Totally True Memoirs of a Metal Producer: Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy
When a blocked number calls you at 4 a.m. and you can barely hear the person weeping on the other end because there’s so much screaming and crashing going on in the background, it’s easy to deduce who’s on the other end of the line: Axl Rose’s assistant. Or, in this case, Axl Rose’s assistant’s son’s intern.
Through the intern’s tears, I could make out the basics: Axl had just fired Quincy Jones as the producer of Chinese Democracy. Quincy had replaced Rick Rubin, who’d replaced George Martin, who’d replaced Atticus Ross, who’d replaced Brendan O’Brien, who’d replaced Nick Raskulinecz, who’d replaced Linda Perry, who’d replaced Lou Pearlman, who’d replaced Diane Warren, who’d replaced Roy Thomas Baker, who’d replaced Bruce Fairbairn, who’d replaced Bob Ezrin, who’d replaced Dave Ogilvie, who’d replaced Scott Humphrey, who’d replaced Bob Rock, who’d replaced Sean Beaven, who’d replaced Moby, who’d replaced Youth, who’d replaced Mike Clink. After consulting with his spiritual guru in Arizona, Axl had decided I should produce Chinese Democracy. I told them I’d do it for twice my regular fee. They agreed immediately and sent a private Concorde to pick me up because it was faster than driving twenty minutes to Axl’s mansion.
They dropped me off on Axl’s front lawn. After giving the boy my things to take to my guest bungalow, I took the elevator to his studio. The problem was with the band’s new guitarist, Butterdick, who’d replaced Bumblefoot, who’d replaced Buckethead, who’d replaced Joshua Craig, who’d replaced Brian May, who’d replaced Dave Navarro, who’d replaced Robin Finck, who’d replaced Eddie Van Halen, who’d replaced Derek Trucks, who’d replaced Wes Borland, who’d replaced John 5, who’d replaced Zim Zum, who’d replaced Steve Stevens, who’d replaced Blues Saraceno, who’d replaced Richie Kotzen, who’d replaced Noodles, who’d replaced a clone of Kurt Cobain, who’d replaced Tracii Guns, who’d replaced Zakk Wylde, who’d replaced Slash. True to his persona, Butterdick insisted on recording pantless with butter slathered all over his genitals. Axl, though, was lactose intolerant, and kept accusing Butterdick of being a record label operative sent to sabotage the album and make him reunite with the old version of the band.
I told Axl he should just fire Butterdick and hire my old friend, Bushelbutt. Axl called his palm reader in Portland, who agreed. I told the boy to get to my bungalow and fetch my little black book. We called Bushelbutt, who agreed to do the album for three times his usual fee. Axl agreed. Bushelbutt only travels by rail so Axl dispatched his personal train and a couple of hours later we were in business.
The first thing we started working on was re-doing the guitar solo on a song Axl wrote about getting audited. We record 457 different versions of that solo over the course of three years. After playing it for his priest in Indiana, Axl finally settled on take 163b of version number 292 and we were able to move on.
Around that time Axl accidentally heard a piece of an old demo Tommy Stinson had written seven years prior. After consulting with his rabbi in New Jersey, Axl decided it should be on the record. Unfortunately, the band needed a drummer to replace this kid who’d recently quit the band, Brain. He’d replaced Josh Freese, who’d replaced Dave Abbruzzese, who’d replaced Matt Cameron, who’d replaced Chad Smith, who’d replaced Dave Grohl, who’d replaced Tito Puente, who’d replaced Max Weinberg, who’d replaced Sheila E., who’d replaced Stuart Copeland, who’d replaced Lars Ulrich, who’d replaced Matt Sorum. Axl was really into Nine Inch Nails at the time so I suggested we send the kid out to buy a drum machine and forget about hiring a real person. After consulting with his enematologist in Florida, Axl agreed.
It was the middle of the night, so to get the store to open and sell us a drum machine immediately, we had to send a the boy in a helicopter to pick up the shop owner and pay four times the normal cost. A mere thirty-six weeks later, the drums were complete. It only took a year to get the guitars right this time. Axl sat down to write lyrics about this animated kids’ movie he’d just seen fallen in love with, and seven weeks later we were able to start recording vocals. Then Axl called a six-month hiatus while he decided which of 73 takes had the best delivery of the word “no,” and whether or not the song sounded better with tambourines. After playing all the different versions of the song for some random people in a strip club in Vegas, he decided he didn’t like any of them and we re-recorded the whole thing from scratch.
Around that time, Axl saw an interview with Slash and went to his room and refused to come out for a month. When he did finally emerge, he accused everyone of being in cahoots with the label to try and destroy the album so he’d have to get back together with his old band. He fired everyone, save for his masseuse, who said they’d stay for a 500% raise. The boy, whose name I now learned was Dizzy, also got to stay, but only after begging on his knees and promising never to do anything wrong ever again. Axl agreed.
When the album finally came out everyone hated it, but it didn’t matter because all of us who worked on it were already rich.