Rolling Stone May 2000
The inside story of rock's most famous recluse
By Peter Wilkinson
The story is told of a birthday party that took place two Februarys ago at a Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica. A few long-haired musicians mingled with some concert promoters in suits, eating mediocre guacamole and drinking Cuervo margaritas. The gifts piled up and the crowd of about forty sampled birthday cake, but the guest of honor, Axl Rose, who was turning thirty-seven, never showed up. Axl's manager, Doug Goldstein, quieted the room. "Axl's not going to be coming," Goldstein said. "But order whatever you want and have a good time."
This story is told not because it is considered an example of eccentric or rude behavior on Rose's part. Rather, it is considered emblematic of the way the singer conducts his life - just another night in the off-kilter existence of a man who used to be one of the biggest rock stars in the world. "Not the least bit unusual," says a friend who was at the restaurant, laughing in there-he-goes-again style. "Typical Axl."
Except for a couple of interviews last winter, timed to the release of a Guns n' Roses live album, and a 1998 Phoenix arrest, Rose has remained out of public view since 1994, when G n' R coughed and spat to a halt. For six years he has been working on the next G n' R record, tentatively titled Chinese Democracy. None of the original band members plays on it. Most of them hardly speak with Rose anymore. Rose spends most of his time in Los Angeles recording studios and behind the gate of his secluded estate atop a hill in the Latigo Canyon section of Malibu. His housekeeper, Beta Lebeis, does most of the shopping and driving. Axl reads, works out, kickboxes, plays pinball, teaches himself guitar and computers, and tries to write lyrics.
Meanwhile, G n' R's debut record, Appetite for Destruction, released in 1987, marches on. The second-biggest-selling debut album in rock history (15 million copies at last count), Appetite thirteen years later still sells a remarkable 5,000 to 6,000 copies per week - more than 200,000 units annually. G n' R caught a feeling in 1987, a raw vibe of anger and authenticity, somewhere between metal and punk, that still appeals to rock-music fans today. Even in the new millennium, Appetite probably cranks inside more turbocharged Chevys than any rock record ever made.
One can divide the public Axl into two separate periods: before 1993, when the original band was together, and post-1993, after the group's final recording, The Spaghetti Incident?, an unremarkable collection of mostly punk covers. Wherever he went during those years of his fame, Axl left frustrated, angry people behind. He became buried in litigation. Shelves in the clerks' offices at Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles and in Santa Monica bow under the weight of the thousands of pages of legal papers concerning G n' R and Axl that have accumulated over the years, actions involving claims totaling millions of dollars. This is not to mention band- or Rose-related legal matters in Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, New York, Spain, England and Canada.
The documents tell part of the story of how G n' R succeeded and failed, and they give a picture of Axl himself. The image that emerges is one of a complicated man who can be sensitive and funny but who is also controlling and obsessive and troubled, a man changed by fame and wracked by childhood trauma who faces a lonely future surrounded by a small circle of family members and childhood friends. "His world is very insular," says Doug Goldstein. "He doesn't like very many people."
Axl is a man struggling with demons and taking radical measures to overcome them. He became deeply involved in past-life regression, a brand of psychotherapy that exists on the New Age fringe. "Axl," a friend says, "is looking for anything that'll give him happiness."
As successful and wealthy as he became, friends contend, Axl still feels like a victim, unfulfilled, somewhat lost. "He seemed emotionally reserved and a little bit suspicious," says the techno whiz Moby, who spent some time with Axl in California in 1997. "He seemed a little bit like a beaten dog." And Rose, according to those who know him, remains hung up on one old girlfriend: the model Stephanie Seymour, now married to the polo-playing financier Peter Brant. Seymour and Axl's ex-wife, Erin Everly, have both accused Axl of beating them, a charge he denies.
Whether Axl's emotional and legal troubles contributed to the demise of the original G n' R is open to interpretation. There is little dispute, however, about one thing they did cause: a massive delay in finishing Chinese Democracy, which is in reality an Axl Rose solo record. This work has been six years, a roomful of studio musicians and a rumored $6 million worth of Interscope/Geffen's money in the making. It is still not finished and probably won't be anytime soon. "So many times, I have come down [to the studio], and I had no idea that I was going to be able to," Rose told ROLLING STONE last November as he played twelve new tracks. "If you are working with issues that depressed the crap out of you, how do you know you can express it?"
People who have heard the new music say it sounds fantastic. "The tracks reminded me of the best moments of Seventies Pink Floyd or later Led Zeppelin," says Jim Barber, a former Geffen A&R executive who worked on the project. "There's nothing out there right now that has that kind of scope. Axl hasn't spent the last several years struggling to write Use Your Illusion over again." In the estimation of guitarist Zakk Wylde, who sat in with the new band a few times, "Axl is one @#%$ smart guy."
