The Daily

Letter from Our Southern Editor

Bill Bailey Comes Home

October 18, 2010 | by

A mug shot of Axl Rose at eighteen.

Five years ago GQ assigned me to write about Axl Rose, who was mounting a “final comeback” with his Chinese Democracy, release of which had already been postponed by more than a decade. The album title was meant as a punch line. Q: When will Guns N’ Roses come out with something new? A: When there’s democracy in China. That stage in the singer’s career turned out to be neither a comeback (few people liked the record, and nobody played it much) nor final—a minute ago I ran his name through Google News and found he’s hard at work being Axl, showing up hours late to shows, getting pelted with bottles, making bizarre requests on tour riders (black napkins, Grolsch beer, honey in “bear-shaped tubes”).

The story was, by turns, fun and frustrating to report. I followed the band around Europe for a while, feeding cigarettes to the band members’ model girlfriends and failing to secure face time with “Ax.” His manager back then was a real specimen. Before one show, in Spain, I sat at a coffee table with this person, struggling to explain how it might help justify the seven thousand words we were about to expend on the band if the front man would speak to me for a few seconds. I think at one point I actually said, “Give me thirty seconds.” Axl had by then become, as he remains, sealed off from the press to an almost Michael Jackson level. The manager kept pausing to answer cellphone calls from Elton John. “Well, that’s because they don't know Tea for the Tillerman,” he said into the phone at one point, referring to the classic Cat Stevens record. What were he and Sir Elton talking about? I still wonder sometimes. He told me that, if we would agree to put Axl on the cover, “maybe we could talk about an interview.” I couldn't figure out how to say, in any non-offensive way, that GQ covers are typically reserved for extremely conventionally good-looking people in the midst of a career peak, such as Axl once was but hadn't been in a very long time. I let it drop. Axl broke with the manager soon thereafter, passive-aggressively blaming him in an “Open Letter to Fans” for the failure of Chinese Democracy. Thinking back, I feel sympathy with the manager. What I read as superciliousness was probably professional trauma. He was the devil’s own PR man.

The most memorable trip I made in connection with Axl was to Lafayette, Indiana, where he grew up. I drove there hoping to track down his oldest childhood friend, a man named Dana, who’d never been interviewed. Dana turned out not surprisingly to be a very reclusive person, and although he did eventually meet with me, it took several days to coax him out. I spent them inventing little research projects. I visited the public library and found old yearbook pictures of Axl. I photographed the church where he sang in the choir. And lastly, on the morning of the day when Dana finally called me back, I went to the local police station. Did they have any records on Axl? No, they didn’t think so. Really? That seemed impossible. Would they mind checking under his many Indiana names? William Bruce Rose Jr.? William Bruce Bailey? Bill Bailey? W. Rose? A friendly lady officer agreed to help me out.

Sure enough, when I came back that evening, she had a whole folder of stuff. Arrest reports, warrants, and affidavits, as well as two treasures: mug shots that no one had ever seen. Axl’s first mug shots. In one case, the negative hadn’t even been processed before. The cop had sent it off to the Fotomat for me. I sat outside in my rental car, gazing on my luck. The pictures showed him at eighteen and twenty. They were American masterpieces of the saddest, crappiest kind. GQ ended up running the latter, the one where he’s slightly older and looks like a burned-out strawberry Farrah Fawcett in a jean jacket. You can find it all over the Internet now. It stemmed from a fight in somebody’s yard—a woman screamed at Dana and Axl for hassling her kid. Axl had a splint on his arm. He hit her with the splint. They arrested him in the parking lot of the local Frozen Custard (spelled “Custored” in the police report).

It’s the shots of him at eighteen that move me, though. He isn’t pretty yet, he hasn’t begun to think of himself as a rock star. He’s a boy-man, with a trace of fear in his pugnacious stare. I can’t remember what he’d done, that time. Stolen another kid’s bike, I think. Or destroyed another kid’s bike. When I first saw his hair, I understood something Dana had told me hours before, at a bar: that when they were children, Axl was Raggedy Ann in the Christmas parade. Looking longer, a person could understand something else, too, about the Midwestern darkness in his voice.

Today he is nearing fifty. This mug shot is thirty years old. God knows what suddenly motivates me to write about it. This blog, I suppose, gives me a way to share it, and surely, if you come into possession of a never-before-seen Axl Rose mug shot, you should share it. Don’t hide that lamp under a bushel. There are fans who might enjoy it. There is rock ‘n’ roll history to think about.

62 COMMENTS

50 Comments

« Older Comments
  1. Benjay | October 18, 2010 at 11:49 am

    To the Southern Editor:

    “Mister Lytle: An Essay” from #194 is a real marvel and gains more every time I visit.

    Keep the posts coming!

  2. Arty | October 18, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I see your sister in her Sunday dress
    She’s out to please
    She pouts her best
    She’s out to take
    No need to try
    She’s ready to make
    It’s so easy, easy
    When everybody’s tryin’ to please me baby
    It’s so easy, easy
    When everybody’s tryin’ to please me

    He’s on the Night Traaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnn ……..

