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Alone: An Interview with Brooke Ellis

Posted: 2011-06-12 15:36:28

Adler on the book tour.

At the end of May, Brooke Ellis came forward with an open letter accusing former GNR drummer Steven Adler and his associates of essentially screwing him out of a book deal. Ellis is professional writer, avid music fan, and was the founder/administrator of Adler’s site for nearly a decade. His work has been featured in publications such as Classic Rock Magazine, Skinnie Magazine, Culture Magazine and for music merch retailer, Hot Topic. Ellis’s allegations leave very little to the imagination: A deal was made in which he would write Steven’s autobiography, and after submitting the initial draft, team Adler washed their hands of him and took credit for the work. The book, “My Appetite For Destruction, Sex, Drugs and Guns N’ Roses” went on to become a New York Times best seller with credit to Steven Adler and Lawrence Spagnola.

Unfortunately Steven Adler’s management has declined a follow up interview in regards to this matter, or offer an official statement. They did however inform me to “be careful”of what I print, a veiled threat of sorts, and pointed out that there was no pending lawsuit as a means to validate his innocence and dismissed Mr. Ellis’s claims. In turn I remind our readers that a lawsuit is not necessarily an indication of guilt, no more than a lack of one attests to a person’s innocence. While Adler’s management group claims this is merely a frivolous matter, I feel Mr. Ellis is entitled to his story and have provided him a platform to do so through this interview. To be clear, both sides were given equal opportunity to provide their version of events and only Mr. Ellis stepped forward. I still welcome an interview with Steven Adler to address this if he becomes willing and ready at a later date.

The GnR Syndicate: How did you transfer from fan to friend and then eventually admin of Adler’s website?

Brooke Ellis: Well, I was at a NAMM event in 1999 at the Whiskey in Hollywood. Adler made an appearance there, and when I saw him outside, I told him I was a big fan, and he was totally gracious and happy to talk with my friends and I. When he heard me say I had all these GNR bootlegs, he was like, “Dude, give me your number!” I made him copies of everything with custom covers, brought them to him, and he said, “this is the coolest thing anyone has ever done for me.” After that, I was pretty assertive about getting him out of the house and we were friends ever since. Plus he kept losing the videos, so he always wanted me to bring new copies. I met him in January of that year, and he didn’t have a website at the time, so in July I uploaded mine.

The GnR Syndicate: Whose idea was the website?

Brooke Ellis: I asked him if he wanted me to do one, and he said, “yeah.”

The GnR Syndicate: During the years you ran the site, did Adler ever contribute to the financial requirements of maintaining his site or compensate you in anyway?

Brooke Ellis: No it wasn’t entirely necessary. Hell, I gave him money. But I used free software. It was never hi-tech, I’m not a techie, but I always maintained the content professionally and it became the primary source of Adler news for years. But I put a LOT of time into it, and I’d pay a guy here and there to help me realize my concepts for the site. One of my designs Adler used as his band logo for years. Plus back then, you know, gas, film etc., costs like that. Then nine years later, after he regained control of his money, he started paying me $600 a month. Y’know, as much to reciprocate for the years of work I gave him as it was to help me out. I eventually hired a web designer and started making the site look pretty much high- end. We had some animation, some really cool copy and paste banners, I got paid for three months before the book crap began.

The GnR Syndicate: You’ve stated that Adler would request “outrageous things” such as selling his nail clippings or autographed DVRs at hefty mark ups. Can you provide more examples of these types of requests? Did he explain the reasoning behind this? Was he desperate for money?

Brooke Ellis: Well, yeah, he definitely had grand ideas of the kind of money he could earn off of his name. I don’t want to get into personal stuff, or anything that doesn’t relate to the book fiasco. There’s so much I could say. Steven gravitates toward people with ideas on how to make money off him. That’s why so many of them have come and gone, almost always ending badly. Many of the people that gave me such a hard time with the book are already gone! He didn’t have control of his own money for a long time, so he had some lean times there. He was even on an allowance for years. Heck, I think his brother Jamie benefited from Steve’s earnings more than he did. Nice cars, lavish lifestyle, he might even have more GNR platinum awards than Steven!

The GnR Syndicate: How did you originally come to write his autobiography? Was this his idea? Your idea? Something that came up over drinks one night?

Brooke Ellis: Yeah, very early on he talked about the book. On my own accord, I wrote a few pages about his OD in San Francisco. He read it and said, “This is exactly what I would say if I could write like this.” But his mom was in the driver’s seat and it was another year or so before she hired me officially. They had, like, maybe three other writers take a crack at it. Nobody could make it happen. Even one of his best friends took a shot at it and didn’t get it done. I think this is why that particular person held such an angry, adamant sense of entitlement to it and self appointed authority over me. It was rude. This guy waits on him hand and foot. I think his relationship with Steven is more investment than friendship. It’s paying off, he’s got a cut of the book and has probably made more off of it than me.

