When I first met Inkwell Michelle, she had a skeleton in her closet. Not a real skeleton, of course. A metaphorical one. But it hung in a non-metaphorical closet. It was a jean jacket. A jean jacket covered in Guns n' Roses patches. This was back in the summer of '92, and even then, such a garment was seen as past its expiration date. So of course I made fun of her for it. A lot. Come to think of it, I still do. The only difference is that when I remember to make fun of her for her acid washed arts and crafts nowadays, it's usually while I'm listening to Guns n' Roses. (Sweet Child O Mine had foresight, what can I say?)
To honor a past that Inkwell Michelle had hoped would stay a sworn secret forever, I'm dedicating this week's Weekend Links to two recent books charting the era of banshee-screamed cries of "Na-na-na-na-na-na-knees! Knees!": Slash's autobiography, Slash, and Reckless Road; Guns n' Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction, the gorgeously assembled, self-published photo/scrap book by GN'R friend and Cantor's Deli owner, Marc Canter.
Most rock biographies are about getting to the Good Part. There’s typically a bit of slogging through the star’s unhappy childhood, the revelation of music’s true power and a hard-fought rise to the top before the litany of debauchery and depravity begins — the part that fans actually want to read.
Trash classics of the genre like the Led Zeppelin epic Hammer of the Gods and No One Here Gets Out Alive, the Jim Morrison saga, established a formula that Behind the Music would turn into a cliché. (The recent trend of more “literary” rock memoirs turns this construct on its head; Sting’s Broken Music scarcely mentions the Police, while Bob Dylan’s Chronicles skips the mid-’60s, his most celebrated period.)
The publication of Slash, the autobiography of the top-hatted lead guitarist of Guns N’ Rose...presents a new model for the rock bio: (this) book (is) both pretty much all Good Part.
Slash doesn’t have much to say about the making of the band’s monster 1987 album, Appetite for Destruction (the music just came easily, it seems), but he has plenty to say about its own increasing appetites for sex, booze and drugs.
“When we weren’t being transcendent,” he writes, “we specialized in self-inflicted disaster.” He developed heroin and alcohol dependencies, as did other band members, and he notes that they also took down a lot of not-so-innocent bystanders. “People would get attracted to our...weird life and just get it wrong and drown in our riptide.”
Slash comes across as a nice guy with a proclivity, sometimes toxic, for getting into trouble. He maintains good humor about even his most serious problems, occasionally offering some words to live by. “That’s a wonderful side effect of leather pants”: when you urinate in them, “they’re more forgiving than jeans.”
LAist: So how did this all start?
Marc: I grew up as a big Aerosmith fan. I decided that I would document Slash the way I would document Aerosmith. I always knew he would make it as a guitarist, (so) I would tape record the performances even before GNR, just because I wanted them. If he goes and plays a party, he’ll play and it’ll be gone, so if you record it, you’ve got it. So for a dollar, you put a tape in, you got it. Taking pictures was just a fun thing that I learned how to do. I saw how it started to mold especially after we met Axl, and I saw more of the same coming from different sources. Then I knew if that if they would stay together they would make it. Now I got stuff or myself and for the world, because I wish someone would do for Aerosmith.
LAist: Did you know that you would eventually bring all of this material together?
Marc: I didn’t know that I would make a book, but I was collecting flyers and recording shows/ memorabilia just the way I would for Aerosmith. After they started to get big, (like gold record big) then I realized that at some point I'd put out a scrap book. So I started project in 1994 and it took me 15 months to do. I worked on it from11am to 4 am, and I only went to sleep after I finished a particular section.
So at that point I re-developed all the photos and laid them all out. My goal was to give the publisher a perfect manuscript so they would say “wow, there’s something here.” I wanted the photos the right color and everything; when you shoot on negatives, nothings the right color, its how you develop it.
So I put this thing together and shopped it around but my agent got very greedy, he wanted like a 1$00,000 advance, and this was right around the time the band was falling apart, (around the beginning of 95) and I said put it out for free. So I took it away from him, took it to William Morris, and they got greedy; they wouldn’t listen to me. So I just put it in my shelf, at the time it was 380 pages, and then about 3 years went by and I decided to self publish. I Financed the money by selling my magazine collection – Hit Paraders, Creams, Circuses – I had collected them from swap meets and flea markets, all the good ones from ’71 and ‘72. I was really excited about them, but I wanted someone else to have them. So I eBay’d them and I knew they went to people who wanted them, so that was reassuring.
LAist: (Right) now in LA, there’s a huge nostalgia for that period.
Marc: Right. Everyone that sees the book goes crazy! I took it to Book Soup one time and the owner wasn’t there. I just said I wanted to give you 5 or 6 on consignment, and if you sell them, just buy more. I was there for 1 minute and someone flipped through it and bought it!
LAist: No way!
Marc: So we have a few to sell here at Canters. We sold 10 books on Christmas day. Now for me it’s like a little project. I can stand near the register and see what kinds of people flip through the book and eventually they’ll just spring for it. I get a pleasure to watch somebody come here and unexpectedly walk out with a book. The people that come in have no idea that they’ll leave here with a book. That’s the way I know I completed my goal. All the hours and hours and hours I spent doing this book, that’s the best reward.
For the full interview, click here.