    Oh no – woah

  3. slash | October 18, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    no interest in reading bad about axl.

  4. Scott | October 18, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    …and some of us still sand by waiting… Waiting for more! I think around year five to stop wanting axl to do something, but it isn’t something that can be turned off. I truly get the feeling now.

  5. Gui Masai | October 18, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    “Slash” may not want to read “bad” about Axl, but clearly Slash don’t read so good himself. The writing of the Southern Editor of this publication sure reads good to me.

  6. Justin Martin | October 18, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Indiana isn’t completely nowhere like you described it in the article. I’m biased because I’m from here but I’d like to think that James Dean, Kurt Vonnegut, Steve McQueen, and Letterman pull us back from the pop cultural abyss, as it were.

  7. darren | October 19, 2010 at 1:09 am

    When I was 15 I met Axl at CBGB Record Gallery (RIP) at GNR acoustic show (you tube it if you want). He was normal, cool and nice. I talked to him and he invited me to come tour with GNr opening for Motley Crue in Florida.

    i didn’t go and I sometimes I wonder if I went, would I have saved him, and myself.

    Isn’t it pretty to think so?

  8. jeremy c. | October 19, 2010 at 1:22 am

    Writing this from the shadows of the Southern Indiana knobs that the author describes in the original piece, I’d say he just about nails it perfect.

    “And you don’t talk so loud
    And you don’t walk so proud
    Any more…”

  9. horsey | October 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

    that’s a strange thing but kinna interesting.wild to think of reckless abandonment of axl’s youth.kinna mapped out for axl to be what he has become,the world’s best front man.awesome vocals that range from any level,no one can scream and sound great when it comes out.then also sing with calm vocals the next min.love axl so much as i did from day 1 seeing him run past me in philly,at the aerosmith show parking lot.

  10. Dick V | October 19, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Rumor has it Axl is moving to New York this fall, right by the Paris Review office in fact. Maybe you should invite him to the Paris Review gala. Or maybe it’s time for The Art of the Rock Star Vol. 1.

  11. Pitumbo | October 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

    So where’s the other mugshot?

  12. Pitumbo | October 19, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Doh, I see it now — that’ll teach me to look for the colored hyperlinks.

  13. Sentimental Movie | October 20, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    GREAT! thanks for sharing, did you get any more information out of Dana? How bout writing a book, or making a documentary?

  14. fernanda Wolff | October 20, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    This was such an interesting post, that I even stop reading other things to read it. Maybe that’s just what the music makes to people, maybe that’s just who he really is. The fact is that he’s extremely arrogant, perhaps too aggressive. He’s not eighteen anymore, he can’t act like one. There is a entire generation that followed his steps, but what about now? He’s almost fifty, with history, rock and shame. I just wish we could have an Axl Rose instead of justin bieber robot on TV. Great post, I really like it. thank you.

  15. JT | October 21, 2010 at 12:36 am

    “Writing this from the shadows of the Southern Indiana knobs that the author describes in the original piece, I’d say he just about nails it perfect.”
    True, but I don’t know what Jeff Strange is talking about, most people from Lafayette would not consider it part of “the region,” that’s a little further up north towards Chicago. and that Frozen Custard Axl got arrested at is awesome, funny to read stuff about my hometown on here.

  16. Layflats forever | October 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I don’t know that I would call Lafayette nowhere- maybe at the tim axl and izzy were cutting their teeth here, but now, I guess it is more of an oasis in a cornfield desert. The music produced here is often great. Outside of the famous escapees (axl, izzy, Shannon hoon), there has always been an undercurrent of amazing and original underground bands. Some have gained notoriety outside of this place, with quite a few touring the country and Europe extensively, while others end up being a local secret listened to for years on local fans cd players well past the demise of the bands. Lafayette pops on the radar every few years as the place for national and international underground bands of note to play in lieu of our big city neighbors (Chicago and Indy). This size town is just big enough to support a local venue with a strong base until it goes belly up in two to five years after the promoters are worn down from the work involved in keeping a place running in a town with bigger aspirations than resources. It is like a phoenix- it always returns! Many of my friends and I have toured extensively and agree that this Lafayette is the best place to base a band. Too small to have constant bland big name fluff bands and big enough to guarantee a couple good and interesting show a week with local and national/international bands. We have at least 2 indie record labels with international acts currently active and one of our recording studios pulls no small number of California bands into flyover land, as the uninitiated call it.
    In short, while we aren’t la, ny or Austin, we certainly hold our own when it comes to fostering real creativity and original music!

  17. Supersonic | October 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Every band has their moment and then…that youthful energy goes or the drugs take their toll. They were a wonder these guys. Came from the midwest all tough and well armed for conquest. Clean water and corn fed. But then the anger takes it’s toll. The money distracts. The love that was needed isn’t there.

