Axl Biography – Final Extract

This is from the new updated final chapter for the 2014 Kindle-only edition of W.A.R.

Just before noon on September 27, 2011, Steven Adler stepped into the Rainbow Bar and Grill, on Hollywood’s sun-splashed Sunset Strip, where he was scheduled for an interview for the UK’s Metal Hammer magazine, and shouted, “We just got nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” Discussion quickly turned to the induction – who would walk up on stage? Had he spoken with any of the other members? Could this be the first step in the rabidly anticipated reunion of the original line-up?

Only hours into the news, Adler had as much information as anybody, although he pointed out that in recent months, with a brand new stretch of sobriety, he had mended fences with most of his old band mates, saying that he was even on speaking terms with Matt Sorum, his eventual replacement. One thing was clear – Steven Adler was not remotely entertaining an induction ceremony that did not include him standing at the podium, along with Slash, Duff, Izzy – and Axl.

For the better part of a month, as speculation raged, Axl remained largely silent on the subject. Finally, on October 29, 2011, he offered his thoughts in his first television interview in five years with Eddie Trunk, host of VH1’s popular rock and roll television show, That Metal Show. How the interview unfolded would be as much of a story as the substance of Axl’s comments, and of the television show’s 13 seasons, this interview stands as its most enthralling moment.

Trunk had heard that Axl was interested in appearing on his show and that if Trunk could get a film crew down to Miami, where GN’R had a show scheduled, he had a good chance of scoring an interview with the reclusive frontman. There was however, no guarantee. Nonetheless, with a film crew and co-hosts Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine in tow, the group arrived in Miami on the 29th and drove straight to the American Airlines Arena — home of the Miami Heat basketball team — where they set up in the Heat’s dressing room for the interview and began waiting for the man of the hour. They filled the ensuing hours with interviews with the rest of the band and even with Buckcherry, who were opening that night.

Axl arrived at the venue at 8 p.m., when Eddie had originally thought they might do the interview, but it didn’t happen at that time. In fact, the show didn’t start until midnight, with the set concluding at 3.00 a.m. At 5:30 a.m., with no sign of Axl and no indication that there would be an interview, the crew began breaking down the set and getting ready for their flight home, when suddenly Axl showed up, in dark sunglasses and a black fedora, along with DJ Ashba, and sat down for the interview.

Speaking with American journalist Joe Daly, Trunk recounted the bizarre story behind the interview, stating, “People who don’t know the backstory behind that interview don’t realize all that went into getting it. It was a lot. It was waiting around, literally, for 15 hours for that interview. And we never knew if we were ever going to get it. There was no promise made to us that we were going to get an interview, so we were prepared to some degree, but we weren’t prepared to wait until five in the morning [but] that’s exactly what it ended up being. We got to the arena at three o’clock the day before, and we walked out of the arena at around eight a.m. the next day…We were the first to have gotten an interview with Axl on TV in God knows how long.”

The interview came with one condition: that Trunk not ask any questions about a reunion with the original line-up. Normally That Metal Show features two or three guests, plus trivia and other recurring features, but the producers ended up devoting an entire show to the interview, which ran for 90 minutes, during which Axl appeared alternately charismatic and deluded.

He insisted that Chinese Democracy, then three years into release, was still finding new fans particularly when they played the material live. He saved his most bizarre answer for the question as to why he is perennially late to take the stage, by attempting to blame Slash, of all people, saying, “A lot of this goes way, way back to ’91 when we were super late going onstage. That really has more to do with that I shouldn’t be on tour. I went on tour for three reasons, our manager had booked a tour without authorization and then I’m going to be sued for it. He also told me that if Slash does heroin, it’s my fault. And Slash is pressuring me. I should not have agreed to that tour.”

 

We Are Pleased To Announce…

The official press release, gone out today, should you be interested.

Hendrix and Motörhead biogs to Orion

  • Orion has bought two biographies, one of Jimi Hendrix and the other of Motörhead, by music writer Mick Wall.

Anna Valentine, publishing director, non-fiction, acquired world rights from Robert Kirby of United Agents for the books.

Wall’s biography of Hendrix, to be released in October 2016 in hardback and e-book (£20), will be “essential reading for Hendrix fans and music lovers”, said Orion. Wall has close ties to Hendrix’s colleagues and collaborators, and has edited two Hendrix specials for Classic Rock magazine.

Meanwhile, the biography of Motorhead will follow in October of the following year. Wall worked as Motorhead’s PR in the 1990s and has known its founder Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister for 35 years. Orion said the book will be “the first authoritative and in-depth account of Motörhead, offering readers a chance to discover the real story behind one of the world’s best loved rock bands”.

Valentine said: “Mick Wall is a stellar writer, having sold over half a million books worldwide. He has unprecedented access to key players in the music world, meaning he really gets underneath the skin of his subjects, bringing them to life with his unique blend of storytelling. I’m so thrilled to be working with Mick on Jimi Hendrix and Motörhead – both books are destined to be category killers in their genre.”

Wall said: “For me it’s all about the stories, and there are none greater, more complex, funny, sad, exciting and just plain weird than that of Jimi Hendrix and Motörhead. I see these books as representing the pinnacle of my career as a serious rock biographer.”

Wall has written a number of music biographies, including Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre: A Biography of The Doors, released by Orion last year.

Who’s Fooing Who?

So I’m sitting here, too pooped to pop up with an original thought of my own, breezing the Classic Rock and Metal Hammer sites for what’s hot right this second in the wonderful world of rock and metal and… nothing, that’s what. Dylan does an album of Sinatra covers. So what?Nobody loves Bob more than I do. But please… This is considered news for the Classic Rock generation? They don’t even know who Dylan is let alone Frank Sinatra.

Then there’s the story that Rush’s next US tour may well be their last. Sigh. Is that a pig I see flying by my window? Same with Mötley Crüe. Mick Mars says modern rock is not rock enough anymore. Not like it was when the Crüe were spooning out superior schlock classics like ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’, eh? I mean, again, I love the Crüe. But Mick Mars? Even in his so-called heyday he was rotten onstage, standing there like a statue, the old fart of the band.

Then, just as I give up, I spot a small item that makes me screw up my eyes. As follows…

Former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl is absent from upcoming Kurt Cobain movie Montage Of Heck – but the director says that could still change.

Brett Morgen interviewed the Foo Fighters frontman for the film, but didn’t have time to add it to the version shown at the Sundance Festival over the weekend.

He tells Billboard: “We had a locked print. Trying to re-edit a film with a new interview in 10 days is kind of difficult.”

But he adds: “I hope we’ll see a version with Grohl some time.”

