Apart from being a bona fide rock star, being a rock journalist is possibly one of the coolest jobs imaginable. Mick Wall, ex-Kerrang! writer and founding editor of Classic Rock, is one of the best in the business. And his stories never disappoint.
The biggest rock magazine in the world, dropping bollocks, Axl Rose and and THAT Guns n’ Roses track…
PARENTAL ADVISORY: CONTROVERSIAL VIEWS AND NAUGHTY WORDS THROUGHOUT.
How did Kerrang! come about?
“When I was writing at Sounds it covered the whole spectrum of music. Pop, rock, punk. We did a pullout once and called it Kerrang! Just for a laugh. Little did we know that a few years later it would become a magazine in it’s own right. Whenever anyone rang the office you might go through to any of the Sounds team. We all had our little genres. If the call was for our part of the office guys – me, Geoff Barton and Pete Makowski, when we answered the phone we would go ‘Kerrang!’”
What made it such a huge success?
“It was the eighties, and record companies had never been richer. But in the UK, nothing was more unfashionable than rock and metal. It wasn’t on telly, or the radio, except in special slots. The record companies had these massive budgets and no one to spend it on except us. If, for example, Aerosmith or Van Halen were doing a UK tour, a few weeks before they’d be in New York or LA and we’d get flown out to review the show to drum up some publicity for the UK leg. We’d go off on the road with bands for weeks on end. When they finally came to the UK there would be a guest list, and then a Kerrang! guest list. We’d take the whole office. We’d have special parties and dinners, for a brief period it became this outrageous little club. The publishers had no aspirations for the magazine. They still saw the money going through Sounds, Record Mirror and Music week.”
Were you under any pressure from the publishers to deliver?
“Not at all. We were basically left to our own devices. When you work on a launch you have lots of meetings about content and covers. We didn’t have any of that, because nobody really cared that much! We’d stick the Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the cover. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger. We were speeding some of the time, drunk a lot of the time, and stoned all the time. We’d do coke whenever any passing rock band stopped by and dumped a load of the stuff on the table.”
What has been your biggest faux pas?
“There’s been a few! I interviewed Phil Lynott just a few weeks before he died. I don’t know what the fuck possessed me but I asked him if he regretted not making it in America. He looked at me as if I was the biggest twat in the world and said, ‘Oh yea. But then I always regretted that I never fucked Kate Bush as well, so there ya go!’”
Why do you think tour revenues are now outstripping album sales?
“The business has evolved so much now. We can all get on our smartphones and YouTube whoever you want playing live anywhere. You can get it in a second. But what you can’t get is that authentic, once-in-a-lifetime moment that live gigs often provide. If you can have a ‘I was there!” moment that you can’t experience via the Internet, It’s something that you will take away and keep forever.”
What’s Axl Rose’s problem?
“So many things people accuse him of being – controlling, alienating, they are all symptoms. That man needs help, and I mean it in the most heartfelt way. I chatted to him a lot when I was writing books about him and he talks about being bi-polar and suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autistic spectrum. One of the characteristics is you don’t understand social interaction and you get a lot of anxiety. To a normal person, if someone tells you you are due of stage at nine and it’s already ten o’clock, they would think, “Fuck, that’s bad, I’d better get a move on.” But an autistic person might just shout, ‘fuck off and leave me alone!’”
Why did he call you out in the song Get in the Ring?
“I knew Axl for a long time, before he was famous, and during. We were close. I still have gold discs that he gave me, and his brother Stuart used to sleep on my couch. The whole thing stemmed from a fight Vince Neil and Izzy Stradlin had over a woman. I interviewed him, at his request, and he was in a rage about that incident. I transcribed the interview for Kerrang! I rang him up and ran it past him because it looked very heavy on the page, he agreed to it, and the story ended up on the cover. The next thing I know I got a call from his publicist saying he didn’t believe he said those things and that he wanted my tapes. I was a bit of an arsehole by that time, too. I was 31 and my head was buried up my own arse from years of globe hopping with magazines and at the time I was truly fucking offended. What the fuck? There were stories I could have written about Guns n’ Roses but never did because they were so heinous.”
Did you have any prior warning?
Yes, before the Use Your Illusion albums came out a mutual friend tipped me off. I already knew the track well. It was a Duff McKagan song called, ‘Why Do You Look At Me When You Hate Me.’ Axl hijacked it.”
What did you think when you first heard it?
“By the time the song came out I’d left Kerrang! and moved into management. I had found what I truly believed to be the next Def Leppard called Cat People. We were talking to EMI and Capitol in America about a major deal. Then Nevermind came out and suddenly being the manager of the new Def Leppard was the worst fucking thing I could be in the world. Talk about backing the wrong horse! So when Use Your Illusion came out and somebody played me the track I just pissed myself laughing. It was brilliant. But then it escalated and haunted me for a long time. People still ask me about it to this day. Lawyers were coming up to me and asking me to sue. I was like, ‘No, fuck it. Life’s too short.’”
How do you feel about the episode now?
“I’m over it. So he did the song, so what? He wasn’t the first artist to do that, that dubious honour went to Gary Numan. I’d given his first big album an almighty hiding in Sounds so in the title track of his next album, Replicas, there’s the scathing line, ‘So I turned to the crowd and I said, ‘do you know Mister Wall?’ and the crowd all turned away.’
“That fucking showed me.”
Mick Wall’s latest book, Foo Fighters: Learning to Fly, is out now on Orion.