After this song dropped on America like a two-megaton bomb of racist hatred and homophobic agitation, stories were required to explain its genesis and reason for being. The controversy over ‘One In A Million’ centered around two separate passages, one which used the derogatory term for African-Americans, and another that suggested “immigrants and faggots” were only in this country to spread disease and take it over. People were appalled that Guns ‘N Roses lead singer W. Axl Rose would dare use such words and express such sentiments. In the court of public opinion, he was branded a racist and a homophobe, and forced to explain himself.
Author Stephen Davis has Rose in front of a television, watching shock comic Sam Kinison, while gaining inspiration for the shrieking tone of this song. Anyone who saw Kinison’s act in the 80s remembers how stunningly raw and shockingly hilarious it was. His banshee death screams (“KILL ME…KILLLLLLLLLLL MEEEEEEEEEEE”) made you sit up and pay attention. The lyrics to the song reflected Rose’s arrival into a seedy Los Angeles of pimps, pushers, hustlers, con-men and thieves. According to him, the “one in a million” was a guardian angel of an older black man who pointed a hayseed country boy in the right direction and spared him a mugging. Whether or not you buy these explanations, it’s interesting that they needed to be made in the first place.
It’s unimaginable that authors or actors would ever be held to the same level of scrutiny for the characters they inhabit and bring to life. As far as I remember, nobody ever accused Anthony Hopkins of being a cannibal, even though he played a damned spooky one in Silence Of The Lambs (I’ll never think of fava beans the same way again). Far from the slings of anger and accusation, he was handed an Oscar. Author Bret Easton Ellis turned out one of the grossest books of my lifetime, American Psycho, about a brand-name obsessed, preppy cannibal. Ellis took a few tough questions, but rode them to a higher profile and a movie deal, his writerly reputation well intact.
And then there’s Axl Rose. He may very well be a racist and a homophobe – I don’t know the man, but from what little I’ve read about him, I tend to think he’s not. But I do know that ‘One In A Million’ is no more proof that he’s a hateful bigot than the works cited above are proof that Hopkins and Ellis are cannibals. So I wonder why singers and songwriters are held to a higher standard, and the only thing I can come up with is that we invest ourselves in music more than books or movies or paintings. Either that or Axl Rose isn’t taken seriously enough as an artist to be allowed the artistic license that others, like Robert DeNiro, Dennis Hopper, and Bruce Springsteen, enjoy. You can call it hate speech and possibly trump all of the above, but if our artists aren’t allowed to reflect the worst sides of ourselves, what kind of art are we left with?