All right. Let me help you all out here by making this clearer. The clue to what the real story is here comes in the following quote about the film’s co-producer, Kurt Cobain’s daughter, Frances Bean. As follows: “She is the glue. Frances and I SHARE the same vision of what this should be. People associated with Nirvana, Dave and Krist wanted to do this for Frances.”

Maybe so. But can we just stop a moment to ponder this other fact. Frances is also Courtney Love’s daughter and Courtney Love has spent the past 20 years doing all she can to bad mouth Grohl and the Foo Fighters in ways that have occasionally made even me gasp out loud.

But wait, I’m probably being hasty. I’m sure this has nothing to do with why the director just couldn’t find a way to edit an interview with Dave into his movie in just 10 days. For the record, I’ve helped several new interview clips into a 90-minute BBC documentary in less than half that time. As for ‘hoping’ he’ll “see a version with Grohl some time”… pull the other one. It’s got Courtney’s lipstick all over it.

Meanwhile, the Foos return to play some big-ass mother-loving gigs this summer, including two shows at Wembley Stadium.

While Hole, who mysteriously never could come up with any good songs after Kurt died, are ‘hoping’ to reunite for dates of their own this summer. Though not at Wembley Stadium. Mysteriously.

Catch Up 2015

So I’ve been down with the flu and many other things that guaranteed will get you down. But now I’m on the mend, so here is a little catch up, for you and me both, just to clear the head.

Some of this week’s headlines.

Sonisphere cancelled. Well, come on, with Metallica off the road this summer what did you expect? Could Iron Maiden have done it? Yes. But they won’t be doing big outdoor festivals in the UK until after their  album is out next year so plan instead for 2016. What about Guns N’ Roses? Not so much. Six years of Chinese Democracy apathy and nothing new on the horizon, that story is all played out for now. Until Axl finally comes to his senses, anyway, and gets the real band back together. But don’t hold your breath.

In the meantime, how about just scrapping the idea of a three-day event with hundreds of bands on several different stages and do something really cool like resurrect the original Donington – one day, six ace bands, one stage, call it Monsters of Rock and charge a decent fucking price that poor cunts can actually afford for once? Oh, and make it a walk-up, as in days of yore, where you can just turn up buy a ticket and get in. Promoters won’t go for it though in case it catches on and their zillion-dollar payday three-day blow-outs come to an end. (Like they haven’t already.)

Rush announce North American tour. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Mötley Crüe announce final shows. Well, good for them. Nikki Sixx will be 57 this year which means Mick Mars will be 77 and, well, it’s been an embarrassment for sometime, hasn’t it? 25 years past their heyday, with only The Dirt to sustain interest these past three decades, truly what else is there left to say about Mötley Crüe? Of course, they’ll be back with a Comeback Tour before you can say cash-money, but that’s OK. We all enjoy the circus still, those of us that still hold our bellies in and like to call each other ‘dude’. Right, Vince?

California Breed split up. Genuinely sad to hear it. Just wish I could have felt more surprised. What a great band they almost were. Andrew is a big star and will go on to prove it. Glenn was a big star and could so easily be again if only he could find a band that didn’t keep leaving him. Bonham wouldn’t come back and play? Jason is cool but if he doesn’t want to be there then so what? Find a new guy. Drummers are ten a penny in LA. The Scorpions and Metallica have managed without one for years.

Scott Weiland out of Art Of Anarchy. Surely the best story of the week. I love Scott Weiland. We met when I toured with Stone Temple Pilots for a few days in 1994. He had the hotel room next to mine and I could hear him in there weeping. A couple of days later he shaved his head bald. Which gave me the courage to do the same thing a few weeks later. Except, of course, his grew back. (Scott always has the last laugh.) I met him again in Velvet Revolver days and he was so fabulously out of it he couldn’t recall who he’d just spoken to five minutes before let alone someone he’d met 10 years ago. When I heard he was fired from the revived STP a couple of years ago, I did start to worry for him though.

But this Art Of Anarchy deal (terrible fucking name, by the way, dudes), he is so much better not being involved in that. A ‘mega-group’ also featuring Bumblefoot once of Guns N’ Axl’s Roses, and Disturbed bassist whassisname – neither of whom anyone, I dare them, would recognise if they walked through the door and sat on their laps – this was scraping the barrel big time. Scott, you rule your world, go solo, or at the very least do something different with Will I Am or Chad from the Chili Peppers. Maybe with Glenn Hughes on bass. No, wait…

The Oo Book!

I have been meaning to write something about Mark Blake’\s brilliant book on The Who, Pretend You Are In A War, for months now. But no sooner had I finished it than I came across a cheap (£1) copy of Pete Townshend’s autobiography, Who I Am, at Oxford market and I couldn’t resist reading that first so I could compare the two.

Townshend, of course, might reasonably be expected to be amongst the very few rock stars capable of actually writing their own story, as opposed to getting in a ghost. Yet his book is absolutely crying out for a someone to come in and sort it out. If you are a Who fan, there really isn’t much there to keep you snagged to the pages. Most of it you’ve heard before, most of what you are really interested in getting isn’t in there. Instead it’s Pete at his most self-absorbed and complaining. He sounds and writes like a man with a big nose who simply never got laid.

By comparison, Blake’s book veritably bristles with previously unknown facts and anecdotes, and boasts a whole new – much more real and truthful – perspective on the story of The Who when it was, literally, at its youngest and most exciting.

With the story set squarely during The Who’s empire building days (and nights) of the 1960s, it is simultaneously wince-inducing, appalling, hilarious and, most of all, insightful. It brings back the music, the times, and, most heartfelt and unflinching of all, the people with unsparing detail. Roger at 20: “I never want to grow old… If I wasn’t in a band I would probably do myself in.”

Townshend moaning because more people – far more people – are turned on by the release of the The Beatles epochal album Sgt Pepper than they are of the Who singles of the time, pissed off because ‘I Can See For Miles’ only goes Top 10, rather than Top 3, as he had expected. Poor sod. It’s just not fair… etc.

But if the book is strong on bringing the warts and all stories of how and why The Who did what they did, it is supreme, also, when it comes to showing just how evocative their ultimate breakthrough with Tommy was. Both for the times it was produced and the many years and lifetimes and musical eras that have followd in its wake, both influenced by it and, weirdly, wholly ignorant of it too.

Blake is one of those exceedingly rare rock writers you can trust. No bullshit. Playing no favours. He comes in peace but if it’s a war you’re after, even a pretend one, he’s your man for that too.

And then there’s Keith Moon. Oh dear boy… just park your chauffeur and your dolly-bird over there for me, will you?

W.A.R. – New Extract

From Chapter 10 of my updated, new Kindle-only Axl Rose biography.

