Last of the Giants

The True Story of Guns N’ Roses

Mick Wall

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“Mick is able to weave together what can only be referred to as the most complete and accurate portrait on the band ever published. Yes it is THAT good and that well researched! . . . Thorough research and eloquent writing is a beautiful union and Wall’s successful deployment of both, coupled with the fact that he is writing about one of the most incendiary rock bands of the past thirty years, makes for an absolutely enthralling read from beginning to end. . . . Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses takes you on a journey where you can not only live vicariously through their sordid exploits, but you can also get some invaluable insight into what made this band an absolute rarity.” —Classic Rock Revisited

“Using interviews he personally conducted with members of the band, as well as archival material, Wall has assembled the most detailed portrait yet of the band.” —Uproxx

“The book is an exhaustive, yet compelling, narrative of one of the most intriguing rock bands to ever exist. . . . The Guns N’ Roses story was destined for destruction and Wall chronicles it masterfully.” —Innocent Words

“Guns N’ Roses are back on tour, but why see the past-their-prime version when you can relive their glory days through the eyes of Mick Wall, the ‘world’s most famous rock and heavy metal writer’?” —Crave

“The mad, funny, dark and often painful story of a lost band from a now-distant time.” —Classic Rock Magazine

“Any story about Guns is worth reading. But when the author is Mick Wall it’s absolutely essential.” —Kerrang!

“The ultimate biography that sets out to tell the true story.” —Huffington Post

With the original lineup reunited, Guns N’ Roses is packing stadiums again, thirty years after their landmark debut, Appetite for Destruction.

Guns N’ Roses is what every rock band since the Rolling Stones has tried to be: dangerous. They exploded of the ’80s glam metal scene and boldly redefined rock ’n’ roll for a new era.

Mick Wall met Guns N’ Roses when the band members lived together at the infamous “Hell House” in Los Angeles and became a part of their inner circle. Thanks to Wall’s longtime friendship and connections with Guns N’ Roses, he conducted exclusive interviews with all the original members and, for the first time, their original managers, who were down in the trenches with Guns N’ Roses (from 1986 to 2004). They share all-new revelations about the band’s rock-star debauchery in the studio, on tour and behind the scenes.

Last of the Giants is a celebration of Guns N’ Roses: the last of the extraordinary, excessive, not-giving-a-shit rock stars.

July 2017
6 x 9 | 432 pp | 2 8-page color photo inserts
Paperback $28.00

Guns N’ Revolvers: Axl’s Feud with Scott Weiland

While Slash and Duff are suing Axl and he’s countersuing them, their new band Velvet Revolver is riding high. This leads to a bitter war of words with Scott Weiland.

Let’s look back at the spats between GN’R and Velvet Revolver in 2005. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall.

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Velvet Revolver: Duff and Slash onstage with Scott Weiland (Getty Images)

On tour in June 2005, Scott Weiland caused a minor stir in Germany, where the media accused him of wearing Nazi regalia on stage, an illegal act. Vigorously denying any Nazi sympathies, Weiland responded to the allegations by saying, “The Nazi SS hat that I wear in fact symbolizes the loss of democracy and the shift to totalitarianism. One could make an argument that indeed the Government of the US is evolving into, or is already, a fascist police state, hiding under the guise of a republic.” While nobody who knew him would ever mistake Weiland for a Nazi sympathizer, his explanation hung heavy from the weight of the sort of lazily contrived anti-authoritarianism one would expect to hear at a teenage punk show.

The RIAA certified Contraband as double-platinum in July, with the band latching on to the Ozzfest tour for August and September. Celebrations were soon quietened when Matt broke his hand in a water-skiing accident in August. He posted the following statement to fans: “Just wanted to say to all the fans that came to see Velvet Revolver on the last leg of the tour, including Ozzfest, how sorry I am that I couldn’t make it. It was very hard for me to sit on the sidelines while my band went out on the road without me. But it’s what they had to do and with my blessing. It was just a week before the tour when I went to my Mom’s house on Lake Havasu near the Colorado River. I was water skiing when I had a freak fall on the water skis by getting tangled in the ski rope and being dragged.” The band brought in a former Ozzy Osbourne drummer, Brian Tichy, to handle Matt’s commitments until he himself had to leave for a tour with Billy Idol. The band then hired Mark Schulman, formerly the drummer with Simple Minds, for the remainder of their Ozzfest tour.

August would also prove contentious for other reasons. Later that month, Slash and Duff filed a suit against Axl in the federal court, alleging that Axl had changed the publisher of GN’R’s copyrighted songs and kept the royalties for himself. Earlier in the year, Axl had negotiated a multi-million-dollar deal with the Sanctuary Group—Axl’s new management, following the departure of Doug Goldstein—for the rights to GN’R’s back catalogue. Although this deal was reported by the press, Slash and Duff claimed that they had not been clued in to the details and argued that Axl had “omitted and concealed” the scope of his dealings. It was their position that they weren’t aware of the scope of the deal until their royalty checks stopped arriving. The lawsuit read: “Suffering an apparent attack of arrogance and ego . . . Rose recently decided that he is no longer willing to acknowledge the contributions of his former partners and bandmates in having created some of rock’s greatest hits.” Duff’s lawyer, Glen Miskel, explained, “When the ASCAP check didn’t come, we called and they looked into it. We didn’t know all the facts at first.”

Yet while aggressively confronting Axl in the courts, in public, Slash still wore his chill, confrontation-avoiding persona. In February 2006, Slash said that he’d “always been supportive” of his old singer and that he was as excited as anybody for the release of Chinese Democracy. If Slash offered such comments as something of an olive branch, Axl wasn’t having it. A month later, Axl filed a countersuit against Slash and Duff to clarify the property rights surrounding the copyrighted material in the GN’R back catalogue. Sanctuary issued an utterly scathing statement that branded Slash as “a consummate press, photo and media opportunist and manipulator” who “has attacked Axl Rose on a number of levels.” The statement additionally alleged that “Slash has continually made negative and malicious statements about Axl [in the press] in order to garner publicity for himself,” further accusing Duff and Slash of making “numerous false allegations about Axl . . . [and that] Mr Rose believes that once apprised of the true facts, the judge or jury deciding these lawsuits will rule in Axl’s favor on every issue before them.” The statement went on to allege that Slash and Duff’s lawsuit “attacks [Axl’s] integrity as Slash and Duff, in a vindictive attempt to aggrandize their own stature, rewrite history through false statements, which have been repeated by the media. Their attacks on Axl stand in sharp contrast to Rose’s conduct. Axl has at all times worked diligently to maintain the artistic integrity of the band by choosing with great care which properties to license Guns N’ Roses songs to.”

In true scorched-earth fashion, the statement went on to claim that Slash had turned up at Axl’s house in October to offer a truce. According to Sanctuary’s statement, “Slash came to inform Axl that ‘Duff was spineless,’ ‘Scott [Weiland] was a fraud,’ that he ‘hates Matt Sorum’ and that in this ongoing war, contest or whatever anyone wants to call it that Slash has waged against Axl for the better part of 20 years, that Axl has proven himself ‘the stronger.’ Axl regrets having to spend time and energy on these distractions, but he has a responsibility to protect the Guns N’ Roses legacy and expose the truth,” the statement continued. “Axl believes he has been left with no alternative but to respond to these lawsuits. It would have been Axl’s preference to resolve disputes with Slash and Duff in private. The courthouse is not his choice of forum. However, Axl could no longer sit quietly and allow the continuing dissemination of falsehoods and half-truths by his former bandmates.”

Never one to knowingly walk away from a fight, Weiland weighed in with an open letter to Axl that read: “Get in the ring. Go to the gym, motherfucker, or if you prefer, get a new wig, motherfucker. I think I’ll resist the urge to ‘stoop’ to your level. Oh shit, here it comes, you fat, Botox-faced, wig-wearing fuck! Okay, I feel better now.” Then he continued: “Don’t think for a second we don’t know where those words came from. Your unoriginal, uncreative little mind—the same mind that had to rely on its bandmates to write melodies and lyrics. Who’s the fraud now, bitch? Damn, I couldn’t imagine people writing for me. How many albums have you put out, man, and how long did it take the current configuration of this so-called ‘band’ to make this album? How long? And without the only guys that validated the name.

“How dare you! Shame on you! How dare you call our bass player ‘spineless’? We toured our album over a year and a half. How many shows have you played over the last ten years? Oh, that’s right—you bailed out on your long-awaited comeback tour, leaving your remaining fans feeling, shall we say, a trifle miffed?! I won’t even list what I’ve accomplished because I don’t need to. What we’re talking about here is a frightened little man who once thought he was king, but unfortunately this king without his court is nothing but a memory of the asshole he once was.”

Many months later, Beta Lebeis told the official GN’R website the following: “I was the one whom Slash spoke with when he came to Axl’s house in [October] 2005 and expressed his negative comments regarding the others in his new band.” She went on: “Behind the scenes it is a very different story than what the public is told.” Forced to respond, Slash now admitted in an interview with New Jersey’s Home News Tribune that, yes, he had visited Axl’s home in an effort to call a truce. “I actually did go to Axl’s house at one point, but I never saw him. I never talked to him. I left a note with his person over there having to do with the lawsuit that we were in. I don’t know how it got turned into what it got turned into.”

Get in the Ring: Axl’s Antics

Axl Rose challenged Vince Neil to a fight in an interview with Mick Wall. Then he denied having said it.

Let’s look back at Axl being an out-of-control rock star in 1990. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall.

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Guns N’ Roses onstage (Getty Images)

Back in LA at the start of 1990, disorientated by the fame and the money and the madness inherent in having everything they’d dreamed of come true, they drifted. Slash and Duff showed up at the American Music Awards, drunk and coked, slurring and swearing . . . Axl and Slash jammed with Aerosmith at the Forum . . . Slash and Duff guested on an Iggy Pop record . . . Duff got divorced from Mandy, who he’d had a big fight with on New Year’s Eve . . . then, in April, the band played Farm Aid in Indianapolis, a televised gig that showed Steven in his worst possible light . . . Axl got married to Erin Everly in Las Vegas, after threatening to shoot himself if she refused . . . Slash jammed with The Black Crowes in New York . . . the days and nights rolled by, end on end. Every time I spoke to Slash—or Axl, or Duff, all of whom now came to me with different stories, crazy concerns, out-there insights and bad craziness—it was the same but different. Something new that had happened that made the rest of us feel old. You feared for them but at the same time you wondered at them, too. Wasn’t this what the real rock ’n’ roll lifestyle was supposed to be about?

