Malcolm

I wanted to say something as soon as I heard, like everyone else. But I knew what was coming – the plaudits, the sentimentality, the nostalgia, the don’t speak ill of the dead obits by the same people that think Guns N’ Roses are the same band today as they were in the 80s. The people who now bow and scrape to the name AC/DC because it’s the law. The new classic rock reality where we just have to love them simply because the fuckers have been going longer than most of the people sucking it all up now have been alive.

And there’s a real point to be made about that, actually. Malcolm really was the hotshot rhythm dynamo, the cat who got the cream when it came to coming up with so many great riffs, great chug-a-lugs, great hangs.

He was much more than that though. He was the band leader. He cracked the whip. Hard. Every successful band has one – Axl in GN’R, Iommi in Sabbath, Page in Zep, Harris in Maiden… The one who isn’t afraid to tell the others to shut the fuck up and do it his way. Malcolm was harder than most. A mangled-faced street urchin from the Glasgow projects who hired and fired at will. Who beat the shit out of Phil Rudd then slung him out of the band. Who told Jonno to keep his mouth shut onstage when he first joined cos no fucker in the audience could understand a word the big Geordie said. Who got rid of Mutt Lange after the producer had gifted them their legend-status with Highway To Hell, Back In Black and For Those About To Rock – because he resented the money Mutt was making and figured he’d learned enough to do it without the producer.

Malcolm was wrong and the band almost sunk without trace in the late 80s because of it. But then this tough nut came back and did it all again in the 90s, leaning on the ancient formula for sure but just dig that face-slapping rhythm, getcha rocks off at the sheer audacity of the cunt.

One thing about Malcolm, he may not have been the nicest man in the room, ever, but you couldn’t keep him down. No matter how hard you beat him. He just came back and kicked your ass some more.

Of course we knew he was going. The Alzheimer’s had been there for years. We’d already bid him adieu. We just didn’t expect him to go so soon. 64 – that’s five years more than me. Five years and several lifetimes getting wasted on the hellish highway, wanting blood, letting it be rock, going down, ruby, ruby…

That just leaves Angus. Angus and when he’s around, Axl. Is it enough? What that and the music? More than a touch too much. What a brilliant, bad-assed little bastard he was though.

Meat Loaf Extract 4

Extract No. 4 from my new Meat Loaf biography, Like A Bat Out Of Hell, out this week

When, later in 1975, most of the National Lampoon gang were hired for a new live comedy-variety TV show called NBC’s Saturday Night – soon to be retitled Saturday Night Live – Meat Loaf was also invited to audition for the show. Meat saw it as a chance to sing on the first show, but the team led by production Lorne Michaels, a 28-year-old maverick writer and comedian who’d previously worked on the groundbreaking Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In show, had other ideas. As Meat recalled, ‘They said to me, “Are you interested in doing a show?” And I said, “No” – a mistake! ‘I should have done it!’ (In fact, after he became famous Meat Loaf would appear on the show a further three times and remains the only musician, aside from Mick Jagger, to ever perform anything other than songs. His most notable ‘skit’ partner was another occasional guest called Eddie Murphy.)

Another talent involved in the Lampoon shows destined to become more involved with Meat Loaf’s career was composer and musician Paul Jacobs. Speaking in 1985, Meat recalled how he had ‘wanted Paul in the band from the very beginning but he didn’t want to work with [Steinman] and Jimmy didn’t want to work with anybody that was any good, really. That’s not to put him down – but he had a fear of musicians, at that time, he doesn’t now, who knew more about music than he did.’

In truth, when Steinman staged a workshop production of Neverland, in 1976, Jacobs served as musical director and co-arranged the show’s score. Later, after Steinman left Meat Loaf’s touring band, Jacobs as a pianist and background vocalist replaced him.

But that was in the future. Still locked into the idea of making an album of original material with Jimmy, Meat’s next paying job came when he grabbed at a stopgap role in Rockabye Hamlet – a kind of To Be Or Not To Be Hair – directed by Goward Champion. ‘He’d done a lot of hit stuff,’ Meat shrugged, ‘and when you have an opportunity to work with people like that, you do it.’ Indeed, Champion had enjoyed a successful career in movies as a dancer-choreographer before graduating to musical theatre in the 1960s, directing four hit shows in row, including Bye Bye Birdie and Hello, Dolly! This, though, was a step to far for the now aging director. Bringing the Bard to the love generation was a laudable aim. But Champion knew as much about the post-hippy audiences of the mid-seventies as Meat Loaf did at the time about vegetarianism. The result was a complete disaster than stumbled along for just seven shows before being unceremoniously dumped.

‘It was a terrible show,’ the singer conceded, ‘it was a dreadful part but I learned from him.’ What Meat Loaf learned, he said, was ‘how to give and take focus. That’s a very important lesson performers need to learn from the viewpoint of how to perform. You see, if you’re me you don’t want people looking at you all the time, you want them going somewhere
else and then coming back to 
you. There’s very few people who have the kind of strength that I do onstage so when I give them the focus and then take it back, it rockets. This is not an ego trip because I don’t have anything to do with it, it’s just there. I know what I can do and what I can’t
do. I don’t pretend and don’t try to fool myself. But in that show, I was onstage with 72 other people and I had to take focus – and I didn’t. And Goward Champion said, “You’re the first person I’ve ever seen that can take focus from a group of 72 people dancing about you at high-energy and you’re not doing a fucking thing but everyone in the audience is watching you!” And I said, “Well, I figured it out.”’

Meat Loaf took another one-off gig adding some vocals to the second album, Free For All, from his old Detroit pal, Ted Nugent. With his flight and hotel paid for, plus a thousand-dollar fee waiting for him, he scooted down for a few days to The Sound Pit studio in Atlanta Georgia, singing lead on five of the album’s nine tracks. As on the Stoney & Meatloaf album, he was credited wrongly as Meatloaf. But he didn’t care about that. What stuck in his craw was that $1000 fee, which seemed like easy money at the time – then looked like peanuts after the album sold over a million copies.

There were also one-off cash-in-hand gigs: recording a song called ‘Clap Your Hands And Stand By Me’ also featuring Procol Harum drummer BJ Wilson and Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, and destined to become one of the forgotten classics of the era. Meat also took a trip to London to record a song titled ‘Tulip Baker’, written for a girl who ended up failing to produce the necessary vocal. In stepped Meat Loaf to the rescue. ‘You wanna know how high it was?’ he laughed. ‘Almost blew my brains out!’

Highs and lows, lows and highs, and the story hadn’t even got properly started yet.

Meta Loaf Biog Extract 3

Extract No. 3 from my new Meat Loaf biography, Like A Bat Out Of Hell, out this week

On paper, Amherst was about as far removed from the countercultural remedy Hair espoused as it was possible to be, but it wasn’t completely immune to the changing times, the sudden arrival of vibe and connectedness, of revolution, daddy. Nowhere in America was and twenty-year-old Jim Steinman was determined to push it, or at least try it on, see how it looked, flaunt it, exploit it. He started small but defiantly weird with a short-lived drama class offshoot group he named Clitoris That Thought It Was a Puppy. Funny, ha, yeah, don’t bogart that joint my friend…

Things got more real when, in March 1968, he wrote the music for an Amherst production of Bertolt Brecht’s modernist play A Man’s A Man, in which the playwright tells the story of a hapless civilian who is transformed into the perfect soldier, exploring human personality as something malleable, interchangeable, that can be picked up and put back together into new shapes like a puzzle, a bigger, more effective machine: a parable that the Pulitzer Prize-winning American critic Walter Kerr described as a ‘curious foreshadowing of the art of brainwashing.’ Jim, the puppet-master in the making, was enthralled by the idea.

He followed that, in May 1968, as director this time of an Amherst production of Michael McClure’s The Beard. The McClure production edged Amherst more explicitly towards the counter-culture. Thirty-five-year-old McClure was a refugee from the Beat Generation of writers, one of the five poets who read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading in 1955 (where Allen Ginsberg first read ‘Howl’), as immortalized in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. Since then the poet who Barry Miles famously once described as ‘the Prince of the San Francisco’ had transmogrified into a hippy, counterculture-vulture, giving a reading at the epochal Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in January 1967, befriending Jim Morrison of The Doors, whose bad-dream poetry he indulged, and writing The Beard, a suitably wiggy play built around a what-if meeting ‘in the blue velvet of eternity’ between Billy The Kid and Jean Harlow, with a theme exploring McClure’s ‘Meat Politics’ theory that humans were nothing more than ‘bags of Meat’.

Kenneth Tynan described The Beard as, ‘a milestone in the history of heterosexual art.’ Jim loved its unhinged depiction of the male-female relationship with its almost cliché obscenities and Grand Guignol set pieces, the gloriously spiraling out of control hurricanes of verboten emotions and final, coming together to be torn apart kiss-off. What Variety called ‘a reduction of all male-female spats, courtships, fetishes, etc, to simple animal circling, snarling, sniffing, teasing…’ Exactly the sort of thing Jim liked to write about in his music, to suffuse his own fantasy courtships with, male or female.

Even The Beard was nothing, though, compared to Jim’s plan for his senior year, a musical that would, in his words, ‘make Hair look like Hello Dolly’. The fact that it would count towards his final graduation mark was neither here nor there. Jim’s aims were far loftier than that, and they went beyond simple outrage – any fool with a flower in his or her hair and a bare breast could pull that off. The musical would be called The Dream Engine and it would be the first visit to the interior hinterland that Jim had been cultivating, a place where his fantasies and obsessions could be fully expressed and visualised.

‘I was flunking all over the place,’ he explained. ‘I had to convince the college governors that I could do this project. So I went to see them, and they were very impressed by my idea. But the main guy reaches behind him for this folder and says: “Well, it’s all very interesting this stuff, but we do have to deal with reality. The facts show that you have 19 per cent in physics and 32 percent in calculus. How do you explain this?” I thought… well, I’m basically fucked here. So I said, “I guess I’m better at math’s than I am at sciences”. Then they all broke up laughing, and I’m convinced that’s why they gave it to me.’

The story wasn’t up to much, a simple enough yarn about a character called Baal who falls in with a tribe of kids living a violent and primitive life on the California coast. But the concept and the themes were outrageous and provocative, full of the bullish confidence of privileged, un-wasted youth. Jim told the Amherst College newspaper, The Record: ‘The flower child, sunshine hippie has been replaced with a far more dangerous kind of kid, conditioned by the brutality of assassinations, a war that goes on forever, police riots in Chicago, a political system that refuses to change. American children are being transformed into revolutionaries, willing to fight in the streets if necessary. I think it’s more dangerous to live in Greenwich Village today than to fight in Vietnam. The play tries to reflect that physical and moral danger. This is not, I think, the usual kind of musical.’

Cringe-making though the remark about Vietnam was, The Dream Engine certainly caught the moment exactly as Jim had wished it. Jim took the role of Baal, a character he described as ‘a cross between Che Guevera, Mick Jagger and Billy the Kid,’ and encouraged the director, his classmate Barry Keating, to push hard, ‘using many of the techniques of the avant-garde radical theatre’ to produce something purposefully provocative. ‘It has been a trying experience, from beginning to end,’ Jim explained earnestly in his college newspaper interview. ‘But it has been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. It may offend some people, but I think it will stand on its own as a work of art.’

That is, he hoped it would offend ‘some’ people. The Dream Engine played at Amherst’s Kirby Theatre for four nights from Friday, April 25, 1971 – but it took just one performance for Jim to know that he was onto something. Speaking in 2003, he gleefully described the musical as ‘a three-hour rock epic with tons of nudity, it was everything I dreamed of. It got closed down by the police. Written up in the newspapers. Caused a sensation.’

More important than any of that, though, was the intense reaction the play got from Joseph Papp when he turned up unexpectedly one night – and became so overinvolved he went backstage during the intermission and talked Jim into signing a piece of paper giving the impresario the rights to take the play to his Shakespeare In The Park festival. Fresh from producing Hair on Broadway, Papp, the Shakespeare evangelist, the experimental theatre guru, felt The Dream Engine offered even more potential for helping define the era: these weren’t professional actors dressed up as hippies, these were college students, the real children of the revolution.

‘It was like one of those legendary stories,’ Steinman recalled in 2003. ‘He was in the dressing room and I remember signing the paper, I didn’t know what I was signing,’ he laughed. ‘I just said what the hell, it’s better than going to graduate school studying film. That’s what I was going to do. I also remember we were all nude because the second act was almost all nudity.’ More laughter.

It was the start of a significant working relationship that would last for almost seven years and would underpin every move Jim would make in his career. ‘I identified with [Papp] immediately because he saw no difference between Shakespeare and Hair, basically. It was all theater and I grew up with opera and rock’n’roll and didn’t see any difference… Papp became sort of my surrogate dad. He loved being a mentor to people and he sort of took me in.’

