Style

Let me tell you about style. Style is seeing something through. Not something you saw coming but those things you didn’t. Having enough hairs on your back to hang on tight when the ship is going down fast. To not lose control – not entirely – when the postman doesn’t ring twice, when your mother is dead, when the bills come in and you don’t have what you need, not nearly, yet still that night you go out, eat a fine dinner and find something serious to drink and a good place to do it in. Knowing you are wrong, not feeling brave about it, just seeing it through. To the end, wherever, whenever and however it comes. Not a trace of bravado. Just something inside that is just in there. That’s style.

Most people have no style at all. That’s why they need rock stars, heroes, people they like to view as somehow bigger and better than they are. They need that like ants need hills to build. They need it so bad they will humiliate themselves to get it. Sticking up for people they have never met, will never know, but have somehow deduced they know something about that no one else knows. That only they understand. These people don’t know what style is. They think it is something that only others have. And are happy thinking that.

As I write this it is like summer here today. The sun is out and so too nearly is the year, goodbye 2014, you were a bitch to live through, I loved so much of you and feared so much more, so that I never want to live through you again, the same as last year, in fact. (And the ones before.) And because the sun is out and so on, I am finding it hard to work.

Partly, also, because the whole family has been down with the lurgy, and I am at the backend of that, been fighting off the shaky ills all week. And partly because it is the end of the year and the part of me that still counts has simply run out of gas. I’m doing my best, working my way through the edit of my new memoir, paying some bills, swatting at emails and answering the phone to my wife who has all the latest minute-by-minute news on what’s up, what’s down, what’s still going round and round. But that’s only because I have just enough style to do that.

I wasn’t born with style. No one is. I had to grow old to find it. To allow it, finally, to find me. Even then it’s a very diluted version, often, the outer shell peeling away at times when the darkness doubles and the lightning strikes itself. But no one’s perfect. And in the words of the ancient barde Ronnie James Dio, you ain’t forced to swallow every kind of bullshit you read.

Yeah, yeah.

Pink Floyd Exclusive Extract

This is from WITHOUT END, Chapter One of THE ENDLESS JOURNEY, 50 YEARS OF PINK FLOYD

The careful tread of oars dissecting a river. The faded-in sound of a heartbeat, not your own. Birdsong delighted over an acoustic guitar. A nuclear wind blowing across a dismantled landscape. Or, as it began, in 1967, alien static coming in from the sky, voices distorted, buzzing like flies.

Only rarely has a Pink Floyd album begun with anything so mundane as a guitar or a drum. But then only rarely has Pink Floyd done anything quite like any other rock band. So that even to describe them (whoever ‘they’ are, another fluctuating fact of Pink Floyd’s near half-century existence being the interchangeability of its ‘leaders’) as a ‘band’ is to miss the point entirely. For rarely has any musical conglomeration in the rock era been less suited to the conventional idea of what a ‘band’ supposedly is than Pink Floyd. At the height of their superstardom in the mid-Seventies, as The Dark Side Of The Moon settled into its eventual 14-year run on the US charts, very few of the near 50 million people that bought that album even knew what the four members of Pink Floyd looked like. Were not sure even who the singer was.

The strangest fact of all was that – unlike The Beatles or the Rolling Stones, unlike The Who or Led Zeppelin, unlike any other globe-straddling rock artist of the same era – when it came to Pink Floyd it never did matter. The only thing that mattered with Pink Floyd was the collective sound they made – and what that sound could do to you when left alone with it. As the darkness became visible then doubled, as lightning struck itself, repeatedly. Music that ebbed and flowed like the sea, coming at you in waves, like pulses, like life and death and the secrets in between. Carrying you away on its endless river, that ancient symbol of time. Times past that lie before you, in perpetual futurity.

Partly, this was down to a certain decorous, stereotypically English middleclass horror of sticking too far out from the crowd. Mostly, it was down to the fact that Pink Floyd’s original in-house star, singer-guitarist and main songwriter Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett had flamed-out so spectacularly after just one hit single and album, leaving his friends with a planet-sized hole to fill, not just musical, an impossibility on its own, but characterful, an equally daunting prospect they couldn’t help but shrink from. Until there was nothing left of them to be seen, hidden as they became behind a wall so terrifyingly high none of them would ever truly manage to clamber back over it. Not in one piece. For it wasn’t just Syd Barrett who would apparently lose his mind while helming the Pink Floyd, who would sacrifice his rock star status in exchange for a hill of dreams.

Retreating into the background, as one, allowing their audience to fill-in the sizeable blanks left by Barrett’s traumatic and never fully understood departure, the music Pink Floyd came to make would always have to stand alone, separate from the individuals in the group, supported only by its own gravity. To the point, paradoxically, where the more the group members drifted apart from each other, the more exquisitely painful the focus of their music became. So that by the time of their artistic and commercial apotheosis, The Wall, in 1980, bassist-vocalist and main writer in the post-Barrett era, Roger Waters, and guitarist-vocalist David Gilmour, who had replaced Barrett, and would eventually replace Waters, too, were no longer speaking to each other.

Similarly, Rick Wright, once the yin to Syd’s yang, as pretty as the boy wonder, full of light where Syd was found by darkness, and almost as prolific on his fairy-tale keyboards, had also been frozen out by 1980, fired from his own group for daring to add his voice to the conversation. Drummer Nick Mason, meanwhile, always a smooth operator when it came to interpersonal relationships, everybody’s friend on nobody’s side, had become more interested in his growing collection of vintage cars than he was in being in the studio, listening to the rants and raves of his warring musical partners. Nick always did have the best seat in the house; from where he could see everyone’s backs, as well as the nearest fire exits.

Indeed, it might be said that the Pink Floyd of the 1970s became a juggernaut international success almost in spite of themselves. Moreover, that not even they, ultimately, really understood what it was they did – or didn’t do – that made them so spectacularly, peculiarly popular. In the words of Roger Waters, speaking in 2011, Pink Floyd had “never been interested in making things just to entertain people.” Instead, their aim had always been to leave their audience, “moved and emotionally engaged.”

This from the man who by his own admission would become so horrifyingly disengaged from his own audience that by the end of the Seventies he was spitting at them even as they threw their arms open to him, gathered in the world’s largest stadia in rowdy supplication even as he dreamed of machine-gunning them all down, one by one.

Half a century and over 150 million albums sold later, the sheer weight of their achievements still tend to disguise the utter strangeness of the Pink Floyd story. Even the drastic changes in line-ups have not dented their universal appeal. No more than the awful confessions of greed and hate, of bitter feuding between Waters and Gilmour, have stemmed the tide of endless fascination. No group since The Beatles has paraded their human fragilities to such a damagingly public extent as Pink Floyd and still found their music left so apparently unsullied and fawned over.

For anyone else, losing not one but two leaders, then three, would have spelled career-suicide. For Pink Floyd, now into their fourth coming with their first album in 20 years, The Endless River, there would appear to be no new beginnings, no real endings. Just one circular musical movement, a life force unto itself throughout the several regenerations. Inhaling and exhaling, in space and time, the clicks and breaths of living history, seen through the lightless gaps between stars.

As Nick Mason remarked drolly in 1994, “We don’t have to promote a Bono or a Mick Jagger. The thing you have to remember is, we’re so wonderfully boring.”

Don’t be fooled, though, by this adroit piece of English obfuscation. Substitute the word ‘boring’ with ‘clever’ and you come much closer to the truth. For what this quintessentially English group has never been able to conceal is its equally, wincingly English history of childhood friendships and tangled teenage alliances. The most significant of which – those between the two Rogers, Barrett and Waters, and the man who would eventually stand beside them, neither very like one nor particularly unlike the other, David Gilmour – continue to cast long, deepening shadows over the lives of all the members of Pink Floyd, even as they now glide ever closer to their own sunsets.

