Get Lit: W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose, by Mick Wall
Admit it, people: Guns N’ Roses’ 1988 multi-platinum debut Appetite for Destruction was the best Aerosmith album of the decade. Through the vicarious thrills this accessibly sleazy record offered, millions of middle-class high school kids had their final flirtation with juvenile delinquency before preparing to become tax lawyers, physical therapists and software engineers. More important, Appetite ’s success turned angry Indiana hick Bill Bailey into paranoid, model-marrying, litigious, show-canceling, control-freak millionaire man-diva W. Axl Rose, the real-life, glam-metal version of Andy Griffith’s Lonesome Rhodes .
Of course, every jerk-ass celebrity eventually gets the biography he or she deserves, and Rose is no exception. Enter Brit hack journo Mick Wall and W.A.R. Let’s just say that whenever a biographer feels the need to explicitly state how committed he or she is to objectivity, it’s time to watch out.
Wall’s a sloppy writer and a lazy biographer (think Andrew Morton with tattoos, writing for Circus magazine) with an obvious agenda—much like the vengeful Victor Bockris had in his 1995 hatchet job Transformer: The Lou Reed Story. It’s safe to say that if Rose was a regular visitor to children’s hospitals or participated in benefits for blind amputees, you wouldn’t read about it in this book.
Yet if Wall’s major accomplishments in W.A.R. are to be rightfully acknowledged, we’re indebted to him for helping us make the following three critical deductions:
1) Axl’s a big wuss. Behind the tough-guy tattoos and hateful lyrics is a girly man smitten with Queen, Elton John and 10cc. Even though Rose was marketed as the rock ‘n’ roll badass of the late 1980s, it seems the only people he actually threw dukes with were his wives. He not only backed down from the MTV taunts of bloated pop-metal corpse Vince Neil, but he also used Gandhian nonviolence to deal with alt-weenie Kurt Cobain’s backstage baiting. He does, however, eventually get into a bizarre slap-fight with world-class pugilist / clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger. Oh, and one time Axl also bit a rent-a-cop’s leg.
2) Axl’s greatest talent was for starting riots, in absentia. His no-show antics are probably responsible for the most concert cancellations and audience conflagrations in rock history. The irony (seemingly lost on Wall) was that Rose, the cleanest-living guy in the band, was also the most undependable. Before a show, he’d do vocal exercises, get a backrub from his Japanese masseuse, climb the Stairmaster, then have therapy sessions with the shrink and professional psychic he kept on retainer. And if there was any free time left after his Jazzercising, Axl sometimes made that night’s gig. But then there was the danger he’d leave the stage after being subjected to fun, recreational audience-participation activities, like being pelted with water bottles or pegged in the nuts with a well-aimed cigarette lighter. Once Axl left, the burden would be on smacked-up wasteoids like Slash and Izzy to hold shit together by improvising around these show-killing tantrums. As a result, there were many violent fan riots that actually led to several tragic deaths— although thankfully no famous people were hurt.
3) Axl loved Nirvana, even though they rendered him obsolete. Here’s a rare instance where Wall actually makes someone out to be a bigger asshole than Axl. Surprisingly, Rose loved Nirvana at first, and he even asked them to join GN’R on tour—naively assuming that the tortured Kurt Cobain was his cosmic soul mate. But after being snubbed multiple times by the prissy grunge-punk elitist, Axl naturally began to hate Cobain, thereby restoring the comforting hair metal vs. flannel rock binary opposition that drove the early ‘90s zeitgeist.
The sneaky Mr. Wall deserves some credit, though: Without casting too many direct aspersions on his subject, he ultimately outs Rose as a pretentious motor-mouthed dolt—by quoting long, painful passages of Axl chattering away like a Valley Girl on speed. The thumb-tongued singer gives a comically incoherent defense of his racist manifesto “One In a Million,” for one. And he blabbers on and on about the high-minded artistic intent behind his songs and about the uneasiness he feels toward homosexuals (never mind that the guy’s idols are Rob Halford, Freddie Mercury and Elton John).
Predictably, Rose’s seemingly scripted rock ‘n’ roll demagoguery eventually drove away all of his original collaborators in Guns N’ Roses. And by the mid-2000s, instead of featuring charismatic junkie boozehounds like Slash and Izzy Stradlin, Rose’s band became a musical ghetto for Guitar Center floor-manager types: a former N Sync session player, a Nine Inch Nails refugee and shred-metal bozos named Bumblefoot and Buckethead. At times, the only way Axl’s mercenary minions knew they were fired was when their monthly stipends stopped showing up in their bank accounts.
The final questions that Wall leaves for the reader are indeed world-shaking: Is Axl a genius recluse perfectionist, or just some washed-up Beverly Hillbilly who’s too rich, too insecure and too obsessed with his own power to create anything worthwhile? And just what kind of impact will the perpetually forthcoming GN’R masterpiece Chinese Democracy—the Godot of rock ‘n’ roll albums—have in an age where so many young hipsters see the Gunners as nothing more than an ironic T-shirt statement? Plus, how many good ideas can some dude from Lafayette, Indiana, possibly have? Knowing what W.A.R. tells us about Rose’s pro-reincarnation beliefs, one might start to wonder if maybe Chinese Democracy is slated for release during Axl’s next life. – Michael Sandlin
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.