Book Review – Author should lose his delusion; GN’R deserves better



Guns N’ Roses: Use Your Illusion I and II
By Eric Weisbard
Continuum Books 33 1/3 series

Why anyone would be interested in writing a 125-page book on an album they seriously dislike is beyond me.
    After looking over the other books in 33 1/3 series, numerous other readers will be as befuddled by this as I am.

    This time, the albums in question, Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and II, are poked, prodded and ultimately denounced by author Eric Weisbard. Naturally, I wouldn’t expect every paragraph to be fawning, sanctimonious, rock-star worship — this is rock writing after all. I can’t help but wonder why, other than to satisfy his own (ironically) Axl-esque ego, Weisbard embarks on such an abstract, self-indulgent, pet art project.
    That’s right, art project.

    My reasons for doubting Weisbard’s intentions are simple. This book is far too academic for any Guns N’ Roses fan, and anyone interested in reading this brand of lofty criticism would never dream of reading about GN’R.

    Now, before rock critics and Lester Bangs fans decry me as a semi-literate musician numbskull, let me illustrate my point: Thirty-three pages in, Weisbard writes, “But GN’R’s self-contradicting half-thoughts, harangues at their own genre and use of the despotic demotic made the music messier — inchoately groovy.”
    Did you get that?

    It’s not that I didn’t understand Weisbard, but a sentence like that has no place in any book about GN’F-n’R, period. This sentence, taken from the second chapter, “UYI and I,” is Weisbard’s attempt to explain his relationship with the album. It’s a valid place to dwell but ultimately goes nowhere as he describes, in excruciating detail, his preference to listen to both albums condensed onto a 90-minute mix-tape. He eventually delves into a five-page aside describing his jealousy of writer Nicholson Baker’s project writing about another writer, John Updike, using a process called “Memory Criticism,” which Weisbard tries to emulate in this book.


    I am not opposed to picking on the rampant pretensions of wealthy rock stars, nor am I unable to recognize the obvious flaws in UYI, or why it may be tempting to exploit the band in the shadow of the much greater Appetite For Destruction, revered by most as the best GN’R ever offered.

    The real problem here is that Weisbard repeatedly comes off as cold and unrelate-able, a self-proclaimed hipster doofus. Numerous writers, particularly Chuck Klosterman, have written about the pros and cons of this punky, thrash-rock band turned arena mega-group in ways that were both intelligent and approachable. Throughout Weisbard’s book, I found myself wishing I could throw it away and return to my copy of “Fargo Rock City.”

    I’m not interested in proclaiming both Use Your Illusions as masterworks. In several instances, Weisbard makes valid points about the vapid nature of many of the songs and the inclusion of numerous “filler tracks” to bring each disc as close to the 80-minute mark as possible.

    Even as a long-time GN’R apologist, I could be included in the hordes of people who think UYI I&II could be edited down to one pretty decent album. But Weisbard’s universal disdain of every track on these albums (especially the Izzy songs! — with the exception of “November Rain” and “You Could Be Mine”) makes me think this book is not simply overzealous academia, but an effort by Weisbard to write rock criticism as extravagant and overblown as the Use Your Illusion albums just because he can.
    He certainly can, but who would want to read it?

Jeremy Johnson plays guitar and sings in Your Black Star. Contact him at [email protected]