This then is their story, in ambient miniature. For how else to usefully tell a tale as impossibly tall, or improbably inverted as that of the band that would not bond but still somehow endure, far beyond its own legacy, as it drifted, like its music, along the unforeseen bends and often tricky currents of its own endless river?

As David Gilmour once said: to make it as big as Pink Floyd did, “Raw talent is never going to be enough. Massive drive is needed.” But then, in the same interview, with my colleague Mark Blake, in 2008, he insisted: “I can see how important this Pink Floyd business gets for other people. But it just isn’t for me. I had some of the best times of my life and we created some wonderful music, but to do it again, it would be fakery. It would be trying to be something that we are not. At my age, I am entirely selfish and want to please myself. I shan’t do another Pink Floyd tour.”

Gilmour was telling the truth but what he was saying was of course entirely the opposite of what actually happened next: Pink Floyd in epigrammatic miniature.

Paranoid Extract

This is an extract from Paranoid: Black Days With Sabbath & Other Horror Stories. This si from Chapter Five: Turning Japanese.

Things would just be better. I had it all planned. The Christmas holidays were coming up and I would go and see the doctor, get a script for some DFs and sleepers, then head off to my parents’ place in Ealing, where I could kick in relative peace. Christmas gave me the perfect disguise. Over-stuffed on booze and turkey, nobody at my parents’ place ever moved far from their armchairs in front of the telly. The fact that I would be sitting there pale-faced and semi-comatose for a couple of weeks was more or less expected.

Then just as I thought I had it all worked out, fate took a hand in things. I used to go to the same place most days for lunch, a cheap and overcrowded working man’s cafe around the corner from the office that I liked because you never saw any of the other Virgin employees in there. It wasn’t swank or expensive enough for them, but it was here that I’d have an occasional meal, always the same thing, a grilled chop with some lettuce and chips. The rest of the time I existed on Twix bars, up to a dozen a day, and two or three of the large bottles of Lucozade.

Then about a week before Christmas, I was in there one day and I couldn’t finish my meal, which was unusual as I practically wiped the plate clean with my tongue most days. For some reason, I just couldn’t manage it. Something about the smell of the meat and the grill turned my stomach. Even the chips tasted bad, like chewing a ball of wool.

When the woman who worked behind the counter came to collect my plate, she looked at me quizzically. “Are you all right, dear?” she asked. We had become familiar in the way you do sometimes with shopkeepers you see a lot.

“I think so,” I replied. “Why?”

“It’s just that you look a bit peaky, dear,” she said, a genuinely worried look in her eye. “You look a bit yellow, dear.”

“Yellow?”

“Yes, dear. You don’t look well at all. I’d go and see my doctor’s, if I were you.”

I walked out of there and for the first time I realised that the lack of energy and general feeling of unsteadiness I’d been grappling with for the past few days had nothing to do with how much gear I might or might not have had in my system. I realised suddenly that I felt quite ill. I couldn’t think why, but I staggered back to the office, feeling worse with every step. When I got back to my desk, I collapsed into my seat.

I picked up the phone. “I’d like to make an appointment to see Dr Jewel, please.”

“When would you like to see the doctor?”

“Right now, please.”

“I’m sorry, sir, the doctor is not free today. He wont be free again now until Thursday.” It was Monday. I simply couldn’t wait that long.

“But this is an emergency!”

“An emergency? What kind of emergency, sir?”

“Life or death,” I said, trying to sound grave. But it just sounded ridiculous and for a moment I felt like I was in a movie. A very bad movie. Then that passed and I remembered that, no, this was the real thing, baby.

She somewhat reluctantly agreed to let me see the doctor at the end of the day. I got a taxi straight over and sat there in the reception room waiting. There was nothing else to do. I thought about a bump and I just felt sicker. That’s when I knew it was bad.

The doctor took one look at me and there was no doubt in his mind. “My dear boy, what have you been doing to yourself?” he asked, but he knew.

The Death Of Xmas

How long then before Xmas goes the way of albums? That is, unrecognised or barely remembered by most, but still loved by a few pockets of traditionalists and luddites? I mean, at least albums – when they were actually any good – had something real going for them back in the days when anyone cared. Xmas? Isn’t the whole thing just made up by Coca Cola or some such? And isn’t it about time we acknowledged that it’s over?

Exhibit one: the poor devils that have to work in the supermarkets this time of year. They have been living with George Michael’s shitty Last Christmas and Slade’s nauseatingly over-familiar Merry Xmas since the third week of November. If one of them is found on the roof of Tesco’s with a gun in their hands I surely will not be the only one who completely understands.

Exhibit two: the godforsaken radio. Now Heart you don’t expect anything more from than the usual arse-clenching dross. Oh I wish it could be Christma… KABOOM!! (That’s me aiming from the roof.) But Radio 2??????? Where in the BBC charter or whatever it’s called does it state that the Radio 2 listener – average age: way past 40 – should remotely give a fuck about Santa Clause Is Coming To Town? I picture Ken Bruce sitting there playing this shite while shovelling a loaded pistol into his mouth. Chris Evans and Steve Wright, ok, they are both big on being the infantile wankers who want us to believe they’re just like us and actually quite nice, so you expect them to treat you like a special needs case, but Ken? Or Simon ‘Dull’ Mayo? I mean, really?

But wait. I could go on all day.

The main offenders and cause of so many suicides this time of year of course are the corporations who shove their Xmas campaigns up our arses like paedos in a Belmarsh prison cell. Buy all your food from Iceland, your presents from Argos, your  drinks half price from any of the supermarkets, and then be sick in a nice new plastic bucket from B&M.

Meanwhile, out in pretend record land, the annual question, what do you think was album of the year then? I’d go for Sam Smith, because it is, and that’s all. But I still resent the question, as though I sit here like some one brain cell moron wondering about such things? “Ooh, and who is second? No, can’t be, he’s more like fourth… dribble dribble… ugh ugh ugh…”

And all the while, some fucker asking you, “Are you all set for Xmas then?”

NO, I AM NOT ALL SET FOR FUCKING XMAS!!! AND THE NEXT PERSON TO ASK ME IS GOING UP ON THE ROOF WITH ME TO BE THROWN OFF RIGHT AFTER I SHOOT THEM THROUGH THE HEAD!!!!

“And what about the New Year? Have you made your resolutions yet?”

FUCK THE FUTURE, OKAY??? FUCK IT!!!

… Hang on.

Wait…

I’m sorry. I don’t know where that all came from, this being the season of goodwill and all. Here let me help you down from that roof. Nasty gun you’re holding…

What Goes Round

Been in London every day so far this week – apart from today when I am in wonderful Paris. I’d love to tell you what for but then they’d have to kill me. And still to come  this week, the biggest treat of all – Nottingham. Though again I am forbidden from saying what or who for.

Which all, I know, sounds more than a little stand-offish, not to say up my own arse-ish. But here’s the thing. People used to ask, ‘How’s it going?’ And I’d go, ‘Yeah, great.’ Because there would be times when things were going great. Then there were other times when I’d reply to the same question with, ‘Yeah, great,’ because frankly things had all gone to shit yet what are you gonna do, smear your true hellish self over every person you meet? Unless you can help it?

