How Axl Rose and David Bowie Bonded After Bondage Battle
It’s been 30 years since Axl Rose added to his outrageous reputation by either punching or attempting to punch David Bowie in an argument over the Guns N’ Roses frontman’s future wife, Erin Everly – who’d been dressed in S&M gear when the British icon is said to have tried to move in on her.
As often happens with tales of rock ’n’ roll excess, some of the fine details are lost in addled memories and even death, but what’s certain is that the first meeting between Rose and Bowie did not go well, though they later settled their differences, and Rose realized how similar the pair actually was.
As Dangerous Minds reported, there was already a connection between Guns and Bowie before the fabled events of October 1989 – he’d had a relationship with guitarist Slash’s mother, Ola Hudson, and they’d remained friends. That’s presumably the reason Bowie attended the shooting of scenes for GNR’s video for “It’s So Easy” at their regular Hollywood hunting ground, the Cathouse club.
Rose decided he wanted to make what he called a “completely no-holds-barred, uncensored type” of production, “a fucking blown-out live, real risky video.” His means of achieving that was to dress then-girlfriend Everly in leather, chrome and even a ball gag, and film scenes of the couple in bondage performance. During the shoot, Rose felt that Bowie had crossed a line during the time he was spending with Everly.
“It was basically the home away from home for Guns N’ Roses," Cathouse owner Riki Rachtman later recalled. "They knew they could do whatever they wanted in that club. Now, when your security guard comes up to you and says, 'Riki, Axl Rose is chasing David Bowie down the street saying he’s gonna kill him, what should I do?’ Well, how do you answer something like that? You’ve got one of your better friends, chasing one of your idols down the street. I guess what happened is Bowie tried to pick up Axl’s girlfriend Erin, and that pissed off Axl. That was when David Bowie was in the band Tin Machine. So Axl was running, yelling, 'I’m gonna kill you, Tin Man!’”
Rose never confirmed whether punches were thrown, or whether any landed, but the bad feeling continued into GnR’s show at the Cathouse, which Bowie attended alongside Slash’s mom. During the performance, Rose hurled insults at the British icon from the stage, causing him to eventually leave. (Slash reported in his 2007 memoir that Ola had no idea what was going on or why, and he had to explain the situation to her.)
The Cathouse show was a warm-up for the band’s four support appearances with the Rolling Stones, which took place Oct. 18 to 22. By that time the story had spread, leading to another legendary moment.
“Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton cornered me,” Rose said later. “I’m sittin’ on this amp and all of a sudden they’re both right there in front of me. And Jagger doesn’t really talk a lot … all of a sudden he’s like, ‘So you got in a fight with Bowie, didja?’ So I told him the story real quick and him and Clapton are going off about Bowie in their own little world, talking about things from years ago. They were saying things like when Bowie gets drunk he turns into the Devil from Bromley. ... I mean, I’m not even in this conversation. I’m just sittin’ there. Listening to ‘em bitch like crazy about Bowie. It was funny.” (Bowie’s celebrated eye injury, incidentally, had been caused when a school friend punched him in a fight over a girl.)
This is one rock ’n’ roll story that has a happy ending, which came after Bowie apologized for his behavior. “Bowie and I had our differences,” Rose said. “And then we talked and went out to dinner and then went down the China Club and stuff. And when we left, I was like, ‘I wanna thank you for being the first person that’s ever come up to me in person and said how sorry they were about the situation and stuff.’ It was cool, you know?”
Admitting they weren’t exactly “best of buddies,” he noted that he liked Bowie "a lot. We had a long talk about the business and stuff. … I remember lookin’ over at Slash and going, ‘Man, we’re in fucking deep trouble,’ and he goes, ‘Why?’ and I go, ‘Because I got a lot in common with this guy.’”
He recalled Bowie “talking about, ‘One side of me is experimental and the other side of me wants to make something that people can get into. ... Why am I like this?’ And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I’ve got 20 more years of that to look forward to? I’m already like that. ... Twenty more years? What am I gonna do?’”
The “It’s So Easy” video at the center of the dispute wasn’t released until last year. Alan Niven, GNR’s manager in 1989 had decided the footage was too self-destructive to release after being warned by a member of the production team what had been shot.
“He’s got her hung from the doorway and slapping her ass, the mouth-gag and so on,” Niven said later. “Lots of fun [but] you don’t put it in a fucking video that represents the entire band and put it out there for the whole world to see. … I knew he was committing suicide with that bondage shit with Erin. And lo and behold he got divorced. So you know what they would have done with that? I protected the little fuck.”
Niven had his reasons – despite having secured his charges a million dollars for their appearances alongside the Stones, they were experiencing heavy turmoil at the end of 1989. Rose had threatened to quit the band just before the four shows (though he admitted he'd taken to saying he was leaving "every three days") and, from the stage during one of the performances, he told the crowd that the band were about to break up unless certain members addressed their addiction issues.
Fortunately, it all ended well. Sort of. Eventually.