Get in the Ring: Axl’s Antics
Axl Rose challenged Vince Neil to a fight in an interview with Mick Wall. Then he denied having said it.
Let’s look back at Axl being an out-of-control rock star in 1990. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall.
Back in LA at the start of 1990, disorientated by the fame and the money and the madness inherent in having everything they’d dreamed of come true, they drifted. Slash and Duff showed up at the American Music Awards, drunk and coked, slurring and swearing . . . Axl and Slash jammed with Aerosmith at the Forum . . . Slash and Duff guested on an Iggy Pop record . . . Duff got divorced from Mandy, who he’d had a big fight with on New Year’s Eve . . . then, in April, the band played Farm Aid in Indianapolis, a televised gig that showed Steven in his worst possible light . . . Axl got married to Erin Everly in Las Vegas, after threatening to shoot himself if she refused . . . Slash jammed with The Black Crowes in New York . . . the days and nights rolled by, end on end. Every time I spoke to Slash—or Axl, or Duff, all of whom now came to me with different stories, crazy concerns, out-there insights and bad craziness—it was the same but different. Something new that had happened that made the rest of us feel old. You feared for them but at the same time you wondered at them, too. Wasn’t this what the real rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was supposed to be about?
When the LA Times ran a story about Axl winning “a temporary restraining order against the West Hollywood neighbor he is accused of hitting over the head with a wine bottle,” it made headlines in every music magazine, radio station and music TV channel in the world. Yet nobody who’d ever had the remotest dealings with Guns N’ Roses was the least bit surprised by the story. Gabriella Kantor, who lived along the corridor from Axl at Shoreham Towers, had called the cops, claiming Axl had hit her with a bottle after “an altercation.” Though no charges were filed, the band’s lawyers had got a judge to place the restraining order on Kantor, whom they described as “a potentially dangerous rock ’n’ roll groupie . . . upset that she is not a part of [Rose’s] social and or professional life.”
In order to try to keep a cap on things, Doug Goldstein was now paying $1000 a week to another occupant “just to tell me the goings on. He was a Middle Eastern guy, cute as hell. He calls me one day, absolutely out of his mind. ‘He’s fucking crazy! I don’t want your money! Fuck you!’ I go, ‘Slow down, what happened?’ ‘He crazy!’ I go, ‘Yeah, I know. But what happened?’
“What happened was Axl had taken Erin’s Halliburton suitcase and thrown it off the twenty-fourth floor and almost hit this guy.” He laughs. “He’d have killed him if that had hit him. Are you kidding? No question, but very funny, actually. Another time, I got a phone call saying you better come up here. Axl shoved a piano out of the front window of his apartment. I mean, this shit, I wasn’t trained in this! Like, I’m calling crane companies, right? To come get this piano out of the fucking weeds down below the home. It was brilliant, man! I’ll tell ya, every day it was a different challenge. And it was okay because it was kind of fun. It was like, okay, never dealt with this one before.”
Axl moved out of his apartment for a while, to stay at the Sunset Marquis, where another scuffle took place in the dining room one morning—but which the hotel management, famed for their tolerance of the “unconventional” ways of famous entertainers, were happy not to make a big deal of. This was Axl Rose, after all, now the most famous rock star in the world. Who would be dumb enough to fuck up that relationship?
Then four months after the shows at the Coliseum, the spat between Izzy, Axl and Vince Neil at the MTV Awards began to send out its shockwaves. None of us could have guessed then how far they would spread. It was January 1990. I was staying at the home of the band’s PR, Arlett Vereeke. Late one night the phone rang. It was Axl, calling to rant about something or other he’d just read in Kerrang! Arlett told Axl I was there, and she handed over the phone to see if I could help. He told me to come to the Shoreham Towers apartment right away, where he would make some sort of “statement.” He “was in the mood to talk.” Arlett drove me over, and sat in on the whole interview, which made it more disconcerting when Axl tried to claim later I had made parts of it up—and Arlett dutifully backed him. But then, having once been a rock PR myself, I knew that that’s what good PRs do: back their clients to the hilt, right or wrong. It’s not the writer who’s paying their bills.
Axl answered the door and immediately turned his back on us, stomping down the corridor and launching straight into the “statement.” Standing there in crumpled T-shirt and jeans, his big red beard covering most of his face, he began raging about Vince Neil, who had been “saying some shit” in Kerrang!—specifically, Neil’s claim to have punched out GN’R guitarist Izzy Stradlin for “messing” with Vince’s wife, Sharise.
What came next was pure Axl Rose circa 1990, part hubris, part passion, part pain, and part ludicrous hyperbole. The whole incident was “bullshit,” he ranted. “Guns or knives, motherfucker . . . I don’t care. I just wanna smash his plastic face”—this last a sarcastic reference to Vince’s then recent, supposedly hush-hush cosmetic surgery.
“I can’t believe this shit I just read in Kerrang!” he snarled, holding up a copy of Kerrang! dated November 4, 1989 and yanked open at a page from Jon Hotten’s interview with Mötley Crüe. “The interviewer asks Vince Neil about him throwing a punch at Izzy backstage at the MTV awards last year, and Vince replies . . .” Reading aloud sarcastically: “‘I just punched that dick and broke his fucking nose! Anybody who beats up on a woman deserves to get the shit kicked out of them. Izzy hit my wife, a year before I hit him.’ Well, that’s just a crock of shit! Izzy never touched that chick! If anybody tried to hit on anything, it was her trying to hit on Izzy when Vince wasn’t around. Only Izzy didn’t buy it. So that’s what that’s all about . . .”
