Released: 2007, St. Martin's Press
There are quite a few books about Guns ‘n’ Roses. Dozens actually. I’ve never quite understood the enduring mystique that the band has to the average Hard Rock fan. The first era comes down to a couple of EP’s, a covers album, a brace of bloated indulgent albums and one world-class rock record that came out a quarter of a century ago. People still like to write about the band (and the members of the band) and chumps like me still buy the books.
Mick Wall is one of the rock journalists most associated with the band, this being his third book on the topic. It’s odd that he of all people has become associated with the band, because of the infamous ‘Get In The Ring’ controversy of 1991/2. In case you are not familiar with the story, Wall was a journalist who wrote quite a bit about the band in the early days and fell out of favour with Axl Rose. In the song, Get In The Ring’, from the 1991 album, USE YOUR ILLUSION II, the singer accused Wall (among other writers) of printing lies and challenged him to a fight! It’s pretty uncommon to challenge someone to a fight in such a public sphere. With the millions of kids who bought that record and heard the song and read the lyrics, it seems that Wall was automatically proven guilty by the legions of unquestioning fans and Wall was not really offered a platform for civilized rebuttal on the same scale. Until now. Suffice to say, I imagine, this book is unauthorized, unofficial and as about unendorsed as you can get.
However, I don’t think that ‘revenge’ per se or a burning desire to clear the air after almost 20 years, was his primary motivation for writing W.A.R., despite the perhaps somewhat inflammatory acronym of the title. No, I think there is enough of a good story about an interesting character to make a go of it. Wall speaks about the infamous incident very early on. He doesn’t give much detail in his defense but does deny the accusations and state he didn’t print lies. I felt he could have/should have used the opportunity to clarify. I felt that his reluctance to comment worked against him because it is well known that pop-media journalists do elaborate, exaggerate, extrapolate and well…make shit up to sell magazines. Glossy rock magazines are a business, not pure applied journalism. Maybe Wall did print lies and got called on it. Maybe Axl went off the deep end (again) at some unintended and perceived slight, either way, we will likely never know. I doubt Axl even remembers or cares at this point.
I grabbed the hard cover, 340+ pages and a couple dozen black and white photos. Wall, perhaps in an attempt to cover his ass and avoid the wrath of the battalion of Axl’s lawyers, has extensive notes and quotes, primarily drawn from his years of first hand interviews with all band members including Axl.
As for the life-story of one William B. Rose, it’s pretty interesting. It’s more engaging than the Slash autobiography for example because it seems that Axl is a more dynamic and complex character than the simple drunken rocker Slash is known for being. Like it or not Axl was the brains, the voice and the creative force behind Guns ‘n’ Roses. Sure they had magic and chemistry in the early days but it was Axl that had the drive and vision to take a gritty street rock band to a global institution while the others dudes descended into the abyss of drugs and lifestyle choices.
Even today you will notice it’s the ex-members who have had lacklustre careers are clamoring to have some sort of reunion. Axl doesn’t need them, the latest G’N’R record, CHINESE DEMOCRACY sold more copies than every solo album, by every ex-member, combined over the past 20 years. Sure, maybe he was a bit mercenary but he saw his creation falling apart around him in a tidal wave of dysfunction and he took the helm of the sinking ship, steered clear of the rocks and is now the undisputed Captain. Nice nautical metaphor eh?
For a while Wall was in Axl’s good book and some of his first person accounts of Axl’s stories are very interesting. After Wall fell out of favour with Rose the book tends to get a bit thin. That’s not necessarily the authors fault from lack of access but the fact that Rose became a virtually recluse. The book is heavy on detail in the early part of Rose’s life and thin over the past 20 years. It was interesting to have the Chinese Democracy sessions recapped with the various labels, managers and producers coming and going. All the tales are here. The fights, the lawsuits, the parties, the cancelled shows, the riots, the reclusive and odd behaviour...the pyscho-drama never ends, which makes for good reading!
Wall still holds a torch for the band and as a result makes a few mistakes and opinionated statements are presented as fact. For example, Wall says that Guns ‘n’ Roses was the world’s most dangerous band and so on when in reality they were a pretty corporate, main-stream, Top 40 rock band compared to the legions of truly dangerous underground Metal bands of the era. Wall also makes mistakes such as suggesting that the Use Your Illusion Tour was the world’s biggest rock tour. Iron Maiden’s World Slavery Tour played more dates than the Use Your Illusion Tour. I’m surprised Wall made that mistake because he wrote a book about Iron Maiden as well! Cannibal Corpse (and many other metal tours) routinely play to more countries than G’n’R did. He needed to check his facts, but it was to be expected because he is a typical rock journalist, just a bit out of touch with the underground music scene. However, his factual research is meticulous. Dates, times it's all documented here in amazing detail.
In conclusion, W.A.R. is a fascinating read about one of the most fascinating characters in rock culture. I wonder what Axl thought about it when he (or his lawyers) read it?