Ahhh, fall is here. The cold weather has settled in. The days are much shorter and that means there is plenty of time for reading. When I am not listening to music, or seeing bands in concert, one of my favorite pastimes is to read a biography (or auto-biography) about bands or musicians that I love. There’s nothing better than learning interesting tidbits about your favorite singer or guitarist. However, not all biographies are created equal. While there are some fantastic writings on musicians, there is also a lot of crap that has to be waded through. So, I’ve decided to share with you my five favorite hard rock biographies—I’ve done the wading for you, all you need to do is read and enjoy.
A lot of books have written about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, and a lot more will be written in the years to come. However, there is no book that better details the life and tragic death of Nirvana’s front man than Heavier Than Heaven, by Charles Cross. Kurt Cobain lived fast and hard, and because of that, his life was short. Yet, to this day the small amount of music that he and two other men made is still beloved and cherished. His story is a sad one, a tale of an often lonely man who never quite understood himself. Being a heroin addict only exacerbated the situation. Charles Cross captures all of these painstaking details with great beauty and insight, making Heavier Than Heaven one of the greatest rock star biographies ever written.
If you’ve ever wanted to read the tale of a drug addict/rock star told with no punches held back, Scar Tissue is the book to pick up. Written in 2004, Anthony Kiedis, of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, paints a poignant, telling tale of tragedy and triumph. Kiedis tells it like it was and like it is. He details the daily struggles of heroin addiction and