On June 22, 2000, over six years since his last public performance at Elton John’s Hall of Fame induction show, W. Axl Rose finally climbed back on a stage. The venue – the Cat Club on Sunset Strip – could hardly have been less prestigious. Or the setting more low-key – singing a couple of impromptu numbers with the part-time Thursday night band, the Starfuckers, led by Cat proprietor, former Stray Cats drummer ‘Slim’ Jim Phantom and featuring, somewhat surprisingly, former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke. But for Axl it represented a major step forward. After the wholesale rejection of ‘Oh My God’ and the unexpectedly limp sales of Live Era, the huge cheer prompted by his surprise appearance on the Cat stage provided him with a much-needed fillip. “He was psyched,” recalls a former employee. “It seemed like it boosted him [that] people still want to hear him.”

Having arrived at the bar with just Earl his bodyguard for company, sporting a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes, nobody even recognised Axl before he got up onstage. Spotting a stocky, short-haired figure at the bar that looked liked Axl, but unsure if it was really him, Phantom and Gilby went over and “tapped the guy on the shoulder,” recalls the drummer. “He turns round and Gilby says, ‘That’s not him’. But Axl grins and says, ‘Hey, Gilby, how’re you doin’?’”

Axl and Gilby hadn’t spoken to each other since they had launched their counter lawsuits six years before. Now all that was forgotten as Axl sat and chatted with his former band- mate until dawn. At one point, even allowing himself to be talked into getting up for half an hour with Gilby and Jim in the Starfuckers, belting out raucous versions of the Stones’ tunes ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Dead Flowers’.

“I guess he ran into some friends of mine at the Roger Waters show at Universal Amphitheater, and they told him that we were playing down there and he came by,” Gilby shrugged. Axl, he said, had been in a great mood. “Maybe he just wanted to have some fun.” He was also “very, very excited about his new record and the new band.”

Despite promises to keep in touch, when it was over neither Gilby nor Jim ever heard from Axl again. When word got out, however, it seemed to signal the end of the silent years. Emboldened, Interscope now suggested that Chinese Democracy would be released in 2001 and – even more surprising – UK concerts were actually announced for the following summer: the first official Guns N’ Roses tour for eight years.

First though, there was still the ticklish subject of actually finishing the album. With Sean Beavan having joined his exhausted predecessors in throwing in the towel, Interscope came up with the ingenious idea of enticing former Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker out of retirement to oversee the project. As insurance, they also rehired Tom Zutaut to come in and liaise personally with Axl on the project. At first, Axl was thrilled by both prospects: working on the one hand with a genuine musical hero in Baker – who also endeared himself to the moody singer by helping facilitate Queen guitarist Brian May spending a week laying down some guitar parts on the album – and being reacquainted, in Zutaut, with the man who had originally shown the faith in Axl’s talent to sign the band. Axl’s attitude began to sour again, though, when he discovered that Zutaut had been offered a 30 percent bonus if he could coax the singer to complete the album within a year. Baker’s meticulous – some might say imperious – recording habits also alienated Axl, and by Christmas 2000, both Baker and Zutaut had been fired.

Interscope then assigned their most senior talent executive, Mark Williams, to the project but it was weeks before Axl would even allow him to visit the studio. As one observer told Rolling Stone, Axl lived “in a fanta­sy world, a parallel universe. He’s self-centred, like a child, but not so naive. When he calls, all he wants to talk about is his record and how Interscope can’t fix things for him.” Equally troublesome was Axl’s relationship with his new lead guitarist, Buckethead, who was also now starting to become disillusioned. In an effort to persuade him to stick with the band, Axl actually treated Buckethead to a trip to Disneyland. Asking outright what it would take to keep him involved, the eccentric guitarist claimed he would be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop. Axl immediately ordered one to be built for him in the studio, using wooden planks and chicken wire.

By now the proposed track-listing had become like an over-grown vine. Privately, Axl was telling people the album would contain up to 18 new tracks, accompanied by an extra CD containing a further 10 selections. Titles now included ‘Hearts Always Get Killed’, ‘Today, Tomorrow Forever’, ‘Cock-a-roach Soup’, ‘Closing In On You’, ‘Something Always’, ‘Catcher In The Rye’, ‘No Love Remains’, ‘Strange Disease’, ‘Friend Or Foe’, ‘Never Had It’, ‘This I Love’, ‘Silk Worm’, ‘Prostitute’, ‘This Life’, ‘Zip It’, ‘I.R.S.’, and ‘TWAT’. But how they would all knit together or when the rest of the world might get to hear them were still taboo subjects. The fact was not even Axl knew for sure. However, he did seem prepared to go along with Goldstein’s plan, as outlined by Doug in an interview with KROQ, to schedule the release of the album for “possibly as early as June 2001,” along with what seemed, at the time, an even more ambitious plan to put the new line-up on the road.

So it was that on December 6, 2000, just as Zutaut and Baker were receiving their marching orders, the first official Guns N’ Roses concert for seven years was announced. The date: a special New Year’s Eve show at the surprisingly small, 2,000-seater House of Blues, in Las Vegas.

 

GN’R Tour 1992

Extract from W.A.R. – my Kindle-only update of the W Axl Rose biography.

A year on from the dreadful riot in St. Louis, friends said they had never seen Axl so happy and relaxed. But his newfound good humour was instantly shattered upon his arrival back in the US, on July 12, when the ghosts of St. Louis came back to haunt him. Steeping off the plane with Stephanie at JFK airport in New York, Axl was arrested as soon as he cleared customs, as police issued him with ‘fugitive warrants’ – on assault and property damage charges relating to the St. Louis riot – on the basis that he had effectively ignored all previous efforts to turn himself in. Even though he had his own legal team standing by in New York, it was not enough to prevent him suffering the ignominy of being led from the airport to a waiting squad car with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Two days later he stood before the judge at a courthouse in Clayton, Missouri and pleaded innocent to four counts of misdemeanour assault and one count of property damage. Ushered into the courthouse through a basement entrance, in order to avoid the hundreds of waiting fans and reporters outside, Axl was warned that if convicted of all charges, he could face up to four-and-a-half years in jail and a total of $4500 in fines.

After a nine-minute hearing, a trial was set of October 13, though St. Louis County Court Judge Ellis Gregory did rule that Guns N’ Roses could begin its American tour as scheduled, on pain of a $100,000 bail bond which Axl agreed to put up. In an interview he gave to MTV straight after the hearing, Axl called the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch “a liar”, to which McCulloch’s office responded by saying they would drop any plans for a negotiated plea agreement. When the case eventually came before the courts in November, Axl was found guilty of property damage and assault. His sentence, though, was comparatively light for someone in his position: he was given two years probation and ordered to pay $50,000 to community groups. Axl asked for his fine to go to charities for abused children.

