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Daryl Waller on being Axl Rose (and ‘Being Axl Rose’)
Rupert: Daryl, you’ve just self published the book 'Being Axl Rose'. My copy - shipped over from the States - dropped through the letterbox this morning. Very shiny and nice it is too. Before we discuss the project perhaps you could describe it briefly. We could start with this text written by Mr Winter, from the introduction:
Being Axl Rose
Searching the web in 2005 Daryl Waller came across a forum called ‘How to Find Axl Rose’. Amazed to see the amount of people posting messages searching and obsessing about Axl, he posted a message saying that he was the ‘real Axl Rose’ and could be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org: -
fans and un-fans. I am getting tired of reading these things on-line all
the time, so here is my email address for you all to write your questions
to me. If it goes crazy then I'll just let it go over its limit and set up
a new account. I can't say I will read everything; I'm very busy these
What happened next?
Daryl: E-mails began to pour into the account and I had a hard time reading them all. I knew Axl Rose and Guns N' Roses (GNR) were popular but I didn't expect that kind of response. I decided not reply to any at first but ended up replying to a few purely because some needed a little extra push to get a decent message out of them.
I simply replied as if I were Axl; easy really because I'd found out enough about him on the net, plus I used to be into GNR when I was about 13 years old. At that age I thought they were great, all I knew (and hated) was chart music and the Nineties was a bleak time in the charts. Although I liked the 'fuck off' attitude I quickly dumped them. It became clear there were contradictions and misogyny and I felt uncomfortable with that. I replaced them with a band called Dinosaur Jr. who have been there ever since… they felt more like me.
I’d read the emails to my girlfriend and we’d laugh till we hurt, although some were truly heartbreaking. I had the idea for the project but like most of my projects it started out in a ‘taking the piss’ manner, then I reflected on what I had done. At this stage I often then feel guilty about it and am forced think a little deeper about what’s going on with the idea.
I think this cruelty and sadism stems back to my childhood. There were lots of cruel jokes in my youth and they now live within me. They’ve taught me to embrace the cruelty of humankind.
You mention taking the piss - and cruelty - I've noticed a lot of your artwork involves provoking, or testing people, and testing the boundaries of what they will accept.
It sounds in this case like you set up a situation as a kind of social experiment to see what would happen, without imagining it would necessarily turn into an art project. How did you know when to stop it? You got some pretty cranky e-mails, and I believe you were also threatened with legal action by Axl Rose’s lawyer. How did you know that it wasn’t someone playing your own trick back on you? Was that when you decided to come clean re who you were?
You are correct in thinking I set up the experiment without knowing how it would end up. I had a notion it might be good to do something art-wise but it was impossible to foresee it as an artist's book, it just turned out that way.
I think the best projects are the ones where you don't know where you are going with them. It frees you up.
As for knowing when to stop; well when I felt I had enough information I told the forum what I'd done because I wanted the responses to that as well. The legal thing could have been a trick back on me, yes, but then again I could have emailed that letter to myself. In fact all the emails could have been written by me and sent to the Axl account.
I wanted a beginning, middle and end to this project. When you read the book from start to finish you'll notice there is a story being told.
I think the replies you had once you'd revealed your identity as Daryl were more fascinating than those that you received when you were Axl. You really angered some people by shattering their illusions. They would rather have believed you really were Axl Rose and not known the truth. This is weird if you think about it because Axl Rose himself is a fiction. I mean it’s his stage name isn’t it - and the whole thing about GNR and American rock and roll is that its all pretty fake and staged to begin with...
Yeah, that is a good observation. His real name is William Bailey, not very rock and roll, although he did change his name because he found out his real father's surname was Rose. The Axl bit was added as a kind of middle name. Although I did officially reveal myself half way into the project, I would say I had already put myself into the messages from the start. I am interested in the fact that people believe in what they want to believe. Both Andy Kaufman and Alan Abel influence me heavily, and I love it when Alan does hoaxes but leaves clues all over the place. If you’re on the outside looking in you'll see it. If you are in the middle of it your passion blinds you.
You mentioned tests. I don't really feel like I'm testing people, I think that people let themselves be tested. Jesus got tested in the desert by the devil because he wanted it.
I mentioned testing people because I think, together with the social comment and the alter egos, this is what the Axl book has in common with your other work. Maybe it’s about testing their tastes and manners, and the expectations that come from these. I think artists have to be careful about being too well mannered and polite - but I think you get it about right. Maybe that’s also something about spending a lot of time in London: the attitude amongst artists is more defiant there.
The Axl project is good because it touches on some themes that are very important to our times: celebrity, identity and identity theft particularly as it applies to cyber space, and madness (one of your respondents is a bit mad as the four page rant would suggest).
Yes, I think that person is troubled... I worry about her tracking me down. I know what it must have taken to pen that four-page letter to Axl (and for it to never get there). I feel bad about using it and I've only read it the once.
But I can't think too much about the question ‘should I have printed her words?’
The book is a compilation of the e-mails that were sent, together with one or two drawings and a picture of the author, suitably attired, on the cover.
Being Axl Rose is available to buy through www.lulu.com. Lulu offer publishing on demand - which means authors do not have to pay anything. Visitors to the lulu site need to register before browsing.
Daryl's work is featured in the profile section of artcornwall