When the LA Times ran a story about Axl winning “a temporary restraining order against the West Hollywood neighbor he is accused of hitting over the head with a wine bottle,” it made headlines in every music magazine, radio station and music TV channel in the world. Yet nobody who’d ever had the remotest dealings with Guns N’ Roses was the least bit surprised by the story. Gabriella Kantor, who lived along the corridor from Axl at Shoreham Towers, had called the cops, claiming Axl had hit her with a bottle after “an altercation.” Though no charges were filed, the band’s lawyers had got a judge to place the restraining order on Kantor, whom they described as “a potentially dangerous rock ’n’ roll groupie . . . upset that she is not a part of [Rose’s] social and or professional life.”

In order to try to keep a cap on things, Doug Goldstein was now paying $1000 a week to another occupant “just to tell me the goings on. He was a Middle Eastern guy, cute as hell. He calls me one day, absolutely out of his mind. ‘He’s fucking crazy! I don’t want your money! Fuck you!’ I go, ‘Slow down, what happened?’ ‘He crazy!’ I go, ‘Yeah, I know. But what happened?’

“What happened was Axl had taken Erin’s Halliburton suitcase and thrown it off the twenty-fourth floor and almost hit this guy.” He laughs. “He’d have killed him if that had hit him. Are you kidding? No question, but very funny, actually. Another time, I got a phone call saying you better come up here. Axl shoved a piano out of the front window of his apartment. I mean, this shit, I wasn’t trained in this! Like, I’m calling crane companies, right? To come get this piano out of the fucking weeds down below the home. It was brilliant, man! I’ll tell ya, every day it was a different challenge. And it was okay because it was kind of fun. It was like, okay, never dealt with this one before.”

Axl moved out of his apartment for a while, to stay at the Sunset Marquis, where another scuffle took place in the dining room one morning—but which the hotel management, famed for their tolerance of the “unconventional” ways of famous entertainers, were happy not to make a big deal of. This was Axl Rose, after all, now the most famous rock star in the world. Who would be dumb enough to fuck up that relationship?

Then four months after the shows at the Coliseum, the spat between Izzy, Axl and Vince Neil at the MTV Awards began to send out its shockwaves. None of us could have guessed then how far they would spread. It was January 1990. I was staying at the home of the band’s PR, Arlett Vereeke. Late one night the phone rang. It was Axl, calling to rant about something or other he’d just read in Kerrang! Arlett told Axl I was there, and she handed over the phone to see if I could help. He told me to come to the Shoreham Towers apartment right away, where he would make some sort of “statement.” He “was in the mood to talk.” Arlett drove me over, and sat in on the whole interview, which made it more disconcerting when Axl tried to claim later I had made parts of it up—and Arlett dutifully backed him. But then, having once been a rock PR myself, I knew that that’s what good PRs do: back their clients to the hilt, right or wrong. It’s not the writer who’s paying their bills.

Axl answered the door and immediately turned his back on us, stomping down the corridor and launching straight into the “statement.” Standing there in crumpled T-shirt and jeans, his big red beard covering most of his face, he began raging about Vince Neil, who had been “saying some shit” in Kerrang!—specifically, Neil’s claim to have punched out GN’R guitarist Izzy Stradlin for “messing” with Vince’s wife, Sharise.

What came next was pure Axl Rose circa 1990, part hubris, part passion, part pain, and part ludicrous hyperbole. The whole incident was “bullshit,” he ranted. “Guns or knives, motherfucker . . . I don’t care. I just wanna smash his plastic face”—this last a sarcastic reference to Vince’s then recent, supposedly hush-hush cosmetic surgery.

“I can’t believe this shit I just read in Kerrang!” he snarled, holding up a copy of Kerrang! dated November 4, 1989 and yanked open at a page from Jon Hotten’s interview with Mötley Crüe. “The interviewer asks Vince Neil about him throwing a punch at Izzy backstage at the MTV awards last year, and Vince replies . . .” Reading aloud sarcastically: “‘I just punched that dick and broke his fucking nose! Anybody who beats up on a woman deserves to get the shit kicked out of them. Izzy hit my wife, a year before I hit him.’ Well, that’s just a crock of shit! Izzy never touched that chick! If anybody tried to hit on anything, it was her trying to hit on Izzy when Vince wasn’t around. Only Izzy didn’t buy it. So that’s what that’s all about . . .”

He continued ranting as I set up the tape recorder. “. . . Vince’s wife has got a bug up her ass about Izzy. Izzy doesn’t know what’s going on, Izzy doesn’t fucking care. But anyway, Izzy’s just walked offstage. He’s momentarily blinded, as always happens when you come offstage, by coming from the stage lights straight into total darkness.” Which was when he said Vince came out of nowhere and hit Izzy. “Tom Petty’s security people jump on him and ask Alan Niven, our manager, who had his arm round Izzy’s shoulders when Vince bopped him, if he wants to press charges. He asks Izzy and Izzy says, “Naw, it was only like being hit by a girl” and they let him go.

“Meantime . . . I’m walking way up ahead of everybody else, and the next thing I know Vince Neil comes flying past me like his ass is on fire or something. All I saw was a blur of cheekbones!” He carried on like this, about how he wanted to “see that plastic face of his cave in when I hit him.”

“Are you serious about this?” I asked him. He said he was. “There’s only one way out for that fucker now and that’s if he apologizes in public, to the press, to Kerrang! and its readers, and admits he was lying when he said those things in that interview. Personally, I don’t think he has the balls. But that’s the gauntlet, and I’m throwing it down . . .”

We sat down in the only two available chairs not smothered in magazines, ashtrays, Coke cans, barf-balls, more ashtrays . . . Axl sat perched in the balcony window overlooking the pulsing neon ooze of the Hollywood hills below. He lit another cigarette and waited for me to begin.

Axl didn’t really believe Vince Neil would take up that gauntlet and arrange to fight it out with him, surely? Still reluctant to make eye contact, he stared into space as he spoke.

“I’ve no idea what he will do. I mean, he could wait until I’m drunk in the Troubadour one night and come in because he got a phone call saying I’m there and hit me with a beer bottle. But it’s like, I don’t care. Hit me with a beer bottle, dude. Do whatever you wanna do but I’m gonna take you out . . . I don’t care what he does. Unless he sniper-shoots me—unless he gets me like that without me knowing it—I’m taking him with me and that’s about all there is to it.”

What if Vince were to apologize?

“That’d be radical! Personally, I don’t think he has the balls. I don’t think he has the balls to admit he’s been lying out of his ass. That’d be great if he did though, and then I wouldn’t have to be a dick from then on.”

It was so insanely ridiculous, so marvelously over the top I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. The biggest rock star in the world was offering a private audience in his own home and threatening to fight one of the other biggest rock stars in the city. Yet when the interview was published three months later, things became a whole lot less amusing.

The first hint of trouble I had was when Arlett tried to obtain the interview tape by telling me the band wanted to run it on “a special GN’R phone-line.” I asked for the number of this “special phone-line.” That’s when the mumbling and back-pedaling began. She said she’d get back to me. She did, a few days later. This time, though, the approach was more direct. Axl would “really like” a copy of the tape, because—well, how could she put this?—“He doesn’t think he really speaks that way.” What? “You know, that he would . . . say . . . those things.” I still didn’t quite get it. “Axl doesn’t believe he said those things. Huh? What does he think happened then—I made them up?”


“But you were there . . .”

“Yes,” she said, hesitantly.

“I even checked with him first,” I said, remembering how I had read some of the most inflammatory quotes back to Axl over the phone—Arlett’s phone—a few weeks later, in order to give Axl the chance to retract or reword them. And how he had told me: “I stand by every fucking word, man . . .”

“Yes,” she said again, “I know. But if you could just send him the tape . . .”

I refused. Not because I felt I had anything to hide. I had been writing about Guns N’ Roses for three years. Of all the bands I had built long-term relationships with in those days—Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, to name a few—I had always felt I enjoyed a particularly close bond with Guns N’ Roses. There had been several occasions when I had deliberately not printed certain stories, in order to underline the trust we shared. Now this. What was Axl thinking? I felt insulted, let down and very angry. I decided to wait for the whole thing to blow over. Axl was always in a shit fit about something. Tomorrow it would be somebody else’s turn.

What I didn’t know then, though, was that Vince Neil had read the interview, and contacted Axl through various intermediaries to let him know he’d be only too willing to settle their score whenever and wherever Axl wanted. That was no surprise. Vince was a tough Mexican kid who’d grown up in a rough part of LA and was more than able to look after himself. As he related in Mötley Crüe’s 2001 autobiography, The Dirt: “The only thing that would have given me more pleasure than a number one record was breaking Axl Rose’s nose . . . I wanted to beat the shit out of that little punk and shut him up for good. But I never heard from him: not that day, not that month, not that year, not that century. But the offer still stands.”

Doug Goldstein tells me now that the fight offer had been so serious, the boxing promoter Don King had got wind of it and offered to stage it anywhere the pair wanted. His answer, rather than “guns or knives motherfucker,” was to say that he hadn’t said it at all. We wouldn’t meet again for another year, at which point the situation would worsen further.

Meanwhile, for all of Guns N’ Roses, their lives would continue to shift at bewildering speed, the madness barely easing. And as the months shot by like the lights of a speeding train, the one thing nobody seemed willing, or able, to talk about seriously was when, and if, there would be a new Guns N’ Roses album.

Paradise City: Guns N’ Roses Become the Biggest Band in the World

As sales of Appetite for Destruction soar, the band embraces stardom, struggles to get clean and adjusts to a new reality at home in LA.

Let’s look back at Guns N’ Roses’ wild tour in 1988 and their struggle to cope with time off in 1989. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall.

