What Axl Rose Can Teach Us About Aging

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending one of the unlikeliest reunion tours in rock history – Guns N’ Roses.  I had high hopes for the show, but low expectations. The band was notorious for bad behavior – often starting late and sometimes abruptly ending shows early, even causing a riot in Montreal in 1992 when Axl Rose stormed off the stage after just a few songs.  Moreover, the two main stars – Axl, 54, and Slash, 50, – had an infamous feud and had not shared a stage together for almost 25 years.   

The tour was off to a shaky start, with Axl breaking his foot at his first show in Vegas in April.  I was a bit skeptical if the tour would still be in existence when the Washington, D.C. concert rolled around in June.  Thankfully, the show made it to D.C. and it was one of the best shows I have ever seen, surprising fans and critics alike. 

Two days before seeing the show, I was in Silicon Valley attending The Boomer Venture Summit, a conference on aging and the Longevity Marketplace.  With aging on the brain, I started thinking about how Axl’s performance was illustrative of so many stereotypes and perceptions people have about aging and what it means to be old and past your prime.

Not in This Lifetime

The Guns N’ Roses tour was so improbable they called it “Not in This Lifetime”.  No one expected Axl and Slash to move on from their tumultuous past and play together.  And there were doubts about whether they would even still be any good.  These guys were old enough to be AARP Magazine cover stars.

This “not in this lifetime” mentality is something that persists as many people age.  We start to believe that there is no way we could do that thing we used to be good at 25 years ago.  Furthermore, society encourages this thinking by glorifying youth over encouraging thought around what our second act might be later in life.  Axl can teach us all not to buy into this mentality.  If Axl and Slash can play on a stage together for 40,000 fans and sound incredible after feuding for nearly a quarter century, then the rest of us can also feel inspired to continue doing the things we once loved as we age.

Fat Axl

Axl was a tremendous talent in his prime – he has been named one of the greatest singers of all time by Rolling Stone and would’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, had he not turned it down.  Guns N’ Roses’s recent concert proves Axl still IS a tremendous talent – his voice still has impressive range and his performance was fun and energetic. 

Despite having his voice and signature dance moves in tact (the Snake Dance!), numerous memes, articles and Facebook posts ridiculed his bloated appearance while simultaneously praising his surprisingly successful performance.  Just among my friends, I saw emails and social media posts saying “Fat Axl rocks” and “Long live Fat Axl.”  No one is more horrified from these images and posts than Axl himself – he’s even trying to get unflattering pictures of him removed from the Internet.

Axl, like the rest of us, is not immune to the ravages of time, despite all the resources at his disposal.  The ridicule he has faced for his looks and weight gain, despite his remarkable, enduring talent, is all too common in American society.  Unfortunately, society places so much value on youth and beauty that we end up disrespecting older adults rather than celebrating and honoring them for their accomplishments and continued vitality.  Axl is no exception.

The Second Time Around

Typically, most rock ‘n’ roll bands hit their peak when they are younger.  It’s hard to keep up the energy, looks and talent through decades of hard living.  That makes what Guns N’ Roses did even more special – they made it look better the second time around.

Compared to their youth, where they were unpredictable and difficult, they seemed to be running a well-organized tour.  They were prompt and played for nearly three hours and seemed to genuinely be having fun.

With age comes wisdom and maturity that can make reviving something from your past even better than it originally was.  Let this be a warning to people who tell themselves they are too old to do something – it may not be the same as it was the first time, it may be even better.

Gen X Who?

Gen X, also considered America’s neglected middle child (and my cohort) is often overlooked by marketers and, well, pretty much everyone. Gen X is significantly smaller than the two generations it sits in between – Millennials and Baby Boomers.

Yet Axl and Guns N’ Roses demonstrate that Gen X is big enough to matter (and can fill up stadiums).  Gen X is the primary audience for Guns N’ Roses and other 80s hair bands, 90s grunge and early rap.  They also have other distinct tastes beyond music, as well as a higher median income than their parents did at their age.  So the lesson here is Gen X still matters – even if we aren’t as big as the generations that surround us.

The Takeaway

While Axl seems like an improbable guru on aging, he can teach us all a few things – never say never, appreciate talent over beauty, reunions can be better than the original and Gen X matters.  As he said in 1991 on Dead Horse from Use Your Illusion I:

I met an old cowboy

I saw the look in his eyes

Somethin' tells me he's been here before

'Cause experience makes you wise