Within an hour or so of his first original musical hitting a stage, Jim had been recognised as an extraordinary talent, his musical universe already fully acknowledged. Indeed, though The Dream Engine would never finally reach New York, Papp’s vision was born out for decades to come as Jim’s musical themes and motifs became obsessive recycled and revisited, expanded and refined. ‘I still think it’s the best thing I’ll ever do and it’s all been downhill from there,’ he would say, not even half-joking.

The story turned on what he later described as ‘a really violent pack of kids running amok n some unnamed Californian city, warring against church and state, cops and baron robbers, ‘basically like the Lost Boys. It was all sort of a science fiction version of Peter Pan – that’s always been my biggest vision. It’s sort of like this huge breast that I suckle on. Everything I take is somewhat related to my Peter Pan vision.’

Every important song he would write would be seeded in this very earliest iteration of his universe. For example a song called ‘Formation Of The Tribe’ contained the line and vocal melody ‘Turn around Bright Eyes’ – the line that would recur throughout so many of his future songs, most memorably for Bonnie Tyler on her earthshattering hit, ‘A Total Eclipse Of The Heart’. What Papp saw immediately was that Jim’s talent was big, but its focus narrow. The return again and again to certain lines and melodies, the constant re-working of those ideas, would characterise the rest of his creative life.

Joseph Papp knew talent when he saw it. He was no fly-by-night chancer. As well as his lifelong passion for Shakespeare, in particular delivering it free to New Yorkers at Shakespeare In The Park, where he had use of the open-air Delacorte Theatre, he’d also worked with almost every major stage actor, and among the new work he delivered to the Public Theatre (which would be named after him upon his death in 1991) were early plays by Tony Award winner David Rabe, and the Pulitzer Prize winners Jason Miller and Charles Gordone. His taste in contemporary theatre was also unsurpassed. After Hair, Papp would oversee first Broadway productions of A Chorus Line and a completely revitalised Pirates of Penzance.

Jim understood the value of the patronage of such a theatrical titan. Not that he always showed it. Jim Steinman was nothing if not singular, a headstrong young maestro who flounced out on several occasions, once goading Papp into throwing an ashtray at his head, but it was Papp that catapulted Steinman from college weirdo to the real-world musical titan in one giant step.

Robin 2 Gig Quetsions

Here’s a good one. Please do send me any you have of your own at mick@mickwall.com. Or my official FB page to twitter @WallMick  No subject off limits. And I will respond to them all on Dec 5 at the gig.

Hi Mick,

Hope you’re well. Thought I’d stop by and maybe pose a couple of questions for your Wolverhampton show, if that’s cool.

I’ve always really liked reading the blogs on your site, they’re great. I read the one you posted recently about how the level of exposure your work here in the UK gets compared to the exposure you get abroad and how this differs considerably, I was wondering; do you think that there is any particular reason for this? Would you attribute it to being purely a marketing or book industry issue or perhaps something more genre specific?

Also….

You were a journalist when music magazines were vital for music fans and the primary way a band or artist was able to communicate with them, they had ‘exclusives’ and ‘read it here first’ articles and they were also really instrumental in being able to break new bands etc….. This is all now a thing of the past and pretty much all done between artist and fan directly using social media. Do you think music journalism can still serve a relevant purpose?

Be great to hear your thoughts, Mick.

Lastly, I love your writing. I’m a musician and your writing is as much a part of my musical DNA as my favorite records are, whether it’s reading your Kerrang! articles as a kid, or reading your books and blogs to this day, I’m a big fan, mate! Keep ‘em all coming!

Thanks, looking forward to the gig!!!

Ben Williamson.

My Gig, December 5

Here’s the story…

Come and see me on the evening of Tuesday December 5, at this address: The Robin 2, 20-28 Mount Pleasant, Bilston, Wolverhampton, WV14 7LJ. And I can promise you a welcome to your winkle.

All the stories I wasn’t allowed to tell in my books. So many laughs you’ll end up in hospital. And a rich, heart-warming end to the evening which will have you wiping away the tears. Then afterwards it’s all back to your gaff for drinks and eats and listening to records. How about it?

Just one thing.

The gig is just three weeks away and I am SHITTING IT. I was told Jim Lea from Slade was on there the other night laughing and telling stories from his life and that it was all going nicely. But then he had a break then came back on WITH A BAND! And the place went CRAZEE!!

OK, well that’s not going to happen with me. I mean I could come on and sing a few pages from my new Meat Loaf book but I’d have to leave the motor running outside for a quick escape before I got halfway through.

So I’ve had a quick gander at other recent shows at the Robin 2 and… oh fuck me. What have I done? The first vid that caught my eye was the beautifully named Sex Pissed Dolls, doing ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’ (I assume with some irony). And it is great! They are great!

But again, when it comes to my gig – not gonna happen. I might have shapely breasts at this point in my (cough) career but the whole leather miniskirt thing… I mean, I suppose I could try it…

I kept looking and came up with Jon Anderson doing ‘Roundabout’ – just him on an acoustic guitar and …fuck fuck fuck. There’s even footage of Def Leppard doing ‘Animal’ at the Robin 2. And I’m gonna do what? Burp beer and scratch what my wife now calls my ‘child’s arse’ (because it has shrunk as I’ve been losing weight this year while my stomach has stayed b-i-g).

So I’m turning this one over to you, my oldest and dearest friends. I know someone will want to know how my name ended up in ‘Get In The Ring’, and trust me the story I give face to face is much better than the one I’ve been obliged to give in print. But what else?

There will definitely be a ‘Midlands’ flavour to the show. It is the heavy heartland and I have spent so many decades writing about all the stars of that way out region to the point where I have actual friends from there. That’s right actual friends. I don’t have any, where I live and none whatsoever left in London or LA, but drop me off drunk in Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby, Wolverhampton or anywhere West-Mid-like and I will be bostin’.

To the point… what would you like to hear about? Who would you like to know something else about now that it’s going to be just us in the bar?

Send your thoughts, questions, jokes, insults, bank account numbers, phone numbers, winning lottery tickets to either the comments link here, or email to mick@mickwall.com  Or to my official FB page https://www.facebook.com/mickwallofficial?fref=ts  Or tweet me @WallMick

And I very much look forward to being dragged out on stage shitting my pants and vomiting blood on the night. And all in a nice new pair of LSD-boots too.

Meat Loaf Extract No.2

This is the second extract from my new Meat Loaf biography, Like A Bat Out Of Hell, which has just come out this week.

Marvin’s alcoholic ex-cop father Orvis was a big, strong guy, and so were his brothers. Little Marvin was big too. In first grade he was bigger than all of the other kids. By seventh grade, aged just eleven, he weighed 240lbs and shopped for his clothes in the men’s store. The football coach called him ‘Tree Trunks’ because of the size of his legs. There was a TV commercial for jeans that had the tag line ‘Poor fat Marvin can’t wear Levi’s…’ and it made him hate his name.

Marvin: fat kid’s name. Marvin the fat kid. Poor fat Marvin the fat freak.

The alternative wasn’t great, but at least there was one. All his life, his daddy had called him ‘ML’, which was short for Meat Loaf. It was meant as a term of endearment for his plump baby son. But as the years sped by and the boy just grew, it became a horribly apt name for a kid his size. It was still better than Marvin, though, anything was better than that. Plus, you know, there were Marvins everywhere, but no one else was called Meat Loaf. Or even ML. Right?

So to hell with poor fat Marvin. There are some things that a fat kid from Texas just can’t be expected to take.

Marvin’s mom was something different. Like the rest of the family, Wilma was a big lady. But so what? She held everything together for him, the defining force of his childhood. For twenty-five years she worked as a schoolteacher. She could sing too. She and her sister Texie were part of a gospel group called the Vo-di-o-do Girls who got as far as appearing live on Bing Crosby’s syndicated radio show.

Texie went on to marry Frank Heath, who ran a chain of furniture stores across Texas, and they lived a rich, comfortable life. Wilma scrambled along with Orvis, her daredevil drunk, and Meat Loaf, her accident-prone, outsized son. Meat Loaf was a handful, no doubt. When he was four years old, he liked running away. Then he began getting concussions, all shapes and sizes: hit in the head with a toy arrow; hit on the head by the back window of the car; knocked out in a collision with a kid in a football helmet; kneed in the head playing football; hit on the head by a shot put (ended up in the hospital after that one); hit in the head by a baseball; hit in the head by a brick; running into a goal post; getting his head stuck in a Corvette steering wheel… that’s in addition to all of the fights and other scrapes he got himself in.

Between Orvis and Meat Loaf, Wilma had plenty to worry about. Yet her son was like her in one way – well, two if you count the size thing – he was a singer, a performer, a born ham, made for the stage.

Not that Wilma saw that straight away. ‘My mother was a singer,’ Meat recalled, ‘my grandfather played four instruments: piano, trumpet, guitar and something else weird, like violin.’ But Wilma never saw any real musical potential in big little Marvin. ‘I can remember driving down the road singing some song on the radio and my mother turned to me and said: “You can’t carry a tune in a bucket. One thing you won’t be is a singer! You better find something else to do, boy.” I think that made me very angry, at that point. So just to spite her I decided to open my mouth and scream.’

Through high school he got a part in every play he could wangle his way into – The Bad Seed, Charley’s Aunt, The Music Man, Plain And Fancy – sometimes with a few lines to say, sometimes with more, and he’d do anything – tell a joke, sing a song, improvise a laugh or a gasp somehow. When the baseball coach told him he’d have to choose between sports and the play, there was no choice. He was a ham and he knew it, but he loved it, loved to connect with the crowd and his fellow performers.

‘I was shy, as a kid,’ he would tell me years later, fidgeting nervously in his chair, flicking his unkempt hair and drumming his fingers. ‘When I was in high school I was shy.’ Going on stage was a good way of concealing that shyness, he explained. He didn’t have to think up things to say, how to be. He’d stand up there like Lennie from Steinbeck, a giant kid playing the sucker, playing the fool and milking every moment. Years later, even after Bat Out Of Hell had been such a success, he was still happier, he confessed, being onstage being someone called Meat Loaf, than he was off it, being Marvin the Fat Kid.

Off-stage, back in the so-called real world, was where all ML’s troubles lay: the father who terrorised him; the kids at school that despised and bullied him. The disgusted looks of strangers as he came walking down the street with his heavy sailor’s gait, avoiding his own glutinous reflection in store windows. He would watch movies on TV – cowboys and Indians – and imagine himself the white-hatted hero, sweeping the gorgeous gal off her feet. Then drag himself up out of the chair as reality came crashing back in. He knew poor fat Marvin was never going to be the one that got the girl. Yet onstage things were different. He would get double the attention, but in a good way. He still feared the bullies and the shitkickers, but he didn’t feel so worthless anymore. Didn’t feel like roadkill. Onstage he could be anyone he wanted to be, almost. Turn that pain inside into something that gave pleasure to the outside.

Speaking to him years later, I wondered if it was this odd mix – of Meat Loaf the scary monster and Marvin the scaredy cat – that drew so many women to his shows? That explained the hot chicks lined up backstage? ‘I don’t know,’ he said, apparently embarrassed by the question. ‘I don’t think it’s me anybody’s really interested in. It’s the part I play.’

No November

It’s the worst month of the year for me and has been for years. Example: this month eight years ago I fell and bashed my head so badly I was unconscious for four hours, and ended up with a permanent scar on the back of my head. Plus concussion. Plus self-loathing. Plus a missed opportunity to go to New York and hang out with Keith Richards. What a great Xmas that was.

There are countless other examples, many much worse. The point is, I have come to dread November. Don’t talk to me about Movember or Slowvember or WTFvember, I live with No-November every year.

This time around, though, it has been worse than ever. Family members snuffing it, other family members on the verge, friends of the family with their own death-soon difficulties. Then me, and the VAT, and the nasty story that now goes nowhere, and the flu (still going on) and general loathing of Xmas and its suicidal songs. And as of yesterday, the news that my credit files have all been hacked and that I now probably have multiple dark-web-influenced identities, none of which are actually me but all of which will naturally be much better off than I am as a result.

You’ve got to laugh, right?

Ha ha ha.

Suddenly everything about the lens has grown darker. So when I say that my new Meat Loaf biography comes out here, Australia and New Zealand this week, I do so with angst more than anticipation. Example: I have seven radio interviews lined up with major Oz stations this week, plus a few more to come in New Zealand. Followed by Oz Breakfast TV stuff. And nothing in Britain. That will be followed by newspaper and magazine interviews, online interviews, in Oz and NZ. And none in Britain.

You might shrug and say, yes, but that’s how it’s been for all my books for the past five years, and you would be right. You might say I’m lucky to have any interest at all from anywhere and on that you would definitely be right too. But that doesn’t lessen my dismal pain about the prospects of the book’s success here in Britain. You can’t buy what you don’t know exists.

Meat Loaf Book Extract

This is from my new biography of Meat Loaf, Like A Bat Out Of Hell – out now.

