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Interview Stephen Davis (Hammer of the Gods)


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Intervju - Stephen Davis, författare

Stephen Davis är just nu högaktuell med biografin "Watch you bleed" om Guns N´Roses. En gång i tiden var de världens farligaste band, medan världen numera bara väntar på minsta tecken på att skivan "Chinese democracy" skall komma att ges ut.

Herr Davis är mannen bakom den legendariska boken "Hammer of the gods" om Led Zeppelin. En bok sprängfylld med galna historier om Plant, Page, Jones och Bonham, där majoriteten av berättelserna gång på gång dementerats å det starkaste av de forna Zeppelinmedlemmarna.

1997 skrev han biografin "Walk this way" tillsammans med Aerosmith. En intressant bok om "the toxic twins" och deras medmusiker. Dock tycker han själv att det är roligast att skriva icke officiella biografier, vilket han förklarade i intervjun. "Watch me bleed" är just en sådan och innehåller ungefär lika mycket heroin, kokain, sprit, LA-brudar och galenskap som Neil Strauss "The dirt" om ett annat galet gäng från Los Angeles, Mötley Crüe.

Metal Shrine fick möjlighet att ringa upp Stephen för en kortare intervju och vi tog den direkt. Läs och njut av berättelserna från en person som lyckats vara på rätt plats vid rätt tid gång på gång.

Stephen Davis: Hi, Stephen here!

Hi, this is Niclas from Sweden!

SD: Hi man, how are you?

I´m good. How are you?

SD: I´m good. We´re gonna talk for a little while?

Yeah, about 15 minutes. I´m sitting here with the book. How long did it take to write it? Are we talking a couple of years or...?

SD: Yeah, about two years. I went to Los Angeles and... this is an unauthorized book, so the people I was looking for were people who used to work for Guns N´Roses. Like the tapeoperators and the roadies and the girlfriends and the bodyguards. People who worked with them from the management and the record label and it´s really their stories that formed the basis of "Watch you bleed".

Was it hard tracking down any of these people?

SD: No, it wasn´t really, because I did a book with Aerosmith (Walk this way) and a lot of the people who worked with Aerosmith at Geffen Records also worked with Guns N´Roses at Geffen Records, so everybody had everbody else´s phone number. Once I got passed the couple of people who were a little suspicous, they opened up a lot of other doors for me. In the end I had people calling me and saying "You didn´t talk to me. I don´t want to be left out of this book!". That happened some times and that´s a great thing for any journalist to have.

Working on a book like this, where do you start?

SD: Well, with Guns N´Roses I started... there´s a funny about Guns N´Roses. They were helped by a woman who everyone knew in Los Angeles...

Vicky Hamilton!

SD: Yeah, Vicky Hamilton! And many, many people said to me "Oh you´re doing abook about Guns N´Roses. Well, you have to talk to Vicky Hamilton!". So I found Vicky and she found basically everybody else, except the Aerosmith people who I already knew. That´s why I dedicated the book to her actually. She was sort of the muse, the guiding spirit of this book in many ways. And she was also completely screwed by Guns N´Roses. I mean, she was supposed to be their manager and she got the record deal and at the end of the day of course, they threw her away, so I didn´t like that. It was a liitle bit too much for me. Vicky was a great help and she´s a great woman. She´s still out there, still hustling in West Hollywood and I think that´s really cool.

So she´s still involved in the music business?

SD: Yeah, she´s still involved in the music business in Hollywood.

Cool! When you´ve gathered all the stuff you need for the book and put it in there, was there a lot of stuff that was left out of the finished product?

SD: No, there was very little that they took out in the American edition. They were supposed to take out one thing, but someone at the publisher screwed up and it got in anyway. I´m expecting to be sued actually. I´m not gonna tell you what it is, but we´re all horrified that it stayed in there. When I do a book I usually put in a couple of things that I know that the lawyers are gonna wanna take out. And I do this so the lawyers have a sense of self worth. Kind of giving them an excuse for going "Oh, well that has to go!" and it´s usually about someone eating someone else´s entrails or something like that and it´s obviously a lie... and one of these things snuck into the book and I´m a little worried about it. I´m not gonna be sued because it would be the publisher, because it was their mistake, you know. And it´s not a great thing to have happened. It doesn´t involve any of the members of the band, it involves the people around them. Eeehmmm... I forgot what your question was?