Exactly a week after his arrest in New York, Guns N’ Roses began their 25-date stadium tour with Metallica at the RFK Stadium in Washington, where all hell was about to break loose – again.

By now, Axl had assembled an even larger and more elaborate support team for the road, his usual retinue of chiropractor, masseuse, vocal coach, bodyguard, driver, personal assistant, PR, manager and gaggle of friends like Del James and Dana Gregory now regularly augmented by his brother Stuart and sister Amy, his psychotherapist Suzzy London and a new, even more influential figure in his life: a professional psychic he had recently become enthralled by named Sharon Maynard.

The head of a non-profit organisation based in Sedona, Arizona, called Arcos Cielos Corp (from the Spanish for ‘sky arcs’), describing itself as an “educational” enterprise, specialising in “channelling” past lives, extra-terrestrial intelligence and the power of crystals, Maynard was a short, middle-aged Asian woman that would start to take a central role in Axl’s life that would stretch throughout the rest of the decade.

Operating out of her own countryside home where she lived with her husband, El­liott, a kindly grey-haired man, “Dr. Elliott and Sharon Maynard” had both been thanked in the Use Your Illusion liner notes. Known to the rest of the band and touring crew as Yoda (after the goblin-like mystic in Star Wars), Maynard’s role on the road was less specific than London’s but Axl’s reliance on them both grew equally important. According to a crew member, Yoda and her own assistant “were like aliens.”

Yet Axl was now spending more time with the “aliens” than he was his own band. Every major decision he now made was deeply influenced by Yoda’s opinions. “It’s, like, I have a pit crew,” he said. “And it’s, like, I’m a car.” The chiropractor also stood at the side of the stage each night so that Ax1 could get adjusted between songs. And for a while he was taking up to 60 vitamins a day. “We do muscle testing and kinesiology,” he explained. “We do chiropractic work and acupuncture. We do cranial adjusting. Oh, yeah. On a daily basis. I’m putting my life back together, and I’m using everything I can.”

Everybody – from the lowliest bag-carrier to the loftiest record company executive – was also now forced to sign confidentiality agreements forbidding them from commenting publicly on any aspect of the tour without Axl’s express permission first, and then only in writing. Whatever “regression therapy” he was undergoing, paranoia was still the main order of the day and Axl was more determined than ever to exert complete control over any given situation he now found himself in.

For all their efforts behind the scenes though, the one thing Maynard, London and co. could not protect Axl from was random acts by his own fans. Ten days into the tour with Metallica, at Giant Stadium in Rutherford, New Jersey, on July 29, during the last song, ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, swaying back and forth in his white spandex shorts, white buckskin jacket, and white cowboy hat, Axl was hit in the genitals by a cigarette lighter thrown from the audience. Doubled-up in pain, he turned his back on the crowd, threw his microphone into the air, tore off his hat, and staggered to the side of the stage to try and catch his breath while Duff took over on vocals.

The crowd began chanting, “Axl, Axl, Axl!” But there was no way he was coming back and when the house lights came on the crowd just stood there for a while before filing out, dejected. The very next day an announcement was made claiming Axl had sustained “severe damage to his vocal chords” and that the next three shows – in Boston, Columbia, and Minneapolis – would all have to be rescheduled, although it was whispered amongst the crew that the latter had been cancelled on the orders of Yoda, who was “concerned” about disruptive “magnetic energy concentrations” around Minneapolis.

Rock In Rio January 1985

It was 30 years ago this week that Ross Halfin and I attended the first Rock In Rio festival in Rio De Janeiro. We were staying – along with Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake and Rod Stewart – at the lavish Rio Palace Hotel on Copacabana Beach, where we had been warned not to go alone, because of all the muggings taking place.

I had a poolside room, which sent Halfin crazy, as he was on the other side of the corridor, with a view of someone’s else’s view. This made me laugh – until Ross made it clear he would become my permanent ‘guest’ every day, as he strode manfully in his budgie smugglers from the pool to my room and back, sangria in hand. One day, bored, he asked if I would write a porno story for him. He had been out that day to buy a stack of porno mags but the writing was all in Brazilian and he was so incensed, he offered to give me $100 to write him a story. I said that was a very kind and generous offer but no thanks. Thank god he didn’t up his offer or that story might still have been in his possession and on his website today.

It was so hot that one of the tour managers I hung out with kept his cocaine in the minibar of his room. I had found myself somehow – I really can’t recall how, officer – in possession of a large bag of very green, very fresh smelling weed, which I kept hidden in my luggage. The following day it was gone, stolen by the chambermaids. Whatcha gonna do? Call the cops?

Then Maiden manager Rod Smallwood, whose flag we were flying under, warned us that if anyone got busted while in Rio there was NO WAY he would be trying to get them out and that the plane for New York (our next stop) would simply take off without them.

The thousands of girls that surrounded the hotel day and night were all, as described by our official festival guide, “heart attacks”. But I somehow managed to miss out on the various pleasures being offered, as I was too busy chasing round each day trying to get interviews or simply hang with as many rock types as I could. A half mile up the beach was the Copacabana Palace Hotel, sweet soul sister to the Rio, and there were lots of other bands staying there too, Yes, Queen, Scorpions, The Go-Gos, tons more. And a long drive out to Ipanema Beach was the hotel where AC/DC was staying. A very AC/DC choice, deliberately not staying where all the other bands and festival people were staying. It was the first time I’d encountered them since Bon had died and the first time it really dawned on me that AC/DC simply didn’t do ‘the hang’ the way the rest of us did.

When we got back I wrote the longest story I’d ever written for Kerrang!, wondering what on earth they would make of it – not a lot about the music, but shit loads about what it was like simply to be in Rio with all these fiends from star rock bands – but blow me down, mother, but they liked it so much they ran it over three issues. The first time they had ever done anything like that. The fact that the mag only came out every two weeks meant the story kept going for six weeks – and completely transformed my career as a rock writer. Even the bands liked it, and for years afterwards people would talk to me about it.

So… that was 30 years ago this week. Where in fuck did the time go, hey? (Actually, I know too well where the time went but that’s another, even longer story best kept for another timezone and parallel dimension.)

Axl Interview Extract – from W.A.R.

Latest Extract from new Kindle-only updated Axl biography, W.A.R.

The mess and confusion over ‘One In A Million’, however, would continue to dog both Axl and the band for years to come. Speaking to me at length about it in January 1990, during our interview at his blacked-out West Hollywood apartment, Axl began by making light of what Vernon Reid had said about the song. “Vernon Reid was talking about how people make racial jokes, but that it was kind of sad. Because you’ll laugh but then, after all, when you think about it, it is sad. But humour and comedy, you know, everybody makes fun of everybody and everything. It’s kind of like you go, well, I can’t find a way to be happy, maybe I can find something to laugh at for a moment and take my mind off things…”

Was that all ‘One in a Million’ was, then: a joke? He nodded thoughtfully. “The whole song coming together took me by surprise. I mean, yeah, I wrote the song as a joke. West [Arkeen] just got robbed by two black guys on Christmas night a few years back. He went out to play guitar on Hollywood Boulevard in front of a bank at, like, Highland and Holly­wood… he’s standing there playing and he gets robbed at knife-point for seventy-eight cents.