The guy at the restaurant table looks like late-period Howard Hughes, when the mad old billionaire was holed up at the Desert Inn in Vegas, dressed all in white and scared to touch anything because of the germs. He has long, grey hair so dry it might snap off in your hand if you try and grab it. His pallor is somewhere on the colour spectrum between ‘haven’t slept for three days’ and ‘haven’t been outside for six years’. He is offended by the notion of fresh air. He has small beady eyes, pudgy hamster cheeks, a treble chin. He lives at night, rising about 1.00am, and works feverishly through the small, lost hours in a house filled with clutter and junk, so that when he’s forced into an accommodation with the rest of the world – like he has been today – and he actually goes out in daylight, he retains a vampiric quality, an otherness. He speaks in a melodious voice much lower than the one in which he sings, and for much of the time that he does, a smile plays on the edges of his lips.

As if all of this isn’t enough to get him noticed by the waiters that are dancing past the table, and the other diners, who pretend not to notice but stare unblinkingly when they think he is not looking, he is wearing a black leather bikers jacket that is decorated with studs and sequins in ornate patterns. On each upper arm is a death’s head, hand-painted onto the leather. He is also wearing aviator sunglasses, Fat Elvis style, even though the restaurant is as dark as winter.

As a kid an astrologist once told him he had an overwhelming desire to astonish people. But he didn’t need a sign-reader to tell him that. Unable to decide what he wants to eat, he has ordered everything on the menu – everything – which causes the waiters to commandeer another table close by and laden this and his own with dozens of silver bowls full of food. He talks and talks, and as he does, he tries a little from each of the bowls using his fingers to feed himself. His fingernails are long and white, but they quickly become stained by the different sauces he’s dipping in and out of.

Talk, talk, talk.

Dip, dip, dip.

Talk, talk, talk.

Dip, dip, dip.

‘I love eating…’ he says, somewhat unnecessarily.

After ten or fifteen minutes no one else is, because no one else at the table can be sure which bowls have had his fingers in and which haven’t. He is oblivious to this, and to all of the stares and the circling waiters. The conversation roams over his obsessions like high birds circling. One of those obsessions is wine, which he collects and drinks at night at his desk, he says. He writes about it in a journal, describing exactly how it tastes and how it makes him feel, the journey it takes his imagination on.

‘How much of this stuff have you got?’ someone enquires.

‘Oh, pages and pages, maybe thousands of them. If it was published it would be the greatest book on wine ever written…’

Another obsession is motorcycles. He has dreams of seeing one driven wildly up the stone stairs of a church bell tower, he says, crashing through the roof down to the ground just as the bell strikes the hour. He doesn’t own a motorcycle, though, or even a driver’s license, and he can’t drive. A third obsession, the great obsession of his life, is music, specifically his music, which everyone agrees is like no one else’s.

‘Almost every song I write,’ he says, ‘has a line… A line that’s explicitly, specifically sexual…’

Oh, yes? Can he give an example?

“Like, ‘I know you belong, inside my aching heart… And can’t you see my faded Levi’s bursting apart…’ I’m very proud of that line. I call it the boner line. Or, ‘Surf’s up, surf’s up, surf’s up… and so am I…’ A boner line…’

He smiles happily at the thought.

No one at the table knows if he is married – unlikely, as he seems to live alone – or has a girlfriend, or has ever had one. He certainly has no children. He’s happy to admit that he’s, ‘a weird guy’. Maybe he’s never had sex. Who knows? Who knows anything about him at all? Except his name:

Jim Steinman.

Jim invented Meat Loaf. He created him in song. He tried to do it with others, but it worked best when it worked with Meat. And when it did… Meat Loaf was Jim, and Jim was Meat Loaf.

They existed together, or not really at all.

Slow Week

Never allow yourself to feel happy. For a minute maybe, 30 seconds. Anything longer just invites trouble. I have known this for years yet still I fall into the same trap. This time last week I was feeling optimistic. Been hitting the gym hard, not eating bad, not really drinking. Even had some book money come in. Then Monday morning I’m sitting in the armchair with my heat-assisted eye-bandage on – 15 minutes, aids the recovery of my eye glands which dried up after my TWO cataract operations this summer – when the phone rings and I see it is my agent Robert.

Robert is more than agent to me. He is a friend. More than a friend. A literary guru. The man with the plan. A father-figure, in terms of trying to keep my book-writing career alive. And a genuine good guy. He and I discussed an idea he asked me to develop a few weeks back. I spent the next few weeks working on it when I wasn’t doing the things you have to do to feed the tax man. It was hard. Too hard, I thought for the first few days. At my stage, 40 years in as published writer, too hard is the signal usually to give up. But I really liked the idea and kept pushing with it. Until finally…

It became the most absorbing piece of writing I’ve done for some years. I would go to sleep thinking about it, dream of it when I was sleeping, then wake up thinking about it. The more it went on, the better the piece got too. He had only asked me for 2500-3000 words. I ended up with over 4500. I got really excited. Began to realise I had made some sort of breakthrough with my writing. The last time I felt like that was when I was working on my Zeppelin book 10 years ago, doing the italicised passages, which some people (my editor at the time included) hated but most readers loved. Indeed, it’s the defining characteristic of that book, for me. The special sauce.

So anyway after three weeks or so it is with great excitement I send Robert this huge breakthrough I have made. Then spend the next week or so (he never gets back instantly) dreaming of what an amazing fantastic book this is going to be.

Then the call. Midway through the 15-minute eye thing. I take off the heated blind and put the phone to my ear. We talk. And… he hates it. Says it is “toxic.” How he can’t even imagine how he would be able to sell it to any reputable publisher in London. He hates it so much I feel I have actually offended him. I end up doing my best to make him feel better about the rejection.

And I don’t mind. I really don’t. I get it. He’s right. It is toxic. It was meant to be. But toxic isn’t what is selling right now. Not in nicey-nice London publishing circles anyway. I wonder if James Ellroy ever had his agent tell him he had no likeable characters in his books? Which invites the response: “Well, yeah, but then you’re not James Ellroy, Mick.”

Or William Burroughs. Or Charles Bukowksi. Or Brett Easton-Ellis.

I’m just a rock slob writer. Expert of the thing no one proper respects or cares about. Master of unlikeable abyss people.

So… at first I decide I can ‘cheer up’ the piece. Put some ‘heart’ into it. Some love. Then realise a few days later that that’s not gonna help. It needs to go in the bin. I need to come up with something that’s fit-for-purpose. Like David Hepworth and his books. Or Barney Hoskyns. Both of whom I like very much. So I settled down to Barney’s Small Town Talk – and there it was. The thing Robert means. The good stuff. From the heart. About people you do end up caring about. So now I’ve got another idea. Which I hope to get round to. Maybe after Xmas. Or the new same old year.

Tuesday I woke up to the flu. Man flu. Take the pills and power through. Then my accountant emails. I have X-amount of VAT to pay – by Friday. X equalling ALL THE FUCKING MONEY I ACTUALLY HAVE RIGHT NOW, almost down to the penny. More toxicity. So I go out that night for ‘just the one’ with ‘the boys’ – and end up falling over. Wife and kids angry with me. Rightly.

Wednesday. Man flu now full on proper dog shit flu. Possibly aided by unscheduled ‘Irish water’ influenced fall. I can’t walk, can’t talk. Can’t read. I do manage 10 shits within 24 hours though, so that’s something to think about it.

Thursday. Flu flu flu flu flu flu flu. And now depression over my rejected story. I haven’t read it since talking to Robert. No point. It’s gone. I feel foolish ever thinking it was great. Stupid. Offensive. Go out with wife for brief peek at new West Gate Centre in Oxford. Have lunch at Byron’s Gourmet Burgers. Wife manages to hurl half a bottle of hot sauce my way while vigorously shaking to get it out of the bottle. Bald head and glasses covered. As is back of my seat. Much laughter. From my wife and the waiters.

Today. VAT payment went out. I am flat out multiple zeros BROKE. Flu abates though. Great joy. The Dolan Twins release new EXPENSIVE merchandise on website and my teenage daughters suddenly remember who I am and start texting and phoning begging for £50 each to buy stuff.

Great.

 

 

 

 

I’m Doing A Gig

Have a gander at this. I’m doing a gig this Xmas. I’ll tell you more about it shortly. It’s the first of a few. Details for now at this link.

http://www.therobin.co.uk/whats_on/giginfo.asp?gigid=5084

 

Xmas-New Year 1989-90

This is the final extract from my new book, Last Of The Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses.

Chapter 8

FLYING LIKE A SPACE BRAIN

The following interview was originally intended for broadcast on a show I used to present on Capital Radio in London. It captures the spirit of Guns N’ Roses in the late-late-show era of the big-haired 80s better than anything else I probably did with them back then. It’s not clever but it is funny. The interview between myself and Slash and Duff, was conducted in West Hollywood one drunken evening on the second day of January 1990, and was never eventually broadcast, for obvious reasons, as you will see. But it is presented here in its full, inglorious glory.

It begins with the sound of a very drunk Duff singing: ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer . . .’ Then my voice, in radio presenter mode, explaining to them that although we are prerecording the interview the show itself will go out live. ‘So you can say or do whatever you like, but . . .’

Slash: Can we say ‘fuck’ in it?

Mick: If you must, but try and keep it to a minimum, okay?

S: Oh, cool. Okay.

M: So, imagine it’s a Saturday night in London.

S: Is it raining? Most likely . . .

M: Just follow me, okay? I’m gonna start. Right. Slash. Duff.

Thank you both for coming on the show . . .

S: Well, thank you for letting us watch you come. [Much

sniggering.]

M: [starting again]: Okay, here on Capital FM I’m talking to

Slash and Duff from Guns N’ Roses. It’s the day after New Year’s Day . . . Did you both have a good time over Christmas and New Year?

Duff: Oh, yes! Oh, yes!

S: Fucking wonderful . . .

D: Oh, yes! We’re gonna go and do our record pretty, uh . . . like, in two weeks.

S: Yeah, so anybody who’s been wondering, it will happen.

M: That’s good, because you know what people have been saying in England – that you’re never gonna make another record because you’re such bad boys you’ll never get it together . . .

D [blowing a huge raspberry]: AAHHH! PUUHHHSSSSTTTTT!! They’re WRONG!

M: Do you have anything to add to that, Slash?

S: Yeah! Fuck YOU . . . Ha, ha! No. We’re gonna make another record. We’ve just been through a lot of shit, you know. It’ll be fine. Just relax. It’s gonna be a really good one, too. It’s gonna be very . . .

D [interrupting]: Imagine, like, riding on the Tube. Getting, like, one of those Tube tickets and riding on the Tube and then, like, getting lost on the Piccadilly Tube, and then you go to the Thames Tube and then it’s like, you get on another Tube and you get lost and lost and lost . . .That’s what happened to our band, kind of, like, in the fucking . . . broad scale of things. And we ended up on the Thames River in the rain. That’s, basically, what happened . . .

M: . . . the band were on the River Thames in the rain and that’s why the new album didn’t get made last year?

S [nodding enthusiastically]: We were drunk, we were lost and we had nowhere to go . . . And my top hat got fucking ruined . . .

D: And now we’re back dry in the, er . . . somewhere dry.

S: No, no, the thing is, it’s not like we’re … um … I won’t mention any names. But we’re not like some bands who make records like jerking off . . .

D: POISON?

S: No, no . . . It just means a lot to us, so we’re just taking our time with it and . . .

D: WARRANT?

S: Sshhh . . .

D: BRITNEY FOX?

S [giggling]: It’ll come back to haunt you, I promise you.

D: No, I’m just kidding. No, what happened was . . . the album went wuuhhh! And then we went wuuhhh!

S: No one expected . . . I thought – no offence to Lemmy or any of those guys – but I thought it would be like a Motörhead album, it would just come out and, you know, no big deal . . . Yeah, right. D: We went through a lot of stuff and then, after that, it took us a while to recoup and deal with our own lives. S: You get places to live . . .

D: And deal with our own lives.

S: And girlfriends . . .

D: And deal with our own lives.

S: Oh! That’s true! We all broke up with our old ladies today. D: Divorce!

M: This is an official announcement, is it?

D: Okay, this is in England – that’s many area codes away, right? Well, I got divorced, girls . . .

M: Okay, before we get any further . . .

D: No, let’s get much further!

S: No, this is deep! This is deep!

M: We’re gonna go much further, but first we’re gonna play a Guns N’ Roses track. Which track shall we hear?

D: ‘Nightrain’!

S: No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no . . . ‘You’re Crazy’.

D: You’re crazy . . .

S: I’m nuts, but no, play ‘You’re Crazy’ . . .

D: Okay, ‘You’re Crazy’.

S: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Fuck, I can’t remember the name of it . . .

D: ‘NIGHTRAIN’!

S: No! Everybody plays ‘Nightrain’ . . . Um . . . [starts snapping fingers] . . . um . . .

