Moving on from life at the top is a bit like ageing - you can either do it gracefully, or resentfully hang on to the glory days. Axl Rose seems to have done neither, mainly by not moving on in his own head. (Talk about using your illusion.) But I'm still rooting for him, since life after 1994 clearly hasn't been so easy.
In the early '90s, Axl Rose epitomised the rock 'n roll dream. Simultaneous No. 1 and No. 2 records with the Use Your Illusion set, a gorgeous model girlfriend, epic videos when videos still mattered, and somehow, a head that kept him away from the addictions that crippled his band mates.
But as the years passed and the band mates fell away, Axl Rose's antics made him a bit of a joke, but also a slightly sad figure - a reclusive prima donna. For those of us who romanticised the rock 'n roll life, the video to "Estranged" seemed to foreshadow his dysfunctional deterioration.
Then came the short-lived 2002 tour, and for me - like many old Guns n' Roses fans - it was the most anticipated shows of the year. They played New York City's Madison Square Garden and properly rocked. Axl hadn't lost the talent that made him one of the era's best front men, even if his cornrows were a little strange, and he surely had Botox, right? So we held out for Chinese Democracy and played Appetite for Destruction quarterly.
Given the self-, public- and label-created stress on Axl Rose to deliver Chinese Democracy, it's almost amazing the album ever came out. With every year, expectations grew. The riot in Philadelphia, which resulted in the early cancellation of the 2002 tour, proved that people still cared. And were waiting.
The album finally came out on Monday. That day, my 7-month old son, Max, and I went to see a parent & baby screening of Body of Lies, and low and behold, a new GN'R track ("If the World") played during the credits. And it was so catchy we stayed to listen to it. And then we came home, bought the album on iTunes, and listened to the track five more times. (Clearly I haven't moved on from my adolescent tendency to get stuck on songs.)
Finally, yesterday, I made it through the rest of the album. I expected to hear perfection; I expected that every single note over which Axl obsessed would be great. And since I loved most of what GN'R released since I accidentally discovered them on a rebellion-fuelled shopping trip in 1987, I expected to like it.
And broadly speaking, I do. Or rather, I love enough elements of enough of the tracks to warrant an appreciation of the album. As my sitter Kate said, "It feels comforting."
There are a few epic indulgences ("There Was a Time"), a few pastiches (one fittingly called "Catcher in the Rye"), and the obligatory orchestras and choruses. The end result is vintage GN'R, wrapped in the 21st century. Not many '90s rock gods could pull that off.
The romanticising rock 'n roll rock chick in me wonders what Axl Rose was doing as his album was released. Did he hole up and drink himself silly? Go back to the Rainbow on the Sunset Strip with whatever friends remain?
Clearly Axl Rose was able to move on and let go of Chinese Democracy after 13 years - a blessing for those of us who haven't moved on as optimistic fans.