I told Michelle Young she was a “civilian”, indicating her current clean and so discrete status as a normal, everyday mom to her son placed her far away from the publicity whore status of most of the bands and entertainers we’ve interviewed over the years. That said, it would also be fair to say that between growing up with the guys who would form Guns N’ Roses, inspiring a classic song and having some interesting dealings with some of those guys, she might have a few stories to tell. After spending some time in the artist management biz (working with Stone Temple Pilots, among others), “My Michelle” has absolutely kept a lower profile in recent years and reached a place where she’s comfortable talking about those fuzzy Sunset Strip memories. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Michelle about it all, read on…
LRI: Hi, Michelle, how are you doing?
Michelle Young: I’m doing great, how are you John? I wanted to apologize to you ahead of time, if you hear a bunch of noise in the background it’s my sons, I live in a small place so just to let you know in case they interrupt!
LRI: That’s okay, that happens in half the interviews I do, it’s just usually my kids.
Michelle: (laughs) Ok!
LRI: I wanted to start by asking you about the whole peripheral GNR community. I have learned so much and had so much fun talking to not just the musicians who spent time in the band but people like Marc Canter (Slash’s personal friend, author and restaurateur), their managers Vicky Hamilton and Alan Niven and all of these others around the band. All of those people were almost overwhelmingly positive and just really kind, easy to talk to people. The group was legendary for its’ dark side, its’ anger, at the very least for the hedonism but all of these people seem wonderful…like a really happy family for the most part. Were all of the people around the band always that way?
Michelle: (laughs) Yeah, Maybe….It’s hard for me to say because a lot of those people you mentioned, I’ve known for so long and they’ve always been really nice people, as you said. Slash, for instance, Steven, Duff, have always been really nice people, before and after the band had success. Izzy, has always been awesome and Axl’s always been Axl. To me, they’ve always been the same. They haven’t been sinister or bad or anything, they’ve been obnoxious or you know, just gross but they’ve never been evil or bad people to me. So no, I don’t feel like it’s strange that there have always been really good people who have surrounded them.
LRI: Were you friendly with a lot of those people around them as well, are you still friendly with people like Marc, Vicky, or people like Del James or Jack Lue?
Michelle: Pretty much, I’m still friends with Marc Canter and his wife Leisa who are really good friends of mine. Jack was always around taking pictures back in the day, Marc was too. Vicky was around a lot in the early days . I always loved Vicky, she was such a smart and talented person. I still love Del, I don’t see him but then I don’t see anyone really except for Marc and Leisa. Whenever, I do have contact with any of those people, I don’t have any problem with them, we’re always all good.
LRI: How did you end up meeting Slash when you were growing up?
Michelle: We went to school together, he was a grade ahead of me. There was a group of probably like, ten of us, who were just inseparable. We were always together, we did everything together, we’d go to parties, go to the beach and all of that. That whole group of us were just really close friends and we’re still friendly to each other, a lot of us. That was how I got to know Slash and Steven, just in school.
LRI: Did you know Tracii Guns as well, there’s been mention of the rivalry between him and Slash, did you see any of that?
Michelle: Yeah, I knew Tracii from school too. You know, I wish I could remember if there was but I honestly don’t remember that. I just remember when Tracii wasn’t in the band anymore one day. It seemed like just one day, he and Rob (Gardner) weren’t in the band anymore and then all of a sudden Duff, Izzy and Axl appeared. I really don’t remember Axl’s introduction, I just remember one day going to Slash’s house and Axl was there.
LRI: Backpedal a bit…when you were hanging out with that group and partying with them before the band got serious was there a point where you started noticing that Slash and Steven were really serious about their music or at least really talented?
Michelle: It was always apparent that Slash was very serious, he would never go anywhere without his guitar. He really did always have his guitar, his cigarettes and a bottle of Jack. He was soooo into his guitar. I think I went to a couple of shows that they played which were really just like parties around Hollywood. I went to a couple shows and I saw them and I thought they were really good but it was when I saw them for the first time as Guns N’ Roses at the Troubadour that I knew, I knew they were gonna be something.
LRI: So, the long standing story was that you were in a car with Axl and Elton John, “Your Song” came on and you told him you always wanted someone to write a song for you. Careful what you wish for but is that fairly accurate, is that how you remember that going down?
