Axl Rose’s Most Amazing MTV Moments, In Bigger Than The Sound


November 19, 2008

Chinese Democracy’s impending arrival has us digging into the MTV News vaults for gems from the Guns N’ Roses frontman.

For something like 15 years now, Axl Rose hasn’t existed in the music industry so much as he’s haunted it. He’s been the creepy old guy with the goatee and the Raiders jersey who lives in the mansion on top of the hill. A spook story. A cornrowed specter.

You never really knew if Axl was real or not, but you definitely believed in him — you could feel his presence every time rock music would get dragged through the mud, or whenever Britney Spears would notch another #1 album on her bejeweled belt. You had a fearful faith in him, a knowledge that he was out there, watching, waiting, working on something big.

That something big was — as it always was — Chinese Democracy, which I’m pretty sure you’re aware will finally arrive in stores November 23. To say that it is the decade’s most-anticipated album is perhaps a disservice to the phrase “most-anticipated,” and not only because it’s been in the works for more than a decade now, features more musicians than a Zappa record and has reportedly cost something north of $13 million to make. No, Rose himself — the man, the myth, the mystery — has had more than a bit to do with all the hyperbole surrounding the album, if only because he’s remained persona non grata for most of its creation.

There have been few in-depth interviews, in-the-studio pieces and sneak peeks. Rose has been content to simply tinker away on Democracy from his mansion atop the hill, maintaining radio silence throughout. It has not always been this way, though.

There was a time (pardon the pun) when Rose was just like any other super-mega rock star out there. He did interviews, he incited riots, he got arrested. And luckily, all this has happened during MTV News’ lifespan. So, when Rose passed on our requests for an interview in support of Chinese Democracy, we dove deep into our archives and dug up some of our best Axl moments.

Some of them are sort of hilarious. Others are testaments to the magnetic power Rose had (and still has). But all of them are part of that myth I was referring to … the process that turned a kid from Indiana into a genuine Rock God. So with Democracy on our doorsteps, please enjoy this humble tribute to that creepy old guy in the mansion: the one and only W. Axl Rose.

October 24, 1987: Guns N’ Roses Trash “Headbangers Ball”

This is GN’R’s first-ever appearance on MTV, and they definitely made a lasting impression, especially on “Headbangers” host Asher Benrubi (who, incidentally, looks like a cross between Ron Jeremy and your aunt’s pontoon-boat-owning boyfriend). After a perfunctory interview (Axl mostly just scowls and wears a leather fedora), GN’R are given 30 seconds to “redecorate” the studio, at which point all hell breaks loose. Axl displays his superhuman strength by hoisting a casket-shaped riser above his head and tossing it at Benrubi, nearly killing him (OK, so Slash helps). Bonus points for the entire clip being a metaphor for Rose’s career post-1993.

September 7, 1988: “Welcome to the Jungle” Live at the Video Music Awards

If you ever wanted to see a band at the absolute peak of its powers, this is it. Axl and company positively destroy the VMAs with a pummeling, brutal performance of “Welcome to the Jungle,” signaling to the entire world that they had arrived and making the night’s other performers — a list that included Michael Jackson, Aerosmith and the Fat Boys (with Chubby Checker!) — quake in their boots. Also of note: the fact that Axl prowls and growls in a white leather jacket that would be totally wussy if it were being worn by anyone else on the planet, yet another example of why he rules so hard.

August 31, 1990: “I Want to Challenge You to a Fight”

At the 1989 VMAs, GN’R guitarist Izzy Stradlin allegedly made a few passes at Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil’s wife, which led to Neil allegedly taking a few swings at Stradlin’s alleged face (allegedly). As a result, Axl leapt to the defense of his bandmate (something he would cease doing at any point after 1993) and challenged Neil to a fight in Atlantic City. Neil responded by offering to fight Rose outside of Tower Records in Hollywood. Though neither challenge ever went answered, the event still gave us a veritable cornucopia of amazing moments, including: a) Rose issuing his challenge while plaintively posing in a West Hollywood garden; b) Neil’s decision to do his interview while sitting in front of a futuristic fish tank; c) Neil’s A&M Records hat; d) The following quote, by Rose: “Vince should be careful what golf courses he’s mouthing off about Axl on — and who he’s playing golf with. When he goes out playing golf and mouths off about Axl, and he happens to be playing golf with people who work with me, the stories come back.” I challenge you to find a quote in which Rose uses the word “golf” as many times as he does here. Seriously. I will give you money if you do.

July 2, 1991: “Thanks to the Lame-Ass Security, I’m Going Home”

During a concert stop at the Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri, Rose becomes angered when he spots a fan filming GN’R’s performance. After ordering security to have the fan thrown out, Axl takes matters into his own hands and leaps into the crowd, fists flying. That he does this while wearing a leather cap, furry jacket and tiny bicycle shorts is only part of the reason this clip is so amazing. The other is that Rose’s actions — plus the hissy fit he throws as he storms off the stage — lead to a full-scale riot, which injured 60 and caused more than $200,000 in damages. The frontman is charged with four misdemeanor counts of assault.

July 22, 1992: “NYC Cops Are Great”

Rose pleads “not guilty” to those four counts of assault. The case eventually goes to trial, but not before Rose is arrested in New York City on an outstanding warrant from a St. Louis prosecutor. As he arrives at the Queens County courthouse — in handcuffs and a pink Versace GN’R T-shirt — MTV’s intrepid Kurt Loder is there and not only interviews Rose while he’s being led away (“I’m doing great,” Rose scoffs. “I’m doing awesome”), but then hops into a limo with him as he’s sprung from the slammer three hours later. “I basically spent my time writing autographs for cops and talking to them about rock and roll,” Rose says, gently ensconced in his limo. “I met all the really cool cops who were telling me about when they went to Woodstock.”

September 9, 1992: “Hi, Axl! Where’s Axl?”

The 1992 Video Music Awards were memorable for several reasons, most of which involved host Dana Carvey. On the undercard, we had the now-infamous feud between Rose and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, which started when Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love, asked Rose if he would like to be the godfather of their child. Rose, not wanting to be saddled with the responsibilities that come with godfatherhood, challenges Cobain to a fight. The Nirvana frontman didn’t take him up on his offer (seriously, why does no one ever fight Axl?), but drummer Dave Grohl does mockingly call out Rose’s name at the end of ‘Vana’s set. Oh, and also, this was the VMAs in which Axl proved that he wasn’t a homophobe (you know, despite the lyrical content of “One in a Million”) by inviting Elton John onstage to perform “November Rain.” Somewhere, a teenage Eminem stores the moment in the back of his brain.

August 29, 2002: “Welcome to the — Gasp, Gasp — Jungle!” Live at the VMAs (Again)

A spazzy Jimmy Fallon introduces a winded and weighty Rose (“oversized football jerseys” are clearly the chubby man’s “vertical stripes”), who bleats his way through a medley of GN’R hits, flanked by a bunch of dudes who weren’t original members of GN’R. Billed as a star-making return for the band, the lackluster performance instead leaves fans wondering if Rose is past his prime (and if he’d had some work done) — questions that are still lingering more than six years later. Guess we’ll find out Sunday …

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