Izzy Stradlin holding a bottle of sake in Tokyo in 1988 (Getty Images)

Izzy Stradlin holding a bottle of sake in Tokyo in 1988 (Getty Images)

By the start of December 1988, Guns N’ Roses were back out on the road: five headline shows in Japan, held over from the summer, culminating in a sell-out show at the 14,000-capacity Budokan, in Tokyo. With the exception of Axl, the band were mostly drunk throughout this tour, as they knew they would be unable to score for drugs of any description once inside Japan. As Doug Goldstein says: “They knew they couldn’t take any heroin with them. So on the plane over Izzy takes a handful of sleeping pills and we literally have to carry him through customs—into the van and then up to his room.” Hours later, “Izzy wakes up and he has literally no fucking clue where in the world he is. So he calls Steven. ‘Hey, man, where are we?’ Steven goes, ‘We’re in fucking Japan.’ Izzy goes, ‘No we’re not.’ Steven goes, ‘I want you to go to the window right now and look outside and if you can see one head of blonde hair I’ll suck your dick!’”

“Another night, Steven’s sleepwalking cos he’s fucking drunk out of his mind. Cos that’s what they do when they can’t get any drugs, they drink their asses off. So Steven walks into his drum tech’s room, Tom Mayhew, and pisses in the heater. He thought it was the toilet. He’s lifting the seat up . . . oh my god!”

After Japan came three shows in Australia, followed by one in New Zealand. “Flying from Japan to Australia,” Doug relates, “Axl is sitting next to Alan Niven. Steven and Tom Mayhew are in the seats in front of them. I am sitting directly across from Steven. I could never sleep on flights so out of boredom I start flicking water onto Steven. It wakes Steven up, who then punches Tom Mayhew as hard as he can. He thought it was Axl. He thought Axl was doing it and he was punching Axl. He hit this poor kid so hard all you heard was eerrrgggghhhhh!! Tom couldn’t get his breath cos Steven had just pounded him in the chest.”

And then it was home. Finally. Jetting back to Paradise City five days before Christmas. Where the grass was now greener than ever and the girls so pretty no one could tell the difference anymore. “I think I prefer porn stars,” Slash told me when I passed on a request for a dinner date message from one of the year’s Playboy Playmates of the Month. “Less talking . . .”

It would be another two years before Guns N’ Roses would set out on tour again. Two years in which Appetite for Destruction became one of the biggest-selling albums of the decade, notching up sales worldwide of over 30 million. Two years in which Guns N’ Roses went from being everybody’s favorite underground band to becoming the biggest, most talked-about band in the world. Even their nearest rivals in the big-and-bad stakes, Metallica, now looked to them for their lead into the Nineties, hiring Mike Clink to make their next album (until it became obvious that they really couldn’t follow GN’R) and hanging out with them whenever they were in LA, to the point where Lars Ulrich even had a special white leather jacket made—just like the one Axl wore in the “Paradise City” video. Or, in the case of Metallica’s singer, James Hetfield, hanging out with Slash to score chicks. In his autobiography, Slash recalls “a girl James wanted to fuck and I let him take her into my bedroom. They were in there for a while and I had to get in there to get something, so I crept in quietly and saw James head-fucking her. He was standing on the bed, ramming her head against the wall, moaning in that thunderous voice of his, just slamming away, and bellowing, ‘That’ll be fine! That’ll be fine! Yes! That’ll be fine!’”

I was also now spending most of my time in LA and doing a fair bit of hanging out myself with Slash—and Duff and Axl. It was now that I first got a real sense of who each of them might actually be—and how different they all were from each other. Slash was the one I got to know best. A Hollywood sophisticate compared to the others—not least, Axl, whose small-town background was about as far removed from Slash’s formative years as it was possible to imagine—he was the most in-control, out-of-control person I’d ever known. Anthony Kiedis, singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, would describe himself to me around this time as “the buffest junkie you ever saw!” But that said more about his swinging from one extreme to another than it did his ability to somehow “manage” his drug addiction. Slash seemed to be on a whole other, far more laid-back, worldly level. He hated confrontation, yes, something that would prove to be his downfall when it later came to standing up to Axl’s increasingly high-stakes demands. But there was something else about him, too. A kind of well-bred insouciance that allowed him to make shooting smack seem like the partaking of a delicacy. That transformed what seemed to the outside world a morbid fascination for handling killer snakes into a kind of benediction. A gypsy’s blessing; one for the road, perhaps.  Until you or someone like you might show him something better. Should you, or someone like you, be foolish enough to try . . .

I recall going out for dinner with him one night after they’d finished the Aerosmith tour. Slash hunkered down in the dark of a corner booth at the El Compadre restaurant, the cheap Mexican place opposite the Hell House he’d now left far behind. Old habits and old haunts, it seemed, died hard. The shock of curls were the same, but behind them he looked tired, not just road-weary or stoned but bearing the weight of everything that had happened to him—to them—over the past 18 months.

He’d called to suggest dinner and then brought us out here: “I know this place is kind of sleazy and rundown, but I like it, I feel comfortable,” he said. He told me about the Hell House days and the girls that would give the band blowjobs from under the tables at the El Compadre. But he was in far from his usual hell-raising mood. We spoke about Donington and I asked if he felt in any way to blame. He said not, but talked for a long while about how he’d partition the crowd into separate, safer sections if the band ever played there again, and about how he was agonizing over whether or not he should write to the families of Landon Siggers and Alan Dick.

Appetite for Destruction had just passed sales of five million, so we talked about becoming rich and famous and what it meant. “I’m not gonna take it to the point where I let it have an effect on my personality,” he insisted. “I’m not going to let it turn me into one of those insecure rock star types who doesn’t actually know what the limits of what a fucking pop star means . . .” Yet already the strange kind of rootlessness that overwhelming success can bring was beginning to manifest itself. He was, by his own admission, burned out from touring so hard, and yet “already bored” by being off the road and back in LA. There were plans to go back into the studio to record a new album—he was recording songs on an eight-track machine at home, he said—which they wouldn’t, at least for another two years. There were the endless requests for phone interviews as Appetite began to take off across the world, and he was handling most of those because “Izzy doesn’t want to do it, he wants to stay in the shadows. Steven doesn’t do a lot of stuff because it’s never been his role. Duff likes to do stuff but right now he’s at a wedding . . .” And Axl? “He’s very emotional . . . It’s not any particular thing . . .”

When I told him that we had an annual sweep at the Kerrang! magazine office over which rock stars might snuff it in the forthcoming year and that he was currently top of the list, he laughed and said that Alan Niven had already packed him off to Hawaii once to clean up, “but I had a girl fly out . . .”

In fact, Niven, who understood that Slash “was not one for rehab” had, in his words, “been forced to get inventive when Slash’s habit began to completely own him and threaten his very existence”. The first time he put him in his spare bedroom to make him go cold turkey. “My wife and I took turns to watch over him, wipe the vomit from his mouth and carefully dispense the Valium to take the edge off the process. Sometimes that wasn’t enough. He’d refuse the invitation to come to the house.”

Hence the idea of getting Slash out to Hawaii to try to dry out in the sun. “Hey, Slash, be at the office at noon tomorrow, you’ve got an interview with Guitar Magazine and it’s a cover feature,” Niven had told him over the phone. “When he arrived he was hustled into a limo by Goldstein and driven straight to the LAX airport. There was no such interview scheduled. The two of them flew off to Hawaii . . . totally out of Slash’s element and far from his smack sources. He’d have to go cold turkey in the Islands.”

But then Slash had had his “girl fly out” and when he returned to LA he was as bad as ever. His only real concession to his health, he told me now, was that he’d switched to drinking vodka because the charcoal in Jack Daniel’s had begun to stain his tongue and teeth.

A Mexican band started playing loudly in the restaurant, and he got restless. Before we left, he said: “I’ve been drinking a lot for a long time and I’m only twenty-three years old and I know that, right? It’s not something I’m just so ignorant about that I’m going on this major blowout until all of a sudden something stops me physically. I’m more aware than that, but I’ll do it anyway. So if anything does happen, I won’t be complaining about it because, you know, I knew.”

We parted and I wouldn’t see him again for a few months. The momentum behind Appetite for Destruction was unstopp­able, and began to separate the band from their contemporaries. Guns N’ Roses were selling more records than Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe and Poison combined. They would sell more than Bon Jovi, who had just released New Jersey, a follow-up to their squillion-selling breakthrough Slippery When Wet, from which they would ultimately have five hit singles. They would sell more than Def Leppard, whose two most recent albums had become the first consecutive albums in America to sell more than seven million copies each: Pyromania and Hysteria.

Guns N’ Roses were now entering a place that very few bands had ever visited, and no one had a map of this unknown territory. They were adjusting to new and different lives. They had received their first significant money: each had received a check for $850,000, and there was plenty more to come. Axl bought an apartment in Hollywood, on the twelfth floor of a condominium block called Shoreham Towers, behind the Tower Records store on Sunset Boulevard, and a substantial plot of land in Wisconsin. He said he planned to buy a place in New York, too. He toggled between a hotel and the LA home with Erin, and spent some more of his money on a customized Corvette Sting Ray and a black BMW. The LA apartment was decorated in black, with mirrored walls and a display of his gold and platinum records.

Izzy was now holed up with his girlfriend, Desi, “in the shadows” as Slash put it. Duff was still married and alternately drinking, fighting and making up with his wife. Steven grew so restless he asked Alan Niven if he could go on the road with Great White (the answer was “no”). Slash had rented an apartment of his own and even, in a bow to his new domesticity, bought a microwave oven. He would soon find a larger house up in the Hills. They were struggling to get comfortable in their old-new city, seeing the other, moneyed side of LA for the first time. As Slash would tell Rolling Stone magazine in their cover story of November 1989, they felt “like tumbleweed.” And as Izzy would later tell me, summing up the months of limbo they were about to enter: “That was a real dark period for all of us. The drugs and stuff was a big part of the isolation but it was more than that. It was, like, self-imposed and it got worse . . .”

Toxic Tour: Guns N’ Roses Open for Aerosmith

Alan Niven does whatever it takes to get the band back on the road, even if it costs him his relationship with Axl. Slash passes out in a hotel lobby and hides his stash of Jack from Steven Tyler.

Guns N’ Roses started their North American tour last night. Let’s look back at their tour opening for Aerosmith in 1988. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall.