D: Are you going down?

S: No, no, no, no, no! Um . . .

D: We don’t even remember our own record . . . ‘It’s So Easy’? S: No, the one . . . ‘ . . . pulls up her skirt’. The song we never play any more? [Both start humming two completely different riffs loudly. The interview has already descended into full-blown Spinal Tap absurdity.]

D [looking at me]: You know the song we’re talking about . . . [starts humming again].

S: No, wait, wait! We have to figure this one out. [Both start singing and humming and clicking fingers etc.]

S: God, this is horrible . . . Um . . . ‘My way, you’re way . . .’ D: ‘ANYTHING GOES’!

S: ‘Anything Goes’!

M [ jolly radio voice]: Okay, this is ‘Anything Goes’ . . .

D: By us, yes!

[I back-announce the record and we get back into interview mode. Sort of.]

M: What were we talking about?

S: Nothing in particular . . . We got rid of our girlfriends, that was major.

D: That was major! And both on the same day! S: On the same day! It was serious . . .

M: Okay, let’s talk about the girlfriends . . .

D: No. Let’s talk about music.

S: Yeah, sure. It’d be more . . .

D: I don’t, uh . . . naw.

S: We already got good new ones!

D [whispering]: I can’t talk about this. I got lawsuits and

shit . . .

S: Yeah, okay, okay, okay, okay. All right, never mind. Yeah. No. I have a new girlfriend. He’s . . . he doesn’t really have a new girlfriend, because he’s still married . . .

D: No, I’m not! I just can’t talk about it . . . Mick, let’s talk about you for a second.

S: That’s a cool shirt.

D: What’s going on with you, back home? Do you have a girlfriend back there?

S [nudging him]: She’s here! Her name’s . . .

D: That’s right! Oh, she’s beautiful! You did good! You guys over in England, Mick is fucking happening. He’s got a fucking happening girlfriend . . .

M [fumbling]: That’s very nice of you to say so, but getting back to the interview . . .

D: Me and Slash both have Corvettes now. Can you believe that shit?

M: . . . the question everybody wants answered is, what have you been doing this year, why hasn’t your album come out, and when will it come out?

S [shaking his head]: We’ve been adjusting . . .

D: But we have thirty-five songs!

S: We have thirty-five new songs. But we’ve had to . . . Let me put it this way . . .

D: Put it some fucking way, please. I tried to earlier.

S: The first fucking time we . . . Can I say that?

D: Yeah, do.

S: . . .The first fucking time we came to England, we like, we were just like . . . like . . . just . . . here’s the plane ticket, everybody go, and we’re all wuh-ooh-uh! And we get drunk and fucked up and sick in the street and stuff. Things changed . . . [Both start talking at once.]

D: We just sat in the street across from the Marquee and just drank. We didn’t know. We thought we’d just be, like, some opening band and stuff, and we got there and the place was sold out!

S: We thought it was the greatest thing ever. Now we have homes . . .

D: But fuck that, England was like our homecoming ground .. .

S: No, no, no, but the changing thing, that’s what’s important.

D: That’s what’s been happening this year, yeah. But the transformation from England to, like, now is . . .

S: But we haven’t changed.

D: No, we haven’t changed.

M: Well, you’re still drunk, anyway.

S: It’s the day after New Year’s. YOU’RE drunk, too!

D [laughing]: Mick, are you going to be able to use this interview?

M: I’m gonna give it a shot.

S: We’re not built for rock star shit.

D: We aren’t! We aren’t! [Goes into long incoherent rant about a fight he got into at a club on New Year’s Eve] . . . and the guy was bigger than I was, but I just went CAH-BOOOM! And . . . his eyes crossed, like you see in the cartoons, like that? And he went down. And then everybody dragged him back and dragged me back, but they were dragging him past me and I fucking biffed him three more times in the head! They said I broke his jaw . . .

S: Nasty [Suicide – former Hanoi Rocks guitarist] stuck his arm in through the crowd and got one in there, too!

D: So we go through this shit all the time, people trying to fuck with us. I was telling you earlier, if anybody fucks with my homeboy here, Slash – and it’s happened before, like if a big guy was gonna hit him – I’ve stepped right in front of him.

S: Sure, and I can hide in the crook of his knee . . .

D: I beat up a guy for him once. And he’d do that for me.

S: But not to sound stupid, because we’re starting to sound stupid . . .

D: Because we’re drunk! We’re drunk! Of course we’re gonna sound stupid.

S: No, but we’re a fucking band . . .

D: Yeah . . . that’s what it comes down to.

M: All right, let’s play some more music. What this time? It doesn’t have to be Guns N’ Roses . . .

[Both simultaneously.]

D: ‘SCARRED FOR LIFE’! ROSE TATTOO!

S: ‘Scarred for Life’. Rose Tattoo . . . [Duff goes into invisible guitar routine, singing at the top of his voice. We come back from the record.]

D: Oh, I fucked up . . .

S: We are intelligent, though.

D: We’re not right now, though. Mick, you got me drunk!

S: We just like to have fun. Go out there and jam. It’s like this, to put it bluntly, we go out there and we play, and we’re very conscientious about our music, and we’re sick of fucking talking about it.

D: Yeah, that’s a good point. S: It’s true.

D: That’s a good point.

S: It’s like, it’s old . . .

D: We don’t mind talking to you because you know what it’s all about. But most people go, ‘So what’s it like being – a – ROCK – STAR?’ Like, what? What is a rock star?

S: It’s a hard stone that shines. Ha ha ha!

M [deciding enough is enough]: So let’s clear it up for everybody . . .

S: In England? We love you guys.

D: We really do love you guys.

S: We fucking kicked ass in London, that first time. D: I love the Marquee. I love London.

S: We did suck in a couple of places, though . . .

D: When we go back we’re gonna do the Marquee . . . S: No, man, it’s gone.

D: Oh yeah, it’s that new place.

S: I think we’re gonna do Wembley.

D: No, let’s do that biker club! Let’s do that biker club! I don’t wanna do Donington again.

S: Not Donington, Wembley . . . [Much discussion ensues over the pros and cons of Wembley Stadium versus Donington Park, with everybody talking at once.]

S: Do two bands, that’s cool. Five bands on the bill, all day long . . . it’s just . . .

D: No way. No Donington.

M: Well, wherever it is, I know you’re both looking forward to playing live again as much as your fans are.

S [pulling face]: Man, we have to get out. When we get this record done, we’ll go.

D: Hear this? Hear this? Hear this? [Duff grabs the sides of the table and bangs his head with an audible thump against it.]

S [disdainfully]: What was that?

D: Oh, you do it, too? Okay, together . . . one, two, three, four! [Both lean over and, as one, head-butt the table together, making an even more audible THUMP on the tape.]

M [desperately trying to wrap it up now]: You heard it live and exclusive on Capital Radio . . . I’d like to thank Duff and Slash for joining me this evening . . . [Much braying of laughter in the background.]

S: Anybody who stayed tuned, thank you for listening . . . Ha ha ha!

D: Yeah! I thank you! Because, uh . . . hah . . .

M: What are we going out on? [Long pause.]

S: ‘We are the Road Crew’ by Motörhead?

D: YES! [Singing] We are the ROAD CREW . . . da-nah-nah-nah-nah-naaaawww . . .

S [above the noise]: We had a band called Road Crew once. ‘Rocket Queen’ came from that track . . .

D: Right! Lemmy, hi! From Duff and Slash! And the rest of you boys, ‘Philthy’ and all you guys . . .

S: Hello!

D: Lemmy, you rock!

[We say our ‘radio’ goodbyes . . .]

D: SEE YA! We’ll see ya soon!

S: Mick, thank you for holding the mic for so long. I couldn’t even hold my dick that long . . .

D: I’ve seen you do it! Remember, when we were on the road, and I pretended I was, like, asleep and you talked to your girlfriend on the fucking phone and you’d have your little rag and you’d go, ‘Get the Coke bottle, baby.’ I was pretending to go to sleep and he’s there beating off, and shit.

M: And on that happy note . . .

D: . . . I’d be trying to get to sleep and he’d be like, ‘Oh, baby. I’m saving a load of come in my rag for you . . .’

TAPE ENDS ABRUPTLY.

NEW Extract LAST OF THE GIANTS

This is from my new book, Last Of The Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses – out now. Just click the link on the right of this page.

Chapter 17

In This Lifetime

With Axl informing the other members of the reconfigured GN’R line-up that the ‘calendar was empty’ after their final show sin 2014, there was now a much more seismic event on the horizon, though as with many things related to the on-going Guns N’ Roses soap opera, it was only obvious at the time if you were paying close attention.

On 30 December 2014, Slash filed for divorce from his wife of 13 years, Perla Hudson. The pair had split once before, in 2010, but had soon reconciled. This time it was to be permanent. According to legal documents, the pair had separated six months earlier. Soon afterwards, Slash had hooked up with a new girlfriend, Meegan Hodges – the same Meegan Hodges whom Slash had first fallen in love with as a teenager, but who had walked away for the sake of her own sanity when things began to take off in earnest with Guns N’ Roses, and the same Meegan Hodges who had been such a good friend to Erin Everly, and who was about to play a pivotal part in the future of both the guitarist and his old enemy, Axl Rose.

‘Meegan was his nineteen-year-old girlfriend in 1988,’ says former band manager Alan Niven. ‘But Meegan bailed on him because it was so fucking crazy. And well done Meegan, for having a sense of self-preservation and getting her ass out of there. Meegan coming back into his life now was sufficient for him to finally get out of a relationship that he was very unhappy with. By falling in love again with Meegan and having her support he could get out of the relationship.’

Coming back together with Meegan unlocked another door for Slash, suggests Niven. ‘So Meegan has a best friend who lives in Atlanta. And that best friend is called Erin Everly.’ Suddenly, ‘Erin and Axl are talking again. That was the seed for getting Axl and Slash back together. It was Erin and Meegan.’

The idea of Axl considering a reunion was also backed up by Ricky Warwick, the former Almighty singer who now fronted the resurrected Irish rockers Thin Lizzy. When Lizzy supported Guns N’ Roses in 2012, Ricky and Axl had become friends, Warwick told Classic Rock magazine. ‘Axl was quite realistic about the possibility of a reunion, saying: “Who knows?” He had fond memories of it. It was always a case of: “We’ll see where the road takes us.” It was never: “Over my dead body.”’

Unbeknown to the public, by the summer of 2015 Axl, Slash and Duff were already in communication – albeit via their lawyers and business managers. Though according to Alan Niven, who remains close to Slash, ‘Duff did most of the spadework at that stage’, a statement backed up by the band’s old friend Marc Canter, who said the bassist had acted as the main peacemaker. ‘Duff was a big part in getting them back together,’ Canter told The Mail. ‘He was working with Axl again and is a good middleman. There was no one else who communicated with Slash and Axl. When Axl was venting about Slash, Duff was able to help him see things through Slash’s eyes.’

At the same time, however, both the Axl-led GN’R and Slash’s solo band were set to release their own live DVDs. Both featured classic Guns N’ Roses songs that required the other party to sign off on ahead of release. Whereas in the past Axl would most likely never have allowed his old nemesis the privilege, this time he agreed to it seemingly without objection.

The thaw had started. But all that was going on in private. To the outside world, it was business as usual – that is, no business at all. At least it was until a single tweet set the alley cat amongst the pigeons. On 6 February 2015, Axl Rose celebrated his fifty-third birthday. Anyone watching his Twitter feed closely would have seen a string of birthday greetings from fans across the world, people the singer would have never met. But there was one tweet that stood out:

Happy Birthday @AxlRose iiii]; )’

The message was from the very man that Axl had spent the best part of 20 years disparaging and publicly maligning: Slash. The crudely rendered top-hat-and-winking-face ‘emoji’ suggested the message was light-hearted but entirely serious. After two decades of acrimony, could the most damaged friendship in rock’n’roll have finally been repaired? And if it had, what did that mean for the greatest rock’n’roll band of its era?

Slash himself wasn’t letting on, at least not in public. Interviewed on the US TV show CBS This Morning in early May, he played his cards close to his chest. Asked about the rumours that he and Axl had finally made up, he chose his words carefully. ‘Well, we haven’t really talked in a long time, but a lot of the tension has dissipated,’ he said. ‘We don’t have all those issues any more. It’s not a lot of controversy. It’s something that is more perpetuated by the media, more than anything.’

When he was asked directly if he wanted the classic Guns N’ Roses line-up to get back together, he was no less cagey. Though what he didn’t say said as much as what he did. ‘I got to be careful what I say here,’ he said quietly. ‘I mean, if everybody wanted to do it and do it for the right reasons, I think the fans would love it. I think it might be fun at some point to try and do that.’

His erstwhile bandmates were no more forthcoming. In June, Duff was asked for his thoughts on a potential reunion. ‘It could happen and it could not,’ the ever-diplomatic bassist told the US radio station WIND-FM. ‘And I think it would be wonderful, one day, if we reconciled, first and foremost. That alone would be cool.’

