Mercuriadis Blasts NYT

There’s a now-old joke that China will see democracy before Guns N’ Roses fans see Chinese Democracy, the long-awaited GNR project still in production after nearly 11 years. But it’s no joking matter to Sanctuary Group CEO Merck Mercuriadis.

The erstwhile GNR manager fired off a scathing open letter to The New York Times in response to a lengthy article by reporter Jeff Leeds published March 6th on the trials and tribulations of Axl Rose, GNR and Chinese Democracy.

The article painted Rose as isolated and indulgent – incommunicado for months at a time yet having a giant wood frame and chicken-wire “coop” installed in one studio for guitarist Buckethead to play in.

The KFC bucket-wearing musician, who reportedly told Rose during a visit to Disneyland that he would “be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop,” has since left the band.

Leeds pegged production costs on the album at $13 million and rising, hence the headline, “The Most Expensive Album Never Made.”

The article recited the well-known and less well-known details of the album’s history, dating back to 1994 and including the “ever-changing roster of musicians, four producers and a decade of music business turmoil.”

The story described a studio as “a rock star’s playground: tapestries, green and yellow lights, state-of-the-art computer equipment and as many as 60 guitars at the ready, according to people involved in the production.” An unnamed source told the Times: “The crew rented one piece of specialized equipment, for example, for more than two years – at a cost well into six figures – and used it for perhaps 30 days.”

And the Times cited an internal cost analysis of GNR activity from 2001 as costing some $244,000 a month during the period the reconstituted band returned to the stage for a New Year’s Eve gig at The Joint in Las Vegas and Brazil’s Rock in Rio festival.

There’s no disputing that the recording of Chinese Democracy has not been cheap, spanning years and changes in the recording industry such as the consolidation of the major labels (including the absorption of GNR’s Geffen label into Interscope / Geffen / A&M). But the Times article relied heavily on anonymous sources and others who clearly have not been involved with the project for years.

And Mercuriadis jumped all over that, accusing Leeds and the Times of having another agenda (neither Rose nor Mercuriadis were directly quoted by Leeds for the article).

In his letter to the Times, appearing on an unofficial GNR Web site but confirmed to Pollstar as authentic by Mercuriadis’ office, the Sanctuary chief invoked the name of disgraced former Times reporter Jayson Blair in an unflattering comparison to Leeds, whom Mercuriadis accused of lying in the report.

“You quote five people on the record, all of whom with the exception of Tom Zutaut have been out of the picture for between six and nine years and like the author of your article, have never even heard the album!” Mercuriadis wrote.

“Your journalist Jeff Leeds – is this the return of Jayson Blair under a pseudonym? – contacted us … the 24th of February to inform us he had been working on an article about the ‘process’ of making the album.

” … Contrary to his blatant lie that he was told by ‘management’ that W. Axl Rose ‘could not be reached for comment,’ I made it clear that we could not consider his request for an interview with either Axl or myself until we knew who the other people involved in the article were, as we were not going to lend credibility to an article that was based on hearsay from people that have not only had nothing to do with the album but whose only agenda was to recapture their 15 minutes of fame in an industry that had cast them aside and left them unemployed many years ago.”

Mercuriadis also wrote that Leeds and his editors declined a request to discuss the story first with Rose, including an “opportunity to hear the album in the studio when it was finished and talk to people who were directly involved … .”

The Times closed its story by reporting the Chinese Democracy project was essentially shuttered by Geffen, quoting from a letter dated February 2, 2004: “Having exceeded all budgeted and approved recording costs by millions of dollars, it is Mr. Rose’s obligation to fund and complete the album, not Geffen’s.”

It added the band’s studio tab was closed, computer gear, guitars and keyboards packed away and that Rose hasn’t been seen at the record label’s office since last year.

However, Mercuriadis gave GNR’s long-suffering fans yet one more glimmer of hope, closing out his open letter with a broad hint that Chinese Democracy may yet see the light of day – and sooner rather than later.

“W. Axl Rose is not interested in fame, money, popularity or what The New York Times or any other paper for that matter might think of him. His only interest is making the best album he is capable of so that it can have a positive effect in 2005 on people who are enthusiasts of music and interested in Guns N’ Roses.

“His artistic integrity is such that he has chosen to do so without compromise at great personal sacrifice which makes him a soft target for the sort of rubbish you have chosen to print.

“I believe he will have the last laugh.”