Axl and Slash onstage (Getty Images)

Axl and Slash onstage (Getty Images)

More and more, Doug Goldstein was the man to keep everybody’s spirits up on the road. It was also while the band was off the road that summer, waiting for Axl’s voice to heal, that Goldstein found himself spending more time with Slash, while they were both holed up at the Hyatt. “Not only do we have not enough money for a Sunset-facing view, our rooms are so small you had to go out into the hallway to change your mind. So I’m in my room and all of a sudden I hear all of these sirens, so I look out the backdoor and some guy had taken a dive off the roof. Slash calls me and he’s crying, saying, ‘Did you look out the window?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘Fuck, man. I’m so bummed.’ I go, ‘No, man. I hear you. What a horrible way to go. I tell you what, why don’t you come to my room and we’ll talk about it.’ He says, ‘Yeah, okay, give me, like, five minutes.’ So he walks in and then standing on the heater, which is, like, by the window, I have two signs in my hand: 9.0 and 9.5. He was like, ‘You’re fucking sick, man!’ I said, ‘Well, it wasn’t a bad dive.’”

The serious stuff was left to Alan Niven. Having seen GN’R bumped from both the AC/DC and David Lee Roth arena tours, and having been forced to withdraw from the Iron Maiden jaunt, but with an album, Appetite, and single, “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” now looking like the biggest hits of the summer, he saw only one possible option left for the band to capitalize on their possibly once-in-a-lifetime position. “I went to Eddie Rosenblatt at Geffen and said, ‘Look, there’s only one other tour left. We have to have it. I need it. You need it!’ And that was the Aerosmith tour.”

With three hit singles in the US that year and their first million-selling album since the Seventies, Aerosmith were now approaching the apex of the same steady climb they had begun a year earlier when they cancelled their European tour, effectively dumping GN’R in the process. The difference in their respective fortunes between then and now, though, just 12 months later, was enormous. With sales of Appetite now overtaking those of Permanent Vacation, having both bands on the same bill guaranteed a sell-out wherever it alighted in America that year. The fact they were both on the same label made it, on paper at least, a no-brainer.

The only snag was that the five members of Aerosmith had now all been on the wagon for two years. While the five members of Guns N’ Roses didn’t actually appear to know what a wagon was. What Alan Niven was relying on was that, as he says, “Most people live in abject fear of David Geffen.” And that Tim Collins “was very compliant with the suggestions and wishes of David Geffen and Eddie Rosenblatt. He was extremely compliant. I think I might be one of the few that couldn’t be bothered. But, anyway, I went to Eddie and said we have to have it.”

Niven’s request was granted. “Eddie’s looking at me going, ‘Okay, kiddo. I hear you.’” On one condition: that nobody from the GN’R camp, including most of all the band themselves, would be allowed to be seen drinking or—God forbid—doing drugs anywhere on tour where the Aerosmith entourage might be within sight. Or, as Niven puts it now, chuckling darkly, “They had turned Aerosmith into candy-asses . . . there’s restrictions about who can come backstage. What they can drink . . . And they took out Guns N’ Roses as support?” He almost chokes with laughter. “Fucking un-fucking-believable. Are you kidding me? Poor Tim is sitting there going, ‘I’ve got to run a clean machine and take that fucking crew?’ But he does it.”

Then Niven hit on an idea that made him wheeze even more with laughter. To bond with Tim and try to reassure him that all will be well on tour and that his boys won’t corrupt Tim’s newly clean boys, Alan takes him to . . . his gun club! “I pull out my .44 Magnum and I say, ‘Try this. You’ll find it empowering.’ He took one shot with my .44, dropped it and stumbled back about four paces. Eventually he got a little more comfortable, enough to shoot my .25 Beretta that I used to keep in my pocket. So he’s shooting my little bip-bip-bip-bip-bip gun and he’s comfortable with that.” Alan had deliberately decided not to give Tim the little gun and allow him to work his way up. “I put the .44 Magnum in his hand. You want a little bit of symbolism? You gonna fuck with us? We’re Guns N’ Fucking Roses.” He laughs. “It’s no wonder people have negative things to say about me. I must have been a total shit.”

But if Niven thought his problems were over, he was sorely mistaken. “So we got the Aerosmith tour,” he goes on. “Everybody’s happy—except Axl.” As the first date in Chicago, in July, came closer, “Axl locked himself in his apartment and wouldn’t communicate with anybody.” In desperation Niven told Izzy to go there and talk Axl down. “Get him to come. It’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be cool.” Izzy did as his manager asked, but when he got there Axl wouldn’t even let him in. “They tried talking through the door and that wouldn’t work and Izzy came back and reported that to me.” Izzy told Alan: “He’s locked up in his bedroom and he won’t come to the door.” Alan asked if there was any way Izzy could talk to him in his bedroom and Izzy said, “Well, there’s a tree outside his fucking bedroom window.” Niven looked at him and said, “‘Go climb the fucking tree and talk to him!’ So Izzy goes off. He climbs the fucking tree and there’s Izzy hanging in the fucking tree, going, ‘Come on, dude, it’s Aerosmith, it’s gonna be cool. Let’s go. We all wanna go.’ And Axl’s like, ‘FUCK OFF! I DON’T WANNA DO IT!’ True story.”

What now? Sitting in his office, surrounded by his staff and other band members, waiting for his decision, he was faced with a stark choice. Doug was there, Izzy was there, as was Stephanie Fanning. Chitchatting, “trying to figure out what the fuck was going on.” Niven sighs deeply. “I had this general rule of thumb. That if Axl was yelling at me it was like, whatever. But when he spoke softly, quietly, my ears really opened and I became incredibly attentive to what he was saying. Because I knew I was hearing from the center of his consciousness.

“This was probably Wednesday. The first Aerosmith show was the Sunday evening. I had to push the button for the trucks to leave with the equipment the next morning if we’re gonna be there, and we were trying to evaluate what to do. Steph stuck her head into my office and she was pale. Very drawn. She looked at me and she said, ‘Axl’s on the line.’ I looked at her face and I went, ‘Oh fuck . . .’ I picked up the phone and this very soft voice said, ‘Niv, I – just – can’t – do – it. Cancel the tour.’ I said, ‘Okay, Ax,’ and I put the phone down.”

He told the others what Axl had just said. They all looked at him. “I sat there for a moment. Then I went, ‘You know what, I signed a contract for five fucking individuals. Five people applied their signature to my contract. Not one. The other four want to do this. The one we can’t go onstage without tells me he can’t do it.’ I felt in a complete and utter bind. And then, where these things come from, God alone knows. But I’m staring at the table and there are these two red dice staring back at me . . .”

Niven had just returned from a Great White show in Las Vegas. He had some dice on his desk, from the Aladdin, where they’d stayed. As he sat there wondering what the hell to do about the Aerosmith tour, he recalled reading Luke Rhinehart’s classic novel, The Dice Man, as a young man in the Seventies. “He thought all our neurosis came from the conflict of choice. Am I gonna be a gentleman or am I gonna stick it up her ass? If I let the dice decide I will not feel guilty or neurotic about what I do.”

Alan Niven rolled the dice. “I sat in front of everybody and said, ‘Here goes . . .’” He said he would give Axl “the weight of the odds. If I throw a ten or less we’re done. And I think it might be over. If I throw an eleven or a twelve, we’re all going. And we’ll be there. And if he’s not there then it’s entirely on him.”

He threw an 11. “I said, ‘That’s it. Send the trucks. Send the crew. We fly out. We’re going.’ And we all went.”

They didn’t even send Axl plane tickets for the trip to Chicago. “We just left a message saying we were going. That we would be there and he could join us if he wanted to. It was up to him to sort it.”

Alan Niven admits he “had no fucking idea” if Axl would call his bluff. The stress, he says, “was mountainous”. But Axl did arrive, on the morning of the show. Alan Niven was sitting eating breakfast at the hotel when he heard “the clank, clank, clank” of Axl’s jewellery. “He comes marching in, in his shorts and his forty-eight pounds of jewellery on him. So anonymous. So discreet. And he looks at me and I swear to God if looks could kill I’d have been vaporized. But he was there.”

Axl didn’t say a word, just glared at Niven, “then went to the far side of the room and sat at a table, then one or two people went to sit with him. Then he announced that he would not go onstage if I was there and I had to leave.”

As a result, Niven was not there for the first three weeks of the Aerosmith tour. He later had the red dice put into Perspex. He still has them today.

As Aerosmith’s guitarist, Joe Perry, later recalled, “Guns N’ Roses were different. They had dug down a little deeper into rock’s roots. I heard a lot of Aerosmith in them, which meant I also heard a lot of bands that came before us. And I remember being a little jealous, because they were really hitting the nail on the head . . . Part of the thrill was wondering what [Axl] was going to do next.”

Certainly, the supposed ban on the band’s “bad boy behavior” only applied to the actual tour venues, and even then, as Slash told me at the time, “We still do what we do, we just stick the booze in plastic cups so it looks like water.” When he came into his dressing room one night after a show, though, and found Aerosmith’s singer, Steven Tyler, examining the near-empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the table, he admitted he was embarrassed. “Steven looked at me kind of pityingly and said, “Did you drink all this before you went onstage?” I had to kind of hide the other bottle of Jack I’d taken onstage with me.”

Doug Goldstein remembers the tour as “no different to any of the others in terms of having to deal with Axl and Slash.” He describes arriving at one hotel and being told the band’s rooms had all been cancelled. “I told them. ‘Look, no problem. Just call Vanessa’—the name of the hotel manager—’and tell her we’re gonna be pulling the bus up to her house and that twelve of us are going to be sharing her bed with her.’ So this old gal goes into the back and this big, heavy, Italian-looking guy with a moustache and a tie comes out, and says, ‘Which one’s Goldstein?’

“I’m like, ‘Wow, we’re really going there?’ He leans over the counter, he goes, ‘Look, you’re gonna get in your room at three o’clock. You gotta fucking problem with that?’ I don’t know what it is about my head but when I snap, I snap. So I grab the guy by the tie and I pull him halfway over the counter. He tries to reach for the phone so I tighten up his tie and he’s turning purple on me. I go, ‘You’re gonna fucking die before you get a hold of the cops. I suggest you get your fat Guido ass back there and get me my goddamn keys.’”

