In the world of modern rock music, Axl Rose embodies Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. In the nineties, he was Hamlet performing Estranged: screeching outbursts alternating rage and beauty, a manic dynamo whirling and screaming on the stage, drowning in sorrow and self-pity, battling a destiny of violent separation. But in 2011, when he does Estranged after 18 years, he is King Lear. He stands still, presenting his time-ravaged face and body fully to the audience, daring them to mock him and the awful hat and clothes he is wearing to conceal. He sings as an angry old man, still furious, still caring about it all too much, but too fatigued to do anything much about it. His voice is querulous and demanding, and he sings as though only now he appreciates the full force of the lyrics, what it is to be estranged. Before, it was all raging hormones, but now, now he is facing the real chasm of emotional destitution. The irony of “but I’m only twenty-eight” is as heavy and unsubtle as a sledge-hammer, a truly and uniquely un-postmodern moment hanging in the air like a contemporary, sung version of  Cordelia’s hanging body. Half-way through, some girls in the audience hold up a Guns n Roses banner bearing an enlarged photo of the young Axl. Old Axl pauses and stares out at them. He is not angry or sad at that moment, but there is a dreadful wonder in his eyes. He must be surrounded by images of his young lovely self, but it seems that this one, presented full force to him by young half-naked girls, hits home the hardest. Then he moves past it “I don’t know how you’re supposed to find me lately…”


from the blog With permission of the author.


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