Not too long ago, he would have been voted Most Likely to Go Full Wingnut. And yet… Not a day goes by where I don’t feel lost and alone in a deranged America. Donald Trump is president. People are dying in scores because millions of my countrymen think wearing a mask is for losers.
Protesters are risking their own health to beg for police abolition, only to watch politicians at local and federal levels do little more than nod politely. I crave forthright leadership from citizens of great import. The good news is that I have found a compassionate voice out there in the wilderness. The baffling news is that said voice belongs to… Axl Rose?
I worshipped Axl growing up, but I did not expect to become the person I’ve become, and I sure as shit didn’t expect Axl to become the person he’s become. If you’re as old as I am, you already know the basics of Axl’s personal history. He co-founded the most successful rock band of the 1980s. He was notoriously late to pretty much every concert he headlined. He once started a riot in St. Louis after cutting a concert short by walking off the stage in a huff. He used another concert to publicly accuse his own bandmates of using heroin (they were).
He used the N-word and the f-word (not fuck, the other one) in “One In A Million” and testily defended himself in doing so. He was accused by not one, but two ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse. Given his rap sheet, you would have thought that Axl would embrace right-wing culture in full and then sign that Harper’s letter that everyone fucking hated.
If he had, he would have fallen in with scores of other former rock gods who have spent their twilight years transitioning from being champions of rebellion to being authoritarian garbagemen. You already know about Ted Nugent, but I’m talking about guys who used to make music I actually liked. Slayer’s Tom Araya is a documented user of the snowflake epithet. Given that Slayer’s music preaches endless death and destruction, I guess his affinity for Trump makes sense. Dave Mustaine of Megadeth endorsed Rick Santorum for president four years ago. The late Johnny Ramone once said, “People drift toward liberalism at a young age, and I always hope they change when they see how the world really is.” And Joe Kramer of Aerosmith publicly disowned a photo that his band took with former President Barack Obama.
I worshipped Axl growing up, but I did not expect to become the person I’ve become, and I sure as shit didn’t expect Axl to become the person he’s become.
There’s an inevitable trajectory to this, in a way. These guys all got older and richer, and rich old people are the GOP’s favorite kind of people. They’re also mostly white musicians, which is no small factor. So here we have Axl, who fits all of those necessary criteria for rock stars who go wingnut. And yet, rather than join that lot, he’s decided to retweet Chris Murphy instead.
I wanna say this is refreshing, even inspiring. But that would, of course, assume that Axl is being genuine in making amends with those he has wronged. (A few years ago, he not only reunited with his former bandmates, but also headed out on the road with them for a tour that didn’t stop until the virus stopped all concerts; he even arrived on stage on time for damn near every show.) It would also involve forgiving Axl for the many horrible things he did earlier in his career and perhaps still does now in private.
I can’t know about the latter because Axl remains an enigma, even while hiding in plain sight. He tweets occasionally but follows literally no one. He rarely agrees to be interviewed, and when he does agree, it’s usually in a friendly venue. This 2020 Axl is a man who gives off the veneer of emotional stability, which is in diametric opposition to both the first four decades of his life and to pretty much every other pandemic-addled American right now. Being #wokeaxl (and yes, that did become a trending hashtag for a bit) suggests he really has mellowed out, which is a remarkable feat given his open suffering from bipolar disorder and his claim that his own father raped him as a child.
Axl Rose was a deeply angry man for a very long time, and it showed in both his music and his behavior. Despite the supposed pervasiveness of cancel culture (god I hate that fucking phrase), you can be an angry white guy in Trump’s America and make out nicely for yourself as a reactionary turd, especially if you’re already rich and famous beyond compare. That Axl chose not to roll down that path is both stunning and, dare I say, heartwarming.
I must have listened to “One In A Million” a, well, million times when I was younger, along with the rest of the GNR catalog. In all of those songs, Axl aired every last petty grudge he held and treated them as matters of worldwide import, just as the president does today. And yet, Axl hates that man’s guts. And really, what better sign is there that you’ve left behind all of the qualities that have made you both notorious and miserable than to hate Trump? I think I’m ready to look up to Axl Rose again. Maybe, against all the odds, he can help lead us out of the fucking jungle.