Guns N' Roses has appeared on innumerable magazine covers, been described in the press as one of the most significant groups of the '90s and has even seen its superstar hero Axl Rose called the new Jim Morrison.
But why take any chances?
In a move that breaks new ground in image control, even by entertainment industry standards, the group's management is now requiring that prospective interviewers sign a lengthy contract guaranteeing the band total control over all aspects of interviewing the band and any resulting story.
The two-page document gives Guns N' Roses copyright ownership and approval rights over any "article, story, transcript or recording connected with the interview," control over any advertising or promotion involving the story and indemnifies the band from any damages or liabilities in connection with the story.
(The band has prepared a similar three-page contract for photographers, with similar clauses, including band ownership of all pictures taken by any photographers.)
"We're fed up with being misused and abused by all the scurrilous (scum) who pass themselves off as journalists and photographers," says Alan Niven, the group's outspoken manager. "I can't begin to tell you how many writers and photographers have misrepresented themselves, made up quotes or made money selling substandard photos of the band. It's amazing, but people can peddle any kind of (junk) if Axl's picture is on it. The press always says, 'Trust us,' but whenever we do, we get screwed.
"We started (using these contracts) with the European press, who are notoriously untrustworthy and incompetent, and we've found it keeps incompetence and inaccuracy to a minimum. We're not trying to deprive people of their opinions. But we do want a formal document that will prevent the abuses we've endured in the past."
According to Niven, media exploitation of the band has been widespread.
He cites the March issue of Hit Parader magazine, which put Axl Rose on its cover with Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach, touting: "Bas & Axl Interviewed Together For the First Time!" Inside, the magazine admits the joint interview was simply a transcript from a Howard Stern radio show phone interview with the duo.
Niven also said that a November Spin magazine story about Rose, written by Danny Sugerman, was "full of inaccuracies and self-serving embellishments from Sugerman, who is a star in the firmament of his own mind."
The band's contract edict puts Geffen Records, Guns N' Roses record label, in an awkward position. As a rival label exec put it: "If they go along with the contracts, they'll antagonize the media. But if they don't, the band will complain they're not supporting them."
According to Geffen publicity chief Bryn Bridenthal, four magazines, including Guitar World and Venice, have signed the contracts, though none has been granted an interview yet. A host of better-known magazines, most notably Rolling Stone, Playboy, Spin and Penthouse, as well as two newspapers, the Milwaukee Journal and the Detroit Free Press, have seen the contracts and refused to sign them. (The Los Angeles Times' policy prohibits signing any such agreement.)
"I can't believe anyone would go along with anything like this," says Rolling Stone music editor Jim Henke. "We're always having people asking to be on the cover, but we've never had anyone try to dictate the editorial content of a story. I have to wonder whether the band is going to still go through with this even after their album comes out."
It's possible that the band is attempting to steer the media into writing about its music, not its bickering, drug use and after-hours escapades. Still, with GNR's new album expected as early as mid-May, its label is keeping its distance from the contract dictum without actually criticizing it. "This wasn't something we proposed," says Bridenthal. "But if the band wants to do it, I'm willing to go along with it.
"My immediate reaction was that this might provoke a lot of hostility. But the band is just reacting to all the inaccurate information that's been disseminated about them. In my 25 years of doing publicity I've never dealt with a press contract before, but when you deal with this band, you deal with a lot of firsts."
The band's management doesn't sound particularly concerned about a possible media backlash. "I realize that we can't control the uncontrollable," says Niven. "But we believe these contracts are a good defense mechanism for the band."
He laughed. "If this is really going to cause lots of consternation, we'd be happy to send out Advil and Tums with the contracts so all the journalists don't suffer too much."