Monday, 15 June 2009

Watch You Bleed : The Saga of Guns N’ Roses

Holiday over and 2 books read, and if this blog was about Butlins and its former employees I would be telling you about Never Mind The Redcoats by Paul Wojnicki, as it isn’t, as it is about music, and commuting, but mainly music, I am going to tell you about the first book that I read over my holiday and that is Watch You Bleed : The Saga of Guns N’ Roses.
When I was young, 17 I went on a Spanish holiday, I will be honest with you, it wasn’t a grand tour around the sights mentioned in Don Quixote or retreading Hemingways steps, it was effectively a holiday drinking alcohol to celebrate my 17th birthday. On that holiday, in 1987 some recommended the metal-tastic, Appetite For Destruction, the debut full length by Guns N’s Roses. Bear in mind that my soundtrack in 1987 was The Wedding Present and if my memory serves I was not displaying any metal tendencies. So upon my return to the UK I sought out Appetite For Destruction and cranked it up to 6 (my nan was having a nap). Enough to say that album only got the one outing and Guns N’ Roses and my paths never crossed again until an approximation of the band played Download festival, (in so much that if you believe Axl Rose is Guns N’ Roses, then they did play Download, by the same token I saw Morrissey at Reading festival so for all intents and purposes I have seen the Smiths, Joe Strummer at V/The Clash and Fish on a tube in London/Marillion.) So there you have my experience of GN’R, its limited.
The whole point of me reading this book was to expand my knowledge of a band, I am not a fan, but as lives go, the members have lived theirs thrice over, and perhaps in Slash’s case, 4 or 5 times over. They have lived and that is what I look for in a biography, you are aware that I have been reading about Elvis’s early life since August, and I still am, I have 40 pages to go and I see it taking until next August. The difference between Elvis up to 1957 and Izzy Stradlin is that Elvis bought a brand new tux and this is considered noteworthy, where as Izzy Stradlin used to flog heroin to Aerosmith. You see what I am getting at here, I am not condoning drug use, at all, but Elvis, even with all his greatness was pretty dull, admittedly compared to Guns N’ Roses dull could apply to just about anyone, but the reason why I whizzed through this book in 3 days and Elvis is still unfinished after 10 months.
So of the book, it’s a good read, no denying that, if something like The Dirt is your thing, tales of music business debauchery, rock stars and groupies then this is your thing. The author Stephen Davis penned the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods, an utterly significant music biography that not only displays a genuine love for the band but also gets under the skin of the beast, literally. Hammer of the Gods presented a warts and all document of the worlds biggest rock n roll band, not afraid to shy away from Jimmy Page’s affection for what was effectively a child, or from the drug and alcohol consumption that was ingested in their ranks. It seems that Hammer of the Gods was the blueprint for Watch You Bleed, just as Led Zeppelin was the blue print for Guns N’ Roses.
Slight inaccuracies aside the book really fulfils what was required of it, tell the story of the formation of the classic Guns N’ Roses line up and concentrate on this, “the saga”, the flab at the end highlights the various bit part players that tried to fill the shoes of Izzy, Slash, Steve and Duff and don’t really command any thing other than a nod. We learn about the young Saul Hudson (Slash) and how he became what he is now, Izzy’s long term battle with drugs, a battle that Izzy initially didn’t want to win. Salient facts like Duff McKagan invested in a fledgling Starbucks and Microsoft, and of course Axl’s Napoleon complex and what really was his mental illness and spousal abuse episodes.
All in all it’s a book that is immensely captivating and educating, you see Axl’s excuses for his homophobic racist ranting, which Davis seems happy enough to let go, as he does it seem happy to almost make excuses for Rose’s abuse of his ex wife and girlfriend. I guess Davis is there to tell the story and not to judge. You learn of the band’s misogyny, the drugs, the sex, the rock n roll, the life on the road and widely the LA music scene of the 80’s. You don’t read about Graceland or the ticket sales for a concert in Biloxi. That’s for a different day.

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