Money, Drugs, Sex, Knives and Ex-Wives: An Interview with Mick Wall, Author of Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses
It’s an exciting time to be a Guns N’ Roses fan. Today marks 30 years since they released their blockbuster debut album, Appetite for Destruction. The North American leg of their Not in This Lifetime tour begins July 27 and runs through November 29.
Lesser Gods published Mick Wall’s Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses this week. Here is an exclusive interview with Wall, highlighting the drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll that the book has to offer. Wall was a key figure in Guns N’ Roses’ rise and part of their inner circle in their heyday. With unprecedented access to the band members, managers and more, he wrote the definitive biography of Guns N’ Roses. We’ll be posting exclusive content from the book every day this week, so keep checking our website.
What will Guns N’ Roses fans get out of this book?
Joy, laughter, blood, tears, shock, magic. Hundreds of stories they never read or heard about before. From the childhoods of each important member, through the dreams-come-true nightmares of the band taking off, to the crash-landing that followed, and from which only Axl crawled from the wreckage. At least, at first. You’ll learn the real story behind every album, every tour, every big-deal step they ever took. And many of the more secretive, smaller things that went on that no one knew about. Right up to the present day and the current three-fifths reunion. Money, drugs, sex, power, fights, cops, knives, guns, wives, ex-wives, court cases, overdoses, and some of the greatest records ever made.
Given the other books out there by and about the band members, why did you write this biography now?
With all due respect to the official memoirs that various current and former members of GN’R have published over the years, those were not objective accounts. They did not include the hundreds of different interviews I did with both the band and the many people that helped—and in some cases hindered—them along the way. They were purely personal and left out anything the guys didn’t want to see in there or simply couldn’t remember, which is how official autobiographies work.
The other books out there are essentially fan collections. Fun for fans, but not nearly enough meat on the bone for grown-up readers who enjoy literary biographies. In short, there are some wonderfully literary books out there on great artists like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc. But before my book, none at all on GN’R. And I include my earlier biography of Axl Rose, W.A.R., which came out over 10 years ago, which was very one-sided.
The point of Last of the Giants was to write a truly monumental biography of what is the last truly monumental, authentic rock ’n’ roll band—the last of its kind. A book that plays no favors and just sets out to uncover the truth, on all levels. I always used to say that GN’R were the only band I ever worked with in their prime where the best you could do was simply write down everything that went on—the good, the bad, the genius and the crazy. That the story itself was so good, even when it makes you flinch with pain to read parts of it, that it really was best to let it tell itself. Not from the perspective of one member or one person that used to work for them, but from everybody involved, the whole inglorious circus.
You were part of Guns N’ Roses’ inner circle in their heyday. How did that help you in writing Last of the Giants?
There was that but also the fact that I’d already been working in the music biz for 10 years when I first met them in 1987. I’d worked in management, in publicity, in TV and radio, and as a music journalist and biographer. By the time I first met GN’R I was already the go-to guy for Metallica, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin. It meant I never looked up to the band as a fan might. They were a little younger than me and for a long time I felt I was helping them. I was the first guy to play their records on the radio in the UK, the only guy in the UK and Europe to play their videos on my weekly TV show. By the time I began living in LA in 1988, I would run into them all the time. Lend them money, buy them drinks. Snort coke and fuck around. So I always felt like I knew them, the real them, and of course along the way I also got to know their circle. It wasn’t always fun, it was often downright disturbing, but it was never dull. I used to wish there were more genuine street cat groups like GN’R, heavily real but also heavily talented. I still wish that.
I was also there for the Velvet Revolver years and knew Scott Weiland well, and that’s yet another huge chapter telling the world things they never really knew. Including one of the last interviews Scott did before he died of an OD in 2015.
For the first time, you got extensive firsthand accounts from Guns N’ Roses’ two original managers, who were down in the trenches with them from 1986 to 2004.
I did about 50 different interviews in all with Alan Niven (who took them from the Starwood to Giants Stadium) and Doug Goldstein (who took over in time for the mind-fucking Use Your Illusion tour). Alan and Doug now hate each other, so that part wasn’t easy. I deliberately made sure neither heard what the other had to say, in an effort to stay objective. Just give them both as much space as I could for them to be themselves. The result was some of the most fascinating, hair-raising, skin-crawling, outrageously funny, brilliantly honest stories in the book. They helped transform the whole outlook of the book. As did talking to other GN’R managers from the past, like Vicky Hamilton, who was there in the early blood and dust days, and a couple of their post–Chinese Democracy managers that preferred not to be named directly but were incredibly insightful.
The U.S./Canada tour goes from July 27 to November 29. Should old-school fans check out the new shows?
Absolutely! This is last-chance-to-see time. All the guys are now in their fifties. Most are now clean and sober. They are playing way beyond their capabilities of 30 years ago. I’ve seen the show and it is one great fucking night out!
I will say this: Where’s Izzy? We know what happened to Steven. He fucked up big time. So that now he gets to very occasionally guest appear on one song at their shows. Read the book and you’ll see how heartbreaking that aspect of the story is. But Izzy? Who co-founded the band, who first persuaded Axl he could be a singer, who wrote and co-wrote some of the band’s greatest songs like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Rocket Queen” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”? Izzy has been straight for over 20 years. He’s supremely talented. He is a huge part of the GN’R mythology. But as you’ll discover in the book, Izzy was deliberately cut out of the deal when putting the reunion together. They offered him a minor role, greater than Steven’s but not by much, and they offered him a flat fee.
Now the band’s business is the band’s business. Money is money. But GN’R are trading off their reputation, their past, the albums they made, the last of which was in 1991. Izzy was 100 percent part of that. Until he is back on stage with them, given the same share as Axl, Slash and Duff, the “band” will be incomplete.
It’s been 30 years since Guns N’ Roses released their blockbuster debut album, Appetite for Destruction. How has it held up over time?
It sounds even better now than it did back then. And back then it sounded out of this world. You have to remember, in 1987, several great rock and metal albums came out—Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation, The Cult’s Electric, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, to name just a few—and Appetite stood out above them all. Here in 2017, though, in a world where there simply is no such colossal rock releases anymore, listening to Appetite is like visiting another, much more dangerous and exciting world.
Like I say in the book:
When Guns N’ Roses do finally go, so will the golden age of rock, gone forever, no encores. When they go so will we, those generations of us that rejoiced in allowing our lives to become identified with this music, this message, this meaning. Those of us that recognize, finally, when all is said and done, that Axl Rose really is that thing we so desperately want him to be: the last of the truly extraordinary, all-time great, no-apologies, no-explanations, no-quarter-given rock stars. The authenticity, the risk taking, the sheer guts. Few ever really had it even in the 1960s. No one else has it now. This is Guns N’ Fuckin’ Roses, baby. And, like the song says, they will never, ever come down.