Slash, by Slash and Anthony Bozza

As a writer, Slash makes for an awesome guitar player. It’s clear from the style of the book that Slash never actually set pen to paper, but told his "co-writer" Anthony Bozza his life story. Said life story was then written in such a way as to make it seem like you were sitting in a living room listening to Slash give his spiel.

Slash is a thoroughly entertaining rock autobiography, full of tales of debauchery: decadent, promiscuous sex, drug abuse, alcoholism, band in-fighting, great rock and roll music. It’s all there, in excess.

The Guns ‘n’ Roses/Velvet Revolver guitarist comes off as a generally nice guy, the kind of guy with whom you’d probably enjoy sitting down and talking about music. He also comes off as a thoroughly reprehensible human being, the kind of guy you would kill if he tried to date your sister.

The book handles some things better than the average rock bio. For example, Slash discusses his musical influences freely. He talks about his great love of Aerosmith, and recounts times when he and various members of Guns ‘n’ Roses would sit around listening to records. Personally, I find this stuff interesting. Too many rock biographies make it seem that the star in question emerged from the earth fully formed. Any successful musician has spent more hours than you can even imagine listening to other people’s music, but this is one of the few rock bios where this passive act of listening to music is described with great fondness. At one point, shortly after hearing Aerosmith’s Rocks for the first time, Slash hooked up with a girl he had been eyeing all night long, but when they got back to her place, he ignored her in order to listen to her copy of Rocks over and over again. She finally kicked him out.

The heart of the book is Slash’s struggles with drugs and drink. He spent most of the last twenty-odd years in a completely altered state. His heroin use was sporadic in the sense that he would be deeply addicted for lengthy periods, and then quit for equally lengthy periods, but his love of alcohol was never very far away. At the end of the book, he proudly speaks of his recovery, but the reader is left to wonder just how long that recovery will last.

In his riveting and harrowing autobiography, Long Time Gone, David Crosby paints the most terrifying picture of drug addiction I’ve ever read. Anyone ever tempted to try cocaine should be forced to read Long Time Gone first. Crosby, too, had made a recovery and it was believable. His regrets over the lost years and broken relationships were apparent on every page. In Slash, the tales of madness and drugs are told in a tone that approaches nostalgia. "Heroin sure is a terrible thing," Slash seems to be saying, "but it sure is fun." Alcohol abuse, too, largely gets a pass from any sort of judgment. You can almost sense that Slash is clean and sober, but feels that he can go back to his former ways at any moment.

Of course, a major plot point for the book is the second leading man. If Slash is the main star of the book, it is Axl Rose who neatly steals the scenes in which he appears. Slash is an addict and a born troublemaker, but Axl is a sociopath. Slash does a good job of portraying Axl in a relatively fair light. Axl’s talent and drive are never questioned, and the early years of the band are portrayed as a friendlier, more respectful, grouping. It is only after fame starts to rear its ugly head that the Axl we all know and loathe starts to come into his own. Concerts delayed for hours, riots started, band members fired, fans abused…now that’s Guns ‘n’ f’in’ Roses!

Fans of real, gritty, dirty rock music owe a great deal of debt to Slash. As a guitar player, he almost single-handedly killed off that Eddie Van Halen hammer-on school of guitar wanking that every blow-dried pretty boy with pouty lips, bedroom eyes, and a closet full of hair spray was riding to the top of the MTV playlists. In a particularly telling anecdote, Slash recounts the first time he heard Eddie Van Halen play. Like every other guitar slinger on the planet, he was dutifully and justifiably blown away. However, he continues, while all the other guitar players in L.A. started practicing their hammer-ons, Slash was listening to the band Van Halen, and trying to pick out the subtleties in Eddie’s playing…the stuff that all the pretty boys missed. Slash loved Van Halen’s playing, but considered himself more from the Chuck Berry school. It shows. Slash can certainly go on a little too long in some of his solos, but generally speaking he is one of the most tasteful heavy rock guitar players to ever play the instrument.  Nobody, except for Eddie Van Halen and some of the leftover wankers from that era of heavy metal (helloooooo Yngwie!), plays in that style anymore, and that’s in no small part due to the fact that Guns ‘n’ Roses became so huge with a guitar player that didn’t play in that style. So thanks for that, Slash.

Slash gives you a very good look at the inner workings of one of the biggest bands of the last 25 years, but in the end it’s not necessarily the most reliable look. By his own admission, Slash was out of his skull for almost all of the incidents described in the book. He apparently kept a diary of sorts in day planners that he used as sources for the book, but who knows how reliable those are? Alcohol and drugs not only destroy your memory of things that happened twenty years ago, they also taint your perception of things that are happening in the here and now. A perfect example is Slash’s story of how Axl refused to go onstage one night until all the band members signed away their rights to the name Guns ‘n’ Roses. Slash recounts that they didn’t know whether or not Axl would go onstage, so they signed the contract. Is the story true? Sorry, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test. Axl rightly points out that such a contract would have been thrown out of court since it was signed under duress. Score one for the sociopath…he may be bonkers, but he’s more believable on this point.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, I plan on reading the Stephen Davis Guns ‘n’ Roses bio, Watch You Bleed. Davis has his own issues, not the least of which is a taste for the sensational, but it will hopefully provide a more reliable presentation of what really happened in the G ‘n’ R camp.

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