Turning to one of the band’s security team, Todd, Doug told him: “‘Go put Slash on a luggage trolley and get him up here now.’ He goes, ‘What?’ I go, ‘Just fucking do what I said!’ So he goes downstairs and he brings Slash, who’s obviously passed out, he’s literally upside down in that his head’s on the luggage bottom and his legs are dangling over the top. But he still has the bottle of Jack in his hand. So Todd rolls him up next to me at the front desk, and there’s, like, fifty people waiting to get into their rooms. The general manager of the hotel comes out and he goes, ‘Hey, he’s got to get out of here.’ I go, ‘You know what, he’s gonna get out of here the second I have a fucking room to put him in. Until then he’s your new furniture.’ Needless to say, I had the keys in about two minutes.

“So I put Slash over my shoulder and we go to the elevator and I’m riding up with about eight guys in business suits and Slash starts urinating down my back. I was like, motherfucker! I drop him on the ground and this guy’s laughing at me. I turned round and I go, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘Look, I don’t want you to get pissed off at me but I’ve been watching you since you walked into the hotel. I don’t know what they’re paying you but it can’t even be remotely enough for what the hell you have to put up with!’ The elevator doors open up and I go, ‘Yeah, thanks for the observation.’ I’m literally pulling Slash down the hallway by his hair cos I don’t want to have to pick him up by his peed pants.”

Kept abreast of the antics of their support act, but also acutely aware of how many tickets they were helping them sell, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry—the Axl and Slash of Aerosmith, with a shared history of alcohol and drug abuse that far outweighed anything Guns N’ Roses had yet come up with—were smart enough to let the circus carry on. One night, Joe came to Slash and told him how “awesome” his guitar solo in “Sweet Child” had been that night. When the tour was over, Steven gifted Axl a complete set of specially made silver Halliburton travel cases, costing thousands of dollars. Months later, Steven would also go out of his way to help the band through their drug problems, though only Izzy actually took him up on his offer.

Aerosmith also displayed their class by not causing a scene when Rolling Stone arrived on the tour ostensibly to cover both bands and ended up choosing Guns N’ Roses for their cover. The Geffen promotional staff were thrilled at the outcome. David Geffen bought Tom Zutaut a Range Rover as a reward for both his hard work—and sheer persistence. Meanwhile, Appetite for Destruction officially became America’s Number 1 album on August 6, 1988.

Arresting Axl, Looking for Ludes, Getting Smashed & Smashing Stuff: Guns N’ Roses on Tour

The question isn’t who was breaking lamps and televisions in hotel rooms. It’s who wasn’t?

Guns N’ Roses kick off the North American leg of their tour tonight. Let’s wind back the clock to when GN’R were touring behind Appetite for Destruction in 1988 and wreaking havoc along the way. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall.

Axl gets arrested. (Press Association.)

Axl gets arrested. (Press Association)

They flew to England, where ticket sales in Nottingham and Manchester were slower. The Manchester Apollo show, where they had closed off the balcony for lack of ticket sales, was where I met them for the first time, immediately after they’d stepped off the stage. Standing in the dressing room, it seemed like the clock had been turned back 15 years; they were dressed like old-school rock stars, all hats and scarves and skull rings—and they were acting like them too.

“Hey, man,” said Steven. “Where can I score some ludes?”

Here was a guy barely into his twenties asking for Quaaludes—the drugs du jour for early-Seventies American concert-goers; heavy-duty tranquillizers that made falling down stairs seem fun.

“You can’t get ludes in England,” I told him.

“What!” he cried. “You’re fucking kidding me! What can you get then?”

“Mandrax,” I said. “Mandies. Or reds—Seconal. That’s probably the nearest equivalent.”

“Cool,” he said, “so how can I get me some red Mandies, dude?”

Then Izzy ambled over. “Hey, man,” he drawled, “I smell pot. Who has pot?”

Someone passed him the joint and he clung to it like a drowning man. Slash shambled up, his face almost entirely obscured by the top hat and the cascade of curls that showered from underneath it. In his hand was clamped a half-full bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

“I bet you go to bed with that thing . . .”

“Sure,” he said, “I like to wake up to it, too. It’s the only way . . .” He paused and glanced around. “ . . . I can handle this.”

I was introduced to Axl as we passed on the stairs. I’d only seen the pictures and the reality was surprisingly small, his pinched, freckled face and upturned nose giving him a vulnerable quality the stage lights had kept hidden. Of all the band he seemed to be the most self-contained and grown up; the one most certain of who he was and what he was trying to achieve. “I wanna thank you and the magazine you’re from for everything you’ve done for this band,” he told me, gripping my hand firmly. “And I wanna tell you how much it means to me, cos I read your shit, man. I know who you are.” He delivered the lines sincerely, in a low voice. I believed what he said. “You coming to see us in London, too?”

“London” was perhaps the most significant moment in the band’s career as a live act, up to that point, a show that would go down as one of those “I was there” gigs. The Hammersmith Odeon (as was: It’s now known as the Apollo) was the capital’s landmark gig, a transition point between clubs and arena as well as a gig almost every significant rock band had on their CV, most of them numerous times. Its capacity was 3,500, and Guns were ultimately maybe 200 tickets short of a sell-out, a sign of how far they’d come in a few months. Axl dedicated “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” to Todd Crew. The reviews of a ferocious show that climaxed with Axl playing Duff’s bass while Slash soloed were overwhelming. Guns went back to America with some momentum at last.

There was also a new and increasingly significant figure on the scene: their tour manager, Doug Goldstein, whom I also met for the first time on those UK dates. Doug would “put a lot of good energy in,” according to Alan Niven. “Dougie was really reliable to me initially. He was someone I trusted. He had patience and he wasn’t a fucking nine-to-fiver. I didn’t run an LA management company. I was involved in a way of life, as far as I was concerned. And he fit with that.”

Goldstein was the 26-year-old son of a retired policeman who had studied international marketing at North Arizona University. After college, Doug had worked in events security, and in 1984 he was appointed chief security recruiter for the Olympic Games. Since then he’d made his way into the music biz handling security for Air Supply, Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Black Sabbath and Heart. At first glance he may have seemed like an odd appointment: short-haired, clean-shaven, with a moustache . . . “Izzy was convinced that Niven had hired a cop,” he says now with a chuckle. Perhaps because of this, Izzy was the only member of the band that Doug readily admits he never really established a bond with. Interesting, too, as Izzy was the one member Alan Niven felt he most related to.

Goldstein soon got a handle on the rest of them, though—beginning with Steven. The drummer’s nasty habits were already becoming hardcore, but Doug just liked him. They had met at a specially arranged band dinner at El Compadre. “That was Slash’s spot. That and Hamburger Hamlet, Slash’s other spot.” After the meal, Doug and Steven went to jump in a car, “a big truck with a camper shell.” They both dived into the back of the truck. “Steven goes, ‘No wait. There’s room upfront.’ I go, ‘No, I’m getting in with you.’ He goes, ‘Dude, I’m just the drummer.’ And I go, ‘Yeah? I’m just the fucking tour manager, which means you’re my boss.’ And that was all it took. He was like, ‘Oh my god. Somebody’s treating me like I’m their equal and/or they’re below that.’”

Duff was cut from the same cloth as Steven, thought Doug: a wannabe rock star living life as he’d read about it in rock magazines. When the band came to Doug complaining that Duff had been wearing the same leather pants on and offstage for three months, he handled it the best way he knew how. “We’re travelling in a bus. It stinks. The band is coming to me saying, we don’t give a fuck what you have to do, lose the fucking pants!” So, at the next gig, “I sent the runner out for a pair of gym shorts. Duff comes offstage and I’m in hiding. I wait until he goes to take a shower and I grab the leather pants and take them out to a dumpster at the back of the venue. He gets out and he’s like, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ I came in and said, ‘I’m sorry. We all voted. You have to lose the leather pants!’ He was so upset because he had promised his then wife Mandy that he was going to wear the same pants on and off stage for the whole tour.”

The relationship Doug Goldstein would have with Slash was more complicated. Today, Slash likes to blame Doug for the break-up of the original GN’R lineup. Back in the late-Eighties and early Nineties, however, it is no exaggeration that the guitarist owed his life to his intrepid tour manager. They also became close in other ways, working side by side often, during those times, which were many, when Axl either couldn’t be found or simply didn’t want to know. “He doesn’t get the credit for it but Slash really was the guy that helped me run that band. No question.  He’d pass out in a chandelier at four a.m. and he’d be at my door knocking at ten a.m. saying, “What do we have to do today?” We’d sit down and do all the radio interviews. I’d pick out him and Duff and we’d go and do in-store [appearances], Steven when he was in the band still. People think that Axl was the overall visionary, and Axl’s an artist but he’s not . . . he knew where he wanted to go but Slash was the guy that really put the plan into place.”

Goldstein also credits Slash for much of the band’s early, iconic artwork. “Nobody knows this and I don’t know why but Slash has done probably ninety-five per cent of the band’s artwork. Merchandising, I mean, everything. He’s a brilliant artist. He’s a brilliant artist. He was the merchandise company’s dream because they didn’t have to pay people to do artwork. He came up with it all.”

Goldstein had his own opinions about Slash. “The derivation of the top hat has a lot of different stories behind it but I have my own theory. When we went to Hawaii he wouldn’t go outside; it was like he was avoiding getting tanned. Back then you didn’t see many African-Americans in the rock ’n’ roll scene.” So are you saying you think Slash was self-conscious about being half black? “Yep.” Hence “the hair in the eyes, the top hat and all of it.”

The most significant relationship Doug Goldstein would forge with Guns N’ Roses, though, was with W. Axl Rose. Where Alan Niven would appear increasingly at loggerheads with the flame-haired singer, Goldstein, with his more emollient approach, would quickly become Axl’s go-to guy in all matters relating to both the business of the band—and, increasingly, his own, almost ritualistically tangled personal affairs. Put simply, Axl, who never trusted anybody, trusted Doug. “Implicitly. No question. I’m the guy he’d call at three o’clock in the morning and say, ‘Dougie, can you talk?’ I’d say, ‘Sure.’ ‘Come to my room.’ So I’d go down to his room and we’d just sit around til, like, five, six in the morning, discussing different ideas.”

