Book Review by Anthony Kuzminski
Rock biographies are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere and often are a quick cash grab for a publishing company. There’s also a catch-22 with bio’s; either they are unauthorized or authorized which brings about a whole slew of pro’s and con’s. The unauthorized bio lacks one-on-one contact with the subject and the authorized bio is usually hindered by too much interaction with the subject. In recent years authorized bio’s have become glorified and expanded press releases never wanting to show the star in a negative light while unauthorized biographies (as of late) have showcased downright lazy journalism. I read them and even if it is a subject I am not entirely familiar with, I find factual errors left and right making me wonder if the book underwent any kind of proof read? My theory with an unauthorized bio is that if you’re going to do it, do the artist justice, be truthful and most importantly…do it well. Mick Wall’s follows these three simple rules and as a result W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose is the best biography I’ve read in years…authorized or unauthorized.
Mick Wall made a name for himself as a top tier writer for Kerrang magazine a few decades back where some of his early reviews of GNR won him insider status with the band until he had a rather public falling out with them in 1990-91. Despite his rather dazzling prose, most people in the world know of him because of the Guns N’ Roses song “Get in the Ring”. In a non-flattering declaration, Axl Rose cussed him out for betraying the band. As a young teenager I never quite understood what Wall did to warrant Axl’s wrath. However, the book tells us exactly what happened. It is from Wall’s perspective and this unfortunate series of events has to be taken with a grain of salt. However, his handling of the subject is so non-venomous that you have to sit back and admire Wall. Unlike Stephen Davis’ recent GNR bio, Wall does have an ax to grind, but you would never know it. While Wall makes his case for his disappointment, he doesn’t wallow in it like a whiny bitch. He’s a man, he took his hit and he may have managed to execute what I thought was nearly impossible; an unbiased and largely fair biography on Axl Rose. What differentiates Wall’s book from others is that he only published stories that were verified by multiple sources leading credence. Some memories and verifications may be blurred but until Axl Rose decides to write his own biography, this will be the one all other GNR books are judged by.
Wall gives the reader almost unparalleled insight into the early life of Axl Rose and it’s not just detailed, but definitive. He researched old courthouse documents, interviewed people from Indiana and has laid out a fascinating, disturbing and revealing tale that I doubt even Axl Rose would be able to tell you. Wall did his homework and it shows. There are no glaring factual errors and he appears to have given a great attention to detail from Axl’s birth all the way to events in recent years. If the genesis story of Axl isn’t enough, then you will relish the latter chapters. Something no one has done with any success, until now, is properly document what happened between 1993 at the end of the Illusion tour and present day. Stephen Davis barely revealed any post-1993 secrets or stories in his underwhelming bio of the band, Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N’ Roses but Wall’s book is awash with detailed timelines and stories. While many of these have been printed before, Wall had to do the research and put this period into context, which he does magnificently. Because so little is known about this period and interviews with Rose are largely non-existent, Wall didn’t judge, he merely reported; this is what defines a great journalist.
Back in February I was interviewed for a series of hours by director Barbara Kopple for Bon Jovi’s upcoming 2009 documentary. While I was interviewed, a member of Bon Jovi’s inner circle was in the room, but I sat there and spoke from my gut and heart; I spoke about the light and the darkness. No story works without a dramatic arc and I gave them one. Sadly Barbara Kopple has apparently been replaced on the film so I imagine my interview will sit in a vault never to be seen. But one of the more fascinating aspects of the day was when Kopple asked the Bon Jovi associate if Jon reads any of my writing. The answer I received was “He does read it…ever last word and he says that you are fair”. “Fair”. I had to sit back and process that for a few seconds and ultimately, it was maybe the greatest compliment anyone ever gave me, because it means I’ve simultaneously made Jon Bon Jovi enlightened and thwarted by my reviews. “Fair” means that I crawled under his skin with the bad ones, but more importantly, he understood where I was coming from. A few months back on photographer Ross Halfin’s diary, he spoke of being backstage at a show with Duff McKagen and Gilby Clarke. Clarke had read Wall’s book and told Duff that it was “fair”. No greater compliment could be given to Mick Wall as he has executed a largely unbiased and captivating book. What makes W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose such an invigorating read is the care and attention to detail he gives to his subject. Most importantly, he distances himself from the past and has written what is probably the definitive document on W. Axl Rose (until Del James or Rose writes one).
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.