Michelle: (laughs) Yeah, that’s pretty much how that played out. We were driving to a show I think it was and that song came on and I was like “Oh, that’s such a beautiful song; I wish someone would write a song like that about me”. And then, lo and behold came “My song” (laughs).
LRI: Axl had written an earlier version of the song and it was felt that it most of it was too sappy and sweet so it was scrapped and the lyrics we all know were written and the song was re-arranged. As everyone knows, there is still that whole sweet and gentle part at the end that remains. Did you ever hear the softer, kinder, earlier version of “My Michelle” before the re-write?
Michelle: (laughs) No, I never heard the 99% sweet version of the song.
LRI: Did you ever even see the original lyrics?
Michelle: No, no, no, I was never given the opportunity to see that version of the song whatsoever.
LRI: Was your first time hearing the song when they debuted it live?
Michelle: No, I heard it when I was at my dad’s house. I was in my bedroom. I remember it was the daytime and the phone rang and the first call was from Slash. He called and said something to the effect of “Axl wants to talk to you” or “Axl’s going to call you Michelle”. I don’t remember if they were together but I remember that Slash called first and said something like “Please be honest about this, I’m really scared” or something like that. Then I remember, Axl called. He would always call me and sing me new songs. He would play this drumbeat on his knee and sing and snap to me on the phone whenever he had a new song, he would call me and sing a little and ask my opinion of it. So, when he called again with that I was just like “Okay, go ahead” so then he sang it and was just like “What do you think?” and you know….I hate saying this around my son, just a moment….
LRI: No worries….
Michelle: I had to walk away a little because I hate saying this around my son but I was so out of it at the time, I was always high back then so when I heard it and heard the lyrics I was like “Oh, it’s fine, it’s cool (laughs)…do whatever you want”. To be honest, I didn’t really care. I was like “Okay, whatever, you wrote a song about me”. I didn’t really honestly think that the album was going to be THAT huge or even that that song was gonna be on their album for that matter.
LRI: It’s a legendary track on one of the biggest selling albums of all time but who knew then??
Michelle: Exactly. I figured it wouldn’t even be recorded, I had no idea. I also didn’t know it was going to influence my life the way it did. As much as I love watching people love the song when I would go see them in concert, it was a strange thing to have influence my life. It was amazing seeing them play it in a big coliseum and seeing people bust out their lighters for the intro and then rocking out when the verse starts and I’m looking around thinking it’s amazing because I’m watching it and I’m anonymous and no one knows it’s me because I can watch it from a distance. That part of it is really special and cool, seeing people react to it but at the time when the song came out I can say it was never a blessing, it was always a curse, let’s just say.
LRI: On Wikipedia, which we know is always accurate (laughs) it states that a source said that at the time it was written you were pleased with the honesty of the new lyrics and how it came across, is that accurate?
Michelle: (laughs) I might have been (laughs). Like I said, I honestly don’t remember everything from those days and it was a long time ago. Maybe I was, okay, I probably was…I could see me being pleased with it at the time because like I said, I was under the influence so I was probably like “Yeah, this is cool!!” but at some point it became clear that it had a lot of repercussions in my life, for lack of a better word.
LRI: I was just talking to my wife Michelle about how brutal that first verse lyric is. It might be one of the most unflinching lyrics ever, Mr. Rose….
Michelle: Uhh, yeah. You know, and it’s also true that the wording sounds really a little harsher than it should be in the sense that it’s true but also not true at the same time. My dad did, in fact, distribute adult films so he wasn’t like “John Holmes” or “in porno” in that sense, my mom did die of drugs but she died of an accidental overdose of pills, not heroin, even though she was also a heroin addict. So, while there’s definitely truth there, it’s exaggerated or suggested at times. You know what though, it is what it is, can’t take it back and it’s great that people still to this day love it, that makes me happy. I also had to realize that it didn’t have to be a bad influence in my life; I allowed it to be a bad influence in my life.
LRI: People can talk smack but I can totally understand how it could be a bad influence or easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy for just about anyone, particularly because of just how big that album became. Was it just the way the song portrayed you or was it also how people treated you as a result?