“A couple of days later we’re all sitting around, we’re watching TV, there’s Duff and me and West and a couple of others. And we’re all bummed out, hungover and this and that. And I’m sitting there pissed off with no money, no job, feeling guilty for being at West’s house, sucking up oxygen and stuff. And I got hold of this guitar – and I can only play, like, the top two strings, right? But I’d been fuckin’ around with this little riff for a while, little by little.

“It was the only thing I could play on the guitar. So all of a sudden I wanted to write some words as a joke, right? We’d just watched Sam Kinnison on the video, you know, so I was gonna make my jokes, too. So I started writing this thing. And when I said ‘Police and niggers / That’s right…’ that was to fuck with West’s head. Cos he couldn’t believe I would write that, right? And it came out like that, okay?”

Maybe it was one of those jokes you had to be there to find funny, I said. He shrugged and lit another cigarette. He said it was true that he had underestimated the scale of the reaction the song would provoke. “I used a word, it’s part of the English language whether it’s a good word or not. It’s a derogatory word, it’s a negative word. It’s not meant to the entire black race, but it was directed towards black people in those situations.” He shrugged.

“I was robbed, I was ripped off, you know? I had my life threatened, okay? And it’s like, I described it in one word. And I wanted to see the effect of a racial joke. I wanted to see the effect that would have on the world. Slash was into it.” Now it was my turn to shrug and look confused.

“It wasn’t contrived so much as we were trying to grow with it,” he insisted. “Now after getting beat up over it in the press we’re like, hey, fuck you! It says: ‘Don’t wanna buy none of your gold chains today’. Now a black person on Oprah Winfrey who goes, ‘They’re putting down black people’ is going to fuckin’ take one of these guys at the bus stop home and feed him and take care of him and let him babysit their kids? They ain’t gonna be near the guy, okay?

“And it’s, like, I don’t think a black person is a nigger. I don’t care. I’m like, they’re whatever, you know? I consider myself, like, green and from another planet or something… I never felt I fairly fit into any group, so to speak. But it’s like… a black person has this three hundred years of whatever on his shoulder. I don’t got nothin’ to do with that! It bores me, too.”

He knew plenty of black people that felt the same way, he said. “Like, a black chick came up to me when we were in Chicago and goes, ‘You know, I hated you cos of ‘One In A Million’. But I ride the subway, and I looked around one day and I know what you’re talking about. So you’re all right’. I’ve got a lot of that.”

He said that for every Vernon Reid who took the opposite point of view, there was an Ice T or an Ezee E who agreed with him. “Ice T sent a letter, wanting to work with me on ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ if I ever did it as a rap thing. And I got the word to Ezee E that I’m interested in having him be a part of it too, if we ever do it.

“I mean, I don’t think it’ll be on this [next] record now, there’s already too much material. But we ended up having this big heavy conversation about ‘One In A Million’, and they could see where I was coming from. And those guys know more about that shit than most.”

He grew tired of talking about it, sensing the circles he knew he was going in. “I don’t defend it,” he growled. “I just record it.”

New Extract – W.A.R. Kindle-only

Extract from W.A.R. – my updated Kindle-only biography of W. Axl Rose – out now.

In the same way that Led Zeppelin will always be remembered first and foremost for the hauntingly balladic ‘Stairway To Heaven’, or why the Beatles’ most superior moments are still regarded as tracks like ‘Yesterday’ or ‘A Day In The Life’ – and arguably why the Rolling Stones, authors of so many classic uptempo rock songs but no similarly momentous slower compositions, are not held in the same critical regard as the Beatles – Appetite would owe its elevated place in rock history not to flagrantly provocative tracks like ‘It’s So Easy’ or ‘Rocket Queen’ but to the golden light shed by ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and, following close behind, ‘Paradise City’ and, half a step behind that, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’.

Indeed, if the band had had the foresight to ditch a few of the clearly less important tracks like ‘Anything Goes’, ‘Think About You’, ‘Out Ta Get Me’ and the needlessly speeded-up ‘You’re Crazy’, in favour of the four, acoustic-driven tracks they recorded soon after for the expanded 1988 reissue of their live EP – the sublime ‘Patience’, the so-hurtful-it’s-funny ‘Used To Love Her’, the original, lengthier, utterly hypnotic ‘You’re Crazy’ and the plainly incendiary but undeniably compelling ‘One In A Million’ – they would arguably have released one of the greatest debut albums of all time, ready to stand alongside comparably titanic debuts like those of the Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin or the Velvet Underground.

As it is, Appetite suffers because it appears to put all its eggs in one basket: the band trying too hard perhaps to live up to that spuriously flattering ‘most dangerous band in the world’ tag; all sense of quality control slung out the window; a fact which tended to obscure the fact that along with it went any attempt to fit in with the prevailing commercial trends of the existing ’80s ‘hair’ metal scene which they are still, to this day, unfairly considered figureheads for.

Certainly, if you were merely judging the book by its cover there would be plenty to put the casual observer off, the sight of Robert Williams’ disturbing vision of a post-coital robot and its aghast victim causing several major US retail chains to refuse to stock the album, even though 30,000 copies had already been pressed and shipped to their stores.

“All that people saw was a girl with her knickers pulled down – not the karmic retribution in it,” claimed Alan Niven. But Robert Williams himself had foreseen the problems the band would have by using his painting. “I told Axl he was going to get into trouble,” he says now. As soon as they’d asked him if they could use the title of the painting, Williams says “I knew there’d be a problem.” Although he admits he was thinking more of the trouble it would cause him, his main concern was that, “None of the guys in this band were too articulate, so [I knew] they would direct the media to me to defend the cover.”

In the event, Geffen circumnavigated the problem by simply moving the image on new pressings of the album from the front cover to somewhere inside; while the front was freshly adorned by another cartoon-like image – a plain black sleeve featuring Axl’s tattoo of a death’s-head cross studded with five skulls, each of which represented a different member of the band. The alternative ‘black sleeve’ was also made available to record retailers in Britain after W H Smith banned the original sleeve from their shelves and Virgin Megastore in London refused an in-store display.

