To his detractors he's rock's leading lout, a tattooed bully with a chip the size of Seattle on his shoulder. To his millions of fans he's simply the troubled, brawling artist compulsively making his pain and confusion, anger and joy available for all to see—onstage, on record, in print, in public. Either way, Axl Rose, the 29-year-old lead singer, lyricist and lightning rod for Guns N' Roses, is the star that matters in the Band That Matters. And with even heavy metal lapsing into formulaic fury these days, he has brought back to mainstream rock the one element it has largely lacked since the days of the Doors—the element of danger.

"People want to see how far we'll take things," concedes Rose, and this year they saw plenty: the sundering of his eight-month marriage, a concert riot, a new romance (with model Stephanie Seymour), the end of a 15-year partnership with Guns' guitarist Izzy Stradlin and two chart-topping albums.

A diagnosed manic-depressive, he also underwent a regimen of daily five-hour therapy sessions. Did they work? "This is the first year of my life that I've ever dealt with things positively," he reports.

Next year should be something to see.