The GnR Syndicate: Who was that?

Brooke Ellis: I prefer not to say his name.

The GnR Syndicate: When did you begin writing on the book?

Brooke Ellis: That would be November 2001, I believe.

The GnR Syndicate: Can you explain the process?

Brooke Ellis: Yeah. I knew that band like no other, or few others. You know how there are people out there who really know their stuff about Elvis and the Beatles? That’s how I was about GNR. So, unlike the previous would-be authors, I was able to ask the necessary obscure questions, “How did Vicki Hamilton come into the picture?” “How did West Arkeen start writing with the band?” “How did you feel about tripping on the drum riser on live TV at Farm Aid?” - you get the idea. And I knew something was wrong was in his past, and I treated it sensitively. I worked up slowly to asking if he ever suffered any kind of abuse as a child, and he confided in me. Always after that, he wanted that part taken out. I said, “Dude, it explains a lot. It needs to stay in.” I promised I’d treat it with care. I don’t think he’d ever tell a guy like Larry, a relative stranger, such personal things. So, it’s a surprise to see him open up with that disclosure in nearly every book interview he does now. I think it’s more just like, “OK, just get this out of the way first,” but kudos to him for addressing it head on.

The GnR Syndicate: You claimed you tried to create a “sympathetic portrait” of Steven, did you feel he had gotten a raw deal in general?

Brooke Ellis: Well, sure, I mean, he had me convinced! Hearing it straight from him, it sounded like he got fucked over. He backtracks now, accepting responsibility, but I think that’s more to appease the other GNR guys. You know? To let them know he holds no grudge and he’s ready for a reunion.

The GnR Syndicate: Was this something he has not let go of? Did he hold out hopes of reuniting with the band one day?

Brooke Ellis: I think that’s pretty much on public record.

The GnR Syndicate: You said you left “real dirt” out of the memoir, can you elaborate on that? What was left out and why?

Brooke Ellis: What I meant was, they took out some of the real dirt I had in there. It was probably due to legal reasons, so it would be best not to relay those stories right now. But there was a lot on Axl.

The GnR Syndicate: Was the book solely your work? Who else contributed and what parts?

Brooke Ellis: Yeah, it was mine, and here’s the thing, it was never completed to my satisfaction. I wasn’t getting paid except for $100 per day when I was actually interviewing Steven, which amounted to roughly $1,500. Sometimes when I’d go to interview him, I couldn’t get anything out of him. Plus, I was working a full-time job, and I had my life. So it took over a year for that initial draft, and when I handed it in, they considered it done. No one cared about the quality of the book. It had been essentially five years since they announced a book was coming, now it’s finally getting written, they can’t wait any longer? I was even encouraged to “Just make it up!” In fact, my entire last chapter is all me. Not a word from Steven’s mouth, and it’s still in there. They wanted it wrapped up! So it pisses me off when Jamie tells me “We couldn’t get a deal without Larry attached to it!” To which I replied, “Based on what?” The bottom line was that Larry had the industry resources to make a deal happen. So, give him a broker’s fee, right? No, they happily intended to give him my authorship regardless of how I felt. They were also shopping my manuscript and Deanna’s autobiography. They had a condition that the two be woven together. In my opinion Jamie was clueless. I told him, “dude, you get an advance, they assign an editor, and it’s a process!” But he was always arrogant, always had to be the big man on campus. Steven once told me, “Slash never liked Jamie.” If that’s true, I’m in good company.

But yeah, they just wanted the money. Nobody cared about any integrity for the project. So, what happens? Larry spends a year with an editor, dressing up my initial rough draft, and it’s still my work, nearly verbatim. Larry edited it and added some goofy shit; blatantly made up. For instance he wrote about Steven talking in-depth about reading the Mott the Hoople book. Ask Steven the name of that book, he never read it! Thats’s Larry. When I was still onboard, I valued our friendship, and didn’t want to make waves. So, when Steven asked me go over Larry’s pages for accuracy, I did, and I immediately got pissed off, “All he’s doing is editing this poorly!” Larry added some goofy made-up shit, like Steven telling Slash about a sexual encounter (with a girl) and Slash saying “I just remembered I have to go” and he runs off to jack off! Are you kidding me, Larry?! That’s what you bring to the table?! I have the pages! I told him,“dude, the last thing Steven needs is to piss Slash off with a made-up story.” The bottom line was that nobody cared about producing a good or true book.

