Published 13 years ago, Slash still stands as one of the seminal rock autobiographies of all time- and why wouldn’t it be? From cover to cover it’s nothing short of eventful, ranging from the inspiring and enthralling to the humorous and downright tragic; following one Saul “Slash” Hudson through his youth and formation as a musician up to the pinnacle of superstardom and down again- only to bounce back in the aughts, of course. Depending on the drive, idiosyncrasies or mental stability of the person, readers will either be inspired to achieve the same level of popularity and acclaim Guns N’ Roses reached in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and even replicate their lifestyle, or be repelled by the realities of fast living and celebrity and decide taking their musical inclinations anywhere beyond a part-time hobby isn’t worth the pain. For what it’s worth, Slash does say that an unsettling amount of people in the G’N’R circle eventually ended up dead or strung out, so the conclusions are the reader’s to draw.
Like any autobiography worth its salt, there’s an unending amount of revelations and clarifications in Slash that clear the air on long-contested parts of Guns and Slash’s history and give fans previously unknown pieces of the puzzle to put together and relate to their own experience. First and foremost on the revelatory side: Slash’s transient, bohemian upbringing that saw him shifted around from the outskirts of London to Laurel Canyon and a string of homes around Hollywood afterwards following his parents’ divorce. On the plus side, it made for some great stories and brought him into contact with a plethora of famous characters: David Bowie, who dated Slash’s mother when she designed his costumes and David Geffen, who ran Asylum Records at the time and signed Guns to Geffen years later being two such examples. On the minus side, his rootlessness as a child coloured a large portion of his adulthood; well after the royalties started rolling in for Appetite and subsequent records he still found himself bouncing around from apartment to apartment to house to house. This leads to a profound irony about touring that Slash freely acknowledges: With nowhere to go and nothing to do where you live, the open road is the closest thing to home you can get.
Then there’s the clarifying side. One point that Slash incessantly drives home is that despite how many times they were (and still are) lumped in with the hair metal crowd of the ‘80s and classified as such, Guns N’ Roses were anything but hair metal. The fact that they came from Hollywood and the Sunset Strip at that time didn’t mean that they were in any way the same as Poison, Great White, Faster Pussycat, etc; in fact Guns despised the hair band scene so much that they wouldn’t play Gazzarri’s because of it being a hairspray haven and sent Faster Pussycat’s drummer bound and gagged down a hotel elevator a few years later. In that respect, they may have shared more in common with the grunge and alternative bands of the early ‘90s, and, being big and different enough to not be damaged by Nevermind reached out to alt-rock luminaries such as Nirvana, Faith No More and Soundgarden to open for them on the Illusion and GNR/Metallica tours. The appreciation wasn’t mutual as they saw Guns as another rockstar ‘80s band they strove to be utterly antithetical to; Kurt Cobain especially went out of his way to not be associated with them. Nevertheless, Mike Inez from Alice In Chains ended up in Slash’s Snakepit and Scott Weiland fronted Velvet Revolver, so the ‘80s/‘90s rivalry was neither eternal nor universal.
As enthralling as it is to read about playing for 5-to-6 digit crowds night after night, the jet-setting band life isn’t all sunshine. Slash’s experiences with drug abuse and alcoholism over a 20-something year span lead to some entertaining passages- his tale of running naked around a golf course in Arizona and shadowboxing imaginary demons while tripping balls on coke and heroin sounds hilarious on paper, but probably was anything but in real life. Not amusing either was the do-or-literally-die moment that came years later when the effects of repeatedly shooting horse, snorting coke and drinking a gallon of booze a day had left him with severe heart defects that gave him a range of mere days to weeks to live; what saved him from impending doom was the installation of a defibrillator- that, and his wife telling him she was pregnant with his first son, which inspired him to ditch the OxyContin pills he had substituted for heroin and permanently sober up. His description of needing to get high to even feel good and avoid severe sickness ideally should be enough to make anyone stay the hell away from drugs and wonder why anyone would get into them, but even after the overdose deaths of numerous friends, a near-death OD of his own and inestimable damage done to his personal life, not to mention the financial cost involved, he remained undeterred in his quest for the next fix.
Lastly, there is the main thing that anyone reading this book wants to know- what exactly happened between Slash and Axl Rose, and what was their relationship really like in the glory days. It’s surprising- or perhaps not- to read just how perpetually dysfunctional Guns N’ Roses were throughout their reign, even at their peak they were a misstep away from implosion. Their volatility and controversy defined them as much as their raging, adversarial sound did, but it was that same temperament that constantly threatened to rip them apart. Substance abuse was undoubtedly a factor, as the above paragraph would indicate, though coincidentally the person Slash holds most responsible for the demise of the original Guns, one W. Axl Rose, was the least stoned member of the band by far. His issue, as said by Slash and many before and after was control; coupled with a seeming oblivion to the cost and destruction he wrought by cancelling and cutting off shows, inciting two major riots in the process. Anyone who knows about Axl’s background can understand to some extent his need for control after being deprived of it for much of his life, and how, with the complete loss of power over anything that comes with massive celebrity, coupled with his mental condition he would act the way he did and eventually isolate himself.
Slash doesn’t get into it on that level, though he does speculate on what Axl’s reasoning could have been and recalls many times Axl talked at length with him about life and whatever else in the better moments of their time. Nevertheless, we all know how it turned out in the end- and no, their split was not over the stylistic shift Axl wanted to take that finally manifested on Chinese Democracy in 2008. As bitter of a note as they left on, nearly 10 years after the publication of Slash, Slash, Axl and Duff McKagan finally reunited and embarked on the Not In This Lifetime tour, and talks of a new album have been bandied about in the months since. Perhaps that will be a talk for a future book, but this retelling of Guns’ golden age, as well as its lead guitarist’s youth and ultimate rebirth with Velvet Revolver still suffices for fans everywhere to this day. The rock and roll story is one we all know, but to hear it told in coupling with the unique life experiences and character of the artist themselves is always a thrill- and the story of Slash, according to Slash reflects that wonderfully.