He continued ranting as I set up the tape recorder. “. . . Vince’s wife has got a bug up her ass about Izzy. Izzy doesn’t know what’s going on, Izzy doesn’t fucking care. But anyway, Izzy’s just walked offstage. He’s momentarily blinded, as always happens when you come offstage, by coming from the stage lights straight into total darkness.” Which was when he said Vince came out of nowhere and hit Izzy. “Tom Petty’s security people jump on him and ask Alan Niven, our manager, who had his arm round Izzy’s shoulders when Vince bopped him, if he wants to press charges. He asks Izzy and Izzy says, “Naw, it was only like being hit by a girl” and they let him go.
“Meantime . . . I’m walking way up ahead of everybody else, and the next thing I know Vince Neil comes flying past me like his ass is on fire or something. All I saw was a blur of cheekbones!” He carried on like this, about how he wanted to “see that plastic face of his cave in when I hit him.”
“Are you serious about this?” I asked him. He said he was. “There’s only one way out for that fucker now and that’s if he apologizes in public, to the press, to Kerrang! and its readers, and admits he was lying when he said those things in that interview. Personally, I don’t think he has the balls. But that’s the gauntlet, and I’m throwing it down . . .”
We sat down in the only two available chairs not smothered in magazines, ashtrays, Coke cans, barf-balls, more ashtrays . . . Axl sat perched in the balcony window overlooking the pulsing neon ooze of the Hollywood hills below. He lit another cigarette and waited for me to begin.
Axl didn’t really believe Vince Neil would take up that gauntlet and arrange to fight it out with him, surely? Still reluctant to make eye contact, he stared into space as he spoke.
“I’ve no idea what he will do. I mean, he could wait until I’m drunk in the Troubadour one night and come in because he got a phone call saying I’m there and hit me with a beer bottle. But it’s like, I don’t care. Hit me with a beer bottle, dude. Do whatever you wanna do but I’m gonna take you out . . . I don’t care what he does. Unless he sniper-shoots me—unless he gets me like that without me knowing it—I’m taking him with me and that’s about all there is to it.”
What if Vince were to apologize?
“That’d be radical! Personally, I don’t think he has the balls. I don’t think he has the balls to admit he’s been lying out of his ass. That’d be great if he did though, and then I wouldn’t have to be a dick from then on.”
It was so insanely ridiculous, so marvelously over the top I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. The biggest rock star in the world was offering a private audience in his own home and threatening to fight one of the other biggest rock stars in the city. Yet when the interview was published three months later, things became a whole lot less amusing.
The first hint of trouble I had was when Arlett tried to obtain the interview tape by telling me the band wanted to run it on “a special GN’R phone-line.” I asked for the number of this “special phone-line.” That’s when the mumbling and back-pedaling began. She said she’d get back to me. She did, a few days later. This time, though, the approach was more direct. Axl would “really like” a copy of the tape, because—well, how could she put this?—“He doesn’t think he really speaks that way.” What? “You know, that he would . . . say . . . those things.” I still didn’t quite get it. “Axl doesn’t believe he said those things. Huh? What does he think happened then—I made them up?”
“But you were there . . .”
“Yes,” she said, hesitantly.
“I even checked with him first,” I said, remembering how I had read some of the most inflammatory quotes back to Axl over the phone—Arlett’s phone—a few weeks later, in order to give Axl the chance to retract or reword them. And how he had told me: “I stand by every fucking word, man . . .”
“Yes,” she said again, “I know. But if you could just send him the tape . . .”
I refused. Not because I felt I had anything to hide. I had been writing about Guns N’ Roses for three years. Of all the bands I had built long-term relationships with in those days—Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, to name a few—I had always felt I enjoyed a particularly close bond with Guns N’ Roses. There had been several occasions when I had deliberately not printed certain stories, in order to underline the trust we shared. Now this. What was Axl thinking? I felt insulted, let down and very angry. I decided to wait for the whole thing to blow over. Axl was always in a shit fit about something. Tomorrow it would be somebody else’s turn.
What I didn’t know then, though, was that Vince Neil had read the interview, and contacted Axl through various intermediaries to let him know he’d be only too willing to settle their score whenever and wherever Axl wanted. That was no surprise. Vince was a tough Mexican kid who’d grown up in a rough part of LA and was more than able to look after himself. As he related in Mötley Crüe’s 2001 autobiography, The Dirt: “The only thing that would have given me more pleasure than a number one record was breaking Axl Rose’s nose . . . I wanted to beat the shit out of that little punk and shut him up for good. But I never heard from him: not that day, not that month, not that year, not that century. But the offer still stands.”
Doug Goldstein tells me now that the fight offer had been so serious, the boxing promoter Don King had got wind of it and offered to stage it anywhere the pair wanted. His answer, rather than “guns or knives motherfucker,” was to say that he hadn’t said it at all. We wouldn’t meet again for another year, at which point the situation would worsen further.
Meanwhile, for all of Guns N’ Roses, their lives would continue to shift at bewildering speed, the madness barely easing. And as the months shot by like the lights of a speeding train, the one thing nobody seemed willing, or able, to talk about seriously was when, and if, there would be a new Guns N’ Roses album.