In recent months, though, guitarist Robin Finck and drummer Josh Freese both left the project, as did computer engineer Billy Howerdel. Queen guitarist Brian May spent a week recording with Axl and returned to England. Avant guitarist Buckethead, known for wearing an upside down Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his noggin, came on the scene. But as of now, it seems, there is no "new" G n' R.
I'll punch your lights out right here and right now.....I don't give a @#%$ who you are. You are all little people on a power trip."
These are not lyrics to a bitter new G n' R track about lawyers, perhaps reminiscent of Axl's old rants on CD and from the stage against reporters and photographers and anybody else who failed to do his precise bidding. These words, the Phoenix Police Department reports, are what Axl shouted at security personnel at Sky Harbor International Airport in February 1998 after a screener asked to search his hand luggage. Threatened with arrest, Axl, traveling in jeans, a red sweat shirt and a gray stocking cap, rejoined, "I don't give a @#%$. Just put me in fuckin' jail." He spent a couple of hours behind bars. The matter was resolved on February 18th, 1999, when Rose, via telephone, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace and paid a $500 fine.
Lost in the minor hoopla over the arrest was the matter of what, exactly, Axl was doing at the Phoenix airport. Was Axl coming back from a place where he often goes - Sedona, the New Age bastion in the red-rock canyons 115 miles north of Phoenix, where he sees one of the most important people in his world, a psychic known derisively in the G n' R camp as Yoda?
Though nobody knows precisely how he got involved, people who know him say Axl started visiting Sedona in the early Nineties, sometimes traveling with Beta, his housekeeper, or Earl, his bodyguard. Many believers in past lives, channeling, UFOs and the predictive power of crystals pass through Sedona. The town is so tuned in, vibewise, that certain canyons are understood to be vortexes for masculine energy and others for feminine forces. In the produce aisles of Sedona supermarkets, shoppers dangle crystals over the pints of strawberries.
For close to a decade Rose has been a powerful, almost evangelical believer in homeopathic medicine. The world i Axl,s view , is a perilous place, populated by greedy doctors affiliated with the American Medical Association who prescribe dangerous synthetic medicines. When Gn'R toured , homeophatic elixirs for Axl's throat were always on hand. He introduced echinacea and protein shakes to a Gn'R more accustomed to vodka and heroin.
Axl's childhood woes are all well documented,he does not come, as Axl himself might say, from a healthy place. In 1992, i this magazine, Axl talked about learning at the age of seventeen that the man he thought was his real father was infact his stepfather. Axl's biological father , William Rose, abandoned the family when Axl was two and is believed to be dead. Through therapy, Axl said , he recoverd memories of being beaten, and sexually abused as a child. It is these traumas, primarily, that Axl wrestles with, and it is these experiences that may in part, be blamed for his hostile attitude towards women and his consuming need for control. A friend says, "All that baggage, as he was being constructed, it all comes to bear. It's not an external issue. It's really core to his makeup."
Yoda's real name Sharon Maynard. A rather plain Asian woman of middle age, Maynard stands about five feet five, and has a medium build and dark curly hair. Since 1978 she has run a not for profit business in Sedona called Arcos Cielos Corp, which loosely translated from Spanish, means "sky arcs."The company, with assets of $241,602 in 1998, lists itself as an "educational" enterprise. Arcos Cielos operates out of Maynards rural home in Sedona, which she shares with her husband, Elliott, a gentle gray haired man. "Dr. Elliott and Sharon Maynard" are both thanked in the Use Your Illusion liner notes.
Sharon Maynard keeps a low profile in town. "She is way under , low-key," says a local business man with ties to the psychic community. None of the New Age booksellers or silversmiths I talked to knwe her, and she wasn't listed in the phone book or with the center for the New Age, where a thick three-ring binder full of psychics and past life therapists is available for perusal - and many of those listed are available for immediate consultation in booths upstairs. This is not surprising. Much of more high end psychic work in Sedona is done by quiet figures like Yoda who work out of private homes.
While it is customary for tour employees to submit a photograph for a laminated pass, with Axl other things seemed to come into play. Doug Goldstein is said to gather photos at the singer's instruction for psychic assessment.In Sedona, some think Yoda would examine the photos. What does so and so want from Axl? Does this person have his best interests in mind? What kind of energy do they emit?