If I had some advance money, and that extra year, with a Harper Collins editor, no less, the book would have been one of the greats. No doubt. These days, I make my living as a writer. I’ve contributed quite often to Classic Rock Magazine, it doesn’t get bigger than that for rock journalism. Mick Wall once contacted me and asked me to contribute two stories to the Slash Special Edition. I did and that was awesome. Strangely enough, I haven’t been able to find anything Larry has published. He just took the book further away from Steven’s personality

Brooke with Adler.

The GnR Syndicate: When you say the last chapter was “All you” do you mean, you simply made shit up? Everything in that last chapter is essentially fiction?

Brooke Ellis: Well, it’s not the last chapter in the book as it is now, but all the content is there. It was stuff that had happened while I had known him. That addict neighbor of his, meeting his wife, obviously the stories with “Chuck”, who is me. I mean, I was well-informed enough to write it. I didnt’ make it up out of thin air, but it’s me telling it as if I was Steven. A lot of the book is like that.

The GnR Syndicate: When did you complete it?

Brooke Ellis: April 2003.

The GnR Syndicate: So you originally signed in 2002? What were the conditions of that contract?

Brooke Ellis: It was really short, not drafted by a lawyer. Basically, it said I get $10,000 upon publishing, and the credit, “with Brooke Ellis.”

The GnR Syndicate: Subsequently as it turned out, his mother was acting illegally as power of attorney and this eventually fell apart correct?

Brooke Ellis: I cover that in my open letter. Basically, Steven got out of the deals Jamie was putting together, and he and his mom and their agent were no longer a part of it.

The GnR Syndicate: You say you hold nothing against Deanna Adler. But surely she had a role in this?

Brooke Ellis: Jamie took the ball and ran with it. I don’t think she felt good about it. She was always kind to me. She acts tough, but really she’s vulnerable and sweet. I’m looking forward to her book, “Sweet Child of Mine.”

The GnR Syndicate: What happened after that?

Brooke Ellis: Steven gets a new team of money-hungry scumbags, and Larry holds the key to the big prize. They gave me the same contract, now stipulating that I’d be paid “after expenses.” I just couldn’t believe it and refused to sign. After months of arguing, they say “Oh, we'll just rely on Jamie's contract you signed in 2007” even though they legally got Steve out of other contracts in that group, now they’re going to cherry pick which ones they want to keep and which ones they do not.

The GnR Syndicate: It seems like your original lawyer really fucked up here. How could she have been so stupid as to forward details of your fiscal health to Steven’s lawyers?

Brooke Ellis: My head was spinning!

The GnR Syndicate: Once that fell apart, where did that leave you?

Brooke Ellis: Alone. Alone to contact Adler’s lawyers. They were impossible and you wouldn’t believe how rude. All they had to do was play fair. All of ’em, just play fair! But they saw me as a punk with no money and figured they could get away with screwing me. Perhaps they still might, but after coming out with this, I feel a lot better than I have for the past two years. I can’t believe the support I’ve gotten. I figured people would bash me in favor of Steven, but it’s been the opposite. I get messages telling me about similar things they’ve been through. Crazy stuff. One person wrote me and said something to the effect of “For Steven to betray someone who was so publicly loyal to him for so long is a new low, I lost all respect for him.” Lots of stuff like that, it encourages me.

The GnR Syndicate: You claimed that Adler seemed dismayed at the news, and promised he would not let them screw you over. Did you expect him to change his number and cut you off like that? Were you in denial at first when this happened?

Brooke Ellis: Well, when his people learned that he told me to “make my own contract”, they must have saw his talking to me as a liability, because they orchestrated a blackout. I believed, or wanted to believe, that Adler was in the dark about this. But when I saw him at NAMM in 2010, I waved, “Stevie!” and I could see he wasn’t happy to see me. I was devastated. How lame, huh? I just turned and walked away and right into Matt Sorum, of all people. I had just interviewed Matt over the phone a few weeks prior, so I smiled and introduced myself. But how weird, huh? Anyway, Steven goes promoting the book with lies, telling he wrote the book with Larry “over lunch” or that Slash helped him write it, then I knew he was onboard with betraying me.

The GnR Syndicate: Did you feel you had a sincere friendship with Adler?

Brooke Ellis: He once told me I was his best friend. That was important to me and I never wanted to let him down. I was actually tired of being a fan for a band of guys I pretty much didn’t like, but I did it anyway. Getting in the crowd to take live shots, maintaining the site, it was my hobby too. But now I realize it was time to move on anyway.

The GnR Syndicate: You didn’t like most of the guys in the band? Were they dicks or what?

Brooke Ellis: Um, there have been some good people in there.

