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WAR! What is He Good For?

  • Dec 7, 2008
Pros: The original Guns n' Roses lineup!

Cons: Mick Wall doesn't come up with more than anyone else

The Bottom Line: Chinese Democracy is finally here, and it's supposedly really good!

William Axl Rose, the supremely gifted but volatile and iron-fisted frontman for the rock band Guns n' Roses, has always said the acronym of his name - WAR - was entirely a coincidence. In WAR, Mick Wall's unauthorized biography of the notorious singer, Wall points out that it becomes an accurate reflection of who Axl Rose became upon the success of his band.

Mick Wall, a writer for Kerrang! magazine, had started out as one of the many journalists who fawned over Guns n' Roses. Wall was on Axl's trust list for a long time before making Axl's crap list, and so we know Wall has been allowed nearly unrestricted access to the inner workings of the band of Axl Rose and whoever else was playing any given position in the rest of the band that week. One of Wall's other books was called Guns n' Roses: The Most Dangerous Band in the World. The big problem with WAR is that while Wall tries to come off as a journalist trying to come clean with the story of the band, he writes more like he was just trying to seek revenge for a time Axl Rose attempted to deny ever giving Wall an interview. Wall goes as far as to give us the desciption of the incident in question in the introduction; the interview he describes is the famous one which resulted in Motley Crue's Vince Neil challenging Rose to a fight. Wall doesn't do a whole lot through WAR to make me think he's doing it objectively; there are a handful of points in which Wall makes the fatal mistake of taking a first-person viewpoint.

Wall spends most of WAR playing around with the bad incidents that circled and hounded Axl Rose. He doesn't do anything to dispel the idea of Rose being anything other than an angry, my-way-or-the-highway perfectionist who made way too many enemies in the process of trying to release the new Guns n' Roses album, Chinese Democracy (which FINALLY saw the light of day on November 23). Chapters seven and eight are respectively called "The Red-Headed Dictator" and "Inside the Court of King Axl." While Wall does talk largely favorably about the music of Guns n' Roses, he also takes a few shots at their music, portraying Axl as overambitious and too progressive. Wall criticizes a number of songs on the band's debut masterpiece, Appetite for Destruction, while also fawning over it throughout much of the book. While snippets and newsclippings from Rose are taken in order to allow him to try to explain himself, Wall just mentions what Axl said and that's it. No exploring a meaning for why Axl turned into what he did.

WAR is very much a step-by-step biography of Axl Rose. It starts with Axl's abusive childhood in Lafayette, Indiana, where Axl war born and raised as William Bruce Bailey by religious fanatic Stephen Bailey. The groundwork is laid outright for Axl's later life and his comments in certain songs against blacks, gays, and women. We have the predictable mess of drugs and questionable company in  the band's early days before the make it big. After that, we have the typical rundown of Axl's walk-offs and no-shows as Axl feels underappreciated by many of his audiences. Of course, there's no explanation given as to why Axl might have acted this way, but then again, Axl himself didn't have a whole lot to say on his performances either. There are, however, a couple of natable points in which Axl does manage to come off as the better of two opponents. The big two are his rivalry with Kurt Cobain, in which Axl felt hurt after being spurned by who he saw as a potential ally. The way Wall tells it, Cobain seemed to take a certain pleasure in insulting Rose. The second is the so-called fight with fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, in which Hilfiger is said to have made the first move.

The book can be divided into two parts. Half is for Guns n' Roses first getting off the ground and taking the world by storm, and the other half deals with Axl's reclusion and lawsuits. The first half is definitely the more interesting of the two because it portrays Axl in full-out rock star mode, women, drugs, the whole nine. It also gives a large amount on the goings-on of the original lineup of Guns n' Roses: Guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler. Throughout the first half, in fact, Wall gives us the beginning and apex of a potentially great rock biography. But by the time Adler is replaced by Matt Sorum, WAR starts having an identity crisis. Wall seems to periodically change his viewpoint and seems torn between Axl the reclusive jerk and Axl the misunderstood genius. The last few chapters jerk around so much between years and incidents that they blend together. And the only new member of the band who doesn't turn out faceless is, ironically enough, Buckethead.

One of the major problems is that Wall doesn't include a lot of input from a lot of the newer members of the band. His work appears to be only around halfway done. One wonders if he went out and performed any footwork himself - he should have been able to considering his former position with the band - or if he just yanked out a lot of interview snippets. The thing I know in this regard is that Wall just didn't use his press access to the extent he could have, and so WAR suffers for it. And frankly, I wondered why Rose decided to lend his voice talents to a certain deejay in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Just because I'm a video game fanatic.

WAR is weak. There's too little of the Axl Rose we don't know and far too much of the Axl Rose we do know. Granted Rose himself didn't make things easy because he's been napping for awhile, but if you're writing about a reclusive star, you really have to produce more than what the blotters have been giving us for a decade and a half.


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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this book


A colorful portrait of the charismatic and idiosyncratic leader of Guns n' Roses follows the turbulent life and career of Axl Rose, from his youth and the beginnings of the rock band, to their rise to success, to the substance abuse and infighting that led to his split from the other original band members. 50,000 first printing.
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ISBN-13: 978-0312377670
Author: Mick Wall
Genre: Biography & Autobiography, Music
Publisher: St Martins Pr
Date Published: February 05, 2008
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"WAR! What is He Good For?"
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