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Stephen Davis – Watch You Bleed: The Saga Of Guns N’ Roses

What drew me to G n’ R in the first place was that primal edge of Appetite, the perfectly rendered raw sound that viciously tore speakers apart. I liked most of the Illusion records, too, but not as much. Haven’t cared since. Why? It’s hard to follow a group so bent on delaying doing their job and simultaneously destroying themselves. It quickly reaches a point of apathy.

Davis (of Hammer of The Gods – see this site for review) does a pretty good job of trying to piece together the early years from the mess of their history, but it was clear to me that even in those days that Axl was bug-fuck crazy. How anyone tolerated working with him (and how the ladies could want to be in a relationship with him) is beyond me, but it may partially explain everyone else’s substance issues as well. Further, it’s a wonder Axl allowed this book into print at all – he comes across like the bi-polar egomaniac he seems to be. Hardly flattering.

To be honest, Guns would have stayed beautiful if they’d flamed out after Appetite, just let it go the way of James Dean cool. Instead, it became what it did (and still is), a rubber-necking car crash we all know well because it couldn’t be avoided, and all of which is told unflinchingly in this book. These days, Guns is an empire of fools with only one of the original players remaining, and no one really giving a rat’s ass about them anymore. Myself included.

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Stephen Davis – Hammer Of The Gods, and LZ-’75

I like Led Zeppelin’s albums, but I’d never cared to read much about the band’s story, knowing only the broad impressions everyone has of them. I prefer to let the music speak.

However, something possessed me (haha) to sign both of these books out of the library recently, and I read them both within three days (no small feat, with a two year old son who refuses to nap underfoot). One book I loved, the other I thought was a rip-off. Allow me to explain.

By now, everyone who cares about the band will have devoured and internalized Hammer Of The Gods for the hilarious, intriguing story that it is. As a relative neophyte to their story and history, I thought it was great. The best fiction writers couldn’t conjure a better story of excess, oddity and pure testosterone and adrenaline that this purportedly real tale claims to be. Mix in mythology about black magic and deals with the devil, then sprinkle liberally with various substances, underage groupies and a management team that took no prisoners, and you’ve got one helluva tale for rock’s history. If even half of these stories are true, Zep still lived through an unbelievably unique experience, indeed. This book will make you want to play all their albums over again, even if you just heard them yesterday. Recommended reading.

There were 25 years between the writings of these two volumes, during which the author claims to have eventually found another box full of notes and stuff from his brief time with the band in 1975. Already, alarm bells went off in my head. I mean, really? Even if it’s true, it sounds more like a cash-grab, to me. Anyway.

LZ-’75’s dust jacket promises a lot, and I will grant that it does offer a few new insights and pictures. But a good chunk of this book is simply a blatantly re-worded re-telling of the same period as told in Hammer, with some artful additions to make the author seem more savvy than he probably was at the time (retrospect, a desire for more association with the legend of the band, and the need to fill pages will do that for a guy). There are also a few tales from his own experiences during that time, unrelated (really) to the story, again giving the sense of filling pages with minutiae that no one really would care about. I know I didn’t. Some of the quotes have been slightly altered (e.g. the brief Bob Dylan quote to Peter Grant), among others. To make things worse, this book totally lacks the fire and vigour of Hammer, as though the passage of time and the need for a fresh infusion of book royalty cash has slightly dulled the whole affair. It smacks of too little, too late.

If Davis had written up the decent pages of concert reviews and few new insights from LZ-’75, pasted it into Hammer’s text and re-released it as expanded and updated, that would have made more sense to me, as a reader. The rest of it is unnecessary twaddle. I’m sure most Zep fans, after getting this paperweight home, were pretty pissed to have shelled out $28 (CAD) of their hard-earned, in these hard times, no less, on what mostly amounts to the same stories over again.

I imagine Davis was hoping not too many people would do what I did, reading the books back to back, rendering the repetition obvious and the new insights not interesting enough to warrant a whole new volume. Skip this one, and stick with Hammer.

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