Amusingly, some members of the most recent Guns N’ Roses line-up were still holding out that there was a new record in the pipeline. ‘We’re going to be doing stuff next year,’ insisted Richard Fortus, the guitarist on Chinese Democracy, in June 2015. ‘We’re not going to have anything out this year. Next year it should be out and we’ll be touring.’

Whether Fortus was being disingenuous or just misguided wasn’t clear. But at least one of his colleagues had had enough. In July, DJ Ashba confirmed that he was no longer a member of Guns N’ Roses, citing family commitments as well as his renewed work with Mötley Crüe’s bassist, Nikki Sixx, in the latter’s Sixx:A.M. side project, as reasons for his departure.

‘It is with a very heavy heart and yet great pride that I announce that I’ve decided to close this chapter of my life and encapsulate the wonderful times that I’ve shared with Guns N’ Roses into fond memories,’ said Ashba in a suitably buttock-clenching press release, before losing control of himself completely.

‘I was blessed with the opportunity to not only work with one of the most talented bands but also to share the stage with a living legend and a truly gifted human being, Axl Rose. The amount of confidence and trust that Axl placed in me was genuinely heart-warming and truly career-defining.’

The same month, Bumblefoot also made it official. ‘That is the thing I am not prepared to elaborate on,’ he told journalist Gary Graff, when asked why he now wanted out. ‘I think there’s enough clues out there for you to figure out what I’m up to now . . .’

Everything pointed to the fact that ‘new’ Guns N’ Roses was falling apart, and that it left the door open for a reunion of the original incarnation – or at least some sort of credible version of it.

The Project

This is from my new book, Last Of The Giants, The True Story of Guns N’ Roses – out now, hardback, kindle, and discount from amazon, click to your right.

Chapter 14

The Project

I had first met – and championed – Scott Weiland when the Stone Temple Pilots toured Britain in 1994. Every day of the tour I was told to get ready for my interview with him, but come the appointed hour, come the bullshit excuse from the band’s manager, Steve Stewart. Scott had a cold; Scott was busy; Scott’s head was ‘not in the right place’. What really made it weird, though, was that I was staying in the adjoining room to Weiland at one hotel and I could hear him through the walls, yelling and cursing, followed by what sounded like loud weeping. Jeez, I thought, what’s up with this guy?

Then, when we got back to London, I got a call at home asking me to meet up with Scott at his hotel. He was finally ready to talk, they said. Having been there so many times before, though, I turned up later that day with zero expectation that he would actually keep his word this time and sit down with me. Except he did. Turning up in an ankle-length black leather trench coat he told me he’d just bought that afternoon from Kensington Market, he added that he’d have to be ‘kinda quick’ as he was meeting his wife, who’d just flown in from LA, to take her to a movie. ‘Which movie?’ I asked nosily. ‘The new Quentin Tarantino,’ he said, ‘Pulp Fiction.’ Oh, I said, that’s cool. I heard it was quite good. ‘Yeah,’ he said.

So we sat together in the coffee shop of his hotel, where other nearby guests bothered us not at all. STP may have sold three million copies of their latest album, Purple, but that didn’t mean shit, daddy, in the UK. This, though, was something he seemed to enjoy. Weiland did not fetishise fame the way most rock stars did. Money was also not his deal. ‘Money isn’t really an issue; that’s all relative,’ he told me. ‘There’s security in the fact that we can own a home, but that’s it. I spend more money eating out than I used to, but I still buy pants and shirts for $1.25. There’s other elements of success that are far more confusing, like the idea of celebrity. That’s such a misconception. Unfortunately, people think that a public person is always a public person, and that you have these responsibilities to other people because you influence them. But the only thing we feel ultimately responsible to is music.’

A few days after our interview, Weiland shaved his head completely bald. Interesting, I thought. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe had just unveiled his own newly shaved pate in the then current ‘What’s the Frequency Kenneth?’ video. Three months later, I had also shaved my head completely bald. Like Stipe’s, my hair was already thinning, shaving it off was the only way I could see to keep some dignity. Unlike Michael and me, Scott shaved his off because he wanted to make some sort of statement. About what I could only guess – pressures of fame, insistence on private personal concerns over public perception and popularity? Just feeling, you know, fucked up? ‘I just, uh, felt like it,’ he told me when I asked. ‘So I did it.’

As a young man he’d been through the tragedy of seeing his younger brother die. ‘We thought [it] was an overdose,’ he said, ‘but it was cardiomyopathy, due to just years of substance abuse. But he died in his sleep and at such a young age. There’s a part of me that still grieves for him every day. He and I were so close, losing a person that’s your brother and your best friend – we were creative partners as well . . . it was just beyond anything . . . you never quite get over it.’

In 2011, he would write in his autobiography, Not Dead & Not for Sale, of being raped by ‘a big muscular guy, a high school senior’, an incident so traumatic he had suppressed it ‘until only a few years ago when, in rehab, it came flooding back’.

In a phone interview we did at the time, I asked him about that. ‘I’ve always been a very driven person and I kind of look at it like, every time you falter and fall you have to pick yourself back up again, and every time you do it just gives you a further sort of a belief that you don’t have to quit. Just take an experience that is bad and turn it into something positive. Take a good experience and turn it into something ever better. That’s sort of overall my philosophy.’

I asked if he had been able to bring that philosophy to bear when he’d been sentenced to jail for six months in 2009 after admitting to using heroin while on probation. ‘Yeah, definitely. I was in this part where everyone was a drug addict so we had groups every day and did a lot of work. It wasn’t pleasant at all being in jail. I don’t think the jailing of people that are just users is neces- sarily the right way to go. But at that time there was a programme within the system that allowed me to deal with the issues.’

He’d first heard about The Project when ‘I ran into Duff at the gym,’ Weiland later recalled in the Washington Post, ‘and he told me they were forming a new band and that I should check it out and see if it’s something I’d be into. They gave me two different CDs with about forty to fifty songs. The first CD was basically atrocious. It was stuff they’d also written with Izzy, and it sounded like Bad Company gone wrong. I told them I was busy and wasn’t really interested in the idea.’

In his autobiography, Duff relates how he’d been introduced by his wife, Susan, to Scott Weiland and his first wife, Mary, who was a friend of Susan’s. ‘Scott and Mary had kids, too, and our families had gotten together for dinner on a few occasions. Scott was having problems with his band, Stone Temple Pilots, and he had been through trouble with addiction – on those occasions when our families met up, we had a lot to talk about. But I didn’t consider him for the new band because he had a band.’

By 2003, The Project had leaked into the hive mind of social media and Guns N’ Roses fans were frothing at the mouth for a taste of that iconic Appetite-era sound, as Axl stood mired in the sludgy morass of writing Chinese Democracy. Slash announced that the band would release an album that year, yet while he boasted, ‘We got the baddest fucking be-all, end-all rock’n’roll band’, he confessed that the sort of vocalist they vaguely had in mind continued to elude them. ‘There are no rock’n’roll singers out there right now . . . except Billy Idol.’

In October, Slash sat in with LA’s rotating all-star cover band, Camp Freddy, featuring Matt Sorum and Dave Navarro. Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach joined in for ‘Time Warp’, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and ‘Paradise City’, also featuring Ronnie Wood. The club erupted and Slash began to wonder if the former Skid Row frontman might just be the guy The Project were looking for. Duff was less convinced. So Slash gave Bach five instrumental tracks, asking him to throw some vocals on top of them, but the collaboration ended there.

Early in 2003, seeking to capitalise on the cheap appeal of reality television, VH1 sent over a film crew to capture the process of the still unnamed band trying to find a singer, which they would later release as a documentary. Once again, for a group of musicians who had literally put their lives on the line to taste success to invite the distractions of a television crew, not to mention opening such a public window into band business, underscored how badly they lacked the internal force to push them ahead. If the guys grew frustrated with having nothing to show after a ten-month search, they missed the point; it wasn’t that the world lacked great vocalists, more that their selection process was bereft of real urgency. Accustomed to letting others pilot their ships, not one of them possessed the Jagger-like ambition to take control, to push others and to act decisively. Thrust into the roles of co-pilots, The Project were in danger of failing badly when Slash put in his call to Alan Niven. But Alan had other mountains to climb. He couldn’t afford to look back any more.

Meanwhile, audition tapes and CDs arrived by the hundreds; try-out invitations were extended to a broad spectrum of vocalists, seemingly without regard to genre, range or style. They auditioned Neurotica’s Kelly Schaefer and Josh Todd, though neither slipped smoothly into the chemistry generated by the other four. They would also audition Steve Ludwin, of Carrie and Little Hell, and Travis Meeks, the frontman from Days of the New, whose business partner, Jonathan Hay, was only too happy to publicly comment on the audition. In one of the most comically absurd displays of putting the cart before the horse, Hay declared, ‘Slash, Izzy, Duff and Matt have all been working on new material that I have been blessed with the opportunity to hear and witness . . . This is the best rock music I have heard since Appetite for Destruction. Guns N’ Roses fans and Days of the New fans will not be disappointed. They will be ecstatic! The new material has that vintage GN’R feel that millions craved and loved in the late- Eighties and early-Nineties. I can honestly say that as a witness, this band is back and better then ever [sic]. Travis Meeks and the remaining members sound completely natural, comfortable, and astoundingly incredible. Travis, like Axl [Rose], is from Indiana. Both diverged from their original bands. This is a match made among the stars with a sound that is out of this world.’

After such an appalling breach of band etiquette, nothing ever came of Meeks’s audition and his next brush with fame would be a tragic appearance on an addiction-centred American television show called Intervention, chronicling his grim spiral into meth addiction. He reportedly has since gotten clean.

A Canadian bassist, Todd Kerns, would also audition for the role, offering a substantially more grounded take on the process. The tall, good-natured musician, whose collaboration with Slash would eventually come about a few years later, remarked, ‘I was sent three songs to work on. Every singer on the planet has been sent three songs to work on. I am to write lyrics and record vocals to three instrumental tracks that the guys recorded . . . Appetite for Destruction is still in my Top 3 greatest rock records of all time, so I do find the entire thing amusingly surreal.’

The band took a pass. Ian Astbury of The Cult. Mike Patton of Faith No More and Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge would also receive invitations to audition, but each would decline. Kennedy, like Kerns, would eventually secure a spot in a future Slash project, but it too would be a few years down the road. By April, just as the audition process appeared hopelessly stalled, word arrived that Scott Weiland had just split from Stone Temple Pilots.

‘What ended up happening was, my wife and I separated. She was with the kids in LA and I was living in our apartment in Hollywood, doing a lot of drugs. And those guys were clean at that time. I said that if I did get into this band, it might be an opportunity to hook up with some guys who aren’t using and had gone down the same sort of path that I had. Right around that time, their manager called me and said there were two soundtrack opportunities on the table for a lot of money. Do the songs, get a big pay-cheque and if you find out you work well together, just take it from there. I didn’t show up the first day because I was loaded and couldn’t make it. But I came the next day and we got together and started working out Pink Floyd’s “Money” and writing a new song, “Set Me Free”. And I joined.’

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Chapter 12

Beautiful And F***ed-Up

Suddenly everything had changed, and not just for Axl Rose. Duff McKagen had put another side project together, called Neurotic Outsiders, along with Matt Sorum, the former Sex Pistols guitarist, Steve Jones, and Duran Duran’s bassist, John Taylor. Duff would later admit to feeling left behind by the Seattle grunge bands that so dominated the rock scene in the first half of the Nineties. Although Neurotic Outsiders were based in LA, with half their line-up coming from England, a newly sober Duff, still crawling from the emotional wreckage of the past ten years, was determined to make up for lost time. He cut his hair short – as did Matt Sorum – and appeared onstage with the band at the Viper Room in LA shirtless, pogoing up and down to what for all the world sounded like a cross between the Sex Pistols and Nirvana – though lacking the key elements of both, in a frontman to rival Johnny Rotten or Kurt Cobain. Instead, a paunchy Jones took lead vocals and the result, epitomised by the bish-bash-bosh single, ‘Jerk’, sounded like what it was: a grunge wannabe; an after-the-fact-vanity release. There was one self-titled album, released on Madonna’s Maverick label in 1996, followed by short tours of Europe and the US. Before everything fell away again.

Meanwhile, over at The Complex, the west LA studios, where a massive soundstage was now on 24/7 hire to Guns N’ Roses, it was as if time had stood still. By 1996, convinced that the next album had to be more forward thinking than the Use Your Illusion sets, Axl had ordered in a huge barrage of new equipment – and staff. Along with the pinball machines, pool tables and catering facilities, he now had a full-time computer expert tutoring him in the ways of new technology. Newly smitten by the outré electronica of Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy and Moby – and still struggling with the fall from grace he had suffered in the wake of what he saw as the disrespectful grunge generation – Axl was desperate to reposition Guns N’ Roses as far into the future as he could. He had cringed when he’d listened to Slash’s ideas for the next album: the kind of substandard bad-boy boogie that even Duff had privately dismissed as ‘Southern rock’. He had winced just as much when he heard Duff’s late-to-the-party faux-grunge with the Neurotic Outsiders.

