Released: 2009, Indie
It's about time that somebody wrote a biography of W.A.S.P.! As one of the longest running, most prolific, most controversial, best-selling, most influential Metal bands of all time, I'm shocked it took someone this long to write a book about them. That someone is British über-fan, Darren Upton.
In hindsight, I'm not that surprised that a book about W.A.S.P. has not been published because despite of enormous controversy and media scrutiny, the band still remains shrouded in mystery. In his thousands of interviews over the years, Blackie will talk about virtually anything; religion, sports, politics except the inner workings of the band, let alone his personal life. As ringleader of his electric circus he keeps his animals caged and muzzled until it is time to hit the stage. Blackie is W.A.S.P. and always will be and therein lies the problem with STING IN THE TALE, or any book about the band. Without Blackie's participation, endorsement or access to his archives, any W.A.S.P. book will unfortunately fall short of the mark.
However, Darren has done a magnificent job as a first time author. STING IN THE TALE is a great looking hardcover clocking in at 265 pages with tons of extras. The font is large and it is double- spaced making it easy to read but much shorter than it appears. There are a couple dozen great colour photos from across the ages. There are many bonus features including an extremely thorough (but not completely comprehensive) discography, some fun facts about Blackie, and a reference guide. There are interviews with other big fans, media people and musicians in W.A.S.P. tribute bands and they help to give third party explanations of the enduring appeal of the institution. One really cool feature is the W.A.S.P. family tree which is printed across the inside front and back cover, dating all the way back to the New York Dolls days. There have been a lot of people in W.A.S.P. over the years. Some of the lesser-known members were in the band longer, much longer, than some of the so-called 'classic' members!
Darren certainly knows his stuff! He recounts the story with enthusiasm and passion of a true fan, not simply a journalist. There are times when he is almost too biased to the topic but it is his book. Because it is so hard to get accurate first person info from the band or management, much of his material is selected from public sources, magazines, websites, videos and so forth. That means for die-hard W.A.S.P. fan quite a lot of this is old material. Where the real treasure lies is when the author interviewed a number of ex-members and people who knew Blackie from the old days (ie. pre-1984) and were in his old pre-W.A.S.P. bands Sister and London. The author spoke to Rik Fox, Gary Holland, Johnny Rod, Randy Piper, Chris Holmes, Stet Howland and Steve Riley. The insight provided by these fine gentlemen adds huge value and credibility to this book. Not surprisingly almost all of them say the same thing, Blackie is very hard to work with but an amazing artist, performer and dark and driven individual.
One of the books strengths is giving the details on early days for example, providing some circumstantial, but not unbelievable, evidence that Blackie was using the Metal 'horns' (hand gesture) as far back as 1976, which was also picked up by Gene Simmons (who has far more connection to W.A.S.P. than many people realize) and eventually popularized by Dio. The book is loaded with cool trivia about early costume design, lineup changes and so on.
It gets harder to get accurate information past, say, roughly 1993 as Blackie takes full control of every aspect of the band (and vowing never to deal with a big label again) as the bands drops down a gear and settles into a lower key but very productive, write-record-tour schedule for almost 20 years resulting in nine more studio albums. The available information (tours, lineup changes etc) for the past two decades is thin but at least Upton doesn't make the common error of many biographers, namely focusing on the ancient past at the expense of the recent past and current era.
STING IN THE TALE is a fantastic effort to document a difficult and mysterious band and all W.A.S.P. fans need this. And for the record Darren chose the title for the book a couple of years before the Scorpions album of the same name!