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  • Joanna.Live

Axl Rose (Of GNR), Overcoming Childhood Abuse & Rocking The Big 6-0

I was in a hotel room in Las Vegas the night before the Guns N’ Roses show at Allegiant Stadium, and I couldn’t sleep. This happens sometimes the night before a concert because I get so excited, just like I did as a small child on Christmas Eve. So, I found myself thinking about GNR and their music, why the music speaks to me so much, and information I’ve learned about the band through interviews, books, etc.

Axl Rose grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, and when he was two or three years old, his biological father took off. Prior to his departure, Axl’s father sexually abused him. Later, Axl’s mother married a Pentecostal minister who was very strict, closed-minded, and emotionally and physically abusive. As a result, Axl was not afforded access to television and radio like a lot of kids. Rose has stated that on Sunday afternoons after sermon when his stepfather and mother had “private time in the bedroom” (wink, wink), the kids were left to their own accord, and they would listen to the radio surreptitiously. This is when Axl listened to his heroes: Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Queen, and many others. Interestingly, Axl has been a tremendous fan of Bernie Taupin’s songwriting, and Taupin has publicly praised Rose, especially for the lyrics to “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Just in case you were curious.

Music was Axl’s escape as a child; he would sneak off and listen to his portable radio at school where he would imagine what life must be like beyond the confining walls of his childhood home and small hometown where the freedom to express himself was severely limited.

I grew up in a similar environment to Axl’s in that my father was emotionally and physically abusive (although not sexually abusive), controlling, and ruled his household with an iron fist. My hometown in coastal Florida had a population of about 20K, and although it was safe and beautiful, it was horribly boring, especially for a teenager. In order to escape the wrath of my father, I would often slip out the door with my portable cassette player (and later Walkman) and walk the streets for hours listening to music.

When I first heard Appetite for Destruction, my head exploded. To me, it was very different from any other band I’d ever heard. Then when I started learning about Axl’s struggles and his past, the music resonated even deeper.

As we all know, abuse does not discriminate: it occurs in all races, religions, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. The abuse that occurred in my childhood home was not common knowledge at all. I was told multiple times by my mother, who was very Southern, that I was not to air our family’s dirty laundry…that what happens in the home, stays in the home…a lot like Vegas (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas). Therefore, I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse until I was in college, and sadly, throughout childhood until I was 15 years old, I believed that all fathers beat their children. I thought that this was one of the characteristics of being a father.

I didn’t become very vocal about the abuse until my mother died several years ago because it would have been devastating to her if she knew that others were privy to our family secret. Again, keep in mind that my mother was a Southern belle whose value system was that appearances are everything. In fact, every time we went to the grocery store, I was told to put on lipstick…starting at around age 12!

Circling back to Axl Rose, I’ve often wondered if he resented his mother for not protecting him against his fathers. Is this resentment the catalyst for some of the misogynistic lyrics in several of GNR’s songs? Is Axl, deep down, afraid or resentful of women, just as I am still a bit leery of men? Because this is the fallout that occurs when an adult hurts a child. It lasts long after the black and blue bruises have faded.

I’ve read where Rose has done a lot of deep exploration into his psyche, personality, emotions, etc. to try to make sense of his childhood and who he is. Ditto here. It’s tough work. It’s difficult to accept that we were not loved in the manner that we needed, that our parent (or parents) were too busy focusing on other people and situations instead of us (in my case, my father was a workaholic), that the people who were meant to protect us the most, didn’t, and so on.

But what I’ve learned is that my childhood situation was not my fault, much like the abuse and neglect Axl experienced had nothing to do with him. Parents often repeat generational patterns, especially if they are not “awake” or “evolved.” It’s our job, as the children of these parents, to live more consciously and break these patterns, even if we ourselves are not parents (I’m not and neither is Axl, which has a lot to do with our respective childhoods).

If you grew up in an abusive home, you can change your perception of the events and view them not as something horrible that happened to you, but rather, something that happened for you because now you have a clearer understanding of who you are, your boundaries, and what type of parent not to be.

And if you are an abusive parent, it is never too late to do the healing work to figure out your issues, apologize to your family, and live differently, and hopefully more consciously, moving forward.


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