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‘Chinese Democracy:’ A history

Compiled by Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

How do the lyrics go? “It’s been 14 years of silence.” So sang Axl Rose in 1991 on “Fourteen Years.” But who would have guessed he was predicting the future?

OK, so that’s not exactly true, as a string of stop-and-start tours, song leaks and Internet rumors have surrounded Guns N’ Roses for much of the past decade and a half. But an album that was supposedly 14 years in the making, “Chinese Democracy,” will finally be released on Nov. 23, 2008.

Here’s a look back, a brief chronicling of the “Chinese Democracy” saga, and some of what has changed in the pop-culture world since Axl first started working on the album. We start in 1994, when tragedy befell the music world.

Related: Snap judgment: Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Chinese Democracy’ (single)

Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Chinese Democracy’ reviews are in ... sort of (Ian Tilton)
1994

“Chinese Democracy” history:

Hard to pinpoint a specific starting point for the recording of “Chinese Democracy,” but band lore has it that some music was at least attempted to be put to tape in 1994, although apparently nothing of much significance. Duff McKagan and Slash are still in the band, and the act continues to release singles from 1993’s “The Spaghetti Incident?”

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:

January is eventful, with the Nancy Kerrigan versus Tonya Harding bout, and President Bill Clinton giving his first State of the Union speech. The music world suffers a tragedy when Kurt Cobain is found dead in Seattle.

On a lighter note, future gold medalist Shawn Johnson turns 2. (Associated Press)
1995

“Chinese Democracy” history:

There’s no new Guns N’ Roses music, but original guitarist Slash releases his first album with his new group, Slash’s Snakepit, and it increasingly starts to look as if GNR will carry on without its famed guitarist.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:

In March, new Internet giant Yahoo! becomes an officially incorporated business, and The WB is birthed. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
1996

“Chinese Democracy” history:

Slash officially leaves Guns N’ Roses, now focusing on the Snakepit. It’s believed that many of Slash’s songs with the Snakepit were songs written for Guns N’ Roses but rejected by Axl Rose. Of this time, Slash was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “It seemed like a dictatorship. We didn’t spend a lot of time collaborating. He’d sit back in the chair, watching. There’d be a riff here, a riff there. But I didn’t know where it was going.”

Soon after, drummer Matt Sorum and bassist Duff McKagan depart.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” wins a Grammy for album of the year, and “Braveheart” is announced as the best picture winner at the Oscars. Actress Abigail Breslin is born.  (ANDREW COOPER, Associated Press)
1997

“Chinese Democracy” history:

Robin Finck, who had also played with Nine Inch Nails, replaces Slash as the lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses. The New York Times reports that Todd Sullivan, a then talent executive at Geffen, is removed from the “Chinese Democracy” project after suggesting to Axl Rose that he start completing some of the song sketches he has created.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

Bill Clinton is inaugurated in his second term as president, “The English Patient” is awarded best picture at the Oscars and “South Park” premieres on Comedy Central. (Comedy Central)
1998

“Chinese Democracy” history:

With a new line-up, Guns N’ Roses hunkers down to record “Chinese Democracy” at a studio in the San Fernando Valley. The revamped band consists of Finck, former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson (pictured) and drummer Josh Freese. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who has now been with the band for a few years, remains.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

The WB is starting to pick up, thanks to the premiere of “Dawson’s Creek,” and a teen-star-in-waiting, Miley Cyrus, turns 6. “Sex and the City” premieres. (Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)
1999

“Chinese Democracy” history:

The album must be coming soon! Music starts to surface from recording sessions, and a demo of “Catching in the Rye” is leaked. What’s more, the band officially puts out its first music with the new line-up. The industrial-tinged song “Oh My God” is included as part of the soundtrack to “End of Days,” but is poorly received by fans and critics.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

“The Soprano’s” debuts on HBO, and at a Guns N’ Roses-less Grammys, Lauryn Hill wins the best new album title for her “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”  (Todd Rosenberg / For the Times)
2000

“Chinese Democracy” history:

After Finck briefly leaves the band to rejoin Nine Inch Nails on tour, Axl Rose taps free-wielding guitarist Buckethead, known for wearing a horror movie mask and a bucket, to replace him. When Finck comes back, Buckethead also stays.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

Y2K does not destroy the world on New Year’s Day, and the era of reality TV begins, as “ Survivor” debuts on CBS. (Serjical Strike Records)
2001

“Chinese Democracy” history:

