Axl Rose, Albert Goldman, and the renegade art of rock biography
I think it may have been sometime in the 1970s — and I’m being as half-assed as I possibly can here, in keeping with my theme — that the term “unauthorized” became sort of cool. The authorized version: that was what the Man gave you. You didn’t want that. You wanted the illicit, illegitimate, sniggering-behind-your-hand version. Not the truth exactly, but something that smelled a bit like it
Intro to Kill Your Idols: The Unauthorized Biography of Albert Goldman
Ten great unauthorized rock biographies
1) Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis (multiple editions, 1985)
2) Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga by Ian Christe (Wiley, 2007)
3) The Secret History of Kate Bush (And the Strange Art of Pop) by Fred Vermorel (Omnibus Press, 1983)
4) The Wicked Ways of Malcolm McLaren by Craig Bromberg (Harper, 1989)
5) Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance by Johnny Rogan (Omnibus Press, 1992)
6) Elvis: What Happened? by Red West, Sonny West, and Dave Hebler, with Steve Dunleavy (Ballantine, 1977)
7) Enrique Iglesias: An Unauthorized Biography by Elina Furman and Leah Furman (St. Martin’s, 2000)
8) Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of the Beatles’ Let It Be Disaster by Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighart (St. Martin’s, 1999)
9) Elvis by Albert Goldman (McGraw-Hill, 1981)
10) The Lives of John Lennon by Albert Goldman (William Morrow, 1988)
A market emerged, and books, here and there, began to advertise their unauthorizedness. Soon books about rock music, which was the sound of the kids, etc., absolutely had to be unauthorized, otherwise what was the point? Give us the action! And so he was born, our hero — a dreamer of dreams, a peddler of scurrilities, the worst researcher in the world: the unauthorized rock biographer.
As unauthorized rock biographers go, Mick Wall — whose W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose (St. Martins Press, 352 pages, $26.95) debuted this past week — is impeccably credentialed. In 1991, having displeased the band with some tactless journalism, he was called out, by name, in Guns N’ Roses’ bloated blooz-rant “Get in the Ring.” “You punks in the press,” burps Axl Rose in a spoken word section, while the guitars get surly, “that wanna start shit by printing lies instead of the things we said . . . That means you, Mick Wall! . . . Fuck you! Suck my fucking dick!” Fixed immortally in the zodiac of Axl’s paranoia — not bad for a writer from Kerrang! magazine. “Suck my fucking dick!” You don’t get much more unauthorized than that.
Then again, when Johnny Rogan was researching his Smiths history Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance, he trespassed so deeply into the Moz-zone that the vengeful singer wished aloud to a passing newspaperman that Rogan would be killed in a highway pile-up. Asked about this comment a few weeks later, Morrissey seemed to have had a change of heart: now, he said, he wanted Rogan to die in a hotel fire. The relationship between the unauthorized rock biographer and his subject has ever been strained.
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