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Jason Notte

Jason Notte

Posted: November 21, 2008 06:24 PM

Cheer Up, Axl, You're Not that Irrelevant


Sometime in the near future, a young man will ride the L train between Brooklyn and Manhattan wearing a bandanna around his neck, $100 jeans with a studded belt and a crisp, new Guns 'n' Roses T-shirt.

We hate to break this to you, Axl Rose, but this person has no intention of buying Chinese Democracy. A few things have changed since you and the guys you once hung out with - we'll call them Velvet Revolver for the sake of brevity - released your tragic cover album swan song The Spaghetti Incident? back in 1993.

For starters, there is no real music industry anymore. Sure, you have "major" labels clinging to life-raft acts such as Lil' Wayne, U2, Beyonce and a handful of others, but nobody really shops for the stuff anymore. While you've been in your cave braiding your hair and eating whole wild buffalo, people have latched on to something called "the Internet," which has made music a hell of a lot more accessible. Instead of paying $13.99 for an album of two decent songs and eight tracks of filler, which I believe was referred to as Use Your Illusion in your day, you can either pay a buck for each track you want, join a service that offers the same track for pennies or take your chances downloading them from other users.

It seems chaotic, but it's a system you helped create when the only way to hear new Guns 'N' Roses material was to download leaked tracks. You didn't seem to mind the leaks when people were singing along at Rock in Rio or at your MTV Video Music Awards appearance, but you went and had a blogger thrown in jail back in August for doing the same thing.

Speaking of which, the music media's changed quite a bit, too. The death of the music industry was like the fall of Babylon, and musicians were scattered to the far corners of the earth to commune with fans and sell scads of merchandise as they saw fit. This led to the creation of thousands of blogs on for every genre imaginable, with the writers devoted to some ambiguous concept called "indie rock" holding a great deal of sway.

Remember how you took shots at the press on that Use Your Illusion II song "Get In The Ring," asking Bob Guccione Jr. at Spin "What, are you pissed off because your dad gets more pussy than you?" Hilarious. With such vital publications as Circus Magazine, Hit Parader and Kerrang marginalized by the slow death of print media, a new "Get In The Ring" would require a whole boxed set to address the "indie" bloggers steeping beyond their jurisdiction to cover you these days.

You may be saying to yourself "Well, some of these guys have to be fans of mine, right?" Not necessarily. A lot of them are willing to acknowledge Appetite For Destruction as a great album, but it's a rough road from there. The biggest fans of your music, it seems, are douchebags. You'll recognize them by their blue button-down shirts, doughy complexions and permanent state of intoxication. They're the guys who bellow "Paradise City" at an Applebee's happy hour or spill their beer on the folks in front of them and shout "whooooo" every time a stadium sound man plays "Welcome To The Jungle" to fire up the crowd. This happens about 389 times per game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

This isn't really your fault, Axl. Music really just isn't a cool enterprise anymore. The labels don't really have time or money to waste on ruffling feathers, so songs about one girl kissing another but not really being lesbians are what pass for risque these days. Even rappers aren't as brazen as N.W.A. was when they borrowed "Appetite For Destruction" as a song title years ago, referring to drugs and crime in encypted wording that makes "Mr. Brownstone" look like a 1-2-3-4 locker combination. As for concerts, if you're not some geriatric has-been charging $90 for nosebleed seats in a hockey arena, you're a band that the other band's fans aren't sticking around for because they just got a text message about a party somewhere else. If you're lucky, your best song was that person's ringtone.

This is why you shouldn't take it too personally when people say Guns 'n' Roses isn't relevant anymore. Granted, Chinese Democracy contributor Sebastian Bach's last musical effort of note was with Hep Alien on the WB's Gilmore Girls, but relevancy in this climate means making a minor contribution and then bowing the hell out before anybody notices you're gone. Ever heard of Chamillionaire, Colbie Calliat, the Vines or We Are Scientists? No? Neither did we, really. There's a lot of disposable music out there, and mainstream rock is the Fresh Kills landfill of it.

The same people who are writing off Chinese Democracy as a relic probably haven't had the misfortune of hearing what comprises "modern" rock today. The music that Velvet Revolver made with Scott Weiland, whose drug and mental health issues make you look as serene as Barack Obama, was mired in a Sunset Strip sound that no longer exists. You don't have to worry about Vince Neil threatening to kick your ass, as he and his Motley Crue bandmates have become reality show parodies of themselves and spent their last album, Saints of Los Angeles, looking back on yesteryear and abdicating the throne. In their place are two forms of rock bands: Hard bands that sound the same (Seether, Disturbed, et. al) and softer rockers who sound like potential date rapists (Hinder, Stain'd, etc.).

In today's music environment, you have the distinct advantage of being paid millions (upwards of $13 million for Chinese Democracy alone) to take risks and make whatever music you'd like. Coming into a deep recession, the high crime, junkies, prostitures, winos and drifters that were the foundation of your greatest work are slowly coming back into Vogue. You have the chance to give people not only a free Dr. Pepper, but a voice in what could be a very depressing era.

Let them wear their ironic T-shirts and mock your contracting hairline and expanding gut. Let them laugh at the fact that three different presidents have been elected since you began this vision quest. Let it all run off your sagging, leather-draped shoulders Axl.

You may have taken your precious time with Chinese Democracy, but you also may have timed it just right.

Follow Jason Notte on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Notteham