It’s close! On New Year’s Day, the band plays its first show in more than seven years in Las Vegas. Then comes an appearance at Rock in Rio III. To further fuel excitement for what must be the impending release of the album, Guns N’ Roses plots an European summer tour. But it’s canceled due to a Buckethead illness, and rescheduled for the end of the year. That tour is also cancelled.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

A new “ Star Trek!” “Enterprise” premieres on The UPN. The Clinton era ends. (AP)
2002

“Chinese Democracy” history:

Before Britney Spears stumbled through “Gimme More,” Axl Rose was huffin’ and puffin’ his way through a medley of hits on the MTV Video Music Awards. But despite the poorly received television segment, GNR plots its first North American tour. The opening date in Vancouver was cancelled hours before it was to begin, sparking a riot outside the venue. After a number of stops and starts, the tour was eventually cancelled.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

Proving there is life for rock stars if the whole touring thing doesn’t work out, Ozzy Osbourne stars in his MTV reality show “The Osbournes,” which debuts in March. (AFP)
2003

“Chinese Democracy” history:

Guns N’ Roses goes on hiatus. Meanwhile, Axl’s former No. 2 guy, Slash, gets rolling with another new band in Velvet Revolver. The act records and releases its first cut in 2003, the song “Set Me Free” from “Hulk.” Despite being on hiatus, a Guns N’ Roses song entitled “I.R.S.” leaks. Meanwhile, The Offspring announces that its upcoming album will be named “Chinese Democrazy (You Snooze, You Lose).” In the end, it’s released as “Splinter.”

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

One of The WB’s signature shows, “ Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” comes to an end, as does “Dawson’s Creek.” And Miley Cyrus scores some of her first acting roles, with appearances in “Big Fish” and the television series “Doc.” Oh, and the Dixie Chicks criticize President Bush at a concert overseas. (20th Century Fox)
2004

“Chinese Democracy” history:

Guns N’ Roses is scheduled to play Rock in Rio IV, but cancels. Rose puts the blame on Buckethead, who has recently left the band. Meanwhile, Geffen Records releases a Guns N’ Roses “Greatest Hits” package, which is a huge retail hit.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

“Sex and the City” comes to an end. One of the best-selling rock albums of the year is Green Day’s “American Idiot.” (HBO)
2005

“Chinese Democracy” history:

The New York Times publishes a detailed article about the making of “Chinese Democracy,” claiming that it cost $13 million to make, which is later refuted by the band’s then manager. The album’s prospects feel dim.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

“The Osbournes” and “ Star Trek: Enterprise” come to an end.” “Million Dollar Baby” is named best picture, and the Grammys are Guns N’ Roses-less again, with Ray Charles winning for “Genius Loves Company.” (Norman Seeff)
2006

“Chinese Democracy” history:

Things pick up in the Guns N’ Roses world. The band performs in New York in the spring, followed by European and North American tour dates. But the North American tour starts to sputter out, and the final few dates are cancelled, with Rose saying the band needs time to finish “Chinese Democracy.”

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

Superstardom starts to descend upon Miley Cyrus, who now stars in the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana. The WB ceases to exist as a television network, and “Braveheart” start Mel Gibson is arrested for drunk driving, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigns. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
2007

“Chinese Democracy” history:

The album now has a release date! It is tentatively set for March 6, 2007. Another round of tracks leaks to the Internet, but March 6 comes and goes without a release of “Chinese Democracy.”

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

The Dixie Chicks win a Grammy Award for album of the year, the WGA goes on strike and the Guns N’ Roses-influenced Hinder become rock ‘n’ roll stars. “The Sopranos” ends its run. Actress Abigail Breslin is nominated for a best supporting actress award for her appearance in “Little Miss Sunshine.” (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
2008

“Chinese Democracy” history:

“Chinese Democracy” officially becomes a cultural punchline, with Dr. Pepper announcing that it will give everyone in America free soda if the album comes out by the end of the year. To everyone’s surprise, it appears that it will, with Billboard breaking the news that “Chinese Democracy” will be released exclusively to Best Buy the week of Thanksgiving. Yet as of mid-October, there has been no official comment from the band.

The world outside of “Chinese Democracy:”

New “ Star Trek”! A “Star Trek” movie from J.J. Abrams nears completion, and the presidency of George W. Bush nears its end. Meanwhile, a “ Sex and the City” movie is a big hit, and Shawn Johnson wins a gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Games(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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