The GnR Syndicate: Explain Lawrence Spagnola’s role in all this. How did he end up with a contract that protected him, and gave him credit for authoring this book, while you did not?

Brooke Ellis: He got the deal, that’s all. I mentioned my conversation with him in my open letter. He was so stressed and angry, saying, “You know, I put a lot of work into making this deal!” as if that entitled him to steal my work.

The GnR Syndicate: Why would Steven allow him to fuck you like this? What could Spagnola offer Steven that you could not?

Brooke Ellis: Again, the deal! There was the money just ahead, and there was a bunch of smiling people with knives in each other’s backs. They all had agendas, and they all had his ear. Me out of the picture meant more money for them. It’s no surprise many of those people are already out of Adler’s circle.

The GnR Syndicate: Did Adler rob you? Or did his inner circle rob you? Who pulled the trigger here?

Brooke Ellis: His actions since have indicated that he and his people robbed me. I left voicemails with his wife, who I was once close to, pleading her to intervene on my behalf. I spoke to Chip. Nobody saw fit to stand up for me. Here we are.

The GnR Syndicate: Chip Z’Nuff turned his back on you as well as the rest of the band?

Brooke Ellis: Chip’s pretty damn cool. He always tried to be neutral. But he was my last resort. I told him, “Dude, I gotta sue if Steven doesn’t work this out with me” and nothing came of that, so...

The GnR Syndicate: This book went to the NY Times best seller list? How did this make you feel?

Brooke Ellis: Like shit. It’s my book, and it could have been great, especially for fans. I know what they want to know! Larry’s like in his fifties, he doesn’t get GNR. People have said it’s poorly written. Well, you take a first draft and treat it like a final product, what do you expect? No one cared; they were motivated solely by money, while I wanted it to be great. You know, when I picked up that book for the first time, my attitude was, “if this is practically unrecognizable, if Larry did a bang-up job and added tons of new content, I'm letting this go, and good riddance.” That wasn't the case.

The GnR Syndicate: What would you say to Steven Adler if you could talk to him right now?

Brooke Ellis: Profanities. Maybe years from now, when this is over and done, we’ll have a shot of Jaegar and forget about it. I hope it ends well, so I can listen to GNR again without cringing.

The GnR Syndicate: So you could possibly forgive Steve for this one day?

Brooke Ellis: I never actually hated someone or thought I had a real enemy until this. It’s not Steven. It’s not Larry. He knows who he is. As far as Adler is concerned, he’s a dumbass who had people influencing him with their agenda. I mean, ultimately he has the last word, but he’s in his own world. I’m going to sue him, but somehow with him, it’s hard to hold a grudge. He simply doesn’t get it. I think his attitude is it’s his life I wrote about, so why am I owed anything? He just wants to smoke weed and watch TV, y’know? He just wants others to take care of his business which gives them plenty opportunity to exploit matters.

The GnR Syndicate: Why should readers believe you? Who is to say you aren’t trying to cash in here?

Brooke Ellis: Well, I’m past that concern and I’ll have my day in court. I have all the proof I need. I’m going public like this because what they did was just wrong, plain and simple. When Adler’s people start chiming in, I’m surprised they haven’t, maybe they just hope this will go away. I hope your readers will analyze the content of what is being said and weigh my credibility against it.

The GnR Syndicate: How far are you going to take this? Are you ready to fight?

Brooke Ellis: Yeah, I’m willing to risk everything. I’ve got the truth on my side, bottom line.

The GnR Syndicate: What is your end game? What do you want out of all of this?

Brooke Ellis: Justice! A public apology. I would love for someone to call Adler and Spagnola out on this. Maybe on Amazon reviews or at a book signing, that would be awesome. It’s sad, I am very aware of the problems in the world and I believe we are in serious trouble. The global economy could collapse. This book thing is petty, but since it’s a part of my life, I have to do something!

The GnR Syndicate: What has this episode taught you?

Brooke Ellis: Basically what has already been said about meeting your heroes. I also learned a lot about mixing friendship with business. It’s tricky.

The GnR Syndicate: Do you believe you will eventually win?

Brooke Ellis: I think so. I hope so. Either way the word is out, and it tarnishes the integrity of that book. All they had to do was play fair.

The GnR Syndicate: Tell us about your latest project, what is it and what does it mean to you?

Brooke Ellis: Oh, it means the world to me, thanks! Vintage Quixotic, “New Music for Old Hollywood.” It’s about yearning for a bygone era, y’know? The legends, the scandals of the old movie days, cool songs about everyone from Bela Lugosi to Audrey Hepburn. I’ve got an amazing vocalist Lorenz, and I write the songs and produce the videos. If one person checks ’em out on YouTube from this, then for me, something good came from this insanity.

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