Weisbard, Eric- Use Your Illusion I and II (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: January, 2023
Published: 2007, Bloomsbury
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: JP

Regular readers of my book reviews may have noticed that I have been methodically reviewing all the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal books in the 33 and one-third series.   It’s not much of a task because there are not many in the series, only five US titles to date.  This can be credited to the publishers’ indifferent attitude towards Metal at best or anti-Metal policy at worst.

The 33 1/3 series are handy and fun pocket sized in-depth album reviews.  There are (as of time of writing) about 160 books in the series.  The most recent Metal related title, published in 2015, is a book about Metallica’s self-tilted album, so it has been a seven year drought since we saw any Metal related content.  As a side note:  The 33 1/3 series has opened a European division and to date they have issued two Metal books; Darkthrone-BLAZE IN THE NORTHERN SKY (2020) and  Mercyful Fate-DON’T BREAK THE OATH (2022) . This is a promising development for Metal fans but those European imports are expensive!

I finally found an inexpensive copy of the first Hard rock/Metal related title in the US series; GUNS N’ ROSES-USE YOUR ILLUSION I AND II. (Issue #41, Published in 2007)

Eric Weisbard (a cool name for a Dungeons & Dragons character) is an American writer and journalist who hopped around the country between NY and LA writing for big-name, mainstream, pop-culture publications like Spin, and The Village Voice. His Metal cred is pretty weak as he fully admits he was an 80/90’s punk/pop/alt guy with a healthy disdain for Hard Rock and Metal. He accuses others (Rock critics, fans) of being ‘Ironic Contrarian Hipsters’ which pretty much describes him as well.

I can’t fault him for my own musical and pop-culture ignorance but he falls into the trap of many (most?) American pop-culture enthusiasts/writer is that because he is so immersed in the pop-culture that when he makes references, he assumes everyone knows who he talking about. I was lost several times with the name-dropping about books, movies and artists I have never heard of.

The 125-page book is ostensibly about the Guns N’ Roses double album, USE YOUR ILLUSION but he spends an inordinate amount of time not talking about the album. In fact, there were four chapters of stream of consciousness stuff about his tangential experience with the album(s) and the band before he actually talked much about it. He covered so much more, the band, some history, tours, APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, The LIES EP, his personal work history, and a huge amount of space detailing why Axl Rose is not a very nice person…which is like saying the sky is blue.

He could have easily called the book, ‘My opinions about Guns N’ Roses’. However, these criticisms are largely unfounded as there are no rules as to how the authors of the series have to write about the album. His structure was actually quite well thought out. He spent the first four chapters sort of reminiscing about the album, walking us through the band history but not adding much more than you couldn’t read in a Wikipedia article.

In fact, at one point (p.92) he says, “As I stretch out this book, prolong the moment whether I really do need to actually sit there and tick through track after track of a 30- track album I am nervous doesn’t merit the attention…”. This is very telling. I would think if he wanted to write a book about an album that maybe he might have at least some enthusiasm for the topic at hand. The fact that he thinks one of the biggest selling Hard Rock albums of all time doesn’t merit attention betrays his true feelings. For the record, I’m not fan-boy who is offended by this line of thinking. I’m not a huge fan of the bloated record(s) either but I do wonder why Weisbard would even bother writing an entire book on an album he sort-of used to like, years ago, when he condensed the beast down and made a single mix-cassette tape of the best songs.

When we finally (!) get to the actual album, he does go track by track. There is not much info about where or when was produced, tales from the studio, the artwork, sonic attributes he really skimps on most of the pertinent info. He barely talks about the songs at all, again just a stream of consciousness musing. For example, about the track ’14 Years’ (UYI II) (p.113) he says, “This never came off at all and they made it the second track on this volume. The outtakes discs, the way Elvis Costello albums have expanded in reissue form to always include an entire second CD, has become as reissues commonplace, but here it was all just mixed together in the original”.   That is it. The entire entry. He says nothing, zero,  about the song. Is it fast? Is it slow? Long? Short? A rocker? A ballad?  We have no idea. He relegates it to outtake/bonus material status without telling us why. Many of the song entries are like this.

I seem to have spent a good chunk of this book criticizing it but oddly enough I really enjoyed it. Weisbard is a clever, witty and engaging writer. He has some great turns of phrase and over the course of the book he does a very great job to describe his love/hate relationship with an album(s) that a guy like him is not supposed to like on paper. Ironic Contrarian Hipster indeed!

Thanks to this book, I’m going to go listen to USE YOUR ILLUSION (both of ‘em!) with fresh ears for the first time in years.