Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I was the first album I ever bought for myself. It remains one of my favourite albums. I have always been interested in Guns ‘n’ Roses. After the initial break-up of the original line-up, I followed and waited for news about what the band would get up to. As with many fans, though, I eventually lost interest in waiting for new GnR music and found more enjoyment in following the members’ other bands — for example, Velvet Revolver and Slash’s Snakepit and, now, Slash’s eponymous solo-project (R&F’nR is one of my favourite albums of his music).
I recently read and loved Duff McKagan’s autobiography, It’s So Easy, which gave a fantastic, readable account of Guns ‘n’ Roses (relatively) short rocket to fame and stardom from the perspective of a single member. McKagan was respectful of others’ perspectives, and never guessed his bandmates’ opinions or positions, nor spoke for them. As soon as I finished It’s So Easy, I went out and picked up Slash. I think it’s safe to say that Slash is one of the greatest living guitar players, and I was eager to learn his side of the G’n’R story, and also read about his other music endeavours (Velvet Revolver, Slash’s Snakepit, for example). This eponymous memoir is very good, quite exhaustive (without being exhausting), brutally honest, and accessibly written. It has a few minor flaws, but it was certainly a good read.
The memoir presents a chronological, methodical account of Slash’s upbringing. Starting with his birth in England, his fleeting and few memories of his time there, before the family’s relocation to Los Angeles. In LA, he grew up surrounded by many of the leading artists and up-and-comers of the day (David Bowie, for example). His childhood and family life, while not always entirely settled, seemed perfect for a budding creative type. Slash would spend his adolescence on the streets of Hollywood, discovering BMX, drugs, drinking, rock music, and girls. The narrative takes a little while longer than I would have liked to get to his musical ‘awakening’ and the new direction guitar led him down. Sure, his early years give some insight into his future behaviour and choices, but ultimately it wasn’t as gripping as one might have hoped.
As with McKagan, we get a brief, nostalgic history of Slash’s early bands and musical adventures. Part of the Hollywood scene from a young age, he was effectively a jobbing musician (at least, what amounted to such in Hollywood at the time). Disappointed and sometimes openly hostile to the hair metal that was dominating rock radio and the charts of the day, Slash’s passion for grittier, bluesier and… well, I guess “crunchier” rock ‘n’ roll eventually led him into the orbit of his future Guns ‘n’ Roses bandmates. His childhood friend, Steven Adler, was along for the ride, from the beginning until, almost, the end of G’n’R. As a long-time fan of G’n’R, it was perhaps inevitable that the narrative would pick up considerably for me at this point, and I certainly found myself more easily sucked into his retelling after Guns gets together and the adventures and craziness begins.
Ultimately, much of the story is already known by fans of the band — they are, after all, one of the most successful and storied bands on the planet (not all of it good stories…). But Slash’s reminiscences offer new insight to the life and works of Guns ‘n’ Roses and the guitarist’s relationships with his bandmates, comrades and other conspirators. He’s brutally honest about his substance abuse: he doesn’t wallow, he certainly doesn’t glamourize it; but nor does he skirt that fact that, at the time, he loved it. Some of his memories and anecdotes were frightening (the hallucinations, the desperate scrabbles for even the smallest, nastiest hit, the lies he would tell to feed his habits). It’s a cautionary tale, to be sure, but Slash doesn’t preach.
On the musical side, I welcomed the extra details to the overall history of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and Slash’s Snakepit (all bands I like). You can hear the passion for music and guitars whenever he talks about the recording process, his equipment and the thrill he still gets when onstage. True, the narrative is sometimes a little ponderous, it doesn’t always flow as easily as McKagan’s or other music bios I’ve read recently. But it is, nevertheless, fascinating, illuminating and entertaining.
Very highly recommended for all fans of Guns ‘n’ Roses and Slash’s other projects, and also recommended for anyone with an interest in music history.
Slash is out now, published by Dey Street Books.