On The Record: W. Axl Rose: The Great Destroyer
There is a passage from Chuck Palahniuk's book "Fight Club" that strikes me as incredibly appropriate this week, given that there is roughly a 60 percent chance that it may actually be prophetic.
"We wanted to blast the world free of history. ... Picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the 15th green of a forgotten golf course. You'll hunt elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a 45-degree angle. We'll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and every evening what's left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock itself in cages as protection against the bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night."
Oh, did you think I was referring to the implosion of our economy, the freefall on Wall Street, the impending sense of doom that looms over us all like a giant, pitch-black penny loafer, or the fact that pretty soon we're going to be left wearing barrels like they did during the Great Depression? No, no, no. I'm actually talking about Guns N' Roses.
Or, more specifically, the fact that — after more than a decade of false starts, empty promises and litigious gymnastics — GN'R's long-awaited Chinese Democracy album could actually be foisted upon us as early as next month, exclusively at your neighborhood Best Buy.
If the reports are true — and given that W. Axl Rose is involved, there's a very good chance they might not be — then Chinese Democracy is coming, and its release would be an event unlike any other in the history of rock music. The sun would be blotted out, the gates of heaven would open, and we'd all be reduced to grunting, screaming primates. It would be like every bank in the United States failing simultaneously, only more so, because it would involve die-hard Guns N' Roses fans getting drunk in Best Buy parking lots at midnight. It would reset the clock, empty the reservoirs, crumble the towers. It would be rock-and-roll Year Zero (which is not to be confused with Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero.
This is because Chinese Democracy was never supposed to happen. It was destined to be the eternal punch line, a $13 million albatross and an ongoing testament to the will, ego and insanity of Axl Rose. There is perhaps no rock-and-roll album as starstruck or anticipated in history — eternally promoted by disastrous world tours, tinkered with by no less that five producers and featuring contributions from God-knows-how-many musicians. Democracy has been in the works since at least 1998, victimized by infinite false starts (the industrial mess of "Oh My God," featured in the industrial-size mess that was Arnold Schwarzenegger's "End of Days," Rose's winded performance at the 2002 Video Music Awards, Buckethead) and promised (threatened?) to be released more times than I care to recall. (Resident metalhead Chris Harris attempted to do so in a blog post earlier this year.) It's become a FEMA-level catastrophe at this point, and the fact that the entire saga has played out before our eyes only makes its actual conclusion seem all the more improbable. This is an album that we were supposed to speculate about, snicker at but never — ever — hear. This just wasn't supposed to happen.
But now, apparently, it is. And frankly, I'm not sure if we're prepared. If and when the first crate of Democracy is opened in a Best Buy storeroom, it'll represent the moment when all bets are off, when anything can happen, music-wise. Will it come bundled with a copy of Dr. Dre's long-delayed Detox album? Will it inspire My Bloody Valentine
or the Pixies to drop new albums? After Democracy, will we finally get to hear Pink Floyd's Household Objects or the Who's Lifehouse? The answer to any of those questions might very well be "yes," if only because, like Democracy, no one really believed any of those albums would see the light of day either. In short, it would be entirely possible that we would never not hear anything ever again.
And when it has finally moved from the storeroom to the shelves, will there be mass chaos? When GN'R fans — half-crazed with anticipation, half-dazed from spending the past 48 hours sleeping in line outside an electronics retailer — actually catch a glimpse of the album, will they summarily combust? And are we prepared, in these darkest of times (I'm speaking in terms of the music industry, not Wall Street), for an album that's unlike any this decade? It could be an honest-to-goodness event, a surefire blockbuster that will cause music fans to behave like music fans, cueing up for midnight sales, throwing the album on in their cars, celebrating the release of a dozen or so pieces of recorded music. We will be transformed into savage rock-and-roll animals. Again, this isn't supposed to happen.
Oh, and about those pieces of recorded music. They're insignificant in all this, because really, there is absolutely no way that anyone is going to be happy with the content of Chinese Democracy. It's just not going to happen. Anticipation is too high, we've lost a little bit of faith in the all-knowing Axl, and to be honest, the stuff we've heard from the album (none of which, to be fair, might actually be on the album) has been spotty, to say the least. The exception to this is, of course, "Shackler's Revenge," the just-released (via "Rock Band 2") track that is most certainly on the album, and in addition to having a title that reminds me of a National Lampoon film, is also pretty terrible. (OK, it's really terrible.)
But again, none of that matters, because people are still going to buy the ever-loving crap out of Chinese Democracy, even though they know they're ultimately going to end up disappointed. They will be strangely compelled to do so, if only because, well, they have to buy it. Likewise, critics will slay the album, because that's their job, but they will do so knowing that nothing they write will matter in any way, shape or form. None of this has ever happened before. Nothing will be the same ever again.
After typing that last sentence, I got so freaked out that I hid underneath my desk for a good 20 minutes. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to uncurl myself from the fetal position, climb back up into my chair and re-read everything I've written so far. And here's what struck me more than anything: Basically everything I've written about Chinese Democracy is interchangeable with this country's current economic collapse. The idea of the album being released once seemed as impossible as banks failing or massive, multinational brokerage firms filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, yet both are happening. The results of both are relatively terrifying, if only because they mean that, really, nothing is certain anymore. Both involve large sums of money and ego being handled irresponsibly. And both — be it the sinking feeling that Democracy will be rather bad or the proposed $700 billion bailout currently flailing on Capitol Hill — are accompanied by some rather unpleasant side effects. Also, after our economy disintegrates, it's entirely possible that China might actually buy us, creating an actual Chinese democracy. Marinate on that.
And all of that either proves that Axl Rose is: A) a genius; B) a prognosticator; or C) the rock-and-roll version of T. Boone Pickens, because he's seemingly omnipresent, insanely wealthy, kind of creepy and is trying to pitch you something that seems legit, except you can't shake the lingering feeling that you're being conned, because, well, the dude's an oil baron (you know, that and his ties to the whole Swift Boat thing). Either way, he's terrifying. He's going to bring society to its knees. He's going to change the world forever.
Get your barrels ready. Chinese Democracy could be right around the corner.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? E-mail me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.