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  19. sarah | October 25, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Poor Kid, he really did have a face that only a mother could love…

  20. jane | October 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    i love you, axl! \m/

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  24. David Best | November 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I see you “borrowed” liberally from my piece about Axl in SPIN. In case it’s really mystical serendipity, see SPIN
    July 1990 page 20.

  25. JJ Sullivan | November 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Dear David Best, Thanks for directing me to your article, which I hadn’t seen but enjoyed. Given that there isn’t a single overlapping sentence or thought in our two pieces, apart from their both being about Axl’s early years, I’m not sure why you would go onto a public forum and vaguely accuse me of plagiarism, but then possibly I mistake your tone, as it’s so easy to do on the Internet. In any case, most of the major profiles of Axl over the years have mentioned the Bill Bailey stuff, so neither of us can claim any great originality there, I’m afraid. Good luck to you, sir. JJS

    PS. I’m including a link to your piece. No reason the two can’t compliment each other:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=fTAxVGMigAYC&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=david+best+spin+axl&source=bl&ots=82uZ-kavq8&sig=y108tiIhCR9ZYPTGTcT9ATkwY30&hl=en&ei=oL7mTJyiLIOBlAfd7aW6Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=david%20best%20spin%20axl&f=false

    PPS. My sincere thanks to all the other commenters. The experience of being read on this site is truly gratifying.

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12 Pingbacks

  1. [...] Paris Review – A Mug Shot of Axl Rose at Eighteen, John Jeremiah … [...]

  2. [...] Paris Review – A Mug Shot of Axl Rose at Eighteen, John Jeremiah Sullivan, John Jeremiah Sullivan [...]

  3. [...] Paris Review – A Mug Shot of Axl Rose at Eighteen "Five years ago GQ assigned me to write about Axl Rose, who was mounting a “final comeback” with his Chinese Democracy, release of which had already been postponed by more than a decade. The album title was meant as a punch line. Q: When will Guns N’ Roses come out with something new? A: When there’s democracy in China. That stage in the singer’s career turned out to be neither a comeback (few people liked the record, and nobody played it much) nor final—a minute ago I ran his name through Google News and found he’s hard at work being Axl, showing up hours late to shows, getting pelted with bottles, making bizarre requests on tour riders (black napkins, Grolsch beer, honey in “bear-shaped tubes”). " [...]

  4. [...] never-before-seen mugshot of Axl Rose comes courtesy of The Paris Review. The image is a nifty little piece of rock history, and good for a chuckle, but the accompanying [...]

  5. [...] the article behind Axl Rose’s earliest known mug shot (by John Jerimiah Sullivan), [...]

  6. [...] “Sure enough, when I came back that evening, she had a whole folder of stuff. Arrest reports, warrant…. In one case, the negative hadn’t even been processed before. The cop had sent it off to the Fotomat for me. I sat outside in my rental car, gazing on my luck. The pictures showed him at eighteen and twenty. They were American masterpieces of the saddest, crappiest kind. GQ ended up running the latter, the one where he’s slightly older and looks like a burned-out strawberry Farrah Fawcett in a jean jacket. You can find it all over the Internet now. It stemmed from a fight in somebody’s yard—a woman screamed at Dana and Axl for hassling her kid. Axl had a splint on his arm. He hit her with the splint. They arrested him in the parking lot of the local Frozen Custard (spelled “Custored” in the police report). It’s the shots of him at eighteen that move me, though. He isn’t pretty yet, he hasn’t begun to think of himself as a rock star. He’s a boy-man, with a trace of fear in his pugnacious stare. I can’t remember what he’d done, that time. Stolen another kid’s bike, I think. Or destroyed another kid’s bike. When I first saw his hair, I understood something Dana had told me hours before, at a bar: that when they were children, Axl was Raggedy Ann in the Christmas parade. Looking longer, a person could understand something else, too, about the Midwestern darkness in his voice.” w/ photos [...]

  7. [...] mug shot of GUNS N’ ROSES singer Axl Rose taken when he was 18 years old can be found at The Paris Review. The picture was unearthed five years ago by writer John Jeremiah Sullivan while was doing research [...]

  8. [...] Bill Bailey Comes Home (Paris Review) [...]

  9. [...] Paris Review – A Mug Shot of Axl Rose during Eighteen, Guns N’ Roses, John Jeremiah Sullivan [...]

  10. [...] time, but there's not a proper review anywhere. (THERE AREN'T ENOUGH STARS IN THE WORLD.) Axl's mugshot from when he was 18. This is a cool post. Axl's 1989 Playboy interview. Here's the real long Axl Rose GQ profile [...]

  11. [...] time, but there's not a proper review anywhere. (THERE AREN'T ENOUGH STARS IN THE WORLD.) Axl's mugshot from when he was 18. This is a cool post. Axl's 1989 Playboy interview. Here's the real long Axl Rose GQ profile [...]

  12. [...] Behold- the sexiest mug shot you have ever seen. [...]

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