Most excruciating of all for Axl, though, was the fact that they and Matt seemed to wilfully disregard his latest attempts to keep Guns N’ Roses on the bleeding edge of rock, shrugging off his imprecations to find something ‘new’ to say with their music as just the latest expression of an ego now completely out of control. This last was not helped by the fact that both Slash and Duff were now bitterly regretting the papers they had signed in 1993 handing over the rights to the Guns N’ Roses name: the deal that effectively left Axl as their leader.

This, though, was a typically squint-eyed way of looking at things. Both Slash and Izzy had been complaining about Axl’s ‘interference’ in their music since the Illusion sessions. Slash claimed he had a tape of an early, rough mix of the Illusion material that was much more ‘strong and powerful’ than the recordings overseen by Axl that eventually emerged – ‘before the keyboards and horns and backing vocals got added’. Izzy, too, had bemoaned the fact that Axl always wanted to take the demos he brought in and turn them into big production numbers. As Axl had told Rolling Stone in 1992: ‘When Izzy had ’em on a four- track, they were done. I mean, I like tapes like that, but we’d just get destroyed if we came out with a garage tape. People want a high-quality album. And it was really hard to get Izzy to do that, even on his own material.’ In the end, said Axl, ‘Izzy’s songs were on the record because I wanted them on the record, not because Izzy gave a shit either way.’

As Doug Goldstein says now: ‘The rest of the band, they were happy being AC/DC or the Rolling Stones, where every album is primarily the same. And Axl wanted to be The Beatles. He wanted every album to evolve. He didn’t want to put out Appetite for Destruction again. But the band, they were totally fine putting together songs that were simplistic, to the point, concise, easy to do. They just wanted to go fucking tour again.’

But while Axl was dreaming of building the same-sized musical cathedrals as previous studio perfectionists like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, Slash and Duff and the rest of the world were still hung up on the fact that Guns N’ Roses had come crawling out of the same Hollywood sewers as Poison and Mötley Crüe. Nobody was even asking for anything more than that from him. And that riled the boy who had grown up studying Queen and Elton John, Led Zeppelin and Billy Joel, to the point where he was damned if he was going to let what he saw as the short-sighted stupidity of the others get in his way.

For Slash, who’d grown up loving David Bowie and Stevie Wonder, as well as Aerosmith and the Stones, attempting to take Guns N’ Roses to a new level musically was definitely not out of his field of vision. That wasn’t the problem, as he saw it, though. It wasn’t even the creatively stifling presence of Paul Huge. The main problem, said Slash, was that Axl was now openly acting as self-anointed leader. ‘It seemed like a dictatorship. We didn’t spend a lot of time collaborating. He’d sit back in the chair, watching. There’d be a riff here, a riff there. But I didn’t know where it was going.’

Finally, in September 1996, Slash told Axl he’d had enough. ‘There’s a certain personal side to it, too,’ he told me. ‘I can’t relate to Axl. Maybe I never could. I mean, Axl came with Izzy, I came with Steven, and then we all hooked up with Duff.’ Now though, ‘I realised I was out alone, and that meant me and Axl had to come to terms with . . . not our animosity, but having a different opinion about everything. And, I mean, you know, Axl works as hard as anybody else but only on what he wants to work on, and I . . . I just lost interest.’

Ultimately, he said, ‘It all comes down to this: if I hadn’t quit, I would have died, hanging round with nothing to do, no mutual artistic relationship, nothing. I mean, I tried to hang on in there, but it was like a big, revolving door, from really hi-tech equipment, guitar players, all kinds of shit going on . . . I was just waiting for the dust to clear. Eventually, I thought, we’ll never be able to put this on the right path.’

When Slash told Axl he was leaving, the singer braved it out in public. No announcement was made. No private arrangements made to bring in an immediate replacement. As with his painful breakup with Stephanie Seymour, there was a part of Axl that secretly hoped Slash would come running back. Axl knew that without Slash there could be no Guns N’ Roses. Not one that would be instantly recognisable to the world at large. He decided to keep the news quiet until he could figure out what to do.

When, though, in October 1996, Slash did an online interview where he admitted that ‘right now, Axl and I are deliberating over the future of our relationship’, Axl felt angry, hurt and utterly betrayed. He rushed to get his side of the story out, sending a fax to MTV on 30 October in which he suggested it was his decision that Slash should leave, one he had actually made as far back as 1995. He could no longer work with him, he said, because the guitarist had lost his ‘dive in and find the monkey’ attitude. Privately, however, Axl felt more alone than he ever had before. First Steven, then Izzy . . . now Slash? What was happening to him? In the most fragile moment of the night, he blamed himself. That’s when Doug would get the calls from Beta, begging him to come over and talk Axl down. Up to face the day, though, Axl would know again that it wasn’t him it was them. Fuck ’em all!

‘Axl had a vision that GN’R should change and Slash had an attitude that Guns N’ Roses was Guns N’ Fucking Roses and that’s who they were,’ recalled [Geffen A&R exec] Tom Zutaut. ‘I don’t think they could get over their breakdown in communication. It wasn’t announced publicly [initially] because nobody wanted to say the band had broken up.’

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Chapter 11

Bought Me An Illusion

It’s tempting to interpret Axl entirely through his actions, to see him as some kind of ego-riddled tyrant dictating his terms of business to the world, placing himself and his needs above those of the band, the crew, the paying punters and everyone else with a stake in seeing Guns N’ Roses play live. Yet run the film backwards and watch it through Axl’s eyes and another reality suggests itself. Guns N’ Roses is his life’s work, his greatest achievement. He has just poured into it his best songs about the rawest and most difficult moments in his life. He’s immensely proud of what he has created and he wants to present it to the world in the best possible way.

Ranged against him are people in record companies, promoters, managers and a million other hangers-on, plus a band with whom he used to be tight but who now spend most of their time blasted out of their brains and failing to understand why he’s not having a good time, too. All of these people have agendas, be they business or personal, and they want something from him – time, money, something – and all of it in some way detracts from what he is trying to do. As a perfectionist, it drives him crazy, fuels the rage. He can see it, so why can’t they? So he controls whatever he can still control.

He was a sensitive, shy, angry guy, clever and misunderstood and living in circumstances very few people could imagine. All of the past-life regression and the various therapies and thinking and searching he’d done came back to one thing: his childhood; how it had been taken away from him; how his father’s abuse had left him marooned emotionally in his early years. ‘When they talk about Axl Rose being a screaming two-year-old, they’re right,’ he once said. Now he wasn’t medicating that pain but trying to express it artistically.

When the film was run that way, a lot of what Axl Rose did and how he did it made much more sense. There was no denying that, when it worked, the Guns N’ Roses of 1992 was the most spectacular event in rock: 250,000 watts of power, a maniacal fireworks display featuring 20 bangs, 28 sparkles, 15 airbursts, 20 flashes, 25 waterfalls and 32 fountains. Axl, now relying for parts of the set on a teleprompter for his lyrics, took to changing his stage outfits on almost every other song, from spandex shorts to leather kilt to Jesus/Bukowski/Manson T-shirts, to another that read: Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian. The highlight was always his beloved ‘November Rain’, which he sang his broken heart out to while seated at a grand piano that rose into the middle of the stage with the piano designed to look like a motorcycle seat.

Meanwhile, back in the so-called real world, Slash was planning his wedding to Renee Suran, although the relationship, which would be made official in October 1992, when the pair were finally hitched in Marina Del Rey, was by his own admission interrupted by various dalliances, including a fairly serious involvement with Perla Ferrar, who would later become his second wife. Duff married his second wife, Linda Johnson, a month before Slash married Renee.

The subject of Slash’s prenuptial agreement led to trouble soon after the Metallica dates had resumed. In San Francisco the couple got into a row about it, and Slash sloped off to score some dope from a pornstar friend of his and her boyfriend. The trio got loaded on crack and smack in Slash’s hotel suite, the guitarist taking it too far and briefly OD’ing. He was taken to hospital and when he got back to the hotel, a furious Doug Goldstein sent a bottle of Jack Daniel’s flying through the TV set in Slash’s room.

‘You know the Narcan scene in Pulp Fiction?’ band manager Goldstein asks, referring to the scene where the unconscious Uma Thurman character is jolted back to life after a heroin overdose by the drug dealer stabbing her in the chest with a syringe full of naloxone, a prescription medicine used by paramedics in emergency situations to reverse an opioid overdose. ‘We carried that,’ he says matter-of-factly.

‘I hit Slash with that on five different occasions. The fifth time that he went code blue, we were in San Francisco on the [1992] Metallica tour. I got a call at three o’clock in the morning: Slash is dead outside the elevator. I ran outside with the Narcan. Hit him in the chest. The EMT showed up, took him away, and myself and a couple of the other guys, we kicked the shit out of the drug dealers.’

When Slash returned from the hospital early the next morning Doug was waiting for him in his suite, along with Earl Gabbidon, Axl’s personal security guy, John Reese, the tour manager, and Slash’s bodyguard, Ronnie, ‘who we used to call Slash on steroids. He looked just like Slash, identical, only very muscular,’ recalls Doug. ‘We’re sitting there and I said, “Slash, you’re done. You don’t do this any more.” And Ronnie his bodyguard’s crying. I saw that and I’d known Ronnie since I was seventeen years old, and I’d never seen him emote at all. I said, “Slash, look at Ronnie, you’re really gonna do this to your best friend?”

‘He says, “You know what? Fuck you! Fuck Ronnie! Fuck all you guys. Get the fuck out of my room. I’m gonna continue to do whatever the fuck I wanna do!” And some trigger snapped in my head and I started throwing shit and by the time I left I’d done $75,000 damage to the room. And I quit. I said, “You know what, I’m fucking out of here! Go fuck yourself! I’m not gonna watch my family kill themselves.” So I woke up my wife, put her in the car. We were off to the airport.

‘Then John Reese went to Axl and told him what happened, and Axl said, “Well, if Doug’s gone, I’m gone.” Then he went to Slash’s room and said, “Just wanna let you know, now that Doug’s quit, I’m quitting too. I suggest you try and make amends with Doug or I’m not gonna be at this Saturday’s show with Metallica at the Rose Bowl.”’

Back in LA the next day, Slash drove down to Doug Goldstein’s place in a limo. ‘He said, “What’s it gonna take?” I said, “Rehab. As soon as the Metallica tour’s over, you’re going straight in.”’

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From Chapter Three

Chicken à la LSD

Alan Niven first met Tom Zutaut, then working as a junior talent scout for Elektra Records, at the 1982 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention at the Century Plaza hotel. ‘I had these Mötley Crüe posters in my booth,’ Niven relates, ‘and [Tom] said that he wanted to talk to me about the band. And I said, “Well, come and have dinner.”

Niven was living with his then wife in a little cottage in Palos Verdes, overlooking the ocean, out towards Catalina Island. Zutaut arrived for dinner one Friday evening – and didn’t leave until the following Monday. Niven laughs as he recalls the special meal he had prepared for them: ‘I cooked him my roast chicken à la LSD. My thinking at the time was, well, we’ll find out who this guy is pretty quickly . . .’

They both ate the chicken. Wild peacocks roamed the area near the cottage and Tom was convinced they were wearing diamond earrings. After that, Tom would go down to the cottage most weekends. ‘We spent a lot of time together. My then wife worked as an assistant to him for a while. You know, we were pals, we were friends. We had plans. One day we wanted to run a record label ourselves, together.’ When Niven helped Zutaut sign Mötley Crüe to Elektra, ‘That opened the door to the A&R department for him.’ Niven, meanwhile, had been a key player in the emergence of the Enigma label, which grew out of the independent distributors Greenworld, in 1982, signing Berlin, who would go on to major international success with ‘Take My Breath Away’, and had been instrumental again in helping Zutaut sign Dokken to Elektra, a band who would also go on to platinum success in the US in the mid-Eighties.

At the time Zoots began twisting Alan’s arm about managing Guns N’ Roses, though, via Niven’s Stravinski Brothers company, Alan was fully committed to Great White. ‘I was looking at it and going, this means I’ve got to fragment my time and energy. And I’m really, really scared to do that, because it took an awful lot to get Great White another record contract. It went against all conventional wisdom. You fuck up on your debut record, you’re done. And I’d got a sense of what needed to be done and how to do it.’

With Great White there was now a workable plan in place. With this raw new outfit from the streets, the only plan that suggested itself was to hope for the best. ‘I’m looking at GN’R and going, I don’t expect this band to be anything more than a really great underground band. It wasn’t going to be a radio-friendly band and it had so much attitude and was so raw, I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work. [But] I was the last desperate management throw by Zoots as [Geffen Records president Eddie] Rosenblatt was threatening to drop Guns without even recording an album.’ Tom told Alan later that when he signed on to be manager, Rosenblatt had warned him: ‘This guy gets this thing looking like it could be productive within three months or they’re gone.’

