CHINESE DEMOCRACY: TWO YEARS LATER
Hard to believe, but Chinese Democracy officially came out two years ago today. (You can read my original review here. I still stand by every word, and I still prefer CD to Death Magnetic.) Promotion for the album has still been anemic. Yes, the band (such as it were) has finally toured certain territories, but it doesn’t amount to much when you consider how much time has passed. And there have still been no music videos, I still haven’t gotten my motherfucking Dr. Pepper, and Axl Rose has only communicated with the press sparsely and electronically.
But that doesn’t really matter, because I don’t even think that my namesake would have the most interesting story to tell regarding the creation of Chinese Democracy.
Don’t get me wrong. If I get an e-mail from Team Axl tomorrow and he wants to do an interview, OF COURSE I would interview him. But I wouldn’t expect to get any really honest answers out of the guy. At this point, speaking to him would be more of an experience than a conversation: “Hey, kids, did I ever tell you about the time I interviewed a barely-functioning schizophrenic millionaire rockstar?”
No, the guys I want to talk to are the Work Horses of Chinese Democracy — namely, the members of Axl’s band. Robin Finck, for example, was a member of Guns N’ Roses off and on from roughly 1996 to 2006. The guy spent a decade of his life on the project! And he’s only got one songwriting credit on the finished album! What was that whole experience like for him? We know that Matt Sorum found him and recommended him to Axl, but how did he actually get recruited? Did he want to do it just for the money, or did he have legitimate artistic aspirations for the band? Was he worried about replacing one of the most iconic lead guitarists of a generation? How did he go about submitting songs to Lord Rose? Were he and Tommy Stinson and Paul Tobias and Josh Freese coming in to some rehearsal space every day and jamming shit out, or were they all working completely independently of one another? How did he feel when Axl insisted that he and the rest of the new band re-record Appetite for Destruction? And what was up with that Big Daddy thing? How many times did he re-record his parts, if at all? How many unreleased songs are there from the sessions, and are any of them any good? Why did he finally quit the first time? Why did he finally quit the second time? Did he really dislike Buckethead as strongly as the rumors suggest?
(And I actually tried to score an interview with Buckethead a couple of years ago. I was told by his publicist that he doesn’t do press anymore.)
This version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” appeared over the closing credits of the Adam Sandler vehicle Big Daddy in 1999. The first half is a live version of the song as performed by the original band, with the kid from the movie singing “Figaro” over the beginning; partway through the main guitar solo, it segues into a re-recorded studio version of the song featuring Rose, Dizzy Reed, Robin Finck, Paul Tobias, Tommy Stinson, and Josh Freese. To this day, no one knows why the fuck it’s two versions of one song, or why the fuck it’s over the closing credits of this movie, or why the fuck the kid sings “Figaro,” or why the fuck the fuck the fuck. This is one of the things I’d like to ask the band about.
“Silkworms” was performed live a handful of times, but didn’t make it to the final album. How many other unreleased songs are there, and does Axl sing in a fake Cockney accent on any more of them?
I mean, clearly, it’s the dudes in the band, and not Axl, who would have the best stories to tell. For example, if you’ve never seen this interview with drummer Bryan “Brain” Mantia about replacing Josh Freese and re-recording all of his Freese’s parts note for note in single takes over the course of eight months in a two-thousand dollar a day studio, than you haven’t experienced surrealist comedy at its finest.
So like I said: clearly, it’s the dudes in the band, and not Axl, who would have the best stories to tell. I know that these guys have had to sign various confidentiality agreements and what have you, but if Brain was able to give the above interview without getting sued, then clearly, these guys are allowed to say something. And as we continue to get distance between ourselves and the holy shit it’s really happening-ness of the album’s release, that’s what I hope for most: not that they’ll tour, or release a video, or record a follow-up. No, I just want to hear what Finck, Buckethead, Brain, Freese, Tommy Stinson, Richard Fortus, and all twenty-eight bajillion other musicians who worked on the album have to say about it. I think that would be an oral history that makes The Dirt look boring.