From 1987 to 1993, Axl Rose would sprint across the stage and shriek, “DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE? You’re in the Jungle, baby. And you’re gonna dieeeeeeee!”
Millions of people filled huge arenas and screamed at the top of the lungs their approval of this call of the wild from the frontman of the Biggest Rock and Roll Band in the F’ing Universe. Axl pranced and preened nightly. In the same show, he would growl about that old man being a real motherfucker and then he quietly assure a sad woman to take it slow. Nightly, and to the delight of their legion of fans, Axl begged to be taken down to the place where the grass is green and the girls are pretty before sitting down at a piano to sing quietly about the cold November Rain. For six short years, Axl and Guns’n’Roses could do no wrong. The worse they acted, the more hotels they wrecked, the more controversial they became (check out the shirt in the picture above), the more we wanted them. Their shows became a straight up rock and roll revival with Axl as lead evangelist every single time they hit the stage.
Then one day, it stopped.
The band’s penchant for self-destruction overtook their penchant for making great music. People quit buying their records. MTV stopped showing their videos. Another band soon took their place at the top. The arenas weren’t quite as full. The band, or at least the incarnation of the band that made them superstars, split up.
What happens next?
“Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.”- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life.
I started thinking about this stuff when I heard Tom Brady tell reporters after the Super Bowl that he was planning to play until he was 45 years old. Hell, if he keeps winning world championships, then I don’t blame him. He should play forever. But his comment struck me because I distinctly remember hearing Brady say years ago he wanted to play until he was 40. Now he’s moved it back to 45. I haven’t had the pleasure of hanging out with Tom and Gisele, but I have a feeling Tom might even say 50 years old once we’ve had a cocktail or two. So this question eats at me— What drives a person in the spotlight to stay in the spotlight? Is it competitive fire? Is it the love of the spotlight? Or is it the fact that he’s now been “Tom Brady, superstar quarterback” longer than he has been Tom Brady? When you’ve been the center of the stage so long, it’s got to be damn tough to move to stage left. Is it the fear of what comes next? If you’re someone like Archie Manning, then I guess you step back and become a dad. But Archie is not a good example. Thanks to his sons, Archie might be more famous now than when he played in the NFL. He’s still a god to the Southerners who remember his playing days but quite honestly, Archie has remained relevant largely because of Peyton and Eli. (If you asked every NFL general manager in 2005, then I would bet more than half would have invested six figures in an experiment consisting of freezing Archie and Olivia’s sperm/egg combination to be thawed out when their team was in need of a signal-caller.) But for every Archie Manning, there are 50 guys like Danny White or Dave Krieg or Neil Lomax— stars of the moment who become trivia questions as the years mount. What becomes of their life when they are no longer the center of attention? Is that all there is? F. Scott Fitzgerald allegedly said there are no second acts in American life. Catchy line, but I don’t know about Scott’s veracity. Although he didn’t do anything better than The Great Gatsby. Maybe he was right?
I don’t have the answer to any of my questions this week, and these questions nag at me like Edith Bunker nagged at her husband. Maybe it’s a sign of my middle age, but I can’t help but wonder— what happens when the lights quit shining bright? Better yet, what happens if the lights never come on? I went to a funeral of a friend of mine a couple years ago, and the eulogy for this 45 year old husband and father focused on his high school athletic prowess. Were those the best of times for him? I just don’t know. Maybe Neil Young was right— “it’s better to burn out than fade away.”
I don’t know.
But I still dig Guns’n’Roses.