Niven went to meet the band for the first time, at their new home, a house in Laughlin Park, in the plush Los Feliz area of LA, which Rod Stewart’s manager, Arnold Stiefel, had rented for them before getting cold feet. ‘A well-known Sunset stripper was leaving as I arrived,’ Niven recalls. ‘Izzy was there and Slash. But no one else. Iz nodded off. Slash showed me his fucking snake. I hate fucking snakes. As I expected, it was a somewhat haphazard circumstance.’

When Niven arranged to go and see the band play, Axl didn’t show up for the first gig – or the second gig. As he explains: ‘Having signed a contract to work with the band in September of 1986, the very next show that the band were to perform was to open for Alice Cooper at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara. Alice was to perform a minor market one-off show as a conclusion to his pre-production for a tour. He needed someone to open and it was a good opportunity to get Guns on a decent-size stage; they had only played the LA clubs to this point.

‘I rented a big old Lincoln car to drive everyone the hundred miles out to Santa Barbara. When I went to pick up Axl he said he’d rather travel with the photographer, Robert John, and follow the band caravan out to the show. “No worries,” I thought. “Now the car will have a little more space.” How foolish of me. Set time drew near and there was no Axl. The band were anxious. I thought he was merely running late. Ten minutes before show time there was still no singer. At that point I left my “waiting for Axl” watch in the parking lot behind the theatre and went to the band dressing room. Everyone was miserable.

‘“We can’t play,” said Slash. Izzy just stared at his feet. “I don’t give a damn,” Niven told them. “We’re booked to play and play we will. You sort out who is going to sing what, but you fuckers are going on.” The band dejectedly traipsed onto the stage and Duff and Izzy did their best to carry the vocal load. ‘I may be wrong but I think even Slash took a go at one of the microphones. All in all it was probably the very worst gig the band ever did. As I stood in the audience I could hear the muttering of punters making negative comments – “I heard there was a buzz on this band. Man, they suck.” Maybe so, but at that moment Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steven won my heart for their effort in a ridiculous situation.’

The development of that commitment was sorely tested on the very next gig. Booked to open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the UCLA campus, only 12 people turned up. ‘Twelve! I counted them. I’m thinking, this is great. What the fuck have I got myself into with Tom Zutaut and his fucking band? Either the singer doesn’t turn up or the fucking audience doesn’t turn up.’

Over time, says Niven, Izzy became ‘the one I could always count on for timely and pertinent input. When I wanted to know what somebody from the band felt about a particular situation, he was the one I talked to more than anybody else. It was him and Duff that caught my eye over both Slash and Axl, when I first went to see them. Because they had an amazing . . . they just exuded this incredible sense of cool when they were onstage. They weren’t working it. I was riveted with that confidence and insouciance.’

There was never any doubt, however, over who the leader of the band was, its main focus and truth-giver. Axl, says Niven, ‘really did have his moment of incredible androgynous beauty. Most people look at me like I’m barmy. But most people when we’re having a conversation about Guns, where appropriate I’ll go, “Well, you fucking tell me. What did Guns N’ Roses stand for?” And they look at me like, “They stood for something, you know, apart from appetites and indulgences?” And I go, “Fucking right they did! That’s why I connected to it, and if you don’t understand that then you’ve missed the point.”’

He describes the night Tom Zutaut came to him at his beach- side cottage and virtually begged him to take the band on. ‘I’ll never forget it . . . He sat by the window and he looked at me and said, “Niv, this is gonna be the end of my career. I desperately need help.” Well, what did that tell me? Obviously, in huge fucking neon letters that these people are legitimately, authentically anti-authoritarian. If you know a little bit about me, that’s just like, okay, I’m in.’ Niven simply ‘believed that if I could keep some kind of discipline in place, we could sell half a million records’.

Last Of The Giants 2

An exclusive extract from my new book, out this weekend, Last Of The Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses.

Chapter 17

In This Lifetime

After 30 years, many millions of words have been written about Guns N’ Roses, old line-up, new line-up, whichever one you might be thinking of most. But the fact is none of them ever really got to the truth. Which is this: Guns N’ Roses has always been a band out of time, the Last of the Giants. That solid gold, easy-action thing that every rock band since the Rolling Stones has purported to and nearly always failed to be: dangerous. Looking- for-trouble creatures from another realm, here to steal our souls, suck our blood. Fuck us.

They’ve never denied it. Not even in the 1980s, when they were just starting out, these watch-yourself, flash-ass, tattooed love boys from the LA strip that said ‘fuck’ in their very first single. These neon-addicted freaks who refused to play by the rules. You had to look twice because you couldn’t quite believe your eyes. That at a time when smiling, MTV-friendly, safe-sex, just-say-no Bon Jovi was the biggest band in the world, here was a band that seemed to have leapt straight out of the blood-spiked, coke-smothered pages of the original, golden-age, late-sixties rock scene; a time when magical-mystical-musical acts like Led Zeppelin, The Doors and the Stones were writing their own rules, drawing maps to a world of weird dreams and forbidden fantasies. It didn’t seem possible but nothing about Axl Rose, Slash, Duff and Izzy (where did they even get those names?) seemed possible. Which is why, in the end, we fell for them so hard. And why we so want them to bring that feeling back again now – when we need it even more.

A mission statement more direct than crystal meth: Guns N’ Roses weren’t looking for a career. They weren’t begging for your love. They didn’t need to become rock stars first to have heroin habits, didn’t require the consent of the rock press to piss up your leg. Weren’t asking for permission, fuck you very much.

And then the most wonderfully startling thing of all: the music. Axl and Slash and Duff and the gang may have looked like Mötley Crüe, but they always sounded like something else. Like Elton John meets the New York Dolls. Like Queen sharing a ride with Iggy and The Stooges. You heard ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and you knew you’d just turned a wrong corner into the very worst part of the neighbourhood. ‘We got everything you want,’ wheezed Axl as Slash flicked open his guitar like a switchblade, ‘Honey we know the names . . .’ And you shuddered to think of it, knowing it was true. Then you heard ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’, with that Disney-esque, carnival riff, Axl sweet-talking you suddenly, chillingly, felling you with pure poetry: ‘Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place where as a child I’d hide’, and you’d think: holy shit, Axl was once a child? Which means that all this is somehow . . . real?

Yes. Hard to believe but… yes. It was all true.

And that’s what this book has been about. Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with that song, though it is still one of the great- est putdown songs of all time, right next to ‘Positively Fourth Street’ by Bob Dylan and ‘How Do You Sleep?’ by John Lennon. But you know that. That is old news.

What this book has been about is what happened when a gang of no-plan-B kids who would do anything not to be part of the so-called real world got together and, at no surprise at all to them, overnight became the biggest, greatest rock band of them all. A one-way ticket back to those times before heavy metal, before punk, before any of the pure stuff had been divvied up and stepped on and sold back to us as so-called good-time rock. The kind that made us sick to our boots in the Eighties, and has left us trembling feebly with withdrawal symptoms ever since.

Most of all, Guns N’ Roses mattered because at a time when it looked like it was over for this kind of devil-don’t-care, sure-thing deal, along came this utterly impossible band that stood for the kind of no-prisoners revolution in the head we hadn’t known since 1969. Guns N’ Roses brought the bad times back again and for that they won the black hearts of the entire bad-boy, cool-chick world. Even the straights loved Guns N’ Roses, knew there was something real going on, even as it felt the bruises.

 

So this book is something new. Written with the clear head that 25 years later brings you, if you can just live long enough; the same deep mindfulness that now sees Axl and Slash and Duff – and Steven and, who knows, later maybe even Izzy – back together. One last time, before the glory daze effects finally wear off. Before it’s just too fucked up and too fucking late, dude. And while it can still be told with mad love and deep affection, with peace, love and understanding, no invisible strings attached.

Because when Guns N’ Roses do finally go, so will the golden age of rock, gone for ever, no encores. When they go so will we, those generations of us that rejoiced in allowing our lives to become identified with this music, this message, this meaning. Those of us that recognise, finally, when all is said and done, that Axl Rose really is that thing we so desperately want him to be: the last of the truly extraordinary, all-time great, no-apologies, no- explanations, no-quarter-given rock stars. The last of his kind.

I hope he turns up late for every show on the rest of the reun- ion tour. I hope he gives everyone hell with every big-deal step he takes. Because that’s who he is, the Great I Am. And that’s why people love him more than ever. The authenticity, the risk taking, the sheer guts. Few ever really had it even in the 1960s. No one else has it now.

This ain’t Mick Jagger, there’s no growing old gracefully for Axl Rose. And Guns N’ Roses is not Metallica, the corporate franchise skilfully plotting their next move. And this certainly isn’t Black Sabbath, a tinker toy idea wound up by a big key in the back. A piggy bank.

This is Guns N’ Fuckin’ Roses, baby. And, like the song says, they will never, ever come down.

Last Of The Giants

Hello darkness, my old friend…

So what happened was the boss of my book publishing company, who was about to retire, came to me over a year ago and asked if the rumours were true: that Guns N’ Roses were about to reform. I told him, yes, but that it would only be three of them: Axl, Slash and Duff. And that the official announcement would not be until early 2016, when Coachella made their own announcement.

Then he asked if I would consider writing a book, one that finally told the truth. I hesitated. But not for long.

Contrary to appearances I have only previously written one book on GN’R: my 1991 expanded collection of early magazine interviews with them: The Most Dangerous Band In The World. Then, in 2006, I wrote a biography of W. Axl Rose, titled simply: W.A.R.

For those of you not paying attention, I have since publicly denounced the latter book, taking it out of circulation. Why? Because it was written with hate in what was left of my heart. And anger and betrayal and a number of other things that have absolutely nothing to do with Axl and everything to do with my own deeply troubled childhood and subsequent life.

Also, as I explained earlier this year, I wrote that book in the wake of a heart attack. A dark time during which I was ready to kill anything that moved. Thankfully, I no longer live that way, nor ever wish to again.

More to the point, the intervening 10 years have seen my family and I dealing with the fact that one of my children has been diagnosed with Aspergers and I now see the world in a whole new light. I am not suggesting Axl Rose has Aspergers, but it is clear to anyone who has even partially followed his story over the years that he came from a tremendously difficult family background and that it has informed his adult life in many profound ways, including his genius as a musical artist.

Or to put it more simply: Axl being obsessively late on stage, being obsessively controlling, appearing at several stages of his career to cut off his nose to spite his face – and of the huge personal despair this has caused him privately – is not the work of an unforgivably egotistic rock monster. But the signs of a troubled and sensitive individual trying to find his way in a world, as he once put it, “much too dark.” Darker indeed than any of his fans have ever understood.

So… this new biography of Guns N’ Roses that I have written – Last Of The Giants, the True Story of Guns N’ Roses – published in the UK this week – has been done with nothing but love in my heart. No, it is not a fan book. I don’t write those. And while you may be shocked by the many new revelations inside its blood-soaked pages, you will not find judgement. You will not find malice. You will, I fervently hope, find only love and understanding. Deeply cut. And raw. And, ultimately, full of hope.

Here then, is a short extract, don’t forget to let me know what you think.

Chapter One

Do You Know Where The Fuck You Are?

Los Angeles is full of ghosts. Take a drive through West Hollywood, along Sunset Boulevard and its many tributaries, and names and places from the past return, some urgent, some distant, all able to conjure those ghosts by their mere mention. Tower Records, bankrupt since 2006; The Hyatt on Sunset, once known and feared as the ‘Riot House’, now a sanitised boutique hotel called the Andaz West Hollywood; the Roxy, the Rainbow Bar and Grill, the Whisky A Go-Go, the Troubadour, all still standing, but existing on the fumes of their shared, impossible to replicate pasts; nasty joints like the Coconut Teaszer and Gazzarri’s, now long-gone; Sunset Strip Tattoo, relocated from its ramshackle shop opposite the Hyatt some way further down Sunset; the buildings that once housed the Starwood and the Tropicana and the Cathouse and the Seventh Veil now rebranded and reused; the 24-hour Ralphs supermarket that had so many aspiring musos walking its aisles it was known as ‘Rock’n’roll Ralphs’; the Capitol Records building, the Geffen Records building, each monuments to a vanished industry.

And the side streets with their stories: North Clark, where once both Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses lived in the cheap apartments that lined it; Alto Loma, where the ‘hidden oasis’ of the Sunset Marquis hotel lay – Hunter S. Thompson used to call that place ‘the Loser’s Hilton’, so many and varied were the touring bands and LA rich that partied in the cabanas by the rippling pool…

West Hollywood is a different place now, and ironically, given the turbo-charged, try-hard heterosexuality of the late 1980s, one of the city’s best-known LBTG districts. But for anyone who remembers its ghosts and who saw the place in its 1980s hey-day this is the town where anything that could happen did happen. Where everything was coooool baby, one minute. Then out of control the next.