Well, if anything was left out?

SD: The British addition comes out in November and they took out quite a bit. Not very much, but a little bit. A few things that I didn´t want to see changed were changed in England because you don´t have to prove... in America you have to prove malicious intent and in England, all you have to prove is that it´s wrong, so it´s a little bit different there. I´ve already got people from... some reporter from the Leicester Mercury in England , near where the Monsters of Rock used to be. He sent me an e-mail pointing out what he thought were a few mistakes. In any first edition there are quite a few mistakes and we´ll try to correct them for the paperback.

Have you had any response from any former or current Guns N´Roses members?

SD: The only response I had, was a friend of mine who ran into Gilby Clark. He told him about the book and Gilby says "Didn´t he write ´Hammer of the gods´? That´s cool!" and then he said, he thought about it for a minute and then he said "Well, you´ve got to remember that he wasn´t there.", which is of course true. I like Gilby and I think he´s a good guitar player. I never approached any of Guns N´Roses, because I just didn´t want to do an authorized book and I just didn´t care really. Like "Hammer of the gods", I wanted a traditional story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Both tragedies in a way, if you think about it.

Right. What´s your take on a guy like... and I´ve read that you´ve met Michael Jackson and they both come across as very strange people. I mean, Axl Rose seems to be a real strange person that just keeps to himself, isolated from the rest of the world in a way.

SD: Well, Axl would be the first to tell you that he has mental health issues, whereas Michael would never say that. I don´t think he (Michael) really does have mental health issues. He just never went to school, he was never socialized. He was never taught how to conform and be like everyone else. He was kept apart from other children and not allowed to play with other children, because he had to rehearse that afternoon or go to a costume fitting or be in Chicago at six o´clock for a show. When you don´t go to school, you´re not socialized and you become what people think is very strange, but in your own world it´s not very strange at all. It´s just isolated and a little loopy.

About "Hammer of the gods", after you wrote that book, have you ever come across Plant or Page? All you read is them pretty much denying anything written in that book.

SD: It´s interesting that you ask that. The person that seemed to get most upset by "Hammer of the gods" was John Paul Jones, who I guess was... it was this incident with a transvestite in New Orleans and I think his kids still kid him about this. He was mortified. Jimmy Page, who was identified as a heroin addict in the book, said that he got a copy of the book and he read about half of it and then he threw it in the river behind his house, a windmill. Watching it sailing down the river. A copy of "Hammer of the gods" sailing down the Thames towards the North sea and maybe it got washed up in like Stockholm. (laughs). And then Robert Plant... well Bonham of course died. He was very nice to me when I went on tour with them. He just kept looking at me in the back of the plane and he´d go "Stephen Davis ,hey?" and I´d start to tremble and "Oh no, don´t kill me!" (laughs) And then Robert Plant, about five or six years ago or maybe in 95 or 96 gave an interview to the London magazine MOJO. Well they asked "It´s been ten years since ´Hammer of the gods´was published, what do you think now?" and Robert said "Led Zeppelin owes ´Hammer of the gods´ something, because that book did a lot for us in terms of aura." and now we use that quote on the books. (laughs). Most of the time they say that they never met me or never knew me and things like that, but there´s many pictures of me... I haven´t really published them yet, but one was just published in the Boston Globe last week actually. But there´s a lot of pictures with me and them hanging out in Los Angeles in 1975. My photographer and I were on the balcony when Robert looked out over Hollywood and screamed "I´m a golden god!". It was during my interview. I´m gonna try to get MOJO to publish the secrets of the pictures that Peter Simon and we´ll see. They´re pretty funny actually.

Wow! It just seems like you´ve been there and seen it all! It´s just amazing that you´ve had the opportunity to meet all these bands and hang out.