Initially, this good-cop/bad-cop routine would work in everybody’s favor. Stephanie Fanning, then working as assistant to Alan and Doug at the Stravinski offices in LA, recalls how, “In the very beginning with Alan and Doug they could not have been [more] perfectly matched for each other. As far as Alan being on the business side, he’s meeting with the record company, he’s meeting with the attorneys. He’s meeting with all of the business side of things and he is doing an amazing job. Then there’s Doug, being the social guy. ‘Hey, how are you? I’m Doug Goldstein, GN’R’s tour manager.’ Knew everybody’s name, shook everybody’s hand. There was nothing that you felt like he couldn’t take care of for you, make you happy, everything just felt in control and taken care of.”

Goldstein elaborates: “When I first was hired on, Niven was like, ‘I’m having the typical rock ’n’ roll issues.’ ‘Like?’ ‘Well, like they’re busting up hotels.’ I said, ‘Give me two months and I can fix that.’ He said, ‘Okay, yeah, you got it.’ So Stevie breaks a lamp in his room. I tell him, ‘Steven, this is the way I handle things. We’ve got to pay for it. We don’t break shit and leave.’” He took Steven downstairs to the hotel reception, where Doug explained to the guy behind the desk that they had broken a lamp and would like to pay for it. “The guy asks for $150. I go, ‘No way. That’s a seventy-dollar lamp.’ The guy says, ‘No, it cost us $150.’ I go, ‘I don’t give a fuck. I’ve been travelling most of my life, I know what this lamp is worth so I’m gonna give you seventy-five bucks and we’ll call it a day.’ The guy’s like, ‘Whatever, fine.’ So Stevie goes back and tells everybody, ‘Doug saved me seventy-five bucks today.’”

“So I do that. You know, a television here, a lamp there. I do that for, like, six weeks. Finally Slash breaks a TV. So he calls me.” Doug took him down to reception, told the manager on duty that they’d accidentally broken a TV and that they’d like to pay for it. “The guy says okay, and that the set cost $350. I go, ‘No way.’ And Slash is waiting for me to bring it down, right? I go, ‘Not a chance. That is not a $350 TV. That’s a $700 TV.’ Slash is like, ‘What?’ I go, ‘Slash, shut up. I do this for a living and I know a $700 TV when I see one.’ The guy is like, ‘No, really. Just give me $350.’ I go, ‘Shut up! I do this for a living.’ I go, ‘Slash, I’m gonna have to take $700 of your money.’ So now it’s not even a band deal, I’m taking it out of his personal income. He was fucking livid! But I tell you what. Nobody broke shit after that.”

After another month of club shows, the cards started to fall their way once more. Mötley Crüe were about to go out in support of a Number 2 hit album, the multi-platinum Girls, Girl, Girls, and Whitesnake had been booked as the support act. But Whitesnake’s 1987 album was breaking out too, also reaching Number 2 on the Billboard chart and about to be catapulted to greater sales with a hit single “Is This Love.” When Whitesnake pulled out of the Crüe tour to play headline shows of their own, Niven and Zutaut used their Crüe connections to have Guns N’ Roses step in as last-minute replacements. Although the Crüe and Guns would soon be at the center of one of rock ’n’ roll’s most infamous feuds (which would in turn have its knock-on effects for me), they were for a couple of brief months the perfect match, Crüe at the peak of their trashy appeal, Guns hungry to knock them off their coke-encrusted perch.

As Guns wound around America, Appetite at last began to ascend the Billboard Hot 100, first in the high 60s, then creeping, by December 1987, up to Number 59, with sales approaching 200,000 albums. Not at all bad for the debut album by an underground band with zero radio support. This jump came on the back of yet more drama. In Lakeland, Florida, the band filmed a slot for MTV, for the Headbangers Ball segment. Alan Niven and Doug Goldstein realized that the band were in no fit state to be taped. Slash and Izzy were on some distant smack planet—where they’d been joined by Mötley Crüe’s bassist, Nikki Sixx—Duff was drinking himself into oblivion most days and Axl was unpredictably contrary whenever confronted by the press, and so damage limitation was entered into. The band were filmed playing “It’s So Easy,” Goldstein did an interview in an attempt to put a bright shiny face on a bunch of obvious fuck-ups, before MTV finally got to confront the band face to face in the dressing room as Mötley Crüe took the stage, a piece that rapidly degenerated into an unairable few minutes of drunken swearing and laughter. It finally made the air, heavily cut, years later when Appetite was the biggest-selling rock record on the planet.

Back on the road with the Crüe, Axl found himself in trouble again. This time in Atlanta, where police actually walked on stage and arrested him during the second song for attacking one of the arena security guards, who, Axl claimed, had been beating up the band’s friends in the audience. He was held for questioning backstage while the rest of the band were left to get on with their 45-minute set as best they could. A roadie hurriedly hauled onstage helped out with some of the vocals, while Slash contributed a 15-minute guitar solo and Steven managed a longer-than-usual drum solo to fill in the gaps. After the show, Axl was incandescent with rage, claiming he had been the victim of trumped-up charges. “In Atlanta I dived in and I had police saying I hit them,” he fumed. “I never did, but I had to plead guilty because we didn’t have any money at the time. Lie? Yes, I guess I did lie once. I lied and said that I hit four cops. I guess we should reopen the case and take me to trial for perjury. But I didn’t have $56,000 to pay them off under the table.”

The Crüe tour ended in predictable disaster back in LA. Both bands returned home together. Guns were due back out with Alice Cooper a few days later, and Slash holed up in the Franklin Plaza hotel. Nikki Sixx joined him, where they were both shot up by a local smack dealer introduced to them by Robbin Crosby of Ratt. Sixx immediately overdosed and Slash found himself once again dragging a corpse into the shower in an attempt to bring it back to life. Sixx was luckier than Todd Crew – the paramedics arrived in time to restart his heart with needles full of adrenalin, and he took off into the night, calling Slash on the phone the following day to thank him for saving his life. Sixx would immortalize the night on Mötley Crüe’s next album in a song called “Kickstart My Heart.” Slash would do everything to try to forget about it. Until next time . . .

Manipulating Mick Jagger: How Guns N’ Roses Came to Open for The Rolling Stones

“Of course we’re doing it for the money,” Mick Jagger once said. “We’ve always done it for the money.” Today we look back at the time Guns N’ Roses opened for their heroes, The Rolling Stones, at the LA Forum and how, unsurprisingly, it nearly didn’t happen, even as the crowd sat waiting for them to take the stage in this exclusive excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall. And find out why Axl got upset with David Bowie.

Axl shares the stage with Mick Jagger. (Getty Images)

Axl shares the stage with Mick Jagger. (Getty Images)

Two weeks after Izzy’s arrest, on September 11, 1989, he and Axl appeared at the MTV VMA Awards at the Universal Amphitheater in LA. They accepted an award for “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and jammed with Tom Petty on his timeless “Free Fallin’” before closing out the show with a rocking version of “Heartbreak Hotel.” As Izzy walked off stage and handed his guitar to his tech, Mötley Crüe’s singer, Vince Neil, jumped out in front of him and punched him in the face, cutting his lip: retribution, Vince would claim, for an unwanted sexual advance from Izzy to the singer’s new wife, Sharise, a former mud wrestler from the Tropicana. Depending on whose version you believed, Izzy went down, Vince ran off, Axl chased Vince, Vince offered to fight Axl, Axl told Vince “to leave my band the fuck alone”—yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah and boys will be boys . . . Who knew what really went down? Yet the incident, minor though it was, would escalate into a situation that would drag many more people into the mire, me included . . .

Before that escalation began, however, Alan Niven found himself in a car with Bill Elson, Guns N’ Roses’ American booking agent. Elson was driving them from Manhattan to the Meadowlands, in New Jersey, to watch Metallica play. Although Metallica would soon be on an upward curve almost as steep as GN’R’s, neither man was particularly interested in the show. Instead, Elson’s plan was to “socialize” (in Niven’s description) with Metallica’s managers, Cliff Bernstein and Peter Mensch, who, aside from also looking after Metallica and Def Leppard, had been asked to “oversee” the monolithic stadium tour about to be undertaken by the Rolling Stones, still the world’s biggest-grossing live act almost three decades after they’d first come to stardom.

The weather was awful, and as Elson drove, he tried to convince Niven that Guns N’ Roses should be the support act for the Rolling Stones tour. The offer was $50,000 per show, including the chance to play at the vast, 77,000-capacity LA Coliseum, for which, Elson guessed, lifelong Stones fans like Izzy, Slash and Axl might be prepared to remove their right nuts. The offer had come directly from Mick Jagger’s office, Elson mentioned casually.

But if Elson expected Niven to bite his hand off, he was wrong. Niven knew what the band would say (and he was right: “We’ve gotta play with the Stones,” Slash and Izzy chorused), but he had a different view. Firstly, in his eyes, the Stones were now a heritage act. Their last tour, he said colorfully, had been “less than compelling, a sloppy stumble through the material from the obligatory but inconsequential album released for the tour, and a tired thrashing of old chestnuts . . .” while Guns N’ Roses were now “white hot.” Niven was also aware that the Stones had form in buying some relevance by appointing the band du jour as their support, a habit that read like a who’s who of rock, from Janis Joplin and Santana to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Peter Tosh. In recent times it had included Foreigner, Prince, Southside Johnny . . . happy to offer support spots to anybody with enough current-day cachet to help the Stones sell even more tickets.

Now it was the turn of the new kings of the road, Guns N’ Roses—something Alan Niven had no objection to, in principle: credibility by association worked both ways. Any move that helped broaden the public perception of Guns N’ Roses, away from the LA metal scene of Mötley Crüe and Poison and more towards the classic rock ’n’ roll status of the Stones, was most welcome, thank you very much. But at $50,000 a show, when Elson knew better than anyone that Guns N’ Roses could now make double that by headlining their own shows—what kind of bullshit was that?

