The Christmas season is upon us, and just in time for that music geek in your life, a whole batch of rock biographies have recently hit the market. In the wake of Keith Richards’s staggeringly popular (and therefore best-selling) biography, Life, come a number of tomes from the elder statespersons of rock ‘n’roll myth. Neil Young, Rod Stewart, and Pete Townshend have been the highest profile autobiographers recently, and of the same vintage and venerability as Keef. But, Stones sax player Bobby Keys, bass-supremo Jerry Scheff (Elvis, Bob Dylan, The Doors, nearly everyone …), and Greg Allman, among others, all had books to flog this year.
Whatever music and musicians you’re into, the market is ripe for writers and readers alike.
But, what is it that drives the guitar-smashing, microphone-humping rock god into the study, hunched over his or her laptop (or ghostwriter) in a bid to catalog a life of creativity, success, betrayals, and excess? And further, what is it that drives us music obsessives to absorb these stories so readily, with the fervour of a religious acolyte, even if we’ve known many of the episodes by rote through various means even before they appeared between the pages of the latest hardcover?
Cultural critic, writer, novelist, and voracious reader in residence Geoff Moore is here to peruse the texts, and discover not only who wrote the Book of Love, but why in fact we still want to read it…
Steel wheels rolling along the avenue from station to station. Hunched and seated across from a muttering drunk on a downtown train; a bit early for that but we all have our days. When the doors whoosh open in front of the platforms I can smell something in the air. Another summer gone for sure and I turn away from the Sally Ann ragged LRT prophet, stare out the window and wonder how many summers may be left. Best not to speculate about the unwritten future nor dwell on my irrational fear of dropping dead in a busy public place. Inside this head it seems perfectly plausible that a corpse could be utterly mortified at stalling the city’s morning commute. And right here, right now, this moment in transit isn’t one to be living for. Against all advice, there’s nothing better to do but look back.
Memory alone is a tricky thing, full of holes and false images from unreliable sources. It is a shadowy and foggy minefield of hidden triggers. Its interpretation is something else altogether. Myths are created, maintained, polished and then destroyed. Meaning is always shifting and often elusive.
You’re reading The ‘Bin now, so music matters to you. It’s a small stakes crap shoot to suggest an artist or an album changed your life or else had a tremendous impact on it. It says you’ve turned up the radio and stereo a few times and that there is a song or two in your life that is the perfect time machine, a tune that allows you to travel backward so swiftly and with such clarity that even if there were photographs you needn’t bother to reference them. Since the Chess brothers pressed and distributed “Rocket 88”, we’ve all been dusted by a certain magic.
An accordion bus to downtown this time, close enough for rock ‘n’ roll but too far to walk. I’m on the prowl for new releases by Neil Young, Pete Townshend and Rod Stewart: memoirs, autobiographies. It’s disconcerting to be headed for a book store where rockers are on display among the votive candles, greeting cards, James Patterson-branded paperbacks, bound, blank journals stuffed with speckled artisan paper, and remaindered copies of 50 Shades of Awesome Sh*t My Dad Says About Werewolves and Wizards.
Temple against the window, I wish it was the ’70s. I wish I was back home in Montreal and young and walking my record store route. I wish I was out and about buying vinyl instead of being swept up in the 2012 fall publishing season.
The success of Dylan’s Chronicles Volume 1 is likely responsible for the spate of ghosted or self-penned music autobiographies, although my preferred truth is the 1987 publication of Chuck Berry The Autobiography, with an introduction by Bruce Springsteen, because it seems so wondrously fitting and righteous that Berry should remain among the vanguard.
So many human stories on the sagging shelves as yet another library is painstakingly assembled, from Andy Summers to Nile Rodgers, Johnny Rotten to Carole King to Levon Helm. The quality varies as widely as the styles of the artists who have committed their lives to type, as it must. Most are in comprehensible English. The books themselves are perhaps a function of age, pages of thoughtful pauses and mostly-sober reflection. Then again, maybe the sizable advances on royalties are more attractive than the expense of recording and marketing a CD that few will buy. Every volume is a unique work of self-expression and the product of an industry equally at sea as the music business (Isn’t it ironic?) is welcome.
I need to know what was in your head even as you changed and filled up my life as the walls of modern Jerichos crumbled under the sustained assault of three simple chords turned way, way up. I need to know that it wasn’t just about cocaine and cognac. Because sometimes when we were in the same huge room together I began to feel, and get to know mice elf for the first time. I need to remember again what it was like to be so alive. So one from the heart: Thanks for writing about those times and some of my own memories.
We were all in it together even if I never had a backstage pass.
Geoff Moore plays both sides of the publishing industry, poring over proofs of his own books, as well as pouring himself out into book stores in search of the books written by other people. He lives in Calgary.