I was looking forward to reading this book for 2 reasons;  one, because I’m an unabashed fan of Guns N’ Roses, and two because I thought it might shed some light on Steven Adler’s ouster from the band at the height of their fame.  It did, but it lost me along the way.

First of all, if you’re a fan of stories about the debauched life of a rock star and that’s all you care about, this is the book for you.  Mr. Adler clearly enjoyed all of the perks of his rock star status, indulging in copious amounts of groupies, booze and drugs.  Now I’ll be the first to admit that I get a vicarious thrill in reading about rock stars indulgent lifestyles, but even I have a limit.  I mean, do I really need a blow-by-blow (pun intended) retelling of the bukkake party Adler and Nikki Six had with some groupies one night?  I’m no prude, but c’mon dude have you ever heard of the maxim, less is more?  Adler’s contention is that he’s telling you all of this in an effort to come clean, and that to do so he needs to be completely honest no matter the cost, but after a while it simply comes off as boasting and you realize that there is a fine line between titilllating and skeevy.

Now I’m sure you’re all thinking, but isn’t that what Guns N’ Roses were all about?  Excess?  And you’d be right.  I’ll be the first to admit that one of the primary reasons I was initially drawn to GNR was that their bad boy image didn’t seem manufactured, it was real, and clearly I wasn’t duped.  The guys in GNR are NOT up-standing citizens, and Adler does give us an unvarnished look at some of the machinations that go on when you’re part of a band as big as GNR.   Unlike the Rolling Stones, who Keith Richards in his book “Life” described as being slavish to their music in their early days, GNR seemed propelled more by attitude and a shared disdain for hard work.  These guys didn’t care to fit in or play the game, and that’s what Adler points out was their greatest strength.  They were real, and scumbags or not, fans gravitated to it.

While their fans adulation may have grown with every hit, it’s pretty clear that success did not breed mutual admiration and respect within the band.  Adler clearly has a love/hate relationship with Axl Rose, and felt betrayed by his boyhood friend Slash when he was kicked out of the band.  While I don’t doubt that money destroyed this band like it has many others, what the book does make me doubt is that the members of GNR were ever really that close, excluding of course Adler and Slash.  Izzy is described as aloof and a loner, Axl is painted as a megomaniacal tyrant, Slash is best friend and traitor, and Duff…well he just seems to be drunk most of the time.  It’s sad actually, but not entirely surprising.  What is it they always say, familiarity breeds contempt?  GNR clearly came together because they jammed and partied in the same circles, and unlike a lot of bands on the strip back in the 80’s realized that they didn’t have to put on a show, they were the show.  My memories of the two times I saw them are still tinged with the overriding feeling of anarchy and violence.  I was a suburban kid and to me this was as exhilarating as it was foreign.  Hell, it really was the circus coming to town.

What’s sad is when the circus ends, and above all, “My Appetite for Destruction” is the story of Adler’s descent into drugs and alcohol following his ouster from the band in 1990.  He regularly refers to the natural high he received from playing live with GNR and writes about how he filled that void with drugs as soon as the tours ended.  His drug abuse is legendary, and despite seizures, strokes, open abscesses, and OD’s too numerous to count, he continued to “party” (his words not mine).

It’s clear that Adler recognizes the destruction he wreaked not only on himself, but also on his friends and loved ones.  What’s not clear is how remorseful he is for it.  In the beginning of the book he writes,

“But people love train wrecks.  They just can’t look away from the ODs, lawsuits, prison terms, rehabs, reality shows, meltdowns, and more ODs.  So before one or all of the above happens again, I want to set the record straight.  And I’m finally sober enough and angry enough to do it right.”

Angry enough?  Angry about what?  Didn’t you do everyone of those things you just described?  So doesn’t that make you a walking cliche?  If you’re going to be part of a band that espouses excess, and then you’re going to personally prescribe to an excessive lifestyle, and then write a book to capitalize on it, can you really be angry at anyone for watching the whole debacle unfold?

And what about his fans?  Adler professes love for them every chance he gets, but it often seems he craves their adulation like he does drugs.  Does he really appreciate them or just their unconditional love?  In the end, I susppect the latter, after all they don’t expect an apology, they like him to be a train wreck.

But what really bothered me was what he wrote at the end of the book,

“Keeping it real means admitting, at the beginning and end of my story, that I’ve been a selfish asshole.  No apologies.  And although I’ve learned to be less selfish, I realize you’ve got to please yourself in life.  I hate people who go around figuring out how to sacrifice and please others.  They usually just end up pissing off the ones they want to please.  I say please yourself, and you’ll please others.”

While I agree that you have to like yourself to be truly happy, I don’t agree that self comes before all else.  After all, Adler’s own friends and loved ones sacrificed their own happiness on many occasions to care for him and make sure he didn’t die.  They did it because they cared about him, and while I don’t think anyone should spend the rest of their lives apologizing for their past deeds, I do think that to be forgiven one has to do more than just ask for it, they have to earn it.  I hope Adler takes the time to do both.  Sadly this book didn’t leave me confident he will.

2 Responses to “Music Lit 101: I Lost My Appetite…”

  1. theHoseman Says:

    An informative and well written review. I haven’t read Adler’s book yet. I did read Slash’s biography a year or two ago. I remember the first time I heard GNR…”Mr Brownstone”…It was great because it was so different from the rest of the hair band glam metal stuff that had almost literally become a parody of itself. I’ve never been a big fan of Axl, but can see his value to the overall picture. He was the perfect front man for the band. And I still always think of GNR with the original lineup…so to me Steven Adler is equally integral to what the band was all about.

    Thanks for the great book review Eric!

  2. TMTYTF Says:

    I’m still about halfway into the book and have yet to finish it although I really want to. So far I like it and think it’s pretty entertaining although Mr. Adler has pushed a lot of limits.

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