Imagine arriving here, as W. Axl Rose and many thousands of others did, from the Greyhound Bus terminal in North Hollywood and seeing the Strip for the first time at night. The atmosphere of the place came at you like a bullet in the back, a supercharged mix of ambition and abandon, hedonism and desperation: it was like a permanent first night away from home, no responsibility, no tomorrow, no fucker telling you what to do or what to wear or where to go, a heady blast of freedom, intoxicating and scary.

The levels of bullshit and testosterone were off the charts. Everyone was in a band, or starting a band or thinking about it, or else they were a budding promoter or a DJ or a VJ or a manager. In a pre-internet age, cheap photocopied flyers were the best form of communicating who you were and when you were playing – by the end of the night, discarded A5s would be blowing down Sunset like tumbleweed. Bands formed and broke up and reformed again with this guy replacing that guy, this name instead of that one, one crazy dude after another. Loose collectives looking for the magic formula, the glory moment at which the touch paper would ignite and they could begin their climb from a paid-for slot on the bottom of the bill.

It could happen, and it did: look around and you could even see the people that it had happened to – David Lee Roth, singer with LA’s biggest home grown band Van Halen, ligging with his manager Pete Angelus in the Rainbow; Vince Neil, a Mexican kid from the wrong side of town now somehow singing his way to platinum heaven with Mötley Cruüe, dragging the mud-wrestling girls from the Tropicana back to his house to party; Robbin Crosby, Ratt’s blond bombshell of a guitarist, propping up the bar at the Troubadour, surrounded by chicks and chicks-with-dicks… and until the gods pointed their finger and decided that this was your fate, there was an itinerant life of cheap places to crash, sofas to surf, rehearsal space to find.

There was some movie doing the rounds saying ‘lunch is for wimps’… well, so were breakfast and dinner out in Hollyweird, California. Any spare dollars – and who had those? – were allocated to booze, partying and flyers long before loose change was scraped up for fast food or whatever cheap shit was left on the shelves after midnight at Ralphs. The true Hollywood vampires knew girls that would buy their groceries and offer up their beds while they were busy trying to climb the greasy KY pole…

This was a very particular life in a very particular time and place and it was being projected outwards from these few neon streets to the rest of the world. Rock rags like Hit Parader, Circus, RIP, Spin and Kerrang! helped build the myth. Video clips that began on Headbanger’s Ball then crept onto mainstream, daytime MTV. Radio stations like KNAC – blasting out Poison, W.A.S.P., Ozzy Osbourne – saw their playlists picked up across America. People saw and people heard and they came in their thousands to be part of it. Axl stayed only a few weeks, freaked out by the place and its people, walking around with “a can of mace in one hand, a piece of steel in the other” like the hayseed Indiana boy he was, but somehow he knew that he had to come back…

Young Bill Bailey, just turned eighteen years old and not yet W. Axl Rose, was a smalltown cop’s nightmare. In Lafayette Indiana in the late 1970s, most of the teenage troublemakers were of the usual sort: bored, drunk, pumped full of hormones and not particularly bright. It didn’t take the FBI to catch them. Bill Bailey was different. He was bright – very, in fact – and his rebellion had both a root and a reason. It wasn’t that they couldn’t arrest him. It was that they couldn’t stop him, couldn’t make him respect their authority, or anyone else’s.

He ran up twenty arrests by his estimate (“I was guilty on five”), although Tippecanoe County Court records state that he spent a to­tal of 10 days in County Jail as an adult over a period from July 1980 through September 1982, on charges of battery, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, public intoxication, criminal trespass, and mischief. When he finally hitchhiked out of town, back to LA and away from the torture of his early years, he was technically skipping judge’s bail. He would not return for a very long time.

If Axl Rose is the last great rock star, then Bill Bailey is the sad, sweet, clever, abused and angry child that Axl left behind in Lafayette. Yet he lives in every on-stage meltdown and backstage bust-up, in every act of intransigence and temper. And he surfaces in the untold moments of kindness and vulnerability, in the love songs with which he lays himself open and protects so fiercely. He’s there in the lyric to ‘One In A Million’ – ‘Police and niggers that’s right/Get out of my way’ – and to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ – ‘She’s got a smile that it seems to me/Reminds me of childhood memories…’.

He’s there in his choice to cover a Charles Manson song on The Spaghetti Incident? album, and he’s there again in his need to emulate the sophisticated songwriting of Elton John and Freddie Mercury. He’s there in the desire to control every element of Guns N’ Roses, from the ownership of the name to the safeguarding of the musical legacy. It’s easy enough to make the link between a young Bill Bailey dreaming of one day having the freedom to sing somewhere other than the bathroom of his family home out of earshot of his religious zealot father, and the glistening edifice of Chinese Democracy, a record so singular and out of time that it could only have been the work of a reclusive rock star taking the chance to offer his version of a perfectly realised artwork to the world, uninterrupted by anyone.

 

Final Prince Extract

This is from the last chapter of my new book, Prince: Purple Reign.

It seemed the mystery that always surrounded his life would only deepen with his death. The only thing that seemed to be certain was that Prince, for the final years of his life at least, had been guarding a secret. A study of the facts produces a disturbing portrait of a man whose woeful death belied his avowed mission always to celebrate life, through music, through sex, through God.

The first signs of something not being as it was supposed to seem occurred in the early 2000s, when his half-brother, Duane, reportedly informed his lawyer that Prince was addicted to cocaine and Percocet – the latter a ferociously strong painkiller often prescribed by doctors to someone who has recently undergone major surgery.

The first the world got wind of anything being really wrong with Prince, though, came when his private plane was forced to make an emergency landing on 15 April 2016, as Prince and his entourage flew home from a concert in Atlanta, the plane descending 45,000 feet in just seventeen minutes after an ‘unresponsive male’ was reported on board, with the fire department and paramedics alerted of the incoming patient.

At the time, Prince’s official management sources put out a press release explaining that Prince simply had a bad case of flu. It has since emerged, however, that an unconscious Prince was carried off the plane by his bodyguard, straight into a limo which sped to nearby Moline hospital, where the Emergency Medical Services team hurriedly administered a ‘save shot’ – medical slang for an injection of the anti-overdose medication Narcan, given to victims of drug overdoses in life-threatening conditions. (See the infamous scene in Pulp Fiction where the Uma Thurman character is administered the shot.) The doctors at the hospital were so concerned they insisted that Prince stay in for the next twenty-four hours. But Prince shrugged off the suggestion, ordering his team to take him back to his plane just three hours later, and get him home again.

The story was widely reported around the world but any suspicions that this was anything more than the ‘severe flu’ were somewhat allayed when Prince was seen bicycling around the Paisley Park compound the next day. That night he also held an impromptu concert at Paisley Park, showing off a new purple piano and assuring the crowd of fan club members, family and friends they should ‘Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.’

Two nights before his death Prince was seen attending a performance by the jazz singer Lizz Wright at a local club called the Dakota. The following day though, Prince met with Michael Schulenberg, a family-medicine doctor, who issued an ‘unidentified prescription’, his second in a few weeks from the same doctor. Later that day, Prince was photographed outside a local Walgreens [pharmacy]. It was later that night, Rolling Stone reported, that ‘Someone in Prince’s camp reached out to Howard Kornfeld, a Mill Valley, California, doctor who runs an outpatient clinic that specializes in treating addictions.’

According to the report, Kornfeld’s son Andrew took an overnight flight to Minneapolis, but by the time he arrived at Paisley Park the following morning Prince was dead. His body had been found slumped in one of the building’s elevators. Reports later suggested that police on the scene recovered paraphernalia and paperwork to indicate that Prince had been taking doses of Percocet, along with other possible substances.

Most damning of all was a story run in the online edition of the Mail, forty-eight hours after Prince’s death, purporting to be an interview with Prince’s main drug dealer, who wished to be identified only as Doctor D. Whoever this was, he claimed that Prince usually paid him, sometimes $40,000 a time, in exchange for six-month medical supplies of Dilaudid pills and Fentanyl patches – both in the same category at Percocet as grade-A super-strength opioid painkillers.

According to Doctor D, Prince was ‘majorly addicted’ and first bought drugs from him as far back as 1984, remaining in touch until around 2008.

‘I first met Prince in 1984 while he was filming the movie Purple Rain,’ he told the Mail. ‘I didn’t hook him on drugs, he was already a really heavy user. In the beginning he would buy speed as well as Dilaudid. He would use that as a counter-balance to get back up again from taking opiates. That lasted for a couple of years then he would just buy Dilaudid, which is a heroin-based opiate.’

Doctor D insisted he’d never known Prince to take street heroin, ‘as that would leave you out of it for days whereas Dilaudid gives you an energy buzz as well as making you feel relaxed, so he preferred it’. He added a horribly plausible detail. Prince craved the drugs, he said, ‘because he was so nervous. He could be nervous in a room with just five people in it. He was scared to go out in public, he was scared to talk to people, and didn’t like to go on stage …’

According to Doctor D, Prince’s dependence on the drugs he was supplying grew to the extent where he was taking double or triple the recommended medial dose. This included the wearing of Fentanyl patches, a synthetic opioid approximately 40–50 times more potent than heroin, which police and paramedics were reported to have found on Prince’s dead body. ‘They come in boxes of five and I would sell Prince 20 boxes at a time.’

Because Prince was such a private, even secretive person, it’s not difficult to understand how this sort of behaviour might have gone on for years without those close to him suspecting anything. The fact that he always made such a big deal over what food he ate, what beverages he let pass his lips – no alcohol, not even any tea or coffee – again, it’s easy to see why no one would have looked twice at the idea that he might secretly be taking drugs. Doctor D recalled how, once, Prince was ‘eating a salad and a skinless chicken breast with no dressing and I commented about how healthy he was. He turned to me and said, “If I didn’t watch my food I probably wouldn’t last that long.” I think it was his way of counteracting all the drugs he was taking.’

The dealer also recalled how Prince would often invite him to Jehovah’s Witness Bible study groups. ‘He often used to preach about God to me. Maybe it was a form of guilt … He’d say, “You know there’s only one God and we’re all here for a reason, to serve God.” And he’d say, “We have to be good people, it’s important that we try to be good people.” He had a thing about being a good person.’

Yes, he did. And we should hold on to that knowledge now we start to hear about those sides of Prince he was too ashamed to ever let the world see while he was alive. A philanderer on the scale of Casanova, a musical genius as close to God as Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix, Prince was also a conduit for acceptance and understanding for races and creeds from all corners of the world, no matter what their sexuality, age, background or talents. It was all there in his multi-coloured, multicultural music, all roads leading to the same destination.

That was certainly the larger message being given out in the days that followed his death. A week after he died, Prince had no fewer than five albums in the US Top 10, including the No. 1 and No. 2 spots with The Very Best of Prince and Purple Rain, respectively. Prince’s overall catalogue of albums sold 256,000 copies that week, reported Billboard, an increase of 5,298 per cent compared to the previous week’s estimated sales of around 5,000. The same week, in Britain, Prince held all five of the Top 5 positions in the albums chart, plus four in the Top 5 of the singles chart, with ‘Purple Rain’ at No. 1, ‘When Doves Cry’ at No. 2, ‘Kiss’ at No. 4 and ‘1999’ in fifth position.

In New York, the filmmaker Spike Lee threw a street party in honour of Prince for around 1,000 people at his Brooklyn headquarters. The crowd danced and sang along to ‘Little Red Corvette’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’. Dressed in a purple T-shirt, Lee also led the crowd through an encore of ‘Purple Rain’. Many other stars paid tribute, Mike Tyson tweeting a weird picture of himself with his face transposed with Prince’s. Mariah Carey stopped her show in Paris and gave tribute.

More poignantly, Mayte Garcia, who had been mother to Prince’s only child, wept as she told reporters, ‘I can’t even think of the words of what I’m feeling. This man was my everything. We had a family. I am beyond deeply saddened and devastated.’ She sobbed as she added, ‘I loved him then, I love him now and will love him eternally. He’s with our son now.’ Sheila E tweeted: ‘My heart is broken. There are no words. I love you!’

Invited to reflect, briefly, in 2004, on the vicissitudes of getting older, of peering forward towards that endless night that awaits us all, Prince pursed his lips into that inscrutable smile that seemed to say I-know-something-you-don’t. Then said, simply, ‘I don’t look at time that way, and I don’t believe in age. When you wake up, each day looks the same, so each day should be a new beginning. I don’t have an expiration date.’

And he doesn’t. You can grab your phone and listen to one of his immortal tunes right now. Or turn to a computer and pull up a million-and-one of his one-in-a-million performances.

Or as he once sang it so sweetly on that song the whole world now knows, ‘I only wanted to see you bathing in the purple rain …’

Catch U there.