Now, though, I still say, ‘Yeah, great,’ but without even knowing what the real story is myself. It changes, hour by hour, moment to moment. And everybody has their own skewed perception. On Monday I had to get a train at the last-minute to get to London in order to sign some contracts so that I might get some money in before Xmas, without which there will be no Xmas in the Wall household. So I get there – only an hour and a half on a 40-minute journey, Great Western Trains being their usual absolute rubbish selves this time of year – do my business, find my cockles warmed by the lovely Amy who takes me through the whole thing beautifully, then offers to whisk the contracts over to my publishers by hand, again in order to try and ensure the little Walls enjoy Xmas this year, and off I go. Feeling good and at peace with the world.

I’m still in this bubble as I wriggle my way down the overcrowded platform to get my tube train back to Paddington where I can begin my two-hour journey home when suddenly this huge guy, drunk out of his mind, lurches over to me and goes, ‘I KNOW YOU! I KNOW YOU! YOU’RE THAT GUY OFF THE TELLY!! OFF THE TELLY!!’

This is not my first time round so I do what I always do and pull my collar up, shake my head, and act like I don’t know what the hell he’s on about, moving as swiftly as I can away from the fucker.

But his voice follows me down the platform, as do the turning heads.

‘HEY EVERYONE! IT’S THAT GUY OFF THE TELLY! THE ONE WHO’S ALWAYS GOING ON ABOUT LED ZEPPELIN AND AC/DC!! LOOK! IT’S HIM!!!’

Fuck’s sake. What must it be like to be someone who really is ‘off the telly’, in some soap or reality show? Do they ever go out at all in the daylight hours? The last time I saw Slash he was being accompanied everywhere – and I mean everywhere – by the biggest bodyguard you ever saw – and this is why. Imagine being Slash and just walking down the street at Christmas time in London, drunks yelling at you everywhere you go, others wanting something from you, anything, something, now now now now. Even if it is just to make you feel like shit.

People get this idea in their heads about what other people they occasionally see in the pubic eye are all about. They think we’ve won the lottery, lucked into it somehow, just been born with a silver spoon up our cracks. They don’t see the shit we have to wade through everyday just to drag ourselves out of bed.

Then you get a day like yesterday. Where the trains being so crap meant it took me nearly THREE hours to get to London – this at 7.00am – only to be confronted by a huge front door with no bell, the cold wind whipping around your frozen everything. Yet once inside, good people, warm smiles, good cheer, everyone spending the next 12 hours working yet somehow not killing or even arguing with each other. And at the end of it a really feel good moment of near-bliss. Then when I got home, so tired I could barely stay awake, pouring a very cold beer, and just sitting looking at it, too tired to sup, yet too needful of the positive vibe to do anything else but sit and stare just that bit longer, before bed and then one second later, it all starting again.

The Way It Is

I very much dislike this time of year. I also fear it. Not just the looming spectre of Christmas, which I have always loathed in and of itself, but the sheer craziness the world finds itself experiencing the closer it gets. Bad things happen to me this time of the year. Good things too quite often, but they struggle for breath born as they are in the gaseous bog of the inescapably bad. I drive the car and keep nearly having accidents. I do something really nice for the kids and they bawl and howl at the awfulness of it. I try and tread delicately in my dealings with people and find that some of them just take against me anyway, angry at me for even trying. Which I see and try and correct and only succeed in making things worse. I hate this time of year so much because the world is even more exhausted than I am. So that even going to my bed and hiding beneath the covers no longer offers much protection.

So I am extra sensitive to how hard things are for all of us. Even the well-meaning but hopeless cases that still insist on sending me their CDs. I have nothing against you. I hope your band becomes bigger than Guns N’ Roses, which is what 95 per cent of people that send me their CDs appear to want me to say. I am just not interested. I am far too busy getting on with my own career which BTW doesn’t include reviewing what used to be called records anymore. I don’t even have anything to play them on anymore. My new iMac doesn’t have a CD drive. I haven’t had a CD player in my home or office for years. That leaves only the car and if you think I am going to pollute my drives here and there by listening to music I didn’t specifically ask to listen to, you do not read these blogs at all carefully, or just at all. The car is where I get away from it all, not punish myself still further. Or worry about people I have never met and who don’t give a shit about me either.

What is everyone talking about anyway? What actually is an album anymore? You can’t see it, touch it, smell it. You just click it and then what? Sit there for an hour immersed in the genius of the ‘new’ Metallica or whoever? Fucking forget it. CDs destroyed our interest when they started going on for an hour with terrible ‘extra’ tracks then charging us offensively high prices for the privilege. CDs ruined the business of music by telling the acts they need only release a new album every two or three years. Two or three days in the current age is a lifetime. Two or three years, a ridiculous joke. No one pays attention anymore. Either put out new tracks, or track, all the time, or don’t bother. You wanna be a musician and play? Then be one and just play. Stop partying like it’s still 1989 and get on with it. You don’t need to find me or people you think are like me. If your tracks are really that good, I promise, we will find you.

The future – by which, I mean the now – is no longer about CDs or ‘albums’, it’s about YouTube and Spotify and music streaming. And until the chart people die and a new generation takes over and starts measuring things by clicks and listens as opposed to buys and downloads, we don’t need charts anymore either. What is the current number one single in the UK? Or the US? The number one album in either? I have no idea and have had none for years. I ask my teenage daughters, who are as fanatical about music and new artists as I was at their age, and they have no idea either. They have only the vaguest relationship with the charts or whatever Number 1 is. When they hear it in passing if we are driving somewhere in the car on a late Sunday afternoon and they have insisted I put Heart or Jack 2 on the radio. They just know what they like. And if it ain’t you that’s just too bad.

None of this means you shouldn’t make an ‘album’ if you want to. Just that you don’t have to. Nothing depends on it anymore. Unless you’re Pink Floyd, and it’s still news. Tell it to U2 though, whose latest album is already so far back in the rearview mirror it makes me chunder seeing them on the cover of Mojo and Rolling Stone. It’s like witnessing an addicts’ support group. You make a new album and we’ll put you on the cover, while we both pretend these things still matter to anyone other than ourselves. The new AC/DC album? Who the fuck needs it? And if you really, really absolutely positively have to hear it, you can find it right now for free on YouTube. Like you didn’t know that. Admittedly, in their case that’s another issue as they haven’t released a new album worth a damn since 1980. But hey, it gives us something to talk about, if not actually bother listening to, and promoters can use that to launch the tour where the real money is still to be made. Malcolm retired? I know. It was back in the 80s, wasn’t it?

How about books? Sorry to disappoint you, but they are different. Yes they are now prevalent as ebooks and Kindles – witness my own plunge into Kindledom this year with Paranoid and Pink Floyd and, very soon, my Axl Rose book – but we are talking about a much broader all-ages audience. A very different customer experience. Reading in the dark in bed, with just the bedside lamp on, reading in the bath or on the beach, reading on the loo or between mouthfuls of sandwich at lunch. I do a great many of these on my phone now (newspapers) and my computer (websites, news, sport etc) and on my Kindle (especially those books that are only available via Kindle or those books that cost me a couple of quid on Kindle where they cost £15 in hardback).

But there is a huge secondhand market for books, rare books, or old books that just look and smell good, far beyond what CDs or vinyl can offer. With music, you’re going back 50 years, tops, for your modern day jollies. With books, you’re going back to antiquity. With music it’s all either/or. With books it’s always been about dozens of different editions, formats, languages, materials.

The point about both though is much the same. It’s not about the BUSINESS. It’s about the music. If you really have the gift for music, we will listen, in whatever form is handy for us at the time. And yes, you will get paid, if we the public deem it worth enough of our while. Streaming services pay. And like before, with sales, they pay to the rights holders, almost always the record companies, and whatever you the artist gets out of that will derive from whatever contract you signed with them. In that respect, not much has changed at all. Except maybe the record companies have found a new way of underpaying artists – the lesson, make sure you get paid for clicks before you sign.

