The release of Guns n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy has been a punch line for about 17 years. Axl Rose’s erratic behavior, as well as his penchant for rock perfection, has served as a smile-inducing subplot for music fans for nearly two decades. Now thanks in part to Dr Pepper’s poor judgment, he’s got the No. 3 album in America, per Billboard.com.
Here’s the quick back-story: While former Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash went on to continue his rule as a rock god with Velvet Revolver, Rose cemented his reputation as a rock clown. Whether it was his refusal to release Chinese Democracy or his incompatibility with band mates including someone named Buckethead (because he wears a bucket on his head), the entire project had become a running joke.
Chuck Klosterman’s gag review for Spin magazine in its April 2006 issue is a shining example. He wrote: “If you purchased a kitten on the day that Use Your Illusion I & II arrived in stores, it’s probably dead by now. As a consequence, there has been a great deal of pressure on Axl Rose to deliver a record that would validate a 15-year, $13 million wait.”
In fact, the belief among many was that Rose was so crazy that he would never release the album at all. Dr Pepper obviously shared this belief. In March it sent out a snarky press release in which a spokesperson, named Jaxie Alt, said: Dr Pepper “fully understands that sometimes you have to make it through the jungle before you get it right.” It offered a free can of soda to everyone in America but estranged guitarists Slash and Buckethead, should the album actually be released this year.
Rose responded: “We are surprised and very happy to have the support of Dr Pepper with our album Chinese Democracy. As for us, this came totally out of the blue. If there is any involvement with this promotion by our record company or others, we are unaware of such at this time. And as some of Buckethead’s performances are on our album, I’ll share my Dr Pepper with him.”
The whole episode generated about a week’s worth of ha-ha buzz and then went away. Until last month, when, lo and behold, the album actually came out. Clearly, the executives at the beverage company couldn’t have been happy because everyone knows they didn’t expect Rose to actually release the record.
But, they made good in a pinch–sort of. They offered the free soda to anyone willing to jump through a series of hoops including crashed Web servers and toll-free phone calls. People were pretty upset by the process, but Dr Pepper did extend the offer an extra 24 hours because of the glitches caused by overwhelming demand for its product. All in all, they came off looking pretty dumb.
Still, Rose known for his excessiveness wasn’t satisfied with the brand just having egg on its face. He had his lawyer send off an angry letter that demanded a full-page apology in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other leading papers, as well as another chance for consumers to redeem the offer. He claims the failed PR stunt “was an unmitigated disaster, which defrauded consumers and, in the eyes of vocal fans, ruined the day of Chinese Democracy’s release.”
Whether Dr Pepper obliges or not remains to be seen. However, the fact is this gag-gone-bad has helped keep Rose’s record release front and center in a lot of news outlets that really wouldn’t have cared otherwise.
If anything, Rose should be running a full-page “thank you” letter to Dr Pepper for helping add another dimension of publicity to his long-awaited release. Then he should get Buckethead that Dr Pepper he promised.