A lot of classic rockers got booked this past year.
Except instead of facing a police camera for dabblings in heroin, underage groupies, or questionable artistic moves (who else wants to “go country?”), 2012 was the year that many put down their musical instruments in favor of a writing one, as an unprecedented wave of autobiographies and biographies filled the shelves.
Many of them even ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, of the top ten nonfiction titles this week, three are music-related. That puts Willie Nelson (Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die), Bruce Springsteen (Bruce), and Neil Young (Waging Heavy Peace) right up there with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and the kid who swears he went to heaven and came back.
Warts-and-all memoirs by Steven Tyler (Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?) and Sammy Hagar (Red) started off the year, which also saw autobiographies from Johnny Ramone, Heart, Kenny Rogers, Glenn Hughes, Peter Criss, and Rod Stewart, along with classic rock sidemen Bobby Keys and Jerry Schiff. Gregg Allman‘s My Cross to Bear was arguably the best of this lot, and Young’s great book was just as quirky and unpredictable as its author.
Other bands and musicians who were the subject of biographies included Freddie Mercury, Jim Croce, Nicky Hopkins, Mick Jagger (who warranted three bios!), another major work on Springsteen (Marc Dolan’s Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock and Roll), and the Velvet Underground.
(Note: The hyperlinks above will take you to reviews of those books I did this year for The Houston Press and The Houston Chronicle.)
I just finished Pete Townshend‘s insightful Who I Am. One of rock’s most literary and erudite performers (and if you don’t believe me, just ask him), it was an unsually soul-bearing narrative as he laid out the often fractious history of the Who and his solo career, a childhood marred by sexual abuse which he mentally repressed, his own massive struggles with booze/drugs/women, and a “tortured” artistic conscience that makes the Impressionists look giddy and content by comparison. When he’s creating rock operas and narratives that even he can’t wholly understand or explain (see the Lifehouse project…) you know things get a bit natty.
Even here, Mick Jagger makes an appearance, with Townshend declaring him the “only man he ever wanted to fuck” while waxing rhapsodically about the length of his cock in tight pants. Happy Jack off, Petey? Still, it was impressive. Not Mick’s cock…the book.
But the memoir that I was most interested in reading this year was one was the same one as last…though it may never see the light of day. Billy Joel pulled the plug on his The Book of Joel, after it had already been written and edited just two months before it was supposed to hit the stores. And while he gave no reason, many speculate that he was perhaps a bit too candid in the narrative.
Or maybe he wrote too much while drinking a bottle of red…and a bottle of white…and another bottle of red…
As a diehard fan, I’m begging you, release the book, Billy. Honesty is such a lonely word.