Alan told Bill he’d think about it. Then dug around and discovered that the Stones had already announced two nights at the LA Coliseum and had a further four on hold. Two nights alone represented over 150,000 tickets—with an average seat going at $30, while the best seats were being offered around town by ticket brokers for up to $700 a ticket. Then there was the money that would be rolling in from merchandising sales alone, where as well as the standard $20 T-shirts were such upscale items as a $450 leather jacket and a $190 flight jacket. When a rumor—leaked by persons or parties unknown—that GN’R would support the Stones got out, Niven read the runes, saw what was happening and called Bill to tell him Guns N’ Roses would not be doing the shows. Elson was aghast. Nobody turned down the Stones! But when the LA Times rang Niven about the rumor, he told them the same thing, citing the age difference between the bands, and pointing to the fact that Guns N’ Roses were now the band with all the street credibility.

By this time Slash and Izzy were almost apoplectic. “Niv, it’s the fucking Stones! We’ve got to do it!” urged Izzy. But Niven stood firm. Finally, Elson called him again.

Said he’d received another call from Mick Jagger’s office. There was a new offer: four nights at the LA Coliseum for $500,000. Niven countered that the band’s price was now a round million dollars. “We’ve already sold him [Jagger] a shitload of tickets,” he told Elson. Once again, Bill was forced to go back to the Stones with bad news. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. It was a gamble, Niven knew, but one worth taking. If the Stones paid up, then Guns N’ Roses would earn almost as much for four shows as they would have for an entire tour at $50,000 per night—as well as saving themselves all of the usual costs associated with touring.

There was another element to Niven’s thinking, though, that he was not prepared to share with the Stones or anyone else for now but was crucial to his thinking. The fact was, after nearly a year off the road during which all five of them had splintered off into different, sometimes frightening worlds, Guns N’ Roses as a working band were in no fit state to go on the road—at least not until four-fifths of them had cleaned up. Apart from the audacity of countering Mick Jagger, whose love of a dollar bill was legendary, it was one of the few cards Niven had to play. When Niven went to watch the Stones play in St. Louis he got worried all over again. The show was still a revue, but the Stones were hot again, Keef oozing cool, revivified by a successful solo record and tour, Mick still impossibly athletic and vital. Guns, by contrast, looked near death.

Nevertheless, Niven’s gamble had worked. Guns N’ Roses would receive a million dollars for their four shows opening for the Rolling Stones, appearing between the opening act, Living Colour, the all-black rock band also then hot-as-a-pistol following the success of their double-platinum debut album, Vivid, and the headliners. Now all they had to do was turn up on time. But with a couple of hours to go before the first Stones gig, with 77,000 people already in the venue, Axl Rose was a no-show. The problems had begun a week or so before, at a video shoot for the Appetite track “It’s So Easy” at the Cathouse, directed once again by Nigel Dick. “We always wanted to do a video for that song,” Axl told me. “We’re gonna have a home video at some point, so we wanted to do some videos that were, like, completely no-holds-barred, uncensored type of things. Just live shooting, instead of worrying about whether MTV is gonna play it. Just go out there and do a fucking blown-out live, real risky video.”

The video, which featured sadomasochistic scenes involving Erin, was never officially released. Alan Niven saw to that. “I get a call from Nigel Dick saying Axl had called Nigel direct, saying, ‘I want to shoot some footage for this.’ Nigel’s going, ‘You are going to go fucking ballistic when you see this stuff.’ He’s got her hung from the doorway and slapping her ass, the mouth-gag and so on . . . Lots of fun [but] you don’t put it in a fucking video that represents the entire band and put it out there for the whole world to see.” The upshot was that Niven “wouldn’t let the final edit be done and I got the offline copies. The reason for that was I knew he was committing suicide with that bondage shit with Erin. And lo and behold he got divorced. So you know what they would have done with that? I protected the little fuck.”

As if to compound a night of negative energy, David Bowie had shown up to see Slash, and had started talking to Erin Everly, who was appearing in the video. Axl had taken one look at that and started throwing punches Bowie’s way before having him thrown off the set. “Bowie and I had our differences,” Axl shrugged when I asked him about it. “And then we went out for dinner and talked and went to the China Club and stuff, you know, and when we left I was like, ‘I wanna thank you. You’re the first person that’s ever come up and said I’m sorry about the situation.’ And then I open up Rolling Stone the next day and there’s a story in there saying I’ve got no respect for the Godfather of Glam even though I wear make-up and all this bullshit. It’s laughable.”

Axl wasn’t laughing though when, at the warm-up for the Coliseum shows, a club gig promoted as an RIP magazine party, he told Izzy he didn’t want to play with the Rolling Stones. Izzy was taken aback but not hugely concerned. Axl was always worried about things to a ludicrous extent. He hadn’t wanted to do the Aerosmith tour, then looked back on it as the highlight of the year. Whatever happened, Niv would handle it. Then, at 6 a.m. on October 18, the morning of the first show, Axl rang Izzy and told him he was quitting Guns N’ Roses. Again, however, Izzy was unsure how seriously to take the claim. Axl, by his own admission, “quit the band every three days,” as he’d told Howard Stern in a radio interview just a few weeks before.

This time, though, it was different. With controversy over “One in a Million” still raging, Living Colour’s vocalist, Vernon Reid, had voiced strong concerns in the press. In order to avoid any possible clash at the Coliseum shows, Axl and the band had been allotted their own separate area backstage, on the opposite side from Living Colour’s dressing rooms. According to Colleen Combs, Axl’s personal assistant, he was already so “paranoid” about the reaction his first major appearance on stage since the controversy over “One in a Million” started would provoke, “he really thought someone was going to take him out. He thought someone was going to kill him.”

When Izzy arrived at the Coliseum that afternoon, he passed the news along to Alan Niven. “It’s gonna be a long four days . . .” he said. Niven, who’d been there before, knew it could go either way: Axl hadn’t actually told anyone else he was quitting, just Izzy. Maybe he’d wake up feeling differently. Or he just wouldn’t show up and Niven would face the worst day of his professional career. As the hours till show time dragged by, and Axl still failed to arrive, backstage the tension in the GN’R dressing room was such that Doug Goldstein was almost in tears. When Living Colour took to the stage, Niven knew it was time for desperate measures. Once again, he didn’t flinch from taking them.

As he says now, Axl not turning up for a show “was not an altogether novel circumstance and it did not necessarily mean he wouldn’t eventually come.” However, his nonappearance at the show in Phoenix the previous year had produced a minor riot with considerable property damage. Now, though, they were playing for much bigger stakes. “A riot by 77,000 disappointed stadium stoners was quite probable in the event Axl did fail to show. The consequences could be genuinely catastrophic. The tragedy at Donington still haunted my consciousness.”

Niven turned to Stones’ production chief Brian Ahern and asked him, “Brian, do you have a real solid contact in the LAPD? A genuine ‘no questions’ kind of a guy?” Ahern answered, ‘I’ll send him in.’ Without another word, Ahern made the call. “Cool and completely without confusion or stress, Brian is an exceptional individual and I will for ever appreciate his calm and his confidence,” says Niven. “I spoke with his contact. Within minutes a ‘black and white,’ containing a reliable pair of uniformed cops, pulled up at the Shoreham Towers.” The uniformed cops raced up to the twelfth floor and began banging on Axl’s front door. “The startled occupants were herded down to the cruiser. Sirens wailing and all lights ablaze, the police car sliced through the evening traffic.” The car drew up at the very foot of the steps leading to the stage. It was in this manner that Axl arrived in the Coliseum to appear before 77,000 LA-generates, a mere 25 minutes behind schedule.

As Axl stepped out of the police car he had a face like thunder. When he was then told that Vernon Reid, speaking from the stage, had given a short speech halfway through Living Colour’s set, to the effect that anybody who called somebody else a nigger was promoting racism and bigotry, no matter how hard they tried to explain it away, he was apoplectic. When he was then told that large sections of the Coliseum crowd had stood on their seats and applauded loudly, whistling and cheering their approval, he was ready to kill somebody. “We went out with a mission,” Reid later explained. “I made a statement about ‘One in a Million’ onstage, and I remember afterward Keith Richards made it a point to come over to the dressing room and shake my hand.” Ultimately, he says, “When I heard that song, I was probably more disappointed than anything, because I liked the band. [But] I thought the objectification was wack, like I’m somehow standing in the way of this guy.”

When word got back to the GN’R dressing rooms about Reid’s putdown—and that it had received a standing ovation—concern over how Axl might react was such that no one could bear to make eye contact with him. Guns N’ Roses took the stage just before 8 p.m. The band was still tuning up, getting ready to blast off, when Axl grabbed the mic and told the audience, “Before we start playing, [I want to say] I’m sick of all this publicity about our song.” He then denied he was a racist, but insisted that certain words—against groups of people who offend you—was acceptable, in an artistic context. “If you still want to call me a racist,” he bellowed, “you can . . . shove it . . .”

The band cranked into gear and Axl began his manic perambulations around the stage. Now, though, a moment of black comedy was added to the spidery farce. Axl, who had refused to come and view the construction of the Stone’s massive stage ahead of the show, found himself blinded by several follow-spots as he attempted to race back from one side of the stage. He ran clear off the stage and plunged into the photographer’s pit. “I stopped breathing,” says Niven. Then slowly a hand holding a microphone emerged from the darkness as, slowly, two security men hoisted Axl back onto the stage. Now, with embarrassment added to his anger and frustration, he went for broke. The second song of the set was “Mr Brownstone.” Axl stomped to the lip of the stage and told the crowd: “I just want to say . . . I hate to do this onstage, but I tried it every other fucking way. And unless certain people in this band get their shit together, this will be the last Guns N’ Roses show you ever see . . .”

Firing Axl: An Excerpt from Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses

Littlefinger told Sansa that “Chaos is a ladder.” It’s easy to imagine Axl Rose relating to that sentiment. Welcome back to our celebration of 30 years of Appetite for Destruction. Today, we look back at the night Guns N’ Roses tried to fire Axl Rose as his antics pushed the band to the brink and how that set the tone for the future of the band in an excerpt from our just published Last of the Giants: The True Story of Guns N’ Roses by Mick Wall. It’s “the most detailed portrait yet of the band” according to Uproxx and “an absolutely enthralling read,” says Classic Rock Revisited.