We will always want to read, or to listen to stories, without books and stories and reading we have no idea of who we are or how to turn the damn music on. None of these things are going away. Just the bad fakes, hopefully. The ones who shout the loudest being the ones with the least idea what’s going on. Let’s really play ball…

Exclusive Extract from W.A.R. – A Biography of W. Axl Rose

This is an extract from the original 2007 introduction to my Axl Rose biography, which is about to be published on Kindle for the first time.

Guns or Knives, Motherfucker

 Like some Anne Rice vampire, it was always late at night when he called, always dark out there whenever you ran into him. You got the feeling he hardly ever saw daylight, didn’t approve of it. Being on a completely different schedule to everyone else, always sleeping until four or five in the afternoon, these late night rendezvous had the incongruous effect of making you feel as though he was always a little bit more awake than you, or indeed anyone else around him. Not that that made him smarter or more fun to be with – just that it ensured things tended to be done on his terms, whether it be long, complicated meetings or simple phone conversations. Even an accidental collision on the street didn’t seem to catch him off-guard. It was as though he just expected strange things to happen to him – all the time.

Of course, back then, this was exactly the sort of thing I most craved from my rock stars, but being the boring 1980s, hardly ever got – that lurking sense of… not danger exactly, nor even real excitement, just something additional. That creeping feeling that this was one rock star that might actually just bust out at any moment and say or do something no one else dared. Even though rock had officially been declared dead by the British music press almost 10 years before, to the point where I felt I had actually seen the corpse rotting by the roadside many times over my own decade-long career working for that same press, I couldn’t help but be seduced by the strange promise this clearly driven individual with the long red hair and pinched little face seemed to hold out: that not only was rock not dead, but that, in the time-honoured phrase, we hadn’t seen nuthin’ yet. In fact, he would make sure of it. That seemed to be the deal he was offering us anyway.

For a while he seemed to be able to deliver on it too. Even though we couldn’t really be sure at the time, looking back now, exactly 20 years later, it seems obvious: Guns N’ Roses were the last of the all-time great rock bands. That is, the last of the all-time great rock bands that didn’t consider what they did in anyway ironic or – perish the thought – embarrassing. Not even on some small subconscious level. That’s something the twentysomethings who now walk around in their ‘post-modern’ GN’R T-shirts never seem to have considered. That once upon time, this stuff wasn’t funny; it was real. Okay, maybe it was funny by the time Guns N’ Roses first became famous, but for those of us who were the twentysomethings back then the most pleasing aspect of this phenomenon was just how quickly they wiped the smiles off everybody’s faces. Watching the band perform in London at the Hammersmith Odeon, as it was still known in October 1987, there was no room for doubt: this was rock with a capital ‘R’. The kind that travelled in long black limousines, snorted coke from spoons attached to silver chains around its neck, smoked red Marlboros, drank Jack Daniels straight from the bottle and liked to watch itself doing it in the mirror. This was rock that did – not – give – a – fuck. Like Axl screamed in one of his most famous songs, you were in the jungle, baby. And you were gonna die…

Even those NME-reading so-called pop sophisticates who will still tell you The Smiths were actually the last great rock band couldn’t en­tirely deny the frightening reality of Guns N’ Roses. Deep down inside, they knew The Smiths were simply too self-conscious to be a truly transcendent rock band; that Morrissey’s hand-wringing, über-fan angst would always prevail over good-looking Johnny Marr’s low-slung rock sensibility. Certainly, there appeared to be no such problems regarding W. Axl Rose – the one that only came out at night – or his leather-clad buddy Slash. Not then anyway. All that stuff would only become apparent later, when it was already over and none of us were supposed to care anymore anyway.

Needless to say, as time went by and the empty, unproductive years cluttered up his mind like cigarette butts in an ashtray, it became clear just how ridiculous the whole last-great-rock-band premise was, both for Axl and for those of us that had once, just for a minute there, actually believed in it – or, rather, given ourselves to be seen to believe. Viewed from a distance, until his recent return to the stage – his second comeback in the last five years, the previous one in 2002 having ended with the almost immediate collapse of his first US tour for 10 years – it seemed that things hadn’t just fallen apart, they had dwindled to the point of near total obscurity.

Yet it must have been great being a teenage Guns N’ Roses fan in the late-’80s; finding a real-deal rock band to call your own, that didn’t belong to the generations before. Until then the arbiters of rock taste had been a collection of older brothers and young dads who scoffed at the MTV-friendly, niche-driven likes of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and their poodle-headed pals; throwing their Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple albums down on the table like a royal flush at a poker game for greenhorns. Now they had to admit it: that Guns N’ Roses song, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, that their kid brother/son had told them about, it was good – fucking good. As was that other one they’d seen the video for, ‘Paradise City’. In fact, they might even invest in a copy of the album those tunes came from, Appetite for Destruction. Why not? Over 30 million other people would do exactly the same during that period – that’s more people than ever bought The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper; more copies sold than any solitary album by U2 or The Rolling Stones; more albums sold, in fact, than Bob Dylan has managed in total in his entire career.

Even when the NME-reading, brother-dad axis appeared to get their own back with the grand-scale arrival in 1991 of Nirvana, the band that history now tells us made groups like Guns N’ Roses obsolete overnight, it didn’t actually change a thing. The groups that looked and tried to sound like Guns N’ Roses – the second-raters like Mötley Crüe and Poison – their flames were certainly extinguished by the wave of new ‘grunge’ stars Nirvana’s unforeseen success ushered in. Not Guns N’ Roses, though. They didn’t become obsolete, though their career did ground to an ignominious halt a couple of years later. But that would have happened anyway; innocent victims of their singer’s astonishing hubris; a fatally injurious form of pride that thought nothing of cutting off its upturned nose to spite its freckled, once-young face.

But if things were somehow different now and that original five-man line-up actually came back together, or even if just four out of five of them could somehow make it back into the studio together, the odds are the album they produced would easily sell another 20 million copies. The fact that, over 15 years since he last released an album of original material, W. Axl Rose can still headline arenas and festivals all over the world with a band that has absolutely nothing in common anymore with Guns N’ Roses except its legal right to the name, proves just how strong the demand is for the original line-up. In fact, it’s such a no-brainer it’s amazing that even Axl has not yet succumbed to its lure yet.

Of course, some will say that that’s only as things should be. That in our minds’ eyes the original band have become even more cartoonish in their extended twilight than they were even in their heyday, right down to their rent-a-rocker clothes and profoundly silly names – Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, and whoever the drummer was this week. That they belong not here and now but in our cloudy collective memories, briefly illuminated every so often when MTV throws the ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ video into semi-rotation again, or some radio station blows the dust off the edited-down CD single.

No, they never did quite fulfill their musical promise, despite the release in 1991 of two surprisingly enterprising double-albums simultaneously – Axl’s hare-brained scheme to seal the band’s immortality at a time when a simple straightforward album release would have done the job much better. And yes, Axl does have an embarrassingly over-inflated opinion of his own talents that has seemingly reached its apotheosis with the dreadfully tedious on-off-on-off-etc-etc-etc saga still, as I write, surrounding the ludicrously titled Chinese Democracy album, which he has now spent more than a decade and $13 million trying and failing to make his next release.

But that’s not all…

Extract THE ENDLESS JOURNEY: 50 YEARS OF PINK FLOYD

This is from Chapter Seven: Which One Is Pink?