Of course, those critics that could be bothered to review it – neither Rolling Stone nor any other high-profile mainstream magazine outlets in the US saw fit to comment – took the whole thing at face-value, either lavishing praise on it or dismissing it completely. This was ‘heavy metal’ after all, wasn’t it? Not the sort of thing the big boys of the music press ever took seriously; which was a shame because an opportunity was definitely missed.

Whatever one’s take on deliberately outré tracks like ‘My Michelle’ or ‘It’s So Easy’, the album as a whole so defied the conventions of rock in the 1980s that, like the Sex Pistols before them and Nirvana soon after, the sudden arrival of the sleazy Guns N’ Roses single-handedly redrew the lines upon which the rock map was until then set; the first truly potent chronicle of urban street life that had existed outside of the realm of hip-hop and rap since the decade began; and a genuine return to the raw, untamed, visceral values of rock in its pre-MTV heyday.

W.A.R. – Axl Extract Exclusive

Exclusive Extract from W.A.R. – the brand new, fully updated Kindle-Only version of my biography of W Axl Rose.

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  the last great rock band couldn’t en­tirely deny the frightening reality of Guns N’ Roses. Deep inside, they knew The Smiths were too self-conscious to be a truly transcendent rock band; that Morrissey’s hand-wringing uber-angst would always prevail over good-looking Johnny Marr’s low-slung rock sensibility. 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.

Ax is Back

This is the new December 2014 introduction to the brand new, updated Kindle-Only version of my Axl Rose, biography, W.A.R. – which you can buy now here http://www.amazon.co.uk/

When this book was written in 2006 it was my attempt to tell one of the great-untold stories of American rock, in all its vivid colour and daring detail. Having made my bones as a music writer in the 1980s – the flattest, most compromised era of rock extant – I had always enjoyed writing about GN’R and their original line-up of bad boys. It was so refreshing being able to talk to and hangout with a band that really, truly, quite seriously did not give a fuck.

The book was certainly not intended to be a revenge drama – Axl was not actually the first singer to put my name in a song, that honour going to Gary Numan and the title track to his 1980 album Replicas (my crime: I had given a one-star review in Sounds magazine to his earlier album, Tubeway Army) and whatever strictly limited novelty-value ‘Get In The Ring’ held for me had long since worn off.

I just wanted to write something that came close to comprehension – a quality I felt had been missing from everything else I’d ever read about Axl or his band. Whether I finally succeeded is up to you the reader to decide, which is exactly as things should be.

What spoiled the party for me a little at the time though was that because of time and space restrictions I had to squash some of the text down into more manageable bite-size chunks. Now with the advancement of technology I no longer have those same concerns so what you have here is very much the Author’s Cut. That is, the slightly longer version I wrote originally.

To reiterate: the fact that Axl Rose is an uber-demanding rock artist has never been the point – tell it to the rock stars of the 1970s who used to have white grand pianos flown into their top-floor hotel suites, fuck willing or not groupies on their private planes, then snort coke in the back of their limos. Or tell it to the star singers of today who are now so old they have to have ‘secondary vocalists’ hiding behind curtains onstage singing all the high notes for them; demanding entire hotel suites be redecorated before their arrival; hiring faceless yes-men stooges to play behind them because its cheaper and easier than regrouping with their original band-mates.

The book isn’t just about Axl the rock star. He’s something else. To the point where whatever demands he has made over the years, he is the one who has suffered the most from these excesses. He could have been bigger than David Bowie and Mick Jagger combined. But somewhere along the way he disappeared down the wrong rabbit hole and found himself in a place no other rock star has ever been, with the possible exception of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

I wanted to write about that and this was my go at it, back in 2006. It isn’t always pretty, who wants that? It isn’t always right, no book is. Not least one where so much of what the main protagonist – confusing, self-immolating, brave – has been up to all these years and decades and lifetimes since he first broke all the rules of the stultifying 1980s music business, making himself the most fascinating if not always fun rock star of his generation along the way.

One day, I’d like to write another book about W. Axl Rose. One in which I am able to fully collaborate with him. We are both now in our fifties and a great deal has changed, even in the seven years since this book was originally published. I feel like we are both far less angry people. Whether we are both wiser would be interesting to find out, and read about, too.

But that’s a discussion for another time and place. For now, back to 2006, and what happened when I tried to make sense of a story not even Axl probably knows how to put together in any way that makes sense to anyone else – including himself.

Clerk Wanted

I’m joking. I can’t afford to pay anybody. So I have to do all the ‘house cleaning’ myself. And jeez but how it builds up. Today I came into my office feeling so much better after an early night, ready to deliver laughs and insights aplenty on the final leg of the memoir. First, though, I just had a few emails to sort out. And a few bills. And…

That was almost exactly eight hours ago. And I just finished off going through the final plastic bag full of stuff. Endless letters, endless bills. Endless shit I promised myself I’d get round to months ago and didn’t. Who said the internet killed paper? Not round these parts, mate.

So no writing of any words whatsoever today. Though I did do lots of other stuff, some of it just in the nick of time, some of it too damn late, some of it I’d forgotten how much I’d forgotten I had to do.

Amongst the triumphs – discovering our house insurance had run out four days ago – and fixing it just in time ready to go again today (with the extra price for it, thanks). And switching our home broadband and landline deal from the dreaded Talk Talk back to Good Old BT. Well, BT are ruling the world again around this part of the country. They took over Virgin (which I used to have) last year, are about to buy EE mobile phones (which I do  have) and are giving Sky a run for their money with their sports coverage, which I can’t afford anymore, but which BT have now kindly provided for me, free, gratis, splendiferous love lights be passed around to all.

Among the troughs… paying that overdue credit card bill. And that other overdue one. And that other one too. And finding out a certain ‘overseas’ magazine had still not paid me the money they owe. Goddamn, but it all comes down to money, doesn’t it?

Coffee isn’t enough to get me through a day like that. I needed music too. Tried some 1972 Miles Davis on YouTube…. naw, too spacy. Thrummed up Can and Tago Mago… made Miles sound earthbound. Then found what I really needed when Sweetheart Of The Rodeo popped into my head for some reason. The joy of YouTube, my friends. I mean, I’m pretty sure I have the CD version hereabouts somewhere but who can bothered to leave their chair when all you need do is type in the first few letters of the title and up it pops – rare vintage Gram Parsons version, natch – on screen?

Besides, I can’t play CDs on my new iMac and I gave my player to my father in law recently after realising I hadn’t blown the dust off it for months.

One other highlight from what in the end turned out to be quite a cool if supernaturally even day. Orion sent me the final version of the cover to Getcha Rocks Off. Ooh, very cool. I’d love to share but I’m not allowed to yet. Meanwhile, the updated Kindle-only version of my Axl biography, W.A.R. should be ready to download tomorrow. Now that I will be showing and telling about. Till then…

Dark Before Dawn

Woke up around 3.30am tossing and turning, my piles killing me. Unable to get back to sleep. Drank down a bottle of water then crept downstairs to get another and drank that. Wife was away for the night working so didn’t matter what I did. I decided to pass the time working on the second draft of my ‘amusing memoir’. God, I’m struggling with that. Trying to get stuff down that no longer amuses me. Maybe I’ve just lost my sense of humour.

