Guns N' Roses: The Life and Times of a Rock ’n’ Roll Band is not the first book about the L.A. hellraisers. It's not even the first one by Paul Elliott. Nonetheless, it proves its worth with its intimate knowledge; Elliott was the first UK writer to interview the band and had extensive contact with them, and the equally intimate collection of photographs that make this coffee table tome accessible and beautiful to look at.
Elliott’s storytelling is concise yet comprehensive, with bite-sized back stories for all major characters, and a blow-by-blow account of their formation and early years. The trajectory of the band is tracked through their meteoric rise and brief tenure as “The most dangerous band in the world” all the way up to Axl fronting AC/DC and a (partially) reformed Guns N’ Roses headlining Coachella.
Elliott wisely focuses more on the early years (when they were good) rather than the interminably protracted period when Axl hosted more rotating guest stars than The Sugababes (when no one cared). We’re three quarters of the way through before Slash departs the travelling circus. In that early period, the band were genuinely shocking and the music was anachronistically confrontational at a time when Jon Bon Jovi was the face of rock in the public consciousness.
There’s not a lot of new information for anyone who has already read a couple or more of the plethora of Guns N’ Roses biographies, but this breezes along at a fast pace. The brevity of the text makes it feel like a feature length documentary. There are interesting titbits along the way, like the songs that didn’t make the cut for their magnum opus. ‘You Could Be Mine’, ‘November Rain’, and ‘Don’t Cry’ were all latterly singles from the Use Your Illusion pair of albums but were not deemed fit for Appetite For Destruction. The advances in photographic technology are made plain in a book of these dimensions. The grainy film of the ‘80s and ‘90s gives way to stark clarity in the latter pages.
Elliott’s brevity in dealing with the 15 year production of Chinese Democracy is most welcome. The cameos from Brian May, Youth, Bumblefoot, Buckethead, Moby, etc. represent an embarrassment of riches for an album that was neither good enough to justify the wait, or bad enough to be worth revisiting. Whatever missteps and misadventures derailed Guns N’ Roses, and however precipitous was their fall, we will always have Appetite For Destruction; a harsh, flawless masterpiece that slapped the ‘80s in the face and kicked it in the nuts for good measure. Elliott’s infectious enthusiasm will make you wish you were back there, and anyone who can make a reader pine for the ‘80s is an amazing writer.
Guns N' Roses: The Life and Times of a Rock ’n’ Roll Band is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.