Before Barrett’s replacement by Gilmour in 1968, Wright was the most prominent musical force in Pink Floyd. Syd’s acid-drenched whimsy may have been the inspiration behind some of the most far out lyrics of the era but it was nearly always Rick’s swirling, carnivalesque keyboards and handholding rhythms and melodies that underpinned everything. He also looked somewhat like Syd and though he wasn’t officially credited on the sleeve of the Piper album would often share the vocals with Syd, singing lead on ‘Astronomy Domine’ and ‘Matilda Mother’, as well as harmonies on ‘The Scarecrow’ and ‘Chapter 24’.

After Syd’s disappearance down the rabbit hole, it was also Rick who came closest to replicating the original Floyd sound, bringing in such Barrett-lite compositions as the single, ‘Remember A Day’ and ‘See-Saw’. More to the point, it was Rick’s expert facility with multi-layered keyboards that triggered the Floyd’s move towards full-scale progressive rock, becoming the musical lynchpin to lengthy explorations like ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’, ‘Atom Heart Mother’ and, in particular, ‘Echoes’, which he co-sang with Gilmour.

And of course he reached a new plateau with his remarkable contributions to The Dark Side Of The Moon. As even Waters, who would become Wright’s personal nemesis, confessed at the time of his sadly premature death in 2008, “The intriguing, jazz influenced, modulations and voicings so familiar in ‘Us And Them’ and ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, which lent those compositions both their extraordinary humanity and their majesty, are omnipresent in all the collaborative work the four of us did in those times. Rick’s ear for harmonic progression was our bedrock.”

As Wright would later recall for Floyd biographer Mark Blake, “Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here was a very enjoyable time. Looking back now, though, it was also a very busy time, so I don’t think we ever had much chance to sit back and think about what we were doing. Throughout the whole of the early Seventies, we were either on the road or in a recording studio.”

And yet, Wish You Were Here, the album that would follow Dark Side to the top of the world’s charts in 1975, would represent Rick Wright’s last meaningful contribution to Pink Floyd for many years. That, paradoxically, an album whose dominant theme would be one of absence, would mark the beginning of the slamming shut of a series of doors, beginning with Nick Mason, before continuing swiftly on through Rick Wright, and even, eventually, that of David Gilmour, until the only pig left flying above the factory below was Roger Waters. Before finally closing the door on himself, leaving everyone else, including perhaps most of all Waters, to later wonder why.

At the time of its release in September 1975, though, Wish You Were Here had seemed to represent just the latest step up for a band that was now approaching its towering best. Despite its emphasis on the now recurring themes of madness and alienation – as evidenced in its two cornerstone moments, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and the superb title track, both movingly poignant monuments to Syd and, in a broader context, to their own lost innocence – there was something triumphal about its majestic eminence. Two months earlier, Pink Floyd had solidified their position at the top of the British rock totem pole by headlining a huge outdoor show at Knebworth Park before 100,000 people, topping a bill that included Captain Beefheart, Monty Python and the Steve Miller Band, amongst others.

The show itself was sketchy but the event was considered a milestone. Now, as though impervious to criticism, surviving some very mixed initial reviews to climb to No. 1 in both Britain and America, before repeating the feat across the globe, Wish You Were Here immediately claimed its place amongst other quintessentially seventies’ masterpieces released that same year as Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, David Bowie’s Young Americans and Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous debut with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

Despite the insistent strangeness of tracks like ‘Welcome To The Machine’ – a synthesiser-heavy symbol of disillusion, specifically with the ‘machine’ of the music business – and the almost proto-punk sarcasm of  ‘Have A Cigar’ – another biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you satire on shallow record company executives, one of which asks, ‘Which one’s Pink?” – Wish You Were Here was easy to listen to, good to lay back and chill out to, trippy but not excessively so, layered like fluffy pillows, so that even when the guitars and vocals seem to virtually arch their backs with antagonism they never really spoil the overall mood of blissful, night sky swooning.

Like its predecessor the music on Wish You Were Here seems to glide seamlessly together, making a whole of some very edgy disparate parts. Unlike Dark Side, the lead vocals are evenly shared between Waters and Gilmour, with the exception of ‘Have A Cigar’, which they brought in Roy Harper to sing, the maverick folk-rock visionary and all-round hangout artist to Zeppelin, Floyd, Jethro Tull and others.

The steak on the plate, though were the stately title track and the positively glacial ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. Famously, the story goes that Syd Barrett actually wandered into the studio during a playback of ‘Shine On’, as Waters was trying to record his lead vocal, but that nobody recognised him at first. The waiflike Syd with the curly permed hair and exotically embroidered satin attire had been replaced by a rotund stranger in a long black coat, his head and eyebrows shaved bald.

“This guy kept on getting up and brushing his teeth and then sitting,” Wright recalled. “Doing really weird things, but keeping quiet. I said to Roger, ‘Who is he? And Roger said, ‘I don’t know’. I said, ‘Well, I assumed he was a friend of yours’, and he said, ‘No, I don’t know who he is’.”

New Doors Extract – Seven Day Weekend Books, Part One

This the first of three exclusive extracts from my current three books that I will be posting this weekend. Beginning with The Doors…

Chapter Twenty-One

The Calm Calculus Of Reason

Jim Morrison had barely felt the heroin slide down the back of his throat before the lies began. Barely time to feel the first heatwave of nausea and pleasure envelope his fat, sweaty body before the vultures began circling, shitting from on high.

The cleaners had just arrived at the club around eight o’clock that morning, slopping out the toilet floors and slooshing away the blood and semen, urine and puke on the walls, the usual morning-after-the-night-before scene for the Circus’ regular nettoyeurs. Around the same time, Pam was doing some nettoyage des toilettes of her own, phoning Alain Ronay, at Agnes Varda’s house. ‘Please call an ambulance. I think my Jim is dying,’ she tells them knowing Jim has been dead for at least three hours. ‘He is in the bath. He has blood around his nose. Please call for me.’

As Varda would later recall, ‘Pamela called my house and I answered. I called for the firemen – les pompiers. In an accident you always call them, they are the first assistance, like paramedics. I told them: “Go right away to this address. There is a scene there where maybe someone is out of life”. Ronay gave the exact address. We went together, we arrived, and the fireman said, “It’s too late – he’s already dead”.’ Next on the scene was Varda’s family doctor, Dr Max Vasille, who she had also phoned. ‘But it was hopeless.’

The first official on the scene was Alain Raisson. Now living in Rio de Janiro, he recalls arriving at the apartment with his usual team of five. ‘We carried him onto the bed to do cardiac massage,’ he says. ‘We tried to revive him and failed. It was a short, intense, very real and brief encounter.’ The official police doctor who arrived a few minutes later was astonished when told he was examining the corpse of a 27-year-old. ‘He looks much older. I would have said a 57-year-old!’ the doctor exclaimed. But the doctor was not young either, struggling against the Paris heat. Soon all of Paris’ most affluent citizens would feel the city for their summer vacations. The doctor was in no hurry to stick around asking award questions. It seemed obvious what had happened, but without any of the surviving relatives pushing for more detail, he was happy to sign away the death as being from ‘natural causes. Autopsies were not as a rule performed in France unless there was a suspicion of murder. The doctor advised the death had been caused by heart failure, possibly brought about by respiratory problems. ‘Affaire classée.’ Case closed.

According to [club manager] Sam Bernett, he contacted Raisson and the chief paramedic. ‘The fireman told me he knew Morrison died much earlier. He said “This guy’s been dead for a couple of hours, at least.” The police commissioner told me the same thing. “We knew there was something wrong with the story,” he said. “But, look it’s summertime and I’m going on vacation tomorrow”. He wanted to wrap it up quick so he signed the papers. He didn’t believe the story he was told in the apartment. He said it was strange and phoney, but he let it go.’

