HANOÏ ROCKS’ biography All Those Wasted Years is finally available in English. We thought it would be interesting to ask author Ari Väntänen a few questions about the book and how it all came up together. He also tells us about his everlasting love for one of the best rock’n’roll bands ever!
When did you first hear HANOÏ ROCKS?
Hmmm… The first song I remember hearing was “Up Around the Bend”. I think I saw the video on TV in 1984, when I was ten. I couldn’t believe they were Finnish. Unlike most of the bands from my country at the time, they looked cool. But then I heard my parents were acquainted with Andy McCoy’s dad and that our neighbours were related to him, so I had to believe it.
Growing up in Scandinavia must have been quite different from the rest of the world when it comes to HANOÏ ROCKS. What do you remember about them from those days? Were they considered as a famous band there?
Oh yes, they were famous. To us Finnish kids they were real rock stars, and they looked and sounded the part. We’d read about them in magazines. The cover stories were often about them. I had a Hanoi poster on my wall. I used to read “Michael’s Adventures”, a column he wrote for a Finnish teen magazine. Unlike their Finnish peers, they were international. I don’t think they even saw themselves as being a Nordic band or whatever. They’d tour wherever they could, Finland, Japan, the US, the UK, India… They were a wild bunch, strange boys, and I’m sure many didn’t know what to make of them, but they also had a lot of devoted fans. I was always fascinated about Hanoi, but unfortunately too young to catch them live.
Well, I became a music writer, and I always took writing seriously. I did a lot of work for music magazines, and writing a book was a dream of mine. I was wondering why no-one had written a proper biography of Hanoi Rocks. It was such a fantastic story with all kinds of adventures, and I was certain that soon someone would make a great book out of it. But time went by, and nothing happened. So, I decided to do it myself. I worked on it for a few years before I told anybody. Finally, the Finnish version was released in April 2009.
Can you tell us about the American release of the book?
One day I got an e-mail from Jyrki 69 of The 69 Eyes, whom I know a bit from work. He told me that his friends at Cleopatra Records were putting together a Hanoi Rocks vinyl box called Strange Boys Box. He asked if I’d write the liner notes for it, since I knew the story. Then one thing led to another, and suddenly me and Michael were working on the English version of “All Those Wasted Years” with Cleopatra. The Strange Boys Box liner notes are excerpts from the book. The book was translated by my English friend Andy Stowe. He is a musician himself, a good writer and he even saw Hanoi live back in the day, so he was really on the case. I’m really happy how it turned out. Cleopatra put a lot of love into it.
You co-wrote the book with Michael Monroe and Andy McCoy, how did it all happen? How did you do it, was it based on interviews?
I wrote it all by myself, but the book project was a co-operation. When I had the first version of the manuscript ready, I showed it to Michael and told him what I was up to. He liked what I had written, and we got a publishing deal for a official Hanoi Rocks biography. Then I continued writing and started doing interviews with band members and people who were there when the magic happened. To name a few, I spoke with Michael, Andy, Nasty Suicide, Gyp Casino, Bob Ezrin, Tyla, Ginger Wildheart, Dee Snider, Duff McKagan, Overend Watts… I had a job in a music paper back then, which made it easy to reach people in the music business.
So, to answer your question, the book is based on interviews, but also on all kinds of other materials, like print articles, recordings, TV appearances… whatever I found interesting. A British Hanoi fan named Xan sent me her whole huge Hanoi Rocks articles collection, of which I’m eternally grateful. And Mr. Monroe went through his vast archives and found a lot of interesting photos, documents and other stuff that we could use. He also commented on the text, made corrections and gave me many in-depth interviews. Michael put a lot of effort into both the Finnish and the English version.
So it wasn’t too difficult to find never seen before photos, or other things that haven’t been online before?
Not really. My Finnish publisher Like has been around for a long time and is really well-connected, and like I said, Michael had a lots of material at his place. Hanoi’s Finnish record company Johanna also had stuff to share. Seven years ago not a lot of it was online yet. But now it is.
Have you learned a lot of things you didn’t know before about the band when writing the book?
When I started writing, I had a pretty good idea of how the story went. But when you write a book you dig deeper. Of course you have to tell what happened, but when you start writing about why things went the way they did, you’re onto something. I feel like I learned a lot about their personalities, and those explain a lot of what happened. The guys in the band were very different from each other. In some cases, total opposites. But when they made music together, they really clicked. Their chemistry was just out of this world.
Do you have any favourite HANOÏ ROCKS albums or songs?
I used to, but now they all seem like crucial parts of the story. For example, people say that “Oriental Beat” doesn’t sound very good (which is true) but in my ears it captures the mood the band was in back then. They were going through tough times in 1982, and the album is a reflection of all that. I love that record. I love all of them.
Favourite rock’n’roll books?
There’s lots of good stuff out there. I love The Dirt, Neil Strauss did a great job with it. The latest Jerry Lee Lewis book by Rick Bragg is brilliant. Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain is a classic. The writers interest me, obviously, but sometimes you don’t even know who actually wrote the great book you’re enjoying. Even the “autobiographies” are often not written by the stars themselves, even if they’re narrated in the first person. You need a writer to write a book, just like you need a songwriter to write a song. I think Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young write great songs and great books.
What about HANOÏ members’ other bands/projects, have you been into them?
Always. I have pretty much all of their records. I just bought a copy of Cheap And Nasty’s second album “Cool Talk Injection”. It’s hard to find and I’m happy to have it. The Suicide Twins’ “Silver Missiles And Nightingales” is one of my all-time favourites, and Sami Yaffa’s band Mad Juana is great. Michael’s solo career I know through and through. His current band is fantastic.
The HANOÏ ROCKS legacy is very important, and they paved the way for GUNS N’ ROSES and many other bands. Have you ever thought about how they would be/sound nowadays if they could have been still around since the 80s with the same line-up?
That’s always the question with Hanoi: “what if….?” But that’s impossible to answer. All I know is that many things would have had to change to keep them together. There were problems and drama there even before Razzle died. I think it was a good decision to stop when they did, in 1985, because the band was dying or dead already. It would be great to have Razzle here with us. I never got to meet him, but apparently he was a great guy. Everybody loved him and still does.
What would you think if somebody came up to you with the project of a movie based on the book?
Well, it’s not my story at all, it’s Hanoi’s. The book is just my interpretation of it, just like the movie would be the director’s version. If there was a movie project and somebody asked me to, I’d be happy to read the script and say what I think. It’s a brilliant story that could very well be adapted into a brilliant movie. But it also could end up being very corny and silly. There are so many things that could go wrong. You’d have to understand who they were and what they represented. Not many actually get it. That’s one of the reasons for writing the book.
What other books have you written, and are you working on other projects? What other bands would you like to write about if you could choose a few?
I wrote the authorized Michael Monroe biography that came out in Finnish in 2011. It was updated in 2014. That one really should be published in English, too. Then I wrote a book about the band Apulanta, they’re huge in Finland. Who I’d like to write about? I don’t know… I write in Finnish, so I guess it would have to be someone from here. A band with some soul and a story to tell.
Hanoi Rocks – All Those Wasted Years book trailer video:
Hanoi Rocks – All Those Wasted Years book on Cleopatra Records’ web site:
Hanoi Rocks – All Those Wasted Years book at Backstage Rock Shop:
All Those Wasted Years (+ 7" vinyl, in English)