Saturday night saw the sight of a hugely well-known and well-loved group of musicians receiving acclaim for their contribution to a body of work spanning five albums, countless grandiose tours and the birth and decline of a legendary band. The band in question was Guns ‘n’ Roses, and the event the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The singer was not present for the ceremony, but the majority of the band were, with replacement vocalist Myles Kennedy filling in – arguably doing a better job than original singer W Axl Rose does these days.
The enmity between band and frontman is nothing new in music. But what distinguished this event was that the musicians present – Slash, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler and Matt Sorum – are no longer legally able to call themselves Guns ‘n’ Roses, while the absent singer who shrugged off the honour is free to head up tours and albums bearing that name… with himself as sole brand-holder.
As such, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was welcome for highlighting Slash et al as the true Guns ‘n’ Roses, with Axl exposed as an isolated figurehead unable to respect his former colleagues’ achievements.
Axl, by dint of trademark ownership and continued press coverage for his eccentricities, is still the most recognisable member of Guns ‘n’ Roses. He was always the natural leader of the band, shouldering the ‘spokesperson’ role and bellowing lyrics night after night on stage. But in the aftermath of the initial Guns ‘n’ Roses split, Rose made the classic mistake that many in business have made before him: that of believing that, as leader, he was the sole reason for GnR’s success.
One could argue that he displayed some serious business savvy by recognising the value of a brand. By retaining the rights to the name, he has enabled himself to play concerts and sell records far in excess of what he would have done by starting afresh under his own moniker. But by consistently failing to credit his former ‘workers’ and colleagues, he has simply devalued that brand, exposing it as a sham.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could have been a chance for Rose to mend bridges, pay respect to the people who created what is still – even at more recent shows – the main body of Guns ‘n’ Roses work, and boost his own brand in the process.
Instead, he looks like the CEO of a company and brand that is totally meaningless, since that brand was built on the work of people who are ignored and un-credited. The induction proved that a company is more than just its boss – and the general public realised that, too, unleashing almighty boos whenever Axl’s name was mentioned. The Guns ‘n’ Roses machine may well rumble on, but with a fraction of the sales and fan interest that would be gleaned from a record or tour by the full, and true, lineup. Or even a new one that properly respected its predecessors.