By nine o’clock that Saturday the street outside Jim’s and Pam’s apartment was choked with police and onlookers. Yet Alain Ronay and managed to push through to take Pam to a nearby undertakers’ office and later, to arrange to pick up an official death certificate at the Town Hall, which caused the Chief of Police handling the matter great consternation. Pam flushed away her entire stash before calling the paramedics, who she knew would bring with them the cops. She had been cool, done what she’d been told, or else. More mysteriously, she had also set fire to a bundle of Jim’s letters and notes, his scrawled two-line poems and small hours elegies. When the Commissioner of Police arrived on the scene and saw the small fire burning in the grate, she demanded to know why she had done that. She answered, in her small, singsong, stoney-woney voice: ‘They mustn’t read this stuff, this stuff!’

The only note she ever admitted to keeping was the one that contained the disturbingly self-aware lines: ‘Last words, Last words. Out.’ Followed by a space and then: ‘Regret for wasted nights & wasted years / I pissed it all away / American Music.’ A truth teller then right to the end. My friend.

Now it was a slow, sunny Parisian Saturday. That night, the Rock and Roll Circus and the Alcazar opened as normal. As did La Boulle, Le Sherwood, and all the other late-night hiding places for the night-bound and drug-serene. Although no one working at the Circus was allowed to breathe a word, everybody was talking about it under their breath. Earlier that day, in the dying moments at La Bulle, those still awake told of seeing Cameron Watson, who was the night owl DJ there, being approached by two heavyset, swarthy-looking men. Watson immediately cut the music and announced through his microphone: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Morrison has died tonight at the Rock and Roll Circus.’ There was a moment of ill-prepared silence, then he put another record on and people again began to dance. By that night word on the street was that the Corsican mafia had offed Morrison. A hit man had been sent up especially from Marseilles to silence the crazy American. Others told of seeing Jim beaten to death, maybe stabbed, in a street fight with the Count and his heavies. Still others said they’d heard from reliable sources that he had committed suicide. That they had seen it coming for weeks.

As the years passed, these rumours assumed even more outrageous shape. There was a huge blood-soaked knife found in the bathroom. He’d been shot twice in the head. There were strange bruises on his body. (This last given credence by the amount of times the body was dropped during its tortured journey from the Ladies toilets of the Rock and Roll Circus and up the three flights of stairs to his apartment.) Today you can even buy books that claim Morrison’s death was the work of the CIA, as part of a covert campaign to reclaim youth culture, administering fatal drug overdoses first to Brian Jones, then Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and now Jim Morrison. Also on the list were John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. A decade later the same claims would be made about the death from cancer of Bob Marley.

But the most sickening and absurd claim of all, and the one that has persisted the longest, was that he had not died at all. That Jim Morrison had faked his own death in order to escape the trappings of celebrity. This overlooking the fact that Jim had already forced The Doors to plan for a life without him, long before he died. That, in fact, he had already begun to live a life as far away from the famous Lizard King of L.A. as possible, so grossly overweight and heavily bearded few who passed him in the street recognised him anymore anyway. That no one cared anymore, man, what the fuck Jim did next.

Into The Bin

My office has become a pit of hell in recent weeks. It always becomes like this when I’m bogged down trying to complete a book. Problem is, I’ve done a lot of books over the nearly three years I’ve had this gaff. Consequently, I spend most of my time working in hell. This may be why the endings of my books are usually so crazed. I just can’t stand where I am or what I’m doing anymore.

So in an attempt to restore some sort of order, something liveable at least, about my workplace, I had the mother of all tidy-ups yesterday. Starting with all those CDs people out there keep sending me. Time was, you could gather up this unwanted crap, all by groups you never heard of, and pass it on to the neighbourhood nerd who would sell it for you. Or you could haul it in a black bin liner up to Cheapo Cheapo Records in Soho, or Steve’s, or Record & Tape Exchange, or any number of secondhand record dealers – or thieves as we used to call them as they handed you your twenty for the 100 CDs you just offloaded on them, including a handful of quite good ones, honest.

Well, those days are over. The shops are mainly gone. Along with the need for CDs. Mainly. So then I started giving them to charity shops. But even they don’t want them anymore, not unless they are by The Carpenters or Cliff Richard. So in the bin they go. Yup, that’s one of the dirty little secrets of music journalism, sooner or later your precious CD that you sent out with all the hopes and dreams of the box-fresh beginner, or hopeless loser/has-been, end up not being cherished by music journos, but in the bin. One way or the other. These days, mainly the other. Just as my own early efforts did, again and again.

Especially these days as we already have all the music, new or old, we’re ever gonna need, thanks to our old-new friends at YouTube. Today, for example, I have been digging Miles Davis’s 1972 album, Jack Johnson. Not the original vinyl, though I could if I’d wanted, nor of course the inferior 1992 CD, though I could if I wanted, but the 2003 CD digital thingy which has the best sound. I liked it so much in fact I then clicked on the 4CD box set and had a go at that too. Followed by a 1971 concert from Berlin featuring Miles with his amazing electro band featuring Herbie Hancock and all those groovy cats.

You think given all that I’ve got time to stick on a CD from a band that still wishes it was 1987 and they could go on tour with Guns N’ Roses, or at a pinch, Faster Pussycat?

And yes, it seems books are going the same way. Though there the opposite is true in my case, as no amount of Googling or Youtube-ing will bring me the thrill of reading my smelly millionth-hand 90p copy of Raging Bull by Jake La Motta that I recently bought at Oxford market, along with two carrier bags full of similarly exciting stuff, or on the other end of the scale, my 1976 first edition facsimilie of The Book Of The Goetia of Solomon The King, originally published by Jimmy Page’s bookshop, Equinox, back in 1976, ‘edited, verified, introduced and commented’ by Aleister Crowley’. This was bought for a couple of hundred pounds back when I was researching my Zeppelin biography, which I mention just to show how far I and others will go – and pay – to get our hands on something meaningful.

It’s just that 99 per cent of ‘new’ artists’ CDs are not meaningful. Even the ones by the artists you have heard of aren’t worth much of a listen, not when laid end to end with the greats. And, pardon for me for over-reiterating, but what is an album anymore anyway? There is no physical object, therefore no need to only contain 40 minutes of music, or, in the CD age, 60 minutes of music, or – now – even 15 seconds of music. Damn it, my new computer (the cheapest of its kind, please note) does not even play CDs anymore.

The message being: LOVE MUSIC. Don’t have time to sit through CDs by people I have absolutely no connection with. Sending me your CDs will not change a thing. Ask the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, or really going back, Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath… none of whom sent me their early records or demos either. None of whom needed me or anyone else from the press to come along to their early dingy gigs. They made it simply because what they did was undeniable.

Is what you do undeniable? My heartiest congrats if it is. But you definitely won’t be needing any help from me if it is. And you definitely won’t get it if it isn’t. Either way, you’re on your own. can you handle that? No? Then quit. Oh, you think you are good enough. Then prove it by not sending me or anyone else your CDs, just letting the fans discover it. The only barometer of taste that really counts.

So in the bin you go, cluttering CD and press release mulch. Ah… I feel so much better now… don’t you?

Welcome Home (Page)

So my old iMac died about 10 days ago, meaning I lost everything in an instant. Including the ability to get onto my own blog page. Hence the air gap between my last post and now. Karma after that dreadful rant about wanting to be left alone? Let’s just say I believe in karma, especially the instant kind.

This happened just as I was completing the final two chapters on my next book, GETCHA ROCKS OFF. This is going to be the follow-up to Paranoid. Not in a chronological sense. It broadly covers the same period, though it stretches out to before that story starts and contains stuff from the years after Paranoid ends.

