Sunday, May 25, 2008

Slash and Roll

I recently finished this book on Slash. I read a lot, but I don't frequently read biographies. And I've never read a rock biography. But I've always had a particular soft spot for Slash and GN'R based on my appreciation of their debut album way back in '87, Appetite for Destruction. In my opinion, one of the best rock albums ever recorded. The book was co-written (heavily, I think) by Anthony Bozza. At times, Bozza's influence is felt too much and at other times not enough.

My first issue was language and word usage. Not to nitpick, and no offense to Slash, but too often Slash uses words in the book that just don't seem like they would be in his usual vocabulary, which in a small sense, subtly undermines the "real" factor of the story. Frankly, I don't want to hear Slash use big words. I met Slash one time in a bar on Miami Beach where he was jamming with a group of friends (very cool, by the way) and Slash could barely utter "hello." It was more like a good grunt and a handshake. And that was ok. That's rock and roll. I don't want to hear his delicate musings on the state of the union.

There were also phrasings in the book that were just absurd, highlighted by an incident where Slash gets confrontational with someone and you're expecting some great, unnecessary use of the "F" word, and he gets up in someone's face and says "whatever." Whatever? That's the best you got? If there was ever a time for Bozza's poetic intervention, this might have been it - somehow a bit anticlimactic in the rock and roll sense, don't you think? Perhaps this weak reaction was a consequence of the fact that for about 15 straight years, Slash was high on a cauldron of drugs, mostly heroine, interspersed with frequent bouts with coke, prescription meds, and of course lots of alcohol. It was Slash's, and at least two other members of the band, addiction to these elements that allowed Axl Rose to gain legal control and musical influence over the band, pushing the remaining members into a "hired guns" scenario, which ultimately led to the band's demise.

Overall, the book is entertaining. I don't know if or how I would recommend it to others, though. You really have to be a fan of the band and their music to enjoy the book because this allows you put aside the oddities and frequent digressions (mostly on the unquenchable search for drugs) of the book and just enjoy the trainwreck. The book answered two questions that I've always wanted to know more about: a) how the band was born and b) why the band died. And I got sufficient answers to those questions.

The book also revealed and confirmed what I already had suspected - that Slash is an easy-going, down-to-earth guy who just loves to play music. He's a musician's musician. When I saw him in Miami Beach, he was there playing with a friend's band because he can't stand to be off stage. He considers himself a musician and when he's not playing, he doesn't feel alive. I saw Slash at this small club in Miami Beach in 1997; the club held maybe 100 people, at best. And yet there he was, cigarette dangling and guitar in hand. What's interesting is if you look at all of the original members of GN'R, Slash is the only one that has stayed in steady motion - appearing and collaborating on so many musical projects. This includes recordings with Lenny Kravitz, Ray Charles and Michael Jackson, as well as his own side gig, Slash's Snakepit, and numerous, and less recognized, appearances at jazz festivals and club tours, such as where I saw him in Miami. Also included would be his creation, with former Guns bassist Duff Mc Kagen and drummer Matt Sorum, as well as former STP singer Scott Weiland, of the band Velvet Revolver, which has produced two successful albums. By contrast, and Slash notes this in the book, Axl Rose, who fought so aggressively for control of GN'R, at the expense of everyone else, has produced absolutely nothing except for an expensive late 1990's recording of songs (album Chinese Democracy) that still has yet to be fully produced or released. My hat's off to him. I hope to meet him again.

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