With sales of over 100 million records, God knows how many downloads and sold out arena tours from the late 1980s until today, Guns N’ Roses are long overdue their definitive biography. Mick Wall, a former writer for Kerrang, Sounds and Melody Maker has finally written one – The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses.
Mick Wall became close to the band during their ascent, gaining access to their dark inner world until he angered the band’s singer, Axl Rose. This earned Wall a name check and a vicious put down in the Use Your Illusion II track, Get in the Ring. Despite this, Mick Wall takes a very even-handed and sympathetic look at the band and their enigmatic lead singer. The focus is on the personalities and music, as much as the eye-watering tales of rock and roll excess, violence and insanity – of which there are many.
Wall describes the dizzying rise of the band from the L.A. glam metal scene with the accuracy of someone who was actually there, charting their beginnings in tiny, sleazy clubs while living in poverty and squalor. Their rapid ascent is described by industry insiders who helped them, with former managers telling detailed and brutally honest stories of brilliant live shows and dreadful behaviour.
The band’s many controversies are dealt with – from the death of two fans at an English show, to the heavily criticised lyrics to the song One In a Million. Wall has the clarity and insight gained by 25 years’ worth of hindsight. While there are no new interviews with any of the band members, Wall has drawn from a wealth of interviews from the era and new interviews with many who were there at the time. The splintering of the original line up is detailed in all its depressing, drug-soaked inevitability, and he lists the factors and pressures that broke the band at the peak of their fame.
While all members of Guns N’ Roses have their story told in full, including several chapters on the short-lived but popular supergroup Velvet Revolver, Wall does focus on the temperamental figure that is Axl Rose. We hear his story from his abusive childhood, his unwavering determination to make Guns N’ Roses the biggest band in the world, and his perfectionism and desire for control that ultimately broke the original line up. The subsequent revolving cast of musicians that make up Guns N’ Roses are covered with an in-depth and surprisingly enthusiastic review of the much maligned Chinese Democracy album. In fact his obvious fondness for the album made me give it another go and he is right. It is a better album than I remember it.
Wall makes the case that Guns N’ Roses were the last great band of the “Rock Era” – a time when a rock and roll band could be a truly subversive cultural force while reaching a huge audience. It’s a hard theory to argue with when you start trying to list all subsequent contenders. Cobain? Too depressing. Eddie Vedder? Too populist. Jack White? Too niche and he arrived a little too late. Eminem? Perhaps, but do genre definitions and his arrival as popular music stopped being the dominant cultural force disqualify him?
What is impossible to argue with is the story of Guns N’ Roses as one of rock’s most absorbing and fascinating tales. Drugs, sex, violence, controversy and great music are all there in abundance and Wall’s insider knowledge and palpable love for the both the band and the era make Last Of The Giants a cracking good read for anyone who misses the glory days of rock and roll.
More Guns N’ Roses
- Read articles about Guns N’ Roses in Rock’s Backpages
- Looking for some Gunners? Try this list of stuff held at the library Appetite for illusion – Guns N’ Roses and this selection featuring a few other bands from the era.
The Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns n’ Roses
by Mick Wall
Published by Hachette New Zealand
New Brighton Library