On Monday night, Axl Rose posted a politically-themed tweet thread urging Americans to vote against Trump and Republicans. Usually, it’s not surprising when a celebrity rails against Republicans, but coming from Rose, it’s a shock.
The twitter message is boilerplate anti-Trump messaging aside from Rose’s on-brand use of the Guns N’ Roses-style N’ conjunction. Rose accuses Trump of lacking “regard for truth, ethics, morals or empathy of any kind” and says that the president feeds off the “anger n’ resentment he sows 24/7 while constantly whining how whatever doesn’t go his way is unfair.”
Idiosyncratic grammar aside, it’s a typical celebrity political message. But coming from the guy who wrote “One in a Million,” it’s remarkable.
“One in a Million,” released on the 1988 EP G N’ R Lies, feels like a pro-Trump anthem released 30 years early. In the song, Rose talks about taking a bus to Los Angeles only to find that black people, gay people and immigrants have ruined the city and target him for harassment. The screed is littered with slurs and brazen racism. Axl hits the n-word early on, then says “that’s right” for emphasis. Later, uses a slur for gay people complains that gays and immigrants “come to our country” to “spread some fucking disease.”
Some GNR fans apologize for the song’s racism. They say it’s not Axl’s opinions. He’s just performing as a character. That’s obviously not true. For one thing, Axl never said it was a character. In fact, in 1989 he said the song was written from his point of view. He was still saying the same thing in 1992.
Like all of GNR’s lyrics, it’s a product of Axl’s clearly deranged but undeniably talented mind.
A large part of Rose’s appeal in the ‘80s and ‘90s was that he was a toxic psycho with no filter. He was unhinged and authentic. It made him fascinating and charismatic as a celebrity and influenced how audiences understood him as a lyricist and performer. He was both a rockstar and an outsider artist. He was hostile and erratic (not in a fun way: his former girlfriend Stephanie Seymour and his ex-wife Erin Everly both accused Rose of physical abuse) but that only made him seem more immediate and real. Axl’s diva attitude might have started stadium riots but it was proof he wasn’t calculated. He seemed crazy and compelled to express himself by overheated chemicals in his brain.
Rose’s lyrics aren’t invented. They’re observed. The clearest example is the song “My Michelle,” is about a woman named Michelle whose father worked in pornography and whose mother died of a heroin overdose.
“One in a Million” forever brands GNR as a racist band. The great shame and irony is that if “One in a Million” didn’t exist, they’re positioned as one of the least racist metal bands of all time by the virtue of having a black dude on lead guitar. Black metal players are rare. Once you get away from Slash, Phil Lynott and the Living Colour guys, pickings get slim.
“One in a Million” was excluded from an otherwise exhaustive 2018 Appetite For Destruction box set. It’s easy to guess why they omitted it. Appetite For Destruction is a timeless classic. “One in a Million” is a legacy eraser.