But there were these two final chapters and all was sweet until… POW!

So I borrowed my wife’s £99 from eBay laptop and finished the book on that. Which just goes to show the desperate mind is mightier than the iMac. Sorta.

This whole past week while I’ve been first trying to fix the broken iMac and eventually giving up and shelling ackers I do not have for a new (cheap as poss) iMac, the only way I’ve been able to read bits of GETCHA have been on my phone. And it has not looked good. Oh, there were moments where I thought, hey, this shit’s not bad! But far more where I’ve been huddled in a ball in the corner of the bathroom squinting at my phone and bleeding from the insides out. Great dark pools of ick everywhere. Not cool.

Anyway, the new iMac is now officially up and running though still struggling to download all 70,000 files from the cloud that all the stuff on the last iMac had going for it. I wrote seven books on that baby in the two and a bit years I had her. Plus added four older books from other ancient files to it. Maybe more. I feel I left a big piece of me in there that didn’t make it to the cloud. Not necessarily all the good pieces, but plenty of everything, up and down, moon and sun, chin and chang.

Meanwhile, my new Doors book Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre is bubbling away. As is my new online Pink Floyd book, The Endless Journey. But here’s the funny part. Paranoid, the Kindle-only version, which came out back in June, is still outselling them both.

And what’s the one I’m actually reading? Well, at the moment it’s a glove soft tussle between Mark Blake’s excellent Who biog, Pretend You’re In A War and Jake La Motta’s brilliant original Raging Bull autobiography.

Oh and I got the blog thing going again. As you see…

Too Busy Not Thinking Bout My Baby

I have just spent all weekend working on my next book. Last weekend I did the same. And the weekend before that and the one before that. In fact, unless I tell you different, I will be spending ALL my weekends working on my new book, whatever it happens to be at the time. Not because I am not working during the week, too, but during the week I do my other work too, book writing, magazine writing, TV production stuff and Other Projects that May or May Not Ever See the Light Of Day. As well as worrying myself to death over the tax, VAT, mortgage, debts, credit cards, my three children, one of whom has a chronic condition that needs day to day attention, and my wife and I who are both loopy-loo half the time anyway.

Perhaps this sounds like I am going on somewhat. I am not. I am if anything underplaying the difficulty of my situation. I make mention of it here in an (entirely doomed, I already know) effort to explain to the various people out there who keep emailing, FB messaging, tweeting and whatnot about their own problems. I’d like to oblige, I really would. But I can’t and never will be able to. I am, I’m afraid, TOO BUSY.

I know we are ALL busy but some of us are MORE BUSY than others. This is obvious to me as I barely have time to shit without my phone buzzing, clanging, brrrng, with some message from someone wanting something. And, well, I’m sorry but right now it’s all too much. Even the nice people wanting to interview me about my books and whatnots. Can we, as they say, revisit this? Perhaps in the new year? Perhaps later still? If I have managed to escape debtors jail and not thrown in the tax towel and gone bankrupt, which the tax seem to love threatening me with. Bless their little pointy ears and no idea of living in the real world, where the big boys who owe them squillions run around waving their knickers in the air taking the piss cos no tax bloke on the phone is ever going to bring them down. Just the likes of me, who is busy. Engaged. Do Not Disturbed. Okay?

All About The Night

What a very strange and wonderful and exhausting week. By the time I got to lay my weary bones down at the Sainted Vanessa’s acupuncture sanctuary on Thursday lunchtime I thought I’d never get up again. Family stuff, money stuff, you don’t want to know. But if you do happen to be reading this Mr Tax and VAT, the greens are on the way, please don’t keep fining me. And a huge thank you to the teachers and helpers that have stepped up to the plate this week for our babies. Nuff said.

Fortunately, Vanessa being a miracle worker, I was feeling hot hot hot (well, a lot better) by the time my beautiful wife and I found ourselves walking to Blackwell’s in Oxford on Thursday night, to read from and talk about my new Doors doorstop, Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre. Kind of a big deal for me as I don’t do many readings. But Blackwell’s is probably the best book shop in the world, built right into the gothic entrails of the University, up the road from Tolkein’s favourite pub, and like a Tardis inside. I mean, huge! Yet so quaint and 19th century on the outside.

Kate, the wonderful Orion PR lady was there and being her usual convivial self – this despite about to have her first baby in January! James Orton, Blackwell’s remarkable event manager was there to greet us with a welcoming glass or two of very nice red. And Scott Rowley was there too, ready to officiate. Scott was a little nervous never having done this sort of thing before, yet he was so good on the night. The whole thing would never have worked as well without him. Almost as if he’d read the book…

It also felt great to have Linda my wife seated so close to me, even if I embarrassed her and most of the audience with my confession of us enjoying Abba tribute bands and such like. (Hey, if you fancy a bop there’s nothing finer!) And at the end, I even signed a few Doors books. The crowd was so nice, they could so easily have given me a much harder time but they were great. About 50 people, which I’m told is not bad at all for this sort of thing, even if Johnny Rotten is doing his Blackwell’s book thing to 300 next week. Not that I’m jealous. Obviously.

What was especially nice for me on a personal level was how many dear friends also turned up. St Vanessa, Mel ‘Mrs’ Hawkins and hubby, the legendary Joel ‘Curry’ McIver, David ‘Rocker’ Donley and Michele ‘Duff Please’ Mcdonnell, Shaun, my brother in arms, and his mate Dave, the lovely Holly Thomson. No Harry ‘Red Or Dead’ Paterson though who said he was coming all week long up to and including that afternoon but was unavoidably detained by something or other.

When, later, we all found ourselves toasting our good fortune to be alive at the Opium Den, life looked about as good to me as it is  likely to get. Until I win the Pulitzer obviously…

Then, just to make it feel almost unforgivably festive, as we were leaving the restaurant i read Robert Kirby’s tweets about my  Pink Floyd online book, The Endless Journey, released the day before, going straight to No.1. You may all be sick into buckets now if you want, though don’t feel obliged just for me…

Hidden In Plain Sight: AC/DC POWERAGE

Let’s get real just for one cotton-picking moment, okay pal? This is the AC/DC album you should be buying this Christmas, not that so-called new one.

Powerage was where AC/DC showed just what they could do without any production whatsoever. Not that George and Harry didn’t do a grand job helping choose the songs and setting up the mikes in the studio. But the main thing they did was get out the beers, the weed and the wine and let these fuckers just rip.

Listen to ‘Riff Raff’. I mean, FUCKING LISTEN! If you dare. This is not some formulaic guff they’ve been churning out for 30 near dead years, this is blood and thunder and coke and pussy and some very dangerous man telling it like it is, doesn’t matter if you’re listening or not.

‘Boss man tryin’ to tell me
Beginnin’ of the end
Sayin’ it’ll bend me
Too late my friend…’

Even the track they were forced to make to try and please their record label, Atlantic, and then hated because it sucked too much commercial cock – ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation’ – is the real heavy deal. What a riff! Catchy as a meat hook, rhythm building like paddies on bonus time. You don’t want it, give it to me, baby… Fuck you very much!

Then there’s all the stuff no one but Bon could have come up with. ‘What’s Next To The Moon?’ How about that for a song title? A little more evocative and meaningful than Rock Or Bust, am I right or is that a big hairy man’s cock I see up your arse?

‘Long arm lookin’ for a finger print
Tryin’ to find a mystery clue
Hittin’ me with the third degree
Working on the thumb screw
All right officer I confess
Everything’s coming back
I didn’t mean to hurt that woman of mine
It was a heart attack…’

This ain’t no rock and roll train, choo-choo, please press ‘like’. This is Bon and Malcolm and Angus before they got made soft by money and too much too late. This is rock’n'roll when it still counted for something. Back when a track called ‘Sin City’ put you right in that place they call hell. Or rock’n'roll heaven, which I believe is the same place, no fucking cry babies allowed.

