Rock Stars in need of money/therapy
Maybe it's that CD sales are dropping off, maybe it's that almost everyone that can have a compilation (and plenty who shouldn't) already does but it seems that the Christmas rush to produce Greatest Hits albums is dying down. Either that or they're all released via the two record companies that don't speak to me. Did anyone else notice that this trend is dying off? Does it mean that, fingers crossed, there'll never be a new Corrs compilation?
But I also noticed - hard not to really, slight occupational hazard - that there was an increase in the rock'n'roll tell-all autobiography, or the candid road-diary/biography. This has been on the increase for the last three years or so - a way to wring a few bucks out of the fans in these times where everyone is looking for the next business model for the music industry. In fact, consider this post an update of one I wrote three years ago looking at my summer holiday reading of music biographies.
Well, I'll probably have a few publishers not talking to me after this - but here's some of the books I worked through before, during and after Christmas. So few of them were worthwhile, some I have dealt with already, so I'll do my best to not, as my old Classical Studies teacher would say, "keep repeating and repeating and repeating myself" (an early blow there to the one resolution for 2011, as I realise I've used that line before).
The big-news music book of 2010 was of course Keith Richards' Life. And I wrote about that here. The book seems to be winning loads of people over, many calling it the best music book they've ever read. I assume this is the hoity-toity way of saying "I've read one music book now. It was by Keith Richards."
After the Keef book the glut of truly awful reading material arrived, the letterbox groaning far before I would get the chance to.
Mustaine is of course famous for being booted out of Metallica for being a drunk, forming Megadeth and never being happy with his success because he is not in Metallica. Megadeth made some decent thrash in their day - I'd rather listen to most Megadeth records than most Metallica records these days - but this is the worst autobiography, suffering from the least self-awareness until, perhaps ironically, Lars Ulrich, one day pens his memoir. Mustaine comes across like an angry, bitter stoner, misogynistic, misanthropic, missing the point. He's recently found God, humility remains a mystery.
Adler is the drummer who was booted out of Guns'n'Roses for being a drunk/druggie. He was ripped off and had his earning power stripped. He took more drugs. Got deeper in debt. He has been in and out of rehab, resorting to celebrity rehab reality TV shows - check out this, erm, nugget. His book, My Appetite for Destruction, should make you sick. Several times. You should be appalled at his immature, sexist behaviour. If you think it's cool, if you think it's the rock star dream, then it is because you've read one other music biography (probably Keef's - or, more likely The Dirt). There is a sense of momentum with the recording of Appetite for Destruction but then it just becomes a drag, a giant slide, a huge fall. And the final 60 pages are the most depressing thing I've ever read (and that includes making it through the first Harry Potter book). Ghastly.
I mentioned The Dirt just before - bestselling expose of the Motley version of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Here the band's singer, Neil, tries to flesh out his story. And comes up with nothing. Nothing at all. Well, like Mustaine and Adler's books the Neil one is a feel-sorry-for-yourself affair; the lead singer of Motley Crue has banged loads of groupies, grouped together loads of shots, shot lots of drugs, crashed a few parties and even more vehicles and it's all everyone else's fault, or no one's fault. You would have seen this story just yesterday: Vince Neil has plea-bargained some short jail time after another drunk-driving incident. Presumably the judge did not read Tattoos & Tequila or the sentence would not have been quite so lenient.
This book differs - it's the story of Metallica but it's told by a proper writer. Music journo Mick Wall knew the band, partied with them some, but writes now with distance, with measure. I spoke to Wall recently (an interview post is to come) and he laughed, saying that after writing his book about Led Zeppelin he totally understood why they were so big, such a huge deal with so many people. But that Metallica's enormity, their global success, still baffled him - even after writing Enter Night. We likened their intriguing popularity to professional wrestling in our discussion. Wall feels it's a perfect analogy/comparison. His book is excellent. I have not cared about Metallica for a lot longer than I ever cared about Metallica but Enter Night was riveting; one of the best band bios I have read in a long time.
Of course I would hate to suggest that an impartial view creates a better book every time. Here Stephen Davis, aka Stephen Salacious, is at a loss for how to rewrite, once again, his Hammer of the Gods tome (about Led Zeppelin) so he happens to - all of a sudden - rediscover his "lost notebooks" from the 1975 tour of America. Ha, what do you know, he found them just in time for Christmas! Davis has a few sentences on a few pages that offer something bordering on insight; there was at least one nice story and different from the usual. He talks about how John Bonham would return from gigs, warm up before gigs and spend days off thundering along to his Alphonse Mouzon records. Davis points out that it was funny to hear the loudest drummer in rock practising to the loudest drummer in jazz. But it's also a nice snapshot; Bonham tends to suffer at the hands of writers for being a drunken thug. He was, often. But clearly the guy put in his 10,000 hours (and then some) to master his instrument. The rest of the book, a very slim volume, is pointless - it's far more about Davis than the band. And Davis is not interesting.
Some people find Marcus's style a bit much but when he picks a winning subject I'm there with him - on every page. And here he flags biographical retreading and focuses on the music of Van Morrison - an always fascinating topic. It's a slim volume and Marcus concentrates on the gems rather than the missteps - in most cases. It'll have you realising that the Best Of CDs will never cut it - and that there's more to any Van Morrison collection than just the obvious classic albums like Astral Weeks. You'll be scampering off to reappraise Veedon Fleece, Into the Music, His Band and Street Choir and at least 10 others.
So that was most of the summer reading. And I got through it all. Some of it I read before Christmas, some during and some after. Some of it was decent - most of it was awful. I wondered why most had bothered - those metal/rock musicians opening a vein to drip on to the page are doing it for a buck, for the attention and for a form of therapy. If you're not careful you could end up needing therapy just for reading. You'll remember I had to destroy the James Blunt tour diary.
Did you read any of these over your holiday? Or any other music books? What's the best music book you read in 2010? And what's the worst?
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