Submitting a photo to Axl for evaluation by Yoda some say, coincided with employment in the Gn'R world. Band members, crew members, record company executives, everybody did it. The procedure still goes on. Recalls one current employee, "I sent my picture in. Everybody gets a photo made for a pass. People made jokes about auras being read. What's this for? Nobody really knew. But i don't know anybody who got canned for anything other than not doing a good job." On occasion, according toa music industry figure Axl recently worked with, Yoda even requested photos of the sons and daughters of people in Axl's world.
In February 1998 in Arizona, Axl was carring some presents he'd recently received "going to the pssychic for review." in the words of one knowledgeable source. One item in Axl's bag was a large hand blown glass sphere.Axl was apparently worried that security personnel at the airport might break it, and that lead to his outburst and arrest.
How important is Yoda to Axl? One associate says Yodas influence, while important, is tempered by the force of Axl's personality. "He wasn't turning his life over to somebody with a candel and crystal. I say that with every confidence. It is just not consistent with who he is. He makes his own decisions."
Still Yoda showed up on tour. "She came with some of her pals, a crew member recalls."Funny dudes' southwestern people with funny shoes. Their look didnt fir in, they were like aliens." During a 1992 Gn'R swing through the US with Metallica, Yoda apparently became concerned about energy fields around Minneapolis and orderd that a date contemplated for the city not be booked.It was later rescheduled for a different Minneapolis venue. "Axl had trouble," a tour regular says,"in areas of the country that had a strong magnetic field concentration."
Before some dates in Japan, presumably at Yoda's urging, information about atomic power sorces in the country and power sources for the Tokio Dome had to be collected. A source involved in this mission says he never understood precisely what this data was used for. It was something about the magnetic forces that exist in the universe and where those things are in comparison to where Axl should be spending his time."
Axl also sometimes took a psychotherapist from Los Angeles, a Victoria Principal look alike named Suzzy London, on the road.London maintained an area backstage for herself and Axl.He cast her as his therapist, wearing a black mimniskirt, in the video for Don't Cry."
Members of the band and it's entourage took different views of Axl's various counselors. Some showed them healthy respect.Others scorned them."They had to accompany him to Japan to make sure that the bad energy waves didn't capture him there," a former employee recalls. "If it was any exotic, wonderful place around the world,[the advisers} generally had to be flown in at some point.But if it were going to be Kansas City, everything was really fine. I mean it was St.Louis where the riot happend." Were they with him in St.Louis? Angry at a fan with a camera at a July 2nd, 1991, show at Riverport Amphitheater,Rose launched himself into the crowd, touching off a riot that injured more than fifty people and caused more than $200,000 in damage.
Axl has spoken in the past about his experiences with past life regression therapy. A typical past life regression session begins with hypnosis. During Traditional psychotherapy, aa patient placed in a trance may be able to recall traumatic events that have been repressed and that may lie at the root of current emotional problems. Freudian theory holds that recognizing and understanding such traumas, which often occur in childhood, can promote healing.
Under hypnosis by a past life expert, the playing field expands. A patient may be able to remember back even further, to a life or lifes that were lived hundreds if not thousands of years ago, and discover traumas that occured then.Some patients may speak in the voice or language of that long dead being, whether it be a Roman ruler or a Southern plantation slave.
Past life adherents tend to believe that one lives one's life with different incarnations of the same group of people. Axl, according to a confidant, believes he and Stephanie Seymour were together in fifteen or sixteen past lives.
After a shouting match with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love backstage at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, Axl told a friend that Love was trying to posess him. "He believes people are always trying to find a window through to control his energy " a friend says. How does Axl combat this? "By controlling the people who have access to him."
After he and Seymour broke up , in 1992, the model began dating Peter Brant. Axl, according to one friend, orderd subordinates to obtain a photo of Bryant's wife Sandra. Axl intended to take it to Yoda for specific purposes, according to a former Geffen employee "Axl wanted to cast a spell around Sandra to protect her from Peter, because he felt that she to had been cuckolded as he had been, and he had a great deal of sympathy for her." Seymour, then 26, and Brant,48, married in Paris in 1995.
Even by loose New Age standards , Axl has received sone bizarre advice over the years. After Axl's ex-wife, Erin Everly, the daughter of singer Don Everly and the inspiration for the Gn'R hit "Sweet Child o Mine," sued Axl in 1994, charging assult and sexual battery, Everly sat for a deposition. She testified that Axl believed that she and Seymour were sisters in a past life and were "trying to kill him." As far as her own relationship with Axl went, Everly said, "Axl had told me that in a past life we were Indians and that I killed out children and that's why he was so mean to me in this life."
Everly was asked,"Had Axl ever told you that he was possessed?" "Yes," she said. "What did he say was he possessing by?" "John Bonham."