Then my own current favourite, ‘Gone Shootin”. I play this one when I’m feeling down and want to get mean about it. I play this one when I’m so far up I’m looking down on the clouds, and want to feel even meaner about it. I play this to fuck off the neighbours and their pets. I play this when I want to remember just how good AC/DC used to be.

Or ‘Kicked In The Teeth’, which closes the album, though each track is so good any one of the dirty fuckers could be something that opens or closes the album. ‘Kicked In The Teeth’ takes the riff from ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and twists it like a knife in the eye. Real tasty, dig?

‘Two face woman such a cryin’ shame
Double or nothin’ you’re all the same
You run around hope you had your fun
You never know who’s gonna win
Til’ the race been
Run…’

God bless you Bon.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy

I’ve been working on my new… well, memoir seems too strong a way of putting it… My new book about the Old Days. Back when girls were chicks and boys were dudes and you could actually measure a band’s worth by how heavy they were.

As such I have found myself going back in my mind to the short days and long nights I spent practically living at the Sunset Marquis hotel in Los Angeles. When Hunter S. Thompson used to stay there in the 1970s he dubbed the joint the Loser’s Hilton. The first time I rented a room in 1980 it still was. No room service, just cards in the rooms giving you the phone number for Barney’s Beanerie who would deliver burgers and beers and a whole lot more if you knew how to ask for it. And could pay for it in cash no cards, thank yew.

By the mid-80s when I became more of a regular there, though, the place had undergone the first of its many transitions. It so desperately wanted to be a Hollywood movie hangout and it almost succeeded. But the truth is those actor cats take their luxury seriously, so they all preferred stuck up shitholes like the Beverley Hilton, soft music, discreet hookers, uniformed dildos there to wipe your arse…

The Sunset, though, was a place where the waiters would still smoke weed with you. The place where each morning having breakfast by the pool you would see Ozzy Osbourne at one table and Mickey Rourke at another, Madonna hiding behind bodyguards as she swept across the patio followed by a gacked out Lars Ulrich and a very bad-tempered Ross Halfin – and me, tagging along cos what the fuck else was there to do in those hard knock days?

So… been trying to capture some of this, er, magic on the page, as they say. But what I keep coming up with looks so unbelievable I start to question whether any of it actually happened. This is partly because of the way I write. I want nothing but THE TRUTH. But the only way I know how to really corner the truth is to have very little regard for the facts, that is, date, time, place, who actually said boo to whose goose and so forth. Because actually none of that crap matters. Not to me. It didn’t then and it never will now.

So what I end up with is very much the truth but arrived at via conflated circumstance, concertinaed events, fogged and fucked by the years and the tears, pieces of the jigsaw rammed into some of the right and some of the wrong holes. Yet the picture that emerges sure feels real to me. Judderingly so in most cases.

Did I just imagine it though? Yes, and as it was actually happening. Real and unreal. Far and out. I hope you’re getting all this down, baby…

Letters from Abroad

Mick:

I’m currently reading your AC DC book and Jesse Fink’s side by side.  I enjoy your book so much more.  I would much rather read about where the lyrics to Jailbreak came from, than the 13th guy who claims he broke AC DC in the U.S.  I also don’t see any reason for him to point out that you put the wrong name on someone in a picture, or spelled someone’s name wrong.  I look forward to reading more of your books.

Thanks, Michael Pataky, Cleveland, OH, U.S.A.

Dear Mr. Wall,

In writing this I am fully aware that you likely get a gazillion letters a day.  That said, having just finished When Giants Walk The Earth, I had to reach out, were there a way, to let you know it’s a masterpiece. and a must own for any rock fan, or in my case, a musician.  In particular it’s those stunning narrations in which you’re the inner dialogue of each members inner sanctum, ie, “It is the summer of 1968 and you are one of the best-known guitarists in London – and one of its least famous.” is what really made this so exhilarating, and a wonderful trip.
 
I’ve long since admired all your rock and roll journeys put to words and I’m glad the net exists, for me to be able to tell you so.
Thank you for so many incredible opportunities by which you give people the ability to be the fly on the wall.
Respect, Amy Douglas, FEINTS
Hello Mick Wall,
Just working my way through your Zeppelin biography and wanted to drop you a line to tell you how much I am enjoying it. But that’s a slightly barbed compliment when you consider the book I read prior to yours, was Richard Cole’s quite appallingly narcissistic version of those 12 years, and before that Ginger Bakers even worse Hellraiser, documenting his own “ultra-shaggable” life. Note to rock stars and roadies: don’t try writing books on your own! (You quote Coles book a few times in your own…is it a good book really? I’d love to know a writers opinion, I happen to think it was absolutely terrible, I don’t think I even finished it).
I have been particularly taken with your in-depth research and expose of Aleister Crowley and his beliefs and how they (possibly) influenced Page and his writing. Yours is also the only book I have ever read that uses the second person…my daughter was once asked to write a story in the second person at school, and I remember thinking at the time what a stupid waste of time that was, considering no one does it and no one ever really needs to. But your forays into the thoughts and early actions of our 4 protagonists somehow works – even if Jimmy didn’t particularly like it. I cannot image anybody writing a story of the life and times of Led Zeppelin, that Page would actually approve of, so any complaints from said guitarist simply put you in good company!
Me? I’m just a long term rock music fan (and occasional bass player) slightly younger than you I think. I was an 18 year old reading Sounds back in 1977 – and lamenting the “end of music as we know it” when Johnny Rotten started gobbing on his audience. My own musical journey has taken me (starting in The Who’s West London up to the age of 10, then 20 years in Oxford, then 20 years in East Anglia) through mostly AOR and HM, via a bit of folk and country, and big dollop of Rush – love the Rush boys and don’t care how un-hip that is – long may they reign.
Nowadays, I find myself listening to Jazz and virtuoso musicians like John McLaughlin. I’m also looking back on punk, a period that I detested at the time, with a lot of love and nostalgia. I now live in the United States, where music radio is derisory, absolutely unlistenable, makes BBC Radio One appear bookish! I try to write, but end up just writing to writers. (actually, that’s not true, you are the first writer I have written to in eons). I am working on a couple of Radio plays and a screenplay, but I’ll probably be retired before they come to anything.
Fairly interested in the management side of music, therefore loving all the references in your book to “G”. Now I know you have written a book about Don Arden, that’s my next read, and from that, we simply HAVE to write a screenplay….can you imagine? A movie about one of the most enigmatic and notorious rock managers of all time. Oh no, wait…Sharon’s still alive…do we really want to end up with concrete wellingtons at the bottom of the Thames?! But seriously. I think a movie about the life and times of Don Arden has some legs.
And at 55, I have just got my first ever tattoo – John Paul Jones’s sigil. My personal tribute the man who led me to first pick up a bass guitar back in ’77.
Thanks for all the writing.
Peter Ferber, Hudson, OH, USA

Hi Mick,

I’ve just finished reading Paranoid and I loved it! I used to read Kerrang! in the 80’s and I took your reviews a little too seriously – I wish I had known you flipped a coin to give albums a good or bad review!

I wanted to tell you that your description of Judas Priest on stage in the book had me laughing so much in an airport lounge people were starting to look at me nervously. Seriously, it’s not often that I read something which makes me laugh out loud. In complete contrast I found your description of drug use and withdrawal harrowing, I’m sorry you went through that.

I’m looking forward to reading more of your published work, many thanks for the good read!

Best wishes, Ian