Michelle: It was both. It suddenly became that everyone wanted to be my friend because they wanted to get closer or get to know the band. They thought that by getting tight with me or giving me free drugs that they would get to know the band, because in the song it says I got my drugs for free which again, wasn’t entirely true. I never did my drugs for free; nobody really does anything for free. Then you just get the people that think that since that’s “my song” I should just be that way or act that way that I’m portrayed. People will meet me and I don’t necessarily fit their idea of who they thought I would be in real life. They’ll say “I thought you would have like jet black hair and black lipstick and be all dark or be like tan and blond and wearing pink like Barbie but you’re not”. They’d all be really surprised that I’m just a regular person or that I just looked like an average girl.
LRI: You said you were using when you first heard the song but the later verse says “Now you’re clean and so discrete, I won’t say a word”. What did you attribute that particular line to?
Michelle: Uh yeah, yeah, I know exactly why he wrote that line. I had went to a program and gotten sober and was still in the program but it was New Year’s Eve and Axl was at a party at (late co-writer/collaborator) Wes Arkeen’s house. I went over there and I started using again and I told Axl, “Please don’t tell anyone” and that’s where the “I won’t say a word” part came from. My favorite part of the song is the very beginning because it’s so reflective of how it was when people met me back in those days, like it’s not clear where it it’s going, it’s a little dark and scary and that’s pretty indicative of how I had no idea I would go from where I was to this totally wild kid just going crazy in Hollywood.
LRI: They used an SG guitar to create an ominous tone in that song and that intro kind of sets the tone.
Michelle: I really like that and it’s very indicative and reflective of how I was. It’s kind of mysterious and then it just kind of explodes, which is pretty easily relatable to how I was as a person.
LRI: What about the romantic or sweet parts of the song where he speaks to falling in love and finding someone and all of that part of “My Michelle”?? Were you and he or any of the other guys in the band involved at that point or at any point romantically?
Michelle: Yeah, we had a ummm….love affair, I mean I’m trying to make it sound better than what it was (laughs). We had “romantic involvings” (laughs) for many years. It was on and off for many years and it was a tumultuous relationship for sure.
LRI: Wow, for years you said?
Michelle: At least four or five years, possibly six or seven years yeah. Even after “November Rain” and the second and third album came out we were having encounters yeah. It was mostly because we really were such good friends but when I would see him it would be once or twice a year and we would have (laughs) sexual relations (laughs).
LRI: “My Michelle” is one of many songs on Appetite that has almost a high/low, sweet/sour dynamic to it; there are quite a few that are like that and others. Everyone has heard rumors of Axl supposedly being bipolar or at least having some kind of childhood post traumatic stress disorder. Do you think that a lot of Appetite’s up and down nature is just a byproduct of Axl’s personality?
Michelle: Uh yes….very much so reflective of Axl himself, very much so. I do indeed think that but you know that’s true of a lot of artists, not just Axl.
LRI: The GNR “Live Era” version of “My Michelle” somehow manages to crank up the rage even more than the studio version with Axl changing “Party til your connection calls” to “FUCK til your connection calls” and even calling you a “little bitch” during the chorus. What did you think when you heard that version, which I’m thinking was recorded during the Illusion tour?
Michelle: That’s because he was mad at me at the time, again it was always tumultuous even though we really didn’t see each other that much it was always on and off and always tumultuous. He was mad at me at that point, for what I don’t even remember because he would get mad at me all the time for various different things. One minute it would be “Oh, Michelle is such a good friend of mine, I love her so much, the song’s about her” and the next time it would be “Oh that fucking bitch didn’t show up for my concert because she’s doing acid with her friends, I fucking hate her”. That actually happened once. He was getting tickets for my little cousins and I to go to the concert and I was supposed to be there to meet him, I believe it was in Anaheim or something. My younger cousins went and were just shocked and came back and said “Oh my god Michelle, he talked sooo much shit about you” and that was all because I didn’t show up. I told him “I can’t Axl, I’m on acid” which I was (laughs) but I was like “Wow, he didn’t have to tell everybody” (laughs). He would stay with me at my dad’s house a lot, he would sleep over a lot and I would take him all over, to shows and stuff, because he didn’t drive so I would take him to concerts and gigs all around. I would wait for him when he’d get ready to go and put up with his tantrums and hissy fits and all of that shit so no the live version of that song doesn’t surprise me to answer your question.
LRI: Were you ever surprised when you heard about any of the relationship issues or dealings that Axl had over the years with women like Erin Everly or Stephanie Seymour?
