain for bands like Motley Crue and Poison, but Guns’ straight-up rock and roll aesthetic seemed to make the likes of Cinderella look tame by comparison.
Guns carried themselves like a street gang, but that was before they came across the first real hair metal street gang. As Motley Crue were still riding the waves of Girls Girls Girls, the band was supposed to present an award to Guns for the video for “Sweet Child O Mine,” only to hit Izzy Stradlin in the nose as revenge for Izzy punching his girlfriend a few weeks prior. While Axl’s temper almost got the better of him that day, it was nothing compared to what Vince had in store for the next few days, bragging to different media outlets that he broke Izzy’s nose during the show.
After the war of words got a little too heated though, Vince went as far as to call Axl out on live television, challenging him to a fight and asking him to name the time and place for them to duke it out. After the sessions became more and more heated between the pair, no real punches were thrown, with the bands retreating into their corners and Guns eventually setting up shop for the disastrous sessions for their next double album project.
Motley Crue might have a bit more of a glam aesthetic than what Guns was working with at the time, but just because Vince wears lipstick doesn’t mean he won’t kick your ass either.
You know you can’t have a major rock star figure without Corey Taylor taking them down at least a few notches, right? Despite Corey’s outspoken love for Guns N’ Roses over the years and even a stint working with Velvet Revolver for a spell, he is also not too much of a fan of Axl’s antics, thinking that he doesn’t respect his audience enough to actually perform on time.
Corey is more than capable of running his mouth, but there was actually another part of his body that got him into trouble when he and Axl crossed paths. When Corey found himself playing at one of the same festivals as the new Guns, he had gotten a little agitated at the fact that Axl had reserved an entire corridor of the backstage area strictly for the Guns camp, and not even arriving by the time everything was set up.
Trying to knock him down a few pegs, Corey went into the Guns camp, found a white piano that Axl was set to use that night, and…let’s say rubbed his delicate parts across the keys. Though some of the OG Guns fans have tried to come after Corey in the past few years, he wasn’t really going to take it on the chin or anything, saying that the Appetite era is fantastic but not having any respect for a guy who makes his audience wait for 3 hours at a time just to see him go through a traditional chunk of Guns songs.
Corey might not be in the same power position as someone like Axl, but if Axl had quit making people wait for hours at a time, there’s a good chance that the original lineup would have gotten together a lot sooner.
If you ask a lot of musicians what beef they have with Axl Rose, it normally stems from the way he behaved during the band’s infamous tour for Use Your Illusion. While the band’s first few tours felt like a gang of outlaws getting up onstage and playing punishing rock and roll, this was the moment where some of the more overblown aspects of the band’s sound began to get the better of them onstage.
Even though Guns’ schedule may have been the most hectic on tour, it did do a number on some of the opening acts as well. During one leg when Nine Inch Nails were opening for Guns, Trent Reznor mentioned that those few shows were some of the worst that they had ever played, not being in the best headspace to actually work in any capacity.
While Axl may have initially been a fan of what Nine Inch Nails were doing at the time, the rest of the Guns-focused audience did not, as Trent remarks that the crowds were some of the most moronic audiences that he had ever seen onstage and having to dodge bits and pieces of sausage that were being thrown at them while they played.
Then again, Trent acknowledged that the clash of genres didn’t even seem to work for him at the time, with fellow opening act Skid Row going down like gangbusters and everyone pointing at their tickets and shouting for Guns to go on throughout the band’s entire set. Most bands have to pay their dues at some point, but looking back on these shows, you can really tell why Trent didn’t want anything to do with the Guns crowd in the years since.
For all of the great songs that Guns gave us on Appetite for Destruction, the road to the Illusion records saw the band getting bloated fairly quickly. Gone were the no BS punk rock-infused songs, and instead we got long piano ballads that went on for 9 minutes at a time and some of the most grandiose songs that Guns would ever make.
Any album this big needs a massive tour to go around it, but one of the support acts for Guns wasn’t necessarily all that friendly to the new rock god behavior. While most of GNR had admitted to having been fans of Faith No More when they were breaking on the scene with songs like “Epic,” the honeymoon period died off pretty quickly for singer Mike Patton, who did almost everything he could to try to find some way out of the tour.