Axl onstage at the Castle Donington Festival in England in 1988 (Getty Images)

Axl onstage at the Castle Donington Festival in England in 1988 (Getty Images)

1988 would be the year that the lives of everyone connected to Guns N’ Roses would be changed forever. For the five band members it was the moment when their dreams of rock stardom became an inescapable reality. By August 6, Appetite for Destruction, led by the single “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” would have topped the Billboard chart for the first time (it would return on a further three occasions) and was in its first of three solid years—147 weeks—within the Top 200. The band was on tour with Aerosmith (Tim Collins having negotiated entirely separate travel and accommodation for both acts) and about to fly to the UK to appear at the Donington Monsters of Rock festival, where they would encounter another terrible low. Newly immortal, until that moment, they thought the worst was behind them. They were wrong.

The year had begun in the studio. Eddie Rosenblatt had urged Niven to make another record, something the manager had forcefully resisted, taking the view that they’d sold almost 250,000 albums without a proper single, video or marketing campaign, and—not unreasonably—asked Rosenblatt what he thought they might sell should they get one? Instead, with Mike Clink, the band cut some acoustic songs for a prospective stop-gap EP or a bunch of B-sides: a sweet ballad of Axl’s called “Patience;” a blackly comic tune they’d debuted at the UK shows, “Used to Love Her” (“. . . but I had to kill her!,” a lyric inspired by Axl’s fondness for “shock comic” Sam Kinison); and “One in a Million,” an obnoxious Rose rant that also began in Kinisonesque humor but quickly descended into something far less funny, storing up trouble for the band later on). They also recorded a rangy acoustic, much longer and doubly vitriolic version of “You’re Crazy” that Clink liked as much as the electric version on Appetite.

Between times there were one-off shows. They opened for Great White at KNAC’s second anniversary show, where Cinderella’s drummer, Fred Coury, sat in for Steven Adler, who’d broken his hand in a barroom brawl following a show opening for Alice Cooper in Minneapolis a week before Christmas. Then there was an unannounced “secret” show billed as the Drunk Fux, which featured the five-man band plus Axl acolytes Del James and West Arkeen, performing an impromptu set of covers—including a first public performance of a new song, “Yesterdays,” a ragtag blues shuffle Axl had recently banged together with Del and West and another street kid, named Billy McCloud, and which Axl announced he and the band would be recording the following week. (They didn’t.) There was also a hurriedly arranged Thursday night gig at the Cathouse on January 21—Steven’s first full gig back behind the drums, essentially a glorified rehearsal for three shows in Scandinavia supporting Mötley Crüe.

Essentially, though, the band was treading water. Again Eddie Rosenblatt urged Niven and Zutaut to consider getting another album ready to go, based on the latest session with Clink. “No way, this record’s just beginning,” Zoots told Eddie. “We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. There’s a Number One single that is buried on the second side of the album. The promotion people have not even listened to it!” Zutaut was referring to “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” but by then neither Rosenblatt nor anyone else at the company was prepared to listen.

Exasperated, Zutaut appealed directly to David Geffen, who asked simply: “What is the one thing that I could do to help you?” Zutaut replied, “It would help if you could get the ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ video played on MTV.” Geffen said he would do what he could and put a call through to MTV’s chief executive, Tom Freston, an old friend who owed him a favor. Freston accordingly agreed to air “Welcome to the Jungle.” Just one proviso: MTV would play it only once, at 3 a.m. on the East Coast, midnight on the West Coast. After that, all bets were off. However, within minutes of the video airing for the first time a week later, the phones began to light up at the network as their switchboard became overloaded with calls for repeat plays from overexcited fans. Within a month, “Welcome to the Jungle” had officially become one of the most-requested videos on MTV that year.

At the same time, in another weird example of the kind of synchronicity that seemed to bless their professional relationship, Alan Niven had managed to wangle Guns N’ Roses into a live appearance on MTV. Originally the station had approached Niven about filming Great White live at The Ritz in New York for an MTV Special that would also be broadcast live across several radio stations. It seemed like a no-brainer. Great White’s Once Bitten album had just gone gold in America and MTV wanted to get in on the ride. Alan said yes on one condition. “My other band opens, okay?” The MTV producers agreed.

In the weeks leading up to the show in February, however, “Welcome to the Jungle” had begun its own heavy rotation, moving the needle on the dial of the Appetite album, too, which was also now approaching gold status for over 500,000 sales. Suddenly Alan Niven was presented with the unique situation of having two hot ’n’ heavy acts steaming up the US charts. On the eve of the show, he decided the “smart call” was “to flip the bill order.” He goes on: “Guns had just gone white hot. I went to Great White and said, ‘What’s the fucking rule? Be a hard act to follow before you follow a hard act.’” So they switched places and Great White opened the MTV Special instead. Both bands played the same length of time but there was no doubting afterwards who the stars of The Ritz were that night.

“There’s a couple of moments in [the Great White] set that still give me goosebumps when I play back the tapes,” insists Niven. “To the point where Slash ran into the dressing room after they played and said, ‘You fuckers! How do we follow that?’” But not only did GN’R follow that, “To a lot of people that is the apex of watching Guns N’ Roses. Imagine all the fucking faces, cognoscenti and industry fuckers that were there at the show. I’m not the greatest at the social bit but I’m having to work the room and be nice to everybody and try to remember who fucking everybody is.” Next thing, he got a tap on the shoulder. “Goldstein panicking saying Axl can’t find his bandana. ‘He wants you to go into the crowd and find him one.’ So I did. I went into the crowd and found one. He didn’t like that one so I went and found another one. Second one was okay. Slash is aware of all this. So what would your state of mind be when you went out on stage? Good god, half the fucking time each was seething at the other. And The Ritz was the classic example. Yet most people think that’s the apex of GN’R live on film. Yet not everybody was happy with Axl at that moment. But what’s his muse? His muse is confrontation. His muse is conflict. He’s a power tripper.”

Whatever the background, the results were dynamite, and can still be seen on YouTube today. Niven is right. This was Guns N’ Roses, at their earliest, now classic best. When Slash dived into the audience at the climax of “Rocket Queen,” you could almost touch the heat from the crowd, escaping, hissing like bad gas from the manholes of New York City.

With his star rising fast, instead of making him feel more at ease, Axl Rose’s on and offstage behavior was becoming increasingly erratic. He became more difficult and demanding, attempting to control every situation, even those involving large crowds, by losing his temper: he would walk offstage if something offended him and have to be coaxed back. A fortnight before the end of the tour, he didn’t take the stage at all. It happened at the second of two shows they were to headline, February 12 and 13, at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix. The first show had ended prematurely when Axl walked off at the end of “Nightrain” and refused to come back out for an encore. No one knew quite why, putting it down to another of Axl’s weird head-trips.

The following afternoon, however, he barricaded himself in his hotel room with his then-girlfriend, Erin Everly, and refused to come out. “We tried everything to get him out,” says Niven. “We banged on the door and shouted, ‘Come on, dude, we got a gig. Come out!’ and he’d shout back, ‘Fuck off!’ I don’t know if Axl and Erin were fighting. That was probably something that happened more often than not, but he refused to come out no matter what we said.”

As opening band, T.S.O.L.—a Californian punk-metal band signed to Niven’s former label, Enigma—completed their 40-minute set, Niven pushed them back onstage to try to buy some time. “Finally, these poor guys in T.S.O.L. came offstage after playing Beatles covers. They looked at me mournfully and said, ‘We’ve played absolutely everything we know. We’re beat. Can we quit now?’ That was the moment I had to walk onstage and say, ‘Tonight’s performance by Guns N’ Roses, unfortunately, will not occur due to a medical emergency.’ Immediately, people started throwing shit at me and it got ugly fast. The crowd rioted and it spilled out into the parking lot, and at least one car was turned over and set on fire.”

When they got back to the hotel, led by a seething Steven Adler, they told Axl he was fired, to which he responded with the classic “You can’t fire me, I was leaving anyway . . .” Then he called the band’s bluff, took a car to the airport and left them to stew. “For about three days, it really did look like the band was over,” says Alan Niven. But the tactic worked. He and Slash talked on the phone a few days later and Axl was back, but the pattern was set. Axl had asserted his authority, established his indispensability, and clearly demonstrated his willingness to exercise his power over and emotional control of the band. Steven Adler would later reflect, “It was the greatest time of my life, but one of the guys—I don’t need to name him—made it so difficult for us all. Quite often he made the best and most exciting times I’ll ever experience feel like a complete pain in the ass. Besides the loneliness and sadness I felt when I was excluded, the worst thing was to play in front of [thousands of] people and have the guy storm offstage in the middle of the first song. With no warning, he’d throw the microphone to the floor, then leave. And not come back. Quite rightly, the audience would boo, and it was an awful feeling to know there was nothing the rest of the band could do about the situation. You’d go backstage and get in a fight with the guy. He’d say, ‘Fuck you’ and get on a plane and you’d have to cancel a lot of other shows. It’s all coming back to him now because he’s the one who looks bad. But at the time it reflected badly on all of us.”

So much so it almost holed the GN’R bandwagon beneath the waterline. Says Niven: “I lost what I had just had to compete with our own fucking agent for, which was the opening slot for AC/DC. I’d got AC/DC to agree to do that. [But] that invitation was rescinded when they heard about the Phoenix riot.”

As ever, Axl felt his actions were entirely justifiable. “I guess I get mad because of some form of fear about my own weaknesses,” he once said in a moment of deep clarity. “Everybody has theirs, and mine happen to be in what I do. And what I do is sing and run and get my picture taken. I’ve always needed high maintenance to keep my act together. Nothing really comes naturally to me except the desire to sing. I used to jump ship every three days. And I wasn’t crying wolf. It would usually come down to, I was leaving but there was no place to go. What am I gonna do, go to Paris, do poetry? Look at art museums and hope that not going after what I set out to do didn’t eat me alive? Go pump gas? I was leaving to pump gas a few times, and ready for it. Then, I don’t know, something in me would go, ‘You can deal with this now.’ It just took time to be able to deal with it. A lot of my anger came from people not understanding that I needed that time.”

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

July 21, 2017

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.

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Guns N’ Roses backstage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium after opening for Ted Nugent in 1986. Center: Geffen A&R rep Teresa Ensenat and Tom Zutaut, who signed the band to Geffen. (Getty Images)

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 25. 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.

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