When Axl Rose Went Ballistic on the Press in ‘Get in the Ring’
It started, as most rock 'n' roll follies do, with a woman.
Years before Guns N' Roses released "Get in the Ring" on 1991's two-album Use Your Illusion set, inspiration for Axl Rose's virulent, anti-media screed struck at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. The once-chummy Guns N' Roses and Motley Crue were both in attendance, and the latter presented the former with the Best Metal Video for "Sweet Child O' Mine."
But Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil had other things on his mind that night. The singer had caught wind that GNR guitarist Izzy Stradlin had allegedly assaulted his wife at the Cathouse club in Los Angeles a few weeks before the VMAs. Neil stuck around after his bandmates left the ceremony to confront Stradlin after he and Rose finished performing "Free Fallin'" with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
"When Izzy walked offstage, looking like a cross between Eric Stoltz in Mask and Neil Young, I was waiting for him," Neil wrote in Motley Crue's 2001 memoir, The Dirt. "'You fucking hit my wife!' 'So fucking what?' he spat. All my blood rushed into my fist, and I decked him. I decked him good, right in the face. He fell to the ground like a tipped cow."
Neil claimed Rose "came snarling after us like an overdressed Doberman" as he left the venue, shouting, "Come on, motherfucker; I’m going to fucking kill you!" at his back. The fisticuffs were brief, but they would kick off a years-long war of words that would have devastating effects for the people reporting on it.
Tensions escalated when Neil gave an interview to Kerrang's Jon Hotten for the magazine's Nov. 4, 1989, issue in which he boasted that he "punched that dick [Stradlin] and broke his fucking nose" and claimed that "Izzy hit my wife a year before I hit him." Two months later, in January 1990, Rose stormed into the apartment of Kerrang! writer and early GNR champion Mick Wall in the middle of the night to rant about the story.
Rose demanded that Neil make a public apology to the press for allegedly lying in his interview; otherwise, they would have to settle the score with their fists. "Personally, I don't think he has the balls. But that's the gauntlet, and I'm throwing it down," Rose told Wall. "Any way you wanna go, guns or knives, motherfucker."
As he wrote up the interview and realized how grave Rose's threats looked, Wall decided to phone the singer to confirm his quotes. The frontman was undeterred: "No, man. I still stand by every fuckin’ word!"
And yet, when Kerrang! published Rose's interview as its April 1990 cover story, Wall began receiving calls from various members of the Guns N' Roses camp who wanted to get their hands on the writer's interview tapes. Revisiting the controversy in a 2017 Classic Rock piece, Wall said one employee feebly claimed GNR wanted to run the audio on a special telephone line. In reality, Rose "just [couldn't] believe he said some of those things," according to one of his publicists. "He doesn’t even think he would speak that way. He, er, thinks it's kinda funny."
Wall quickly and explicitly denied the band's request to hand over his tapes, thus permanently severing his once-great relationships with Guns N' Roses, particularly with Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan. Wall received the silent treatment when he covered Guns' headlining performance Rock in Rio II in January 1991. After the festival and before the article was published, Rose summoned Wall for a meeting.
"I've heard you're writing a book about the band, and I just want to let you know that, if you do, I will track you down," Rose said. (Indeed, Wall had planned to publish a compilation of interviews he conducted with the band.) "I will track you down and kill you." A few days later, after the Rio feature was published, Rose phoned his friend-turned-adversary again: "Hey, Mick, this is Axl. I just wanna say, I'm sitting here reading the new Kerrang!, and I just wanted to say one thing: See you in court, buddy!"
Fed up with Rose's intimidation tactics, Wall moved forward with his Guns N' Roses book, adding several previously unpublished interviews for good measure. Guns N' Roses: The Most Dangerous Band in the World hit shelves in 1991, around the time the band released its feverishly anticipated Use Your Illusion albums, the second of which contained the infamous "Get in the Ring."
Listen to Guns N' Roses' 'Get in the Ring'
Wall's extensive reporting may have delivered a nuanced, holistic portrait of Guns N' Roses and their mercurial frontman — but Rose's rant in the middle of "Get in the Ring" revealed more about him than any book ever could.
Musically, "Get in the Ring" was unremarkable and somewhat regressive when compared to Use Your Illusion's towering art-rock epics, such as "November Rain," "Coma" and "Estranged." The sneering, blues-punk rave-up originated with McKagan, a lifelong Johnny Thunders acolyte, under the title "Why Do You Look at Me When You Hate Me?" It was typical us-against-the-world hard-rock fare, replete with campy effects such as a ring announcer introducing the band and a "Get in the ring!" chant courtesy of the June 10, 1991, crowd at New York's Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
"Get in the Ring" would have likely been relegated to the dustbin of history based purely on its musical merits — but Rose's vitriolic spoken-word interlude against reporters whom he felt had misrepresented the band would cement its place among the pantheon of scorched-earth diss tracks.
"That goes for all you punks in the press that want to start shit by printin' lies instead of the things we said," Rose began. "That means you, Andy Secher at Hit Parader, Circus magazine, Mick Wall at Kerrang!" He saved his most colorful insult for Spin founder Bob Guccione Jr., son of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, who pissed off GNR by printing a copy of their draconian new media contract that granted them full control and copyright ownership of pieces and let them impose $100,000 fines for violations: "Bob Guccione Jr. at Spin, what, you pissed off 'cause your dad gets more pussy than you? Fuck you! Suck my fuckin' dick!"
Rose had more in the tank: "You be rippin' off the fuckin' kids while they be payin' their hard-earned money to read about the bands they wanna know about, printin' lies, startin' controversy. You wanna antagonize me? Antagonize me, motherfucker! Get in the ring, motherfucker, and I'll kick your bitchy little ass! Punk!"
Alas, despite all his bluster, Rose's threats proved hollow. Guccione accepted Rose's challenge and wrote him a letter urging him to name the time and place, promoting the bout to drum up magazine sales. But Rose never responded, perhaps after learning that Guccione had nine years of fight training. (His feud with Neil likewise fizzled, even after Neil issued a challenge of his own on MTV News.)
Wall, meanwhile, had his name wordlessly scrubbed from Kerrang!'s masthead shortly after the "Get in the Ring" fiasco in an attempt by the magazine to save face with the GNR camp. (Wall told No Filter Media in 2020 that he had already been planning to leave the magazine.) He's gone on to write dozens of books on rock royalty, including 2016's Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N' Roses. While Wall and Rose still have yet to bury the hatchet, Wall seems to have recovered from his public callout.
"If you’re reading this, Axl, I’d love to get in the ring with you again," Wall wrote in Classic Rock in 2017. "Only this time, I’ll be throwing hugs, not punches, and I’ll be carrying a single red rose."