SD: With "Hammer of the gods", all the musicians read it and then they wanted to do books and then they wanted me to write them. In a way it comes down to that one original, unauthorized book. Just like I´ve done authorized books with Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith and many others. I prefer unauthorized books Nick, because it´s very easy to get a manuscript passed the band, but try get it pass the wives. They go "I´m a soccer mom! I´m in the car pool! You can´t say I was a hooker! You can´t say I was a crack whore!". (laughs) It´s very hard getting pass the wives, so I don´t do that anymore. I even... sometimes it works against you, the "Hammer of the gods" curse, because Duran Duran called me up and they said "We´d like you to write a book!", so I went around Europe with them for a while and it was incredible. They had these great audiences. They had the 45 year old moms and the 17 year old daughters and it was exactly the demographic that you´d want in a book like this. Two generations. Anyway, I wrote a proposal and they read the proposal and they were horrified. (laughs). They just wanted to do it like it was 1983 again, they wanted to do like a fanzine and I said "Guys, we can´t do that! People won´t buy it. We have to really tell the story." and they go "Are you crazy? You´re fired!". (laughs) That´s why I started to do Guns N´ Roses. My editor said "I always wanted to read a book about Guns N´Roses by the guy who wrote ´Hammer of the gods´.".

Two last things. Was Rolling Stone the first major publication you worked for?

SD: Yeah. First national publication.

Do you remember the first story you wrote?

SD: Yes. It was about Jack Kerouac´s funeral. Jack Kerouac died in alcoholism in Miami, Florida and... I live in Boston and he was from Lowell, Massachutes which is like 40 miles north of Boston, so they brought him back to Massachutes to be buried. I was still in college I think, still at university and we all loved Rolling Stone , which was a little newspaper in San Francisco. So I called them up and said "You know, Jack Kerouac´s funeral, why don´t I cover this for you?" and they said ok. I went up to Lowell, Massachutes with my photographer Peter Simon, same guy, and we get to the wake and there´s Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, Lauren Furlong Getty (?) and Jimmy Breslin, from the New York Daily News. Lots of beatniks showed up, original beatniks. They´ve got Jack Kerouac lying in the coffin, like a wax dummy with a suit and tie on. Well, so Ginsberg takes his boyfriend Peter Orlowski and drags him up to the coffin and he starts tapping on Kerouac´s head, to the horror of all the old black dressed ladies. And Ginsberg goes "Look Peter! Nothing there! It´s empty!". So I wrote all this up and it was my first story in Rolling Stone, for 50 dollars and I went out and bought a big block of hashish and that´s the beginning of my career.

Wow, that´s awesome!

SD: The end of Kerouac´s and the beginning of Davis´. (laughs)

Amazing story! Finally, any plans for the next project?

SD: Oh yeah! I want to do many many more books. I have children to educate. I want to do a couple of books about a woman or women, which I´ve never done. The next one is either going to be about Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) or Carly Simon.

Ok. Two really nice ladies!

SD: Yeah, and two great stories, that´s the main thing. I mean, there´s plenty of great musicians around that just don´t have stories because they´re boring. But these two have really, really good American stories, so we´ll see. I think I´m gonna do something about a woman. There are no more bands that I´m interested in, really, which is embarassing but I´m a hard rock guy and there is no more hard rock. Guns N´Roses is really the last of the hard rock family, so I can´t see myself working on, like Matchbox 20 or whoever, the Jonas Brothers! Forget it! But there are some of those bands, like Slipknot or some Swedish... there´s a lot of death metal in Scandinavia so you could do... you know, you actually could do a great book about the death metal scene in Scandinavia, because so much of it seem to be tongue in cheek. Some of it seem like funny. Like just a hoot. It would be great to spend a year on the shewolf of death metal tour.

Of course. I wish you all the best with the Guns N´Roses book and future projects!

SD: Thanks and best regards to you Nick!

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Jimmy Page, who was identified as a heroin addict in the book, said that he got a copy of the book and he read about half of it and then he threw it in the river behind his house, a windmill. Watching it sailing down the river. A copy of "Hammer of the gods" sailing down the Thames towards the North sea and maybe it got washed up in like Stockholm. (laughs).

Sound reaction.

A windmill? His house?

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