By Connie Hall-Scott
The most inspirational autobiography I read this past year was “Upper Cut: Highlights of My Hollywood Life” by stylist Carrie White.
“Behind the scenes of every Hollywood photo shoot, TV appearance, and party in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, there was Carrie White,” claims Atria Books, White’s publisher. “As the ‘First Lady of Hairdressing,’ Carrie collaborated with Richard Avedon on shoots for Vogue, partied with Jim Morrison, gave Sharon Tate her California signature style, and got high with Jimi Hendrix. She has counted Jennifer Jones, Betsy Bloomingdale, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn, and Camille Cosby among her favorite clients.” From this blurb alone, one can expect some pretty sweet gossip. But it’s those things that occurred behind the glamorous façade that kept me turning page after page up into the wee morning hours.
In a conversational, girlfriend-to-girlfriend tone, Carrie takes her readers through the early abandonment by her father, sexual abuse at the hand of her stepfather, a turbulent relationship with her alcoholic mother, and early success fueled by a steady diet of champagne and vodka, diet pills, cocaine, and heroin. She had five children and three husbands before her 28th birthday and she eventually lost her home, her car, her career – and nearly her children. She hit absolute rock bottom before clawing her way back to the top, this time sober and whole.
“Upper Cut” is an unflinching portrayal of addiction and recovery that had me slapping my forehead in exasperation at Carrie White’s multitude of bad choices one minute and rooting for her turn-around and happy ending the next. In the end, the book inspired me. It made me want to get off my ass, dust myself off, and run toward my own dreams. Well done, Carrie White, well done. When I make it to L.A., I’m booking a cut with you.
Released in 2011, “Upper Cut” spans 400-pages.
If you know me, you know I am a lover of rock – ESPECIALLY Guns ‘n Roses. “Appetite for Destruction” is my go-to album. In spite of all the negative stuff I’ve heard about Axl Rose (often first-hand accounts of horrific behavior), I still kind-of have a thing for the guy. Maybe that’s why “W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose” is my favorite “over-all” biographical read of 2014.
I haven’t met Axl, but I’ve interviewed and hung out with Steven Adler a few times. It’s no secret that the two of them don’t get along – with Steven having been ejected from the band, the lawsuit that followed, etc… but from what I’ve been told, it’s not from Steven’s lack of trying. For years, the original GNR drummer held out hope that one day the original line-up would get on stage together – just once more. At one point, Axl was the SOLE holdout. Then a few years back, after Axl and the current GNR line-up failed to attend the band’s induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Music Hall of Fame, even Steven gave up hope. Sadly, those 5 magic men – Axl Rose, Slash (Saul Hudson), Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin, and Steven Adler – will never perform together again. I’m glad I caught them on the “Girls, Girls, Girls” tour with Motley Crue in 1998. It’s a shame that it’s not going to happen – I’d fly anywhere to see the original line-up together again and I’d pay a ridiculously absurd amount of money for a ticket. And I’m not the only one. To this day “Appetite for Destruction” is still the bestselling debut album of all time.
I have interviewed and met Dizzy Reed – the longest running member of GNR, save Axl himself. Dizzy and Axl are tight, but don’t bother asking Dizzy about his mate. He ain’t talking. There’s a reason he’s still part of Team Axl.
Quotes from my interviews with both Steven and Dizzy went viral on the web, one even made it onto GNR’s official website. (Yea, me!)
But, back to the book. “W.A.R.” was written by rock scribe Mick Wall – a guy who had unprecedented access to GNR at their peak. Wall traveled with the “world’s most dangerous band” in the late 80s and early 90s. He gained Axl’s trust, and later his fury. The book reveals Axl’s childhood influences, goes behind the scenes of GNR’s enormous success; sheds light on infighting, substance abuse, fame, Axl’s consistent tardiness and refusal to show up at concerts, toxic romances, a reconfigured GNR, and more.
I’ve read Slash’s autobiography, Steven’s autobiography, and Duff’s autobiography. Kudos to all three. Hopefully Izzy will pen one someday, but from what I know of his love of privacy, I’ll refrain from holding my breath. I’ve read several compilations of works on GNR – some worthy, some not so much. On the grand scheme of things, “W.A.R.” was enlightening, entertaining, and informative. It was an enjoyable read. I can’t help but wonder if Axl himself read it, and if so what he thinks. I doubt he’s a fan. He would hate not having control over what information was shared.
Axl comes across as broken in “W.A.R.” My personal diagnosis (based on the read) is possible Borderline Disorder, but I’m no shrink. People say he’s an asshole. Though Josh Todd – Buckcherry’s frontman – told me a few months back that Axl was a great guy and that he’d bought Josh and his bandmate’s ipads as a parting gift following Buckcherry’s time on the road with GNR. Todd did, though, admit that he didn’t see much of Axl. That seems to be par for the course. Wall appears to be correct in his accretion that Axl is, more or less, a recluse.
Say what you will about W. Axl Rose. It doesn’t matter. He’s still one of the best frontmen in rock ‘n roll history. He still puts on a hell of a show. I saw GNR in ATL a couple of years back and loved every second. His voice enchants me. He has presence. He’s a, quite simply, a rock god.
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press, “W.A.R.” unfolds in 368 pages. Mick Wall has been a rock journalist since 1977 and currently writes for various newspapers and magazines around the world. He has worked in public relations and has penned a number of best-selling biographies.
Those are my two recommendations, based on my 2014 biographical reads.
I also read Alex Baldwin’s “A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey through Fatherhood and Divorce.” He talks about parental alienation – something that I can’t really relate to on a personal level, but get conceptually. In the book, Baldwin attempts to show how the American family law is a system of lawyers and judges working in cooperation to drain the wallets of divorcing couples – an industry that preys on the vulnerabilities of the already vulnerable.
Baldwin writes, “To be pulled into the American family system in most states is like being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged down a gravel road late at night. No one can hear your cries and complaints, and it is not over until they say it is over.”
I agree that our legal system leaves much to be desired. Unfair and even harmful decisions are too often made by judges “having a bad day.” Unfortunately, these things happen all the time. I don’t know that anything can be done about it though. Still, I’m glad Mr. Baldwin was able to express his opinions following his divorce with actress Kim Bassinger.
Should you read it? If you’re a guy going through a divorce and you feel like you’re being treated unfairly, sure. You might get some useful tips. If you’re looking for shameless tabloid-type 411, pass.
I also attempted to read “The Real Girl Next Door” by Denise Richards and “Backstage Passes” by Angela Bowie. It’s not that they weren’t good, but more that I didn’t get into them – so back to McKay’s Bookstore they went. Denise’s book wasn’t juicy enough (I wanted the dirt on Charlie Sheen and Richie Sambora!) and Angela’s was almost too much (groupie!). I neither recommend nor don’t.