Thursday, 2 December 2010

W Axl Rose by Mick Wall

I spotted this in the library and had an instant flashback to buying Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite For Destruction nearly twenty two years ago. Brazenly biased and almost as self deluded as its subject matter - the band’s lead singer - W. Axl Rose is an interesting combination of rock memoir and personal grudge by a journalist whom Rose very publicly picked a fight with, telling him to “...get in the ring, motherfucker...”


The first part of the book contains a reasonably illuminating look at Rose’s home life in small town Indiana as a youth. He was frequently in trouble with the law between leaving home and moving to California, and alcohol certainly played its part:

Now living away from home, staying at his maternal grandmother’s small house, he had his first brushes with the law – mainly for misdemeanours such as ‘public consumption [of alcohol]’ and ‘disturbing the peace’... “But he would do some pretty wild things.” Axl and his friends, including Dana Gregory, “would go out and drink and do some stupid things, like smash windows along Main Street.”

Long before the acrimonious row and subsequent bad blood, Wall was writing for Kerrang! magazine, covering the rise and rise of the Rose’s band, Guns N’ Roses. He’s previously written an unauthorised biography of the band, and I can’t help feeling that a lot of it has found its way into this book. That said, the stuff about the rest of the group is far more interesting than his pontificating about the inner thoughts of Rose.

The original line up of Guns N’ Roses had a pretty heavy intake of booze and hard drugs. Inevitably, this interfered with the music and at one point it looked as if they wouldn’t even get their debut LP recorded:

In fact, early sessions eventually had to be postponed while Slash and Izzy took time off to try and rid themselves on the bad habits they had been recklessly nurturing. According to Steven, “drugs and drink” had already begun “to take their toll as Slash [was] secreted away by the label to dry out”.

The certainly made no secret of their substance abuse on the final cut of Appetite For Destruction. Track ‘Mr Brownstone’ was an ode to the ups and downs of heroin use and on the same side there was also ‘Nightrain’, a paean to the ephemeral joys of the cheap ‘bum’s wine’ it was named after – the only drink the band could regularly afford in the days before they were signed...

Wall appears to run into the band on quite a few occasions in the next few years, although how much of this has been culled from interviews is probably moot. By the time they had become one of the biggest rock bands in the world, most of the band, with the exception of Axl Rose, was apparently knocking out increasing amounts of harder and harder intoxicants. Steven Adler is reported as saying:

“Let me say for the record that I was no angel,” he told me years later. “I drank – no, scratch that – could outdrink any of the other guys in the band, including Slash (which is saying a hell of a lot). I once swallowed thirty-two kamikazes and lived to tell about it... But I never shot smack until we arrived in Amsterdam during our first European tour...

Lead guitarist Slash was the bands most visible indulger, rarely seen without a bottle of JD to hand:

I turned to speak to Slash, the only one I’d actually been introduced to. He looked like he’d just stepped off the album cover: black top hat pulled low over a waterfall of dark curls deliberately obscuring his soft brown eyes, holding on tight to a Jack Daniels bottle like a toddler clinging to its teddy. “I bet you go to bed with that thing,” I joked. “Sure,” he said, “I like to wake up to it, too. It’s the only way I can handle...” He paused and glanced around, “... I can handle this.”

As Rose begins to take a separate bus to the gigs, Slash celebrates his twenty third birthday in alcoholic style:

Slash celebrated by getting stuck into a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka, rather than his usual Jack Daniels, because downing two bottles of bourbon a day was now “giving me black stripes on my tongue”.

Asked at the end of 1988 what his plans for the future were:

He stared at me through his long, corkscrew hair. “Uh, I don’t know. Right now, it’s just about getting fucked up...”

Quite. The subsequent implosion of Guns N’ Roses and Axl Rose becoming a virtual recluse for the rest of the next decade aren’t so hard to understand now...

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