We were at a dinner a couple of weeks before Xmas and I overheard my wife telling someone how nice it was to see me laughing and joking again. “That’s the man I fell in love with all those years ago,” she said.

I know what she means. I feel the same way. Only it’s hard to laugh like you used to when you spend so much time trying to amuse and intrigue others in your work. Pus the years catch up with you. Nothing seems funny anymore. Or it does but you quickly forget it. Especially at 4.00 in the morning and unable to sleep.

Finally blacked out, just in time to get up. Wife was back and we drove to yonder village where the beautiful pub is run by French occultists who sell warm ham and cheese croissants, pan au chocolate and other items of Sunday morning glee, along with the eggs and the papers, gods bless ‘em. Ate one of the croissants on the drive back then had a coffee while staring at the TV.

Then finally faced up to reality and went to my office. More memoir. A little funnier this time. A little less fake. But still just taking its own sweet time to come together. Christ, you’d think a couple of weeks away from the grindstone would enable you to come back stronger, readier, more full of what you need to get by and by.

Meanwhile, some messages from beyond…

Hi Mick,

I just wanted to congratulate you on making Christmas perfect once again, as with the last five years or so I have received from my kids one of your books and the latest one Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre is no exception, I haven’t finished it yet but what I have read is riveting, interesting about a group that everybody knows but doesn’t really know, all I can say is thank you and keep those books coming.

Regards, Dave Robinson

THANKS DAVE, I’M WORKING ON IT

Dear Sir or Madame, 
My hobby is collecting autographs. So I would be very happy, if you could send me Mick Wall’s autograph for free, to put it in my collection.
Thank you very much!
Kind regards!
Heinrich Efros
SORRY HEINRICH, I DON’T DO MAIL ORDER AUTOGRAPHS. IT’S SILLY
Dear Mick,
Over the past 3 weeks I have devoured 6 of your books. I’m not a person to write “fan” letters, but read your email on your site and thought, fuck it. Really love the books – as a Sabbath fanatic, I particularly enjoyed ‘Symptom of the Universe’. Your style of journalism I find refreshing; too often people tend to placate the band they are reviewing – usually because they are fans, but your professional critique mixed with an objective analysis of the individuals and bands is fantastic.
So, boring, worship-y email over – just wanted to say cheers!
Charlie McKeown
HEY CHARLIE, THANK YOU MAN.

 

Hi Mick

Just wanted to say I downloaded both Paranoid and Pink Floyd onto my Kindle over Xmas and bloody hell mate but they are both brilliant! Different but somehow your voice always come through, so even when you’re wearing your rock critic hat for the Floyd you can still easily detect the real truth-at-all-costs voice of Paranoid. A greta achievement. Thanks Mick!

best wishes, Andy Sayer, Brighton

THANKS ANDY.  HOPE IT’S TRUE – EVEN IF IT ISN’T.

Hi Mick 

Thank you for the greatest music biography I’ve read! W.A.R. Just wonder if you will update that book anytime soon..?

Kind regards, Tobias Frantzich, Stockholm, Sweden

FULLY UPDATED VERSION AVAILABLE ANY DAY NOW ON KINDLE, THANKS TOBIAS.

Predictions for 2015

1. Albums will continue to die. Oh, there will be exceptions, one-stop hits from mainstream pop-rockers like Ed Sheeran and new-soul meisters like Sam Smith. And of course the usual gleaming production line hits from Bruno Marrs and the like. Plus a couple of high-profile rock-tedious efforts from the kinds of parochial acts you find on the cover of NME. But nothing new in rock. Not that anyone gives a shit about. And please don’t talk to me about AC/DC. Rock Or Bust could only get to No.3 in Britain, same in America. That’s like getting to No. 133 in the old days when people still bought albums. Never mind that the album was just the same old schtick they’ve been churning out for 30 years, it never stopped them before. Well, it’s over now.

2. Vinyl will continue to NOT make a comeback. If I get one more email from someone telling me that vinyl made a huge comeback in 2014 I will choke. Here’s the facts: total sales for vinyl in all formats in the UK in 2014: almost a million. Sound a lot to you? Well, that’s less than the latest Ed Sheeran album sold in the same year. How many new record players were sold, I wonder? And if vinyl is making such a comeback how come that fucking nauseous Geldof Band Aid single didn’t sell shit? Add on the scrotum-tightening sight of Geldof telling people to download the song twice, to make up for it – betraying his clearly vast knowledge of how iTunes works – and balls but I just can’t take it anymore. It’s over people. Has been for a long time. Get over it. It’s no longer about physical ownership, it’s about access and how you’re going about it.

3. Classic rock tours will continue to make even MORE money than ever. These days the touring industry is all about how well you can provide a travelling jukebox of hits and who better for that kind of deal than the classic acts who actually have that thing no new band will ever have, back catalogue? People still mail me: hey, wanna come and see this hot new band? What fucking year are they living in, which century? The only gigs in 2015 the vast majority of us are going to are the ones where there are so many hits even I won’t get too bored before I hit the bar at the interval. As for new bands… stick a clip on YouTube, send me a link. I’ll give it 30 seconds, if you’re lucky. What’s that? You don’t like the truth? Or you say I’m a cynical old bastard. Well, duh. What did you expect? The whole world has moved on. You should try it sometime too.

4. Movies will continue to die. Unless you like superhero movies which I do NOT, movies are finished. The Interview? If South Korea had any fucking brains at all they’d have let the thing come out, get shown to a few easily-pleased morons, and fizzle out again, showing up later on Channel 169 on the Sky Movies channel, which people are deserting in droves now that Netflix is king and the movies are so fucking DULL.

5. TV, meanwhile, will continuo to thrive. Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, House Of Cards, True Detective, The Leftovers, Ascension… I could go on and fill the rest of this space with brilliant TV titles from the past few years, but you already know what I mean. We live in the Golden Age of TV. Be thankful. So much nicer than sitting in some shithole cinema where they charge £50 just to get you and your old lady through the door and eating their arse wipe popcorn. Fuck cinemas when I can Sky Plus all the best shit on my home tube.

