The OTT rock’n’roll soap opera that is Guns N’ Roses is less EastEnders and more The Archers these days. The recent reunion has stripped away the tension that once fired this most dramatic of bands, bestowing an unlikely heritage status on a group who were once heralded as the harbingers of the downfall of Western civilisation by that renowned organ of record, the Daily Star.
Former Sounds and Classic Rock writer Paul Elliott first met Guns N’ Roses back when they still had venom dripping from their fangs. He was the first British journalist to fly the flag for these most unlikely saviours of 80s rock, and he’s got the war stories to prove it.
They’re all crammed into this handsome, hefty, beautifully designed, vinyl-sized book. Inevitably, the gold – and the insight – comes in the first half, when the band were clustered around a tape recorder on the author’s hotel room floor or inviting him to watch the cops scope out their near-mythical shared digs-cum-drug den the Hell House. While the rest of the band come over like a gang of goofy kids – albeit goofy kids with a penchant for pints of smack and flotillas of supernaturally buoyant strippers – Axl Rose’s gimlet-eyed ambition is already in place.
By the time Elliott catches up with them at the end of the 80s, the cracks are showing. Even at that early stage, the gang mentality has fractured: Axl is an increasingly malevolent presence largely off-camera. When he does deign to turn up a few minutes before one gig, he prepares his voice by singing Queensrÿche’s anti-heroin anthem The Needle Lies – a needle-sharp dig at trusty lieutenant-turned-frenemy Slash.
Equally inevitably, the last 20 years are less well catered for. While Slash, Duff, Dean, Trev and the rest went on to varying successful careers together and apart, Axl basically picked up the GN’R ball and went home with it.
Like every other journalist, Elliott found himself locked out. He does a fine job of pulling together existing strands of info, but he’s added little to what was already out there. But it’s still a hell of a journey, whichever way you slice it.