While they may have gotten through their set bravely enough every night, the constant parties backstage and Axl waiting for ages to go on got under Patton’s skin, to the point where he was seriously considering defecating in one of the cakes that were supposed to be rolled out during one of Axl’s extravagant parties.
Mike had everything in place, but management shut everything down before any of the gross stuff actually happened, leading to Faith No More basically getting kicked off the tour, at which point Patton wasn’t exactly crushed to be asked to leave. Guns were still all about controversy though, and they brought in what was sure to go over much better than Faith No More…Ice-T’s Body Count, who had just come off of their song “Cop Killer” causing a stir with the PMRC. Outside of the rock star lifestyle though, you can at least give Axl credit for at least knowing a dangerous act when he sees one.
Coming from a band that caught wind in the ‘80s, someone like Guns N’ Roses doesn’t really feel like they should be on David Bowie’s radar. Even though The Starman did have his clothes made by a seamstress who turned out to be Slash’s mother, he was never really aware of the band until they started to pick up steam in the Los Angeles era on the back of Appetite for Destruction.
As Slash tells in his book though, David only managed to stay for a little while before walking out of the club in disgust. Originally intending to record the performance clips for the video for “It’s So Easy,” Axl started to get more and more annoyed at the fact that Bowie was in the crowd, getting the idea that he was hitting on his then-girlfriend, Erin Everly.
While there has been no indication that anything was happening between the Thin White Duke and Axl’s girlfriend, most of the banter that Axl said in between songs were aimed squarely at Bowie, making claims about him being over the hill and not really having any real relevancy anymore. It may have just seemed like good rebellious rock star behavior, but Axl wouldn’t drop it throughout their time onstage, with Bowie leaving in a huff and not even meeting up with Slash once the show wrapped up.
Axl has definitely made a history of saying some really offensive stuff onstage, but this is the kind of thing that you’d almost expect from the leader of what was then The World’s Most Dangerous Band.
Any good punk rock band knows how to stir up at least a little bit of controversy. As far back as the Sex Pistols jacking a boat during the Queen’s jubilee, it’s almost expected from someone like the Offspring to take the piss out of the larger-than-life rock stars that they saw day in and day out. While Guns may have had that kind of punk spirit in the early days, apparently that rebellious attitude tends to sour once you get older.
In an attempt to basically get Axl’s attention, the Offspring made the joke of naming their next album Chinese Democracy just so they could beat Axl to the punch before he could put his record out. This may have just been a genius marketing move or a harmless bit of trolling, but Axl wasn’t laughing. He was ANGRY.
Not too long after the Offspring mentioned the tentative title of their new project, Axl actually took legal action against the band, filing a cease and desist letter to the group for stealing the name of his album. Although there might not have been any real plan to use the album title verbatim, the name apparently belonged to Axl in his own mind, and even Offspring Dexter Holland had mentioned that the joke had gotten a little too out of proportion by the end of things.
You can chalk this up to being just a cheap joke if you wanted to, but the fact that Axl felt the need to actually bring the lawyers into the equation kind of shows the amount of diva that we’re actually working with here.
Jon Bon Jovi
When talking about the more controversial antics of Axl Rose, you can pretty much take your pick from any time that he has done something ill-advised onstage. If we’re talking about keeping fans waiting though, we have to pay special attention to Chinese Democracy, keeping the fans waiting for over a decade before finally unleashing the proper follow-up to the Use Your Illusion records.
And while Guns may have left hair metal in the dust back in the ‘80s, some of the old guard wasn’t mincing words about his “long wait” schedule. As Bon Jovi were on the promotion cycle for their pop pivot record Have a Nice Day, Jon expressed not being all that happy with how much attention that Axl kept getting in the past few years.
Remarking on the long wait time that Axl was taking to actually put out the record, Jon had mentioned his deep resentment towards Axl’s constant star power, saying that he worked hard to stay relevant in the next generation and all Rose has done is just sink more and more into his little world.
Jealousy is one thing, but that didn’t stop Jon from at least getting a few little jabs in, calling Axl a recluse and suggesting that the only reason why people still pay attention to him is just because of how much of a freak show he comes off as by holding his music back. While Jon may have had to eat some of his words once Chinese Democracy did surface two years later, it’s safe to say that the freak show side of Axl is still alive and well.