6. Books – the best will continue to be by far the most fascinating, informative, funny, deeply intelligent, imaginative art form in existence. And in whatever format you care for. It’s not either or with books like it is with pop and rock music, it’s everything considered and sifted through, all just extra ways of enjoying the same beautiful thing. There will also be lots of lousy books. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

7. Your go now.

White Stuff

So I was going to work right through Xmas, just like I have done for quite a few years now. In fact, I recently happened upon my first ever blog entry for the first Xmas I had a blog – 2006 – and it was all about how I was working through Xmas on my Axl Rose biography.

Well, that’s all right. If you like that sort of thing. Which I half-did. Mainly, of course, it was down to pure finance. Or lack of it. I worked through Xmas because I had to. Well, this Xmas I had to again. That’s what I told myself. But then my wife got ill – again – with a recurrence of this weird winter virus that seems to have affected so many of us. And so she had to cancel shifts at her job, and I had to put everything else on hold while I helped look after her and the family, and…

She’s a lot better now. We all are. I could have been back at work as of yesterday, really. But I haven’t been. Instead, I’ve decided to stay home, hang out with the fam, and act like, um, it’s Xmas or something.

And boy am I enjoying it. Like an actual holiday but one where we haven’t actually gone anywhere, but in which the kids have been so smitten by Santa and his sackful of treats that wife and I have been able to (big swallow) relax and enjoy ourselves. I almost feel guilty writing that. Or terrified that saying it will make it stop. But there, I’ve said it and it’s true. Damn the torpedoes.

Meanwhile, what is this hideous obsession with all the newspapers and magazines to give us their Best of 2014 lists? I admit it is probably an age thing too, but I’ve never really dug these meaningless lists. The music mags and hip broadsheet critics concentrate on listing the most ‘cool’ and ‘cutting edge’ of the year’s releases, desperate to look cool and cutting edge themselves. Meanwhile, no one else gives a shit. No one, that is, you’d want to sit and have a chat with in the pub or coffee shop.

Anyone who seriously knows whatever the fuck went on between January and November 2014, release-wise, is either locked up in a padded cell somewhere or works for Classic Rock or Mojo (or the Sunday Times Culture Section). Good people, but tunnel-visioned when it comes to this sort of thing. Hey, they have blank pages to fill each Xmas, what the hell else they gonna give us, poor sods?

So what about the coming ‘new’ year? What are your ‘resolutions’? I mean it. New Year’s Resolutions can be the most worthwhile contemplation of all this time of year. Not the I-must-go-on-a-diet type, obviously. That’s just more magazine malarky. I mean, the kind that seep into your soul anytime you allow yourself a week or two to do anything but take things too seriously. Anytime it gets to Sunday and it feels like Thursday, you know, and your mind can roam free, even just a little.

Mine can be summed up generally as becoming more – dread word – focussed. Meaning, less of a scattergun approach to work, clutching at every straw lest I never get offered any work by those people again (really, this is a real fear that dogs all freelancers, no matter how long in the wallet). What will my focus be? Books. Books big and small. Books old school and new. And once my new memoir comes out, Getcha Rocks Off, in the Spring, some live shows.

That’s the plan anyway. Of course, this will change because everything always does. But right now I mean it. Fo-cus. Meaning, learning to say no as much as yes. You have been warned. And now so have I.

Hidden In Plain Sight: Bob Dylan Christmas In the Heart

One of the truly great latter-period Dylan albums, the consternation it caused amongst the self-appointed, beard-stroking Dylanologists when it was released three years ago was worth the price of admission alone. Right up there with ‘turning electric’ in the mid-60s, or becoming ‘born again’ a decade later. Bob Dylan doing a Christmas album? Had the world finally gone mad? Worse, had Bob finally sold out???

And, yes, listening to Bob growl and whine his way through ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ it was hard not to feel that Bob was perhaps, well, taking the piss.

Except he wasn’t, isn’t, rarely has ever, in fact, except for those days when the media practically nailed that halo to his curly young head. The fact is, Bob started out doing a Xmas album for the same reason everyone has since Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley. It just makes commercial sense. Ask Noddy Holder, who still makes over half a million a year every year,  from ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’.

But Bob, being Bob, and the great musicologist he is, having seen the financial sense in taking it on, did what he always does and took the whole thing to another level. Seriously, if there has been a better Xmas single in the past 40 years than ‘It Must Be Santa’ I’ll eat your hat as well as mine. I mean, check the video, Bob in very fetching wig, smoking a cigar and passing round the bottle, surrounded by old good times rollers and pretty gals, every Santa loving’ old man’s dream come wonderfully true.

But dig this: the album is just great too. There have been plenty of Xmas songs and albums over the years, from the so appalling they are ironically hahaha, like Elvis’s Xmas LP, to Sinead O’Connor blowing holes in your whistle with her delicious to the point of bliss version of ‘Silent Night’. (And, yeah, I know all about Phil Spectre’s album, and Shane Bleeding McGowan.) But Bob’s is one of the strangest, most affecting, most dizzying, most complicated, most baffling, yet most fun. And heartfelt. Check out his deep, down deep, version of Buck Ram’s ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’. Tom Waits would give his far out right testicle to have done such a job on that, grizzled, sizzled, bedizzled and crumbling and sheer. What gold in the snow this Xmas.

Or his unbelievable version of Mel Torme’s ‘The Christmas Song.’ You have not explored the known universe fully enough, brothers and sisters, until you have listened with a tear in both eyes to Bob crooning like a sheep killing dog about ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire…’

And if you think things couldn’t get any more unreal than that, wait til you get a load of Bob stroking home ‘The First Noel’. Along with smooth as hot-honey female-reindeer backing vocals and heart-rending little-helper fiddle.

This by the light of that same star… if you consider yourself wise man at all, you owe it to yourself and your kin to help yourself to a large portion of Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart this Xmas. You deserve it.

Good Cheer

No, not another anti-Xmas diatribe. A funny thing happened to me on the way to Xmas this year, I was suddenly reacquainted with good cheer. Not in the immense, all-consuming way we are supposed to be. But in the sense of being reminded of what a good idea it is to have this end-of-year punctuation. This opportunity for both sober and drunk reflection.

I was in yonder village out in Saturday night, enjoying some decidedly festive hospitality from the Good Fellows of the Saturday Night Club, as it has been known for many years. (I became an honorary member in recent times.) When suddenly the door burst open and there were all these Merry Pranksters enacting yonder festive play based on the ancient tale of… actually I cab’t remember, I had perhaps one too many very small sherries by then. But it was all for charity and it was all done in such colourful hilarity that my heart was distinctly warmed.

Since then I have been enjoying similar feelings of what can only be described as good will. Not to that many other men and lady folk, it has to be said, but certainly to a far greater number than is the norm for an old curmudgeon like me.

Xmas – the hideous build-up I can definitely do without. Xmas – the crazy ideal, well all right, bring it in and give it a drink and place by the fire. I must stop now before I reach the maudlin stage.

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.