Hurt. Disgust. Denial. Anger. And here we are again…
Hollywood’s finest export — that’s right, I said it; so sue me — Guns ’n‘ Roses will be headlining this year’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California.
— Coachella (@coachella) January 5, 2016
But that’s not all, the band that will take the stage in April this year will almost certainly include members of the ‘classic’ lineup. And as a huge fan of the band, it pains me to say that I'm completely unmoved by the announcement.
Nevertheless, founding members Duff McKagan and Saul 'Slash' Hudson are set to join forces with Axl Rose for Coachella and the band is reportedly in negotiations with promoters for a 25-date North American tour this summer. It was believed that Axl was going to make the announcement on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Tuesday, before he pulled out of the show (it was a mammoth strain on my powers of restraint to avoid asking where we’ve heard that before.)
But Axl did make two confirmations of sorts — probably not the ones you were hoping for, or even ones that are all that surprising, but a confirmation nonetheless:
The only thing I know "confirmed" is my LOVE of Taco Bell! Mmmmm.... Taco Bell!! Happy New Years!!
— Axl Rose (@axlrose) January 1, 2016
Ok,ok... It's "confirmed!" Guns N' Roses is Headlining Coachella 2016!! See Everyone There!!
— Axl Rose (@axlrose) January 5, 2016
Before I get into the 'Great Hollywood Cashgrab', let's take a brief trip down memory lane.
The Axl-Slash-Duff version of G'n'R seemingly lost its appetite for destruction in 1993 — playing its final show in Buenos Aires on 17 July, but Slash was finally replaced in 1997.
Axl's differences, to put it lightly, with his former band mates and in particular, Slash, is a story that could fill out every book in the David Sassoon Library, and there'd still be some left over. Over the years, this aversion has been made amply clear:
Memorably, at the first G'n'R show in seven years since the band's acrimonious split, at Rock in Rio in 2001, Axl addressed a reported 200,000-strong audience to accuse his former band mates of having "worked very hard (read as legal action) to make sure that I could not be here tonight" and that he was "hurt and disappointed that unlike Oasis we could not all find a way to get along". Nearly a decade later, Axl called Slash a 'cancer' and stated, "What's clear is that one of the two of us will die before a reunion and however sad, ugly or unfortunate anyone views it, it is how it is."
In 2012, Slash decided to 'get in the ring' as it were, and side with the late Kurt Cobain in a 1992 feud between Axl and Cobain. Slash went on to point out that Axl 'hated his guts'. That very year, G'n'R were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and after days of 'will he-won't he', Axl 'respectfully declined' to appear at the ceremony or be nominated in a wordy Facebook post.
It's safe to say a reunion was as likely as a peace treaty between the US and North Korea, and professionally, the duo had moved on.
Axl 'n' Friends (sorry, Guns 'n' Roses with a lineup comprising the reliable Dizzy Reed, Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, DJ Ashba et al) were touring the world. After Velvet Revolver, Slash had found himself a new singer in Myles Kennedy, and was tearing up stages across the world. Both these projects (as opposed to bands) even made their respective ways to Indian shores to equally positive responses.
And then came the year of reconciliation.
In March 2015, former manager Doug Goldstein gave an interview to Rolling Stone Brazil in which he came up with a unique theory for the over-two-decade-long Axl-Slash feud: Micheal Jackson. In 1991, Slash reportedly told Goldstein that he was going to perform with Jackson at a tribute show. Apparently, the manager anticipated that this would not go down well with Axl, himself a victim of child molestation, who believed the charges against the King of Pop. "From Axl's point of view, this was the only problem. He could ignore the drugs and alcohol (with which the guitarist had serious problems), but could never ignore child abuse," Goldstein is quoted as saying in the interview.
In August, Slash dropped a soundbite where he claimed that Axl and he "don't have all those issues anymore... There's not a lot of controversy. It's something that's more perpetuated by the media than anything".
