And now for something completely different...instead of a memoir by an established, well-regarded musician, a memoir by an established, well-regarded music WRITER. Mick Wall is a renowned music writer who has, over the years, written for magazines from Sounds and Kerrang! to Classic Rock and Mojo. He's also written many musician biographies, two of which are on Led Zeppelin and the Doors and have been reviewed on my site. However, he's probably most well known for his work in the 1980s when he was one of the preeminent hard rock/heavy metal writers for Kerrang! and a presenter on the UK TV show Monsters of Rock. It's this period of his life and career that Mick focuses on in his new memoir of this era, Getcha Rocks Off.
This book is not an autobiography in the usual sense in that it doesn't cover the author's entire life. Rather, it focuses on a specific time period beginning in 1976 when he was 17 years old and a speed freak living an aimless existence in a squalid London flat. On a lark, Wall answered an ad in an issue of Sounds magazine looking for writers. Having never written anything before, he had no idea what to expect and soon found himself traveling all over England to write about now-forgotten British punk bands of little to no redeeming value, musical or otherwise. Lacking confidence in his ability and the pittance he earned from it, Wall drifted into band PR with similar luck. After deciding to ditch it altogether, he somehow ended up writing for the nascent magazine Kerrang! which was launched in 1981 as the UK's first periodical dedicated to hard rock and heavy metal, two genres that were exceedingly uncool in early 1980s Britain. However, bands from both sides of the pond like Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Guns n Roses, Motorhead, Metallica, and others were making waves throughout the decade and Wall was there to write about it all. Never mind having a front row seat...Mick was almost in the band in many cases and developed friendships (and in some cases, blood feuds) with many of the guys in the bands.
The bulk of the book is taken up with tales from Mick's time covering some of the absolute titans of the 1980s heavy metal and rock scene, especially Def Leppard, Guns n Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, and Motorhead. There are funny tales with some of the greatest characters from that era, as well as his own personal tales of excess. Indeed, most of these are pretty eye-opening for the sheer amount of sex and drugs consumed by Wall, which almost rivaled that of the bands he was covering! Graduating from speed to just about everything else, especially booze and cocaine, the author lived as hard and fast as anyone and nearly paid the price for it. Tragically, he witnessed this very lifestyle take the life of two of his friends, Def Leppard's Steve Clark and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, both of whom died young from their drug habits and, more poignantly, their inability to find joy in their music, their fame, and the wealth they achieved at such young ages. There were the almost comical, pre-reality television visits and meals at the home of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, hilarious conversations with Lemmy, somewhat disillusioning and almost pathetic interactions with Jimmy Page (which, as a Led Zeppelin fan, didn't surprise me in the least to read), and out of control times with Guns n Roses. This last one is of interest because to this day Axl Rose has a vendetta against Mick for something he wrote in Kerrang! in the late 1980s. It even earned Wall a namecheck and a not-so-nice invitation to do something with a part of Axl's anatomy in the lyrics of a song from GNR's Use Your Illusion II album. What's most interesting and enlightening as the book goes along is how Wall eventually saw how fake and empty the existence was for most, if not all, of the bands he covered...eventually, he realized that the same applied to his own life, especially after he relocated to Los Angeles. Realizing that in many cases he didn't even listen to many of the bands he reviewed, he also gave behind-the-scenes glimpses throughout the book as to how the music industry really worked in those days; even lousy albums would be reviewed positively in order to keep the writers in the good graces of the labels and bands, as well as to keep the perks like free limos and hotels, free drinks and food, and backstage passes coming. Fitting in perfectly with the California setting, it's all revealed as being exceedingly fake, tacky, and left me even that little bit more jaded and cynical about the industry than I already was.
While the stories of madness are engaging and interesting, at its heart the book is still Mick Wall telling the story of his life during that time period and as such, includes a lot of reflection into what it meant and how it left all involved reeling, battered, and dazed at the end of the decade; this is especially true once grunge and alternative rock came along and killed 1980s rock and roll and its ethos of excess off. Returning to London to find his barely-paid-attention-to girlfriend gone and his lifestyle strangely out of place in early 1990s London, by the end of the book he realized that it was all a lark and one he was lucky to come out the other side of alive. The book is written in Wall's typically flamboyant and conversational style which I really enjoyed. Also, as a warning for the faint of heart, there is some pretty graphic language used when describing several of his sexual and pharmaceutical escapades of that era. They certainly didn't offend me, but I just want to make any of my more sensitive readers aware before they go seeking out the book. However, in my view it gave the book a more realistic, earthy, and seedy look into how those times and those situations really were.
Getcha Rocks Off is a really enjoyable book and kept my interest throughout, which is a testament to Wall's writing and storytelling...this is especially true since I'm really not a fan of anyone he wrote about in the book apart from Ozzy and Jimmy Page. I loved Def Leppard and a handful of songs by Guns n Roses and Iron Maiden in my youth, but for the most part I was never a 1980s hair metal/hair rock fan. Even so, I couldn't put the book down. My criticisms of the book are minor, but there are a few. First, there aren't any photographs, which I feel would have really added to showing just how nuts Wall's life was back then...he even alludes to several photographs taken of him in crazy situations, so to show them would have been an added benefit. Second, while the road tales are great, I would have liked a bit more of the personal story from Mick to flesh it out a bit more. Finally, the end of the book felt rather abrupt and unresolved...yes, that entire rock scene and those caught up in it seemed to run out of steam all at once, but the way the book tried to wrap everything up was much the same. Some more reflection on where Mick and everyone else were left when they hit that wall, as well as what everyone was generally up to in the years following would have made for a slightly more satisfying resolution. With all of that being said, for anyone who just loves rock music, loves rock music writing, crazy stories from the road, or (preferably) all three like I do, Getcha Rocks Off will help you do just that...metaphorically speaking, of course!
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