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Axl vs. Stevie



Last year, Brian Wilson delivered Smile after abandoning it 35 years ago. Even factoring in nervous breakdowns, weight gains (and losses), the two years he spent in bed, and a mind-controlling, power-crazy Svengali psychologist, Wilson still had new songs on each successive Beach Boys album well into the ’80s, and managed four studio albums on his own, plus a couple of live sets between the tears, the meds and the candy bars.

For Guns N’ Roses, it’s been 11 years and holding since the last studio album (longer than it took the Beach Boys to go from “Surfin’ Safari” to Sunflower) and, in that time, only one lousy new song has emerged with the GN’R brand.

For Stevie Wonder, it’s been a mere decade between long-players, although he’s eked out new, expendable songs on live albums and trifles like the Pinocchio sound track.

In the race to procrastinate, he might have to hand the crown over to Axl Rose — Stevie’s unquenchable thirst for Grammy gold saw him nail a Sept. 27 download release date so he could squeak in before the Oct. 1 Grammy deadline. The physical album is scheduled to be in stores Tuesday, Oct. 18. But don’t expect fans to camp out. Color them “very superstitious.”

Promised for June 2004, Stevie’s A Time 2 Love failed to appear even by Dec. 31, the last day he could’ve delivered it and still been a man of his word. Fans were hotter than July, leaving angry posts on that were beyond punctuation with rage. To wit: “its bullshit he promis us a album hes not a man for his word” or “like you all so fuckin tired of waiting on this fuckin cd” and “i can’t wait another day for it i will say fuck it.”

Right on, “rt” and “crazy angry Swede.” I wish there were more e e cummings-reared bastards like you, who care so deeply about a favorite artist’s message that they’d reject him for being a crazy perfectionist. But maybe the fans have given up; two singles from A Time 2 Love have come and gone unnoticed.

Axl fans seem more willing to wait, like the kid who continually forgives dad for getting drunk and missing the Little League games because it’s better than him showing up.

No official reasons have ever explained either album’s endless delays, but given the amount of online gossip and hearsay, we can only imagine. Here’s what we like to call, err, umph ... A Timeline 2 Wait.

1994 Guns N’ Roses releases its last studio album, The Spaghetti Incident?, to mixed reviews and disappointing sales. Contains cover versions of classic punk songs by classic punks like Charles Manson, whose Helter Skelter work ethic of letting underlings do the grunt work becomes Axl’s blueprint for Chinese Democracy. Thanks, Chas!

1995 Stevie releases his last studio album, Conversation Peace, also to mixed reviews and disappointing sales. Stevie is concerned that the eight-year wait for this one is going to be hard to top.

1996 With all original members gone, Axl must create a new band — without mainstays Slash and Duff — and an album from scratch. A nervous Geffen Records sends talent exec Todd Sullivan to help move things along but is quickly taken off the project after suggesting to Axl that he “consider just bearing down and completing some of these songs.”

Stevie releases Song Review, another greatest hits collection with the usual songs, thus enraging fans whose shelves have had a space waiting since 1982 for a an exhaustive hits companion to their orphaned Original Musiquarium Vol. 1.

1997 Geffen pays Axl a cool million to “bear down and complete some of these songs,” and dangles another mil if he delivers the album Chinese Democracy by March 1, ’98. Guess which million Axl spent on “past-life regression therapy”? Under costly hypnosis sessions, Axl comes to believe he and ex-girlfriend/model Stephanie Seymour were together in 15 or 16 past lives. Endless hours of “past-life regression shopping” add even more unforeseen delays.

1998 In January, Seagram buys both Geffen and Motown, which means Axl and Stevie now keep the industry suits waiting. There’s much behind-the-scenes maneuvering to ensure that the (non)release dates for the two albums never coincide.

1999 The first recorded evidence of the new GN’R lineup, “Oh My God,” is released on the End of Days sound track and goes unnoticed. Axl makes mental note not to name any more songs after George Burns movies. Now is as good a time as any to enlist a guitarist named Buckethead, who wears a facemask and a KFC pail on his head, presumably until the Witness Protection Program can furnish him with a better identity.

2000 Also going unnoticed are two new, ironically titled Stevie songs from the sound track of Spike Lee’s latest joint. You don’t think Stevie’s “Misrepresented People” — who started waiting for his new album “Some Years Ago” — feel Bamboozled? ’Cause, like, that would be too much of a coincidence.

2001 Both Stevie and Axl sit out the entire season when cornrows figure prominently on ESPN’s “What’s Not Hot” list.

2002 At MTV’s 2002 Video Music Awards show, the reconstituted Guns N’ Roses are the evening’s surprise finale. Critics are cruel, citing the older Axl’s resemblance to hard-of-hearing ’50s yelper Johnnie Ray. After a triumphant Madison Square Garden show, Axl is barred from a Manhattan nightclub for wearing fur. The fuming frontman skips the next GN’R performance. The promoter nixes the rest of the tour. Y’see, fur does hurt.

2003 At a Fourth of July picnic, an M80 goes off in Stevie’s hand. Can’t read for weeks after that.

When Interscope proposes a cash-generating Guns N’ Roses greatest-hits release for the holidays, Axl’s manager talks them out of it and promises Chinese Democracy by Christmas. Somewhere the Chinese titter behind their hands.

Stevie tells the audience at a 2003 T.J. Martell Foundation dinner, “I wish I could write a song that would find a cure for the disease of hate.” You can just hear his frustrated aides saying, “C’mon, Stevie, it’s great, put it out already,” and Stevie having to admit, “Uh, yeah, Sam, it’s, uh, got a good beat but you can’t cure hate with it. Maybe it needs, uh, more tom-tom.”

2004 To appease Buckethead, Axl has a chicken coop installed in the recording studio. Reports circulate that Buckethead flew that very coop.

Stevie appears as “Himself” on a December edition of Ellen reprising the role of “Himself” he established on a June edition of Oprah, where he promised an album real soon then failed to deliver.

2005 Slash and Duff sue Axl for nonpayment of royalties. Meanwhile, millions of label dollars have been lost to Chinese Democracy.

Michael Jackson taps Stevie to be on his Hurricane Katrina charity single, which has the same title as Stevie’s single from A Time 2 Love, “From the Bottom of My Heart.” Awww, jeez, everybody knows you can’t cure hate with confusion!

Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]

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