Ahead of her interview with Slash ahead of his Mumbai show in November, Firstpost’s Zenia D’Cunha was politely told not to ask anything pertaining to Guns ’n‘ Roses or the guitarist’s hair products.
And then in December, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit cinemas across the world, American moviegoers were treated to this little teaser before the film:
And as the near-year-long publicity exercise in coyness, teasers, revelations, red herrings and hair products winds to its logical conclusion, I'm left with one prevalent thought: Ten years too late.
This appears to be a theme with which Axl is familiar. Just look at the protracted making-of phase of 2008's Chinese Democracy — the first original album (not including covers or 'best of' collections) under the Guns 'n' Roses name to be released since September 1991's Use Your Illusion I and II. It's safe to say that all the rumours, controversies and reports surrounding the years spent apparently making the album, added layer upon layer of expectation (largely unfair expectation, it can be argued) and hype ahead of the release. And when it was finally out in November 2008, it was a distinctly average record that racked up most of its sales from curiosity, nostalgia value and completionist desires.
But that was in the past, I hear you holler out as you reach for your vintage G'n'R t-shirt — frayed and faded, but no less powerful — and bandana.
It certainly was. Let's look at this 'reunion' and that's precisely where the problems start.
This isn't a Guns 'n' Roses reunion at all.
Where are Izzy Stradlin and Steve Adler, or even Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum? Duff rejoining the band is no big news. After all, he's always been the former band member who has been on best terms (compared to the rest anyway) with Axl. This saw him temporarily reprise bass duties in April 2014 when he filled in for Tommy Stinson, who was out touring with his other band Replacements.
This reunion is between two men: Axl and Slash.
It doesn't matter that this public rapprochement is probably being orchestrated with one eye on an estimated $ three-million to $ eight-million paycheque per show — where tickets are likely to cost around $250 to $275 apiece. That's not the issue. After all, would you honestly turn down that much money to publicly patch up with a friend-turned-foe from the past? Didn't think so.
Even if they were just doing it for the money, it would still be fine had this taken place a decade or so earlier.
In 2016, the modern-era Guns 'n' Roses has its own identity. It is for all intents and purposes a nostalgia circus, but a well-executed one. Slash too has crafted his own identity and space in the musical universe. Both entities have matured and settled into their respective grooves, and we enjoy the music they play and shows they put on. In fact, the biggest criticism levelled against the present avatar of G'n'R is that it's not the G'n'R of 1989. Similarly with Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, a gripe heard among some cynics is that it's the best G'n'R tribute band. But the same can be said of the Axl's running crew du jour.
And that brings us to a sad truth: The dangerous, energetic, self-destructive and awe-inspiring original Guns 'n' Roses was dead a long time ago. Perhaps it could have been resuscitated some time last decade, but now it's only alive on records, videos and our memories.
A version reborn in 2016 would not just be another tribute act, but and perhaps far more damagingly, dilute the memory of that Guns 'n' Roses — the real Guns 'n' Roses.
Not convinced? Look at Rage Against the Machine pre-2000 split and post-2007 reunion (coincidentally, also at Coachella). The anger seemed subdued, the fury seemed to be mild and the rage seemed to have been turned down a few notches. Clearly somebody had enough money to put Zach de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk on the same stage, and in the eight years since the reunion, the band hasn't released a new album and apparently, intended to do nothing of the sort.
G'n'R will go much the same way. Agreeing to play some old tracks live together is one thing, agreeing to go back into the studio and work on writing new material together is quite another.
Perhaps, Axl, Slash and the rest were inspired to take up the spot vacated by one-time rivals Mötley Crüe as the greatest nostalgia act (although it probably should be pointed out that Crüe did put out new material after its reunion).
Regardless, there will be a string of shows, which will earn the band lots of money. Hey, they may even tour India again.
But Guns 'n' Roses for me, is a dearly departed soul and listening to, and going to watch the two best tribute bands is plenty.
If you think I need a third one, You're Crazy.