The hatred and anger Axl Rose spewed on “Back Off Bitch” was more than a decade old by the time it appeared on a record.
Like several tracks on 1991’s twin Use Your Illusion albums, the venomous “Back Off Bitch” dated back to before Guns N’ Roses recorded their 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction. Rose cowrote the song in 1981, four years before the group formed.
Unearthing it years later opened Guns N’ Roses up to a yet another round of criticism over the content of their lyrics, not long after the homophobic and racial slurs featured in “One in a Million” sparked widespread outrage and an onstage war of words with Living Colour.
As the new furor kicked up over “Back Off Bitch” and other Illusion songs such as “Get in the Ring” and “Locomotive,” Rose explained he had since moved on from the source of his anger but also insisted on his right to tackle “dangerous” topics in his work.
Rose revealed that he had been undergoing intensive therapy for more than a year during an April 1992 interview with Rolling Stone, stating that the anger contained in his lyrics was the result of a difficult and violent childhood. “I’ve been doing a lot of work and found out I’ve had a lot of hatred for women,” he explained. “Basically, I’ve been rejected by my mother since I was a baby. She’s picked my stepfather over me since he was around and watched me get beaten by him.”
Listen to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Back Off Bitch’
As he did after the release of “One in a Million,” Rose again defended his right to self-expression: “The anger and the emotions and stuff scare people, and it’s good that people recognize these things as dangerous. I don’t think our music promotes that you should feel this way, and if people are getting that, that’s not right. We’re saying you’re allowed to feel certain ways. Now, if you want to hold on to something that you know is bad, that’s your problem. I don’t want to. I’ve already left most of the lyrics behind.”
“Back Off Bitch” was performed frequently in the band’s pre-fame club days, according to Setlist.fm, but it was played only twice on the Use Your Illusion tour and has not been included in their set lists since.
Asked how the lyrics of songs such as “Back Off Bitch” have aged, Slash admitted in 2018 that he’d “never thought of that; it’s never crossed my mind. Some of the songs and all that were sort of sexist in their own way, but not to be taken that seriously. I don’t think they were malicious or anything.”
At the time of the 1992 Rolling Stone interview, Guns N’ Roses weren’t even halfway done creating trouble and headlines on the Use Your Illusion tour. The Montreal riot, for instance, was still seven months away. But Rose was optimistic that calmer days were ahead.
“I really think that the next official Guns N’ Roses record – or the next thing I do, at least – will take some dramatic turns that people didn’t expect and show the growth,” Rose predicted. “I don’t want to be the 23-year-old misfit that I was. I don’t want to be that person. … I’d like to have a little more internal peace.”
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