Bonham, the rambunctious Led Zeppelin drummer, died in his sleep after a bender in 1980. Rose denies ever saying he was possessed by Bonham. "They're the ultimate controlled relationships,"a friend says of Axl's various therapy sessions. "Starts at a certain time, ends at a certain time, you pay for it, you cant stop paying for it and stop going. And as long as you want somebody to listen to you, as long as you want somebody to say the things you want to hear, you can pay them to do it."
Once in a while, in a New Age community that embraces a certain number of charlatans, Axl got taken to the cleaners. During his marriage to Everly, Axl went for an exorcism. The exorcism apparently didn't involve the priests and crosses that viewers of prime time television have come to expect. " Mainly it involved getting some kind of herbal wrap," Axl testified during the Everly case , some "work on my skin." The man who performed this procedure charged $72,000. Even Axl admitted, "I ended up getting ripped off for a lot of money in the long run."
UP ON AXL MOUNTAIN
Through a series of hairpin turns and steep grades, Latigo Canyon Road winds a couple of thousand feet up to the top of an arid hill near the Point Dume section of Malibu.The sun skims and slants and shimmers off the Pacific Ocean and the celebrity homes that crown the beach below. Axl lives in a Mediterranean style compound that was valued last year at $3.8 million, a price tag fairly typical for the neighborhood. He moved into the canyon in 1992, paying a mortgage of about $15,ooo a month. Latigo was going to be the place he and Stephanie Seymour would live together as man and wife and raise their children.
Gardeners assidously tend Axl's four acres, which are hidden from public view by trees and a fence. A lighted star on the side of Axl's house can be seen for miles by drivers on the Pacific Coast Highway. Axl's neighbours on the hill include the beach volleyball star Gabrielle Reece.
The sound of falling water soothes the grounds, which also containe a tennise court and a pool. When Axl throws a party, the court doubles as a parking lot. The house itself is stocked with religious artifacts from Latin America, including Axl's vast collection of crucifixes. Axl plays pinball on the machines in his games room. Since the demise of Gn'R , he has shared his Latigo Canyon estate with tanks full of snakes and spiders and lizards, and with various friends, family members and live in help. Axl's sister Amy Bailey, who used to run the GnR fan club, and half brother Stuart Bailey have stayed in the house at one time or another. Beta, who formerly worked as a nanny for Seymour, taking care of her sone Dylan, doubles as chauffeur. She also travels with Axl; it was she by his side during the conretemps at the Phoenix airport in 98. "Beta mom's him," a friend says. "She 's as close as he's ever had to a real mother."
David Lank a running buddy of Axl's from Indiana and occasional Gn'R collaborator ( he co-wrote "Dont Damn Me," on Use Your Illusion 1), bunked at Axl's place in Latigo Canyon fore a while. Sabrina Okamoto, a massuse, also stayed a time at the property. A striking woman in her early thirties, Okamoto met the members of Gn'R during their 1991 tour with Skid Row, she became the Gn'R tour masseuse, then worked for Axl after Guns split. "When his friends were in need, he often was their to bail them out," a former associate says.
Axl throws a costume party every Halloween for friends and their families. Enormous pumpkins ring the swimming pool, and spider webs hang in the trees.Specially built mazes and forts rattle with squealing children.Almost as exited as a child, Axl himself has been knows to dash around and toy with every attraction.One past guest gets the impression that Axl is trying to re-create his childhood, albeit one better than his actually was. The Halloween scene in the past few years hasn't been what it once was."His parties have been getting smaller and smaller," recalls one recent guest."The ever-shrinking universe."
Last Halloween Axl appeared as a pig, scaring a few of the children in attendance.Guests helped themselfs to pasta and barbecued chicken, the loud rock & roll made conversation difficult.
Axl usually sleeps during the day and workes at night.Beta or her son drives Axl to Rumbo Recorders in the San Fernando Valley, where sesions for the Gn'R follow up to Spagetti Incident have been going on for years.More and more lately, Axl conducts business over the telephone.
Much of Axl's non-music and non-spiritual business concerns legal strategy. Besides his dispute with Everly, other matters have dragged on: He has ended up in court against Seymour, the bands original drummer , Steven Adler, the replacement guitarist Gilby Clark, and various companies that did business with the band. Lately, Axl has been using threats of legal action to limit what people say about him. A few days after I talked with Alen Niven, Gn'R's former manager, who was fired in 1991. Doug Goldstein called me, threatning to sue Niven for allegedly breaching a confidentuality agreement. Niven later received a letter from Axl's personal lawyer in Los Angeles, demanding he contact Rolling Stone and attempt to withdraw his comments. Failure to do so, Axl's lawyer warned would result in "swift and sure legal action."