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One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. -Nietzsche

  January 19, 2009

Chinese Democracy: Axl Rose and Romanticism

Axl Rose finally released "Chinese Democracy" after 15 years in the making and a rumored development cost of over $10 million. It was a dream of perfection, crafted with precision and knowledge that any release gets only once chance to be unveiled, and those who rush and misspeak never receive a second opportunity to express themselves.

Still searching for an appropriate followup to the raw and reckless "Appetite for Destruction", this CD is half rock, half power ballads. The guitars stand out as crisp, sensuous, feral, and appropriately noisy, with all tracks absurdly overlayered, requiring headphones or high volume to fully survey the topography of this maze of sounds.

Lyrically, most of the album is a confession of a misunderstood, isolated, disappointed broken heart that despite fame and money he has not placed him closer to the romance he hoped for. Like a perpetual teenager, Rose has allowed himself to be deceived by hopes, remaining innocently vulnerable, romantically swept away, and repeatedly surprised by mutually destructive outcomes, not expecting others to extinguish relationships with senseless behavior.

Throughout the album he references his thoughts in musical terms, saying he feels "like I'm living inside of this song" and "this melody inside of me still searches for solution", using the album to give voice to thoughts that have lingered silently for too long. The dominating theme is lost love, with a hint of bitterness sometimes healing into general disappointment and introspective acceptance of lost potential.

At no point is it clear whether he is writing personally or more abstractly, as several songs stand equally well as superficial pop gestures, diary entries, or aphoristic metaphors. For example, I.R.S. is skeptical of a woman's lies, specifically her method of hiding truth and subsequent passive aggressive deception as an attack to leave the recipient off balance, but its treatment echoes Nietzsche's "Not that you lied to me, but that I no longer believe you - that is what has distressed me." [BGE, 183].

Axl Rose's great misunderstanding of love is praiseworthy and artistic in that it does not reflect on the origins of romance, but rather aims to follow them wherever they might lead him, serving as a river that is constantly refreshed. Where he is blind philosophically, he is rich with romantic feeling and true to himself, always going with his heart and pouring himself into every hope.

Misunderstanding woman is not merely a modern pursuit. Man has been constantly projecting his desires onto women, thinking them as wild, manipulable, and capricious as he. But woman is fundamentally responsible and sensible. No woman pays much attention to nonsense and frivolities like ballgames, except to tolerate them and fake interest in exchange for free room and board with a chimp of a man, but men will invest hours in cheering for people moving a ball around and flaccidly compete against one another with imaginary leagues where they pretend to own ball players, a step below having Pokemon competitions. Woman laughs at these follies and takes care not to voice her superiority. Things go well and easily for women because they care about what matters in real life.

Woman is practical. She is the bedrock of a family, dependable, steady, and focused on results. She is not swept away by dreams, passions, visions, intangibles, hopes, or possibilities. She is moderate and grounded, based in what is real and at hand. She does not lose her mind with love, never becoming mindlessly intoxicated in need of producing art, poetry, or music to express overwhelming feelings. Sappho is the closest exception in the Western canon, and that is excused as a product of the Isle of Lesbos.

Man is perpetually irresponsible, prone to constantly veering off course, assuming there is anything that could first be called a proper course. More typical is the trickle of a stream wandering through rock, fighting to wear down a mountain when it would be much easier to just go around. Man will give decades to invent a rocket, but no one is sending their families to outer space. Why such misdirected misadventure? Who is unique in making these errors throughout human history? Composing a symphony is a great personal accomplishment, but of almost no use, and rarely puts food on the table. Most composers, writers, and poets had meager incomes and were miserable providers for their families, but more prosperous and responsible work was available if only they would reconsider their hobbies, which in their obstinance rarely occurs.

Man in love is a lunatic and maniac. The inventor of romance, he forsakes his best interests, immediately abandoning friends, family, even his country when the idea of a woman overtakes him. He will kill an opponent, shoot a president, or send his nation to war, consequences be damned, the whole time motivated solely by the vision that he could be together with the woman who has captured his conscious and unconscious mind, even if she had no such intent. He imagines the woman he loves as a goddess and her presence as heaven, an illusion that can endure until she no longer cares to sustain the effect and thus ends it, along with the romance to which it is inextricably bound.

A man goes to war to defend his country, ready to give his life so his country can retain its borders and overthrow occupiers. Similarly, the daily laborer and office worker as sturdy mule is given a purpose when made to sacrifice himself to provide for his wife and children, who will presumably do something better with theirs, though modern progress has women and children repeating the same cycle of sacrifice for an unknown and unidentified benefactor.

Structured jobs are quintessentially feminine, focusing on the practical performance of tasks for measurable results. Despite this direct lifestyle, women are increasingly deciding that 40 years of pointless paper and email pushing is not a great way to spend the bulk of their lives.

Maybe the way out is to return to an older ideal: masculine men and feminine women, a natural pairing where each partner's faults are made up for by the gifts of the other, with each able to appreciate the strong but enticing unique traits of the other, so strange, sometimes wrong for a particular situation, but on the whole always captivating. The magic of love is an antidote to the tragedy of the house cat that reduces creatures to empty shells, drained of character, aspiration, and purpose, but useful as harmless living objects that stay inside safe confines.

In this light, Axl Rose can be seen as a great example of an untamed romantic, still living with the energy of resistance that made "Appetite for Destruction" so powerful and makes his latest work worthy of consideration.


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