Michelle: No, I mean, Erin would call me crying when she lived in Hancock Park and they would fight. I was just talking to someone just a couple days ago about that actually. I mean, nothing surprises me when it comes to Axl. If he could disappoint 90,000 fans because he doesn’t feel like going onstage then it’s not that much of a stretch to think he could disappoint one woman he cares about. Nothing shocks me in regards to him.
LRI: Did he ever hurt you as others have alleged he has them?
Michelle: Oh god no, no man has ever hit me or beat me. I would never tolerate that and at that point my dad was still alive and he would have fucking killed him. I never saw that side of him. I heard that from other people but I never, ever saw that side of him. He was never even remotely that way with me, at all. He would get an attitude but would never be violent in any way.
LRI: When I interviewed Marc Canter, despite he being good friends, best friends with Slash he told me that he had tons and tons of good things to say about Axl and his dealings with Axl. Do you have a lot of understanding for the people who genuinely love Axl or those of us that somehow see the good in him despite the faults?
Michelle: Oh yeah, Axl is very, very charming. I have nothing really negative to say about him or how he’s been to me. Everybody is who they are and that’s okay with me. If anything, I feel for him that he has been as uncomfortable in his own skin as he has been at times that he has to make others around him suffer. I’m hoping that everything I’ve heard as of late is true and he’s doing much better and maybe become the person that he should be. I can absolutely understand how difficult the process must have been for this young kid from Indiana to come to Hollywood and just exploding and suddenly becoming one of the most famous people in the world. That’s a lot for anyone to deal with if you think about it. I do believe that he had suffered from bipolar or possibly other things but I’ve heard that he’s had the Brian Wilson experience and you know reverted back to his state of comfort in the womb supposedly and is at peace. I don’t really know and I can’t speak to it because I don’t really know Axl today so I can’t honestly state that he’s become a better man but I honestly believe that he could and hope that he has.
LRI: You wish the best for him, then?
Michelle: Yeah of course. I mean, he’s showing up on time onstage and having successful tours and has a new band that he is playing with and that’s good. I would hope he is doing infinitely better; we’re all older now and should be in a better space you know? Axl had a lot of time and resources there to help him sort of figure things out when he was on hiatus there for a while and I hope he’s doing great.
LRI: So you’re living a fairly quiet, happy life with your boys and really do seem to be at peace with your own life. I know I asked you to talk a while back but you took a while to want to open up which is understandable. Does it feel strange to be talking these days about these experiences from all those years ago?
Michelle: Yeah it does, especially because it’s all been happening recently. I started putting myself out there a little more on Facebook and I was just amazed at all of the fans, especially all these little Brazilian kids who were just massive, massive fans of the band reaching out to me. Then I started connecting with other people surrounding the band and hanging out more with Leisa and Marc so it was all strangely coming back. Still, I feel like it was a lifetime ago and I’ve led several different lives since then. Right now, this is a new life, a new chapter and it’s good but I’m surprised people still wanna know and still wanna talk to me about those days. I’m not surprised that they’re still interested in the band because there are whole new generations of fans who are still discovering the band. I can’t blame them and I love that they love the band because the band was great and the guys are still great, they’re phenomenal.
LRI: Last question before both of our kids interrupt us again…. I asked Steven and Matt about their experience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I wanted to ask your perspective as you watched your old friends receive that honor. Were you at all surprised by Axl and Izzy’s non-involvement, did you feel bad for the other guys that there was no Appetite reunion for the event?
Michelle: It kind of turned out as I would have expected. I was disappointed like a lot of people but you know people need to remember that the guys in the band are real people and people change and their priorities become different. What’s really important to one person might not be important at all to the next and sometimes we should maybe look at the big picture instead of just looking at it from the fans’ perspective. The fans have one expectation and maybe some of the other guys in the band have a radically different idea of what would make them feel comfortable. As for Izzy, all I’ve gathered is that Izzy has always been very quiet over the last couple decades. Izzy was the first one to get his shit together out of all of them. To tell you the truth I think he’s just a family man and a private guy who does the music he wants to do when he wants to do it and good for him if that’s the case.
LRI: Thanks again Michelle, it was very nice of you to do this.
Michelle: Thank you and thank you for your lovely questions…say hello to your beautiful wife and family and definitely stay in touch if you ever make a trip out this way.