Thursday, 5 June 2008

Book Review: Slash (2007), by Slash with Anthony Bozza

For a few shining years in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Guns'n'Roses were the biggest, baddest, and most dangerous rock'n'roll band in the world. On the back of a grand total of three serious studio albums, "Appetite for Destruction" and "Use Your Illusion I" and "II", the latter two of which were released on the same day, lead guitarist Slash, vocalist Axl Rose, and their band-mates stood on top of the heap. They were all young, uneducated (not one had completed high school), addicted to various drugs and alcohol, ill-equipped to deal with success, and suddenly incredibly wealthy and famous. They proceeded to tear each other down as quickly as they had risen to the top.

This is the story as told by Slash, born Saul Hudson. From his childhood to his current career as leader of the band Velvet Revolver, it's a story of a scrappy, talented, and uncompromising guitarist whose early life was shattered by his parents' divorce. From that point onwards he was destructively addicted to any substance or activity that can possibly be harmful, from alcohol to shoplifting to hard drugs. Effectively homeless and living a shiftless life on the edges of society on the tough streets of Los Angeles, Slash could have easily ended up properly (instead of temporarily) dead on many occassions, and he was lucky not to spend more time in jail than he did. Instead, his discovery of his innate talent for the guitar and his single-minded pursuit of a successful life as a rock'n'roll rebel landed him in the middle of one of the most successful, and short-lived, bands in the world.

The book is remarkably well-written, thoughtful and entertaining. With the help of former Rolling Stones writer Anthony Bozza, Slash comes across as a man with a very high level of self-awareness, fully open about his mistakes, successes, and achievements. The book is full of terrifically entertaining stories and insights, many of them hysterically funny, as well as an assortment of memorable characters that must be typical of the colourful and opportunistic puddle of humanity that collects around any major success story. Late in the book, Slash notices with some bemusement that most of the people who hung around Guns'n'Roses ended up destroyed by drugs or dead.

It is no surprise when Slash reveals part-way through the book that he has always kept a journal. It is otherwise difficult to understand how he can recall the many vivid details of his life through the fog of substance abuse that his brain has pretty much continuously endured.

The self-portrait that Slash presents is that of a strong-willed guitarist who was driven by the need to compose, play, and perform the type of music that he loved. Slash hits some brilliant high-points in the book when describing his discovery of the guitar, and the book is particularly compelling when painting the early creative song-writing, recording, and performance synergy with his Guns'n'Roses band-mates -- it is rare to be able to convey in words the magic of a group of talented individuals creating something special when starting with very little.

The relationship between Slash and Axl Rose comes across as tortured, which undoubtedly it is. Slash uses the words "love / hate", and this is obvious. He conveys at the same time a deep respect and a profound resentment towards Axl, and it is clear that the wounds, anger, and feelings are still raw, after a lot of years. Axl comes across as a deeply complex person who is extremely difficult to deal with, but Slash's continuous addictions must have been as difficult for Axl to tolerate. To his credit, in the many passages dealing with Axl and the break-up of Guns'n'Roses, Slash makes it clear that he is presenting his side of the story, and that Axl's view-point is undoubtedly different and may be as valid.

A minor quibble: this relatively long book could have really used an Index, to help the reader quickly track down many of the numerous characters who re-appear in Slash's life, sometimes hundreds of pages after being intially introduced.

This is a very highly recommended read, for anyone interested in Slash, Guns'n'Roses, or the history of one of rock'n'roll's most colourful chapters.

Published by Harper Collins. 458 pages, with many photos.

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