And how he loathed his subjects. Goldman’s Lennon, in addition to being a textbook case of Multiple Personality Disorder, suffered from “poor coordination; jerky spastic movements” and “inability to perform simple acts like driving or operating domestic appliances.” Surprisingly for a world-famous musician, he couldn’t even play the guitar, hacking out chords with “an iron-fingered rigidity that summons visions of Parkinson’s disease.” Goldman’s Elvis, meanwhile, was a pharmacist’s pincushion, incapacitated and nearly insensate, “propped up like a big fat woman in recovery from some operation on her reproductive organs.” Both men were galvanic sociopaths, perverts, and despots, while simultaneously being as helpless as babes-in-arms. Bit of a paradox, that. Scarcely a fact underwrote these claims, and no one had authorized Goldman to make them: in this new science of character extermination, he had the devil’s own authority.
Goldman, thou shouldst be living at this hour
There is, of course, a contrarian case to be made (and it has been) for Albert Goldman — as iconoclast, as hustler. He was creative, or at least inventive.
In a disgusting way, he was even rather punk rock. And reading the unauthorized literature on, say, Madonna, or Sting, or Mick Jagger, we are startled to find that we miss him. So there are “sexual marathons” in these books, and “ruthless ambition.” So Jagger once lay back on Moroccan cushions and “drew deep breaths of pure Thai opium,” and Sean Penn tied Madonna to a chair — big deal. Mere pieties of the genre. We miss the dirty fabulist flavor of Goldman: the stink of his obsessions; his quack diagnostics; the prose that goes beyond purple and into bruise-like shades of morbid excess. We miss (as Champ Kind says to Ron Burgundy in Anchorman) his musk.
True, he had freedoms that are denied to many an unauthorized biographer.
His victims were already dead, number one, which made them unlikely litigants. And they were both of them, Elvis and Lennon, vast repositories of mass-cultural psychic energy, such that almost anything could be said about them and be, at some level, true. (Ish.) Still, no one in the field of rock biography has even tried to pick up his torch. It lies there, Goldman’s toxic torch, fuming with neglect. In fact, let me suggest that the only document produced since his death that might be deemed worthy of him is not a book but an album: Nirvana’s In Utero, to be precise, which every child knows is a Goldmanoid shitstorm of drugs and regression and whining and superstar sexual neurosis. Throw down your umbilical noose, indeed.
What might Goldman have done, what sport might he have had, with a biography of Axl Rose? Mick Wall, as described above, has a special warrant to write this book. And W.A.R. also boasts two further hallmarks of classic unauthorizedness: no index (too cheap) and no lyrics (couldn’t get permission). Nonetheless, despite these emblems, and despite his robust style and knack for characterization (Rose is described as having “definitely something of the mistreated dog about him, avoiding eye contact, glancing at you warily when he thought you weren’t looking”), Wall fails to close in, so to speak, for the bloody unauthorized kill.
We can be sure that Goldman would have made more, for example, of Axl’s epic decline from saucy rock-and-rollerdom into New Age hypochondria — his decay, as it were, into health. Here’s Wall on why GNR were always two hours late for their frigging concerts: “Preparations would begin in the late afternoon, when he’d spend an hour on mainly cardiovascular exercises — running, stepping, bicycling. . . . He would follow this with an extensive massage from tour masseuse Sabrina Okamoto. After taking a shower and grabbing a light meal — often a specially prepared salad of fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains, white meat or fish — he would begin his daily vocal exercises either alone or with his vocal coach, Ron Anderson.” And then the long-distance call to the past-life regression therapist Suzzy London; and then the binding of the ankles “to help prevent him twisting them onstage”; and then another 45-minute session with Okamoto, focusing this time on the lower back. And so on. While the rest of the band do drugs and idly peruse the wank mags “fanned out for them backstage like in a dentist’s waiting room.” Would Goldman have been going nuts, or what?
Neither, one feels, would he have been able to resist the philosophical implications of GNR’s always-in-the-making, eternally deferred, millions-down-the-drain album Chinese Democracy. What a title. What a concept. A white whale, a black box, a thing into which everything goes, every motive and idea and association, and nothing comes out. It should enter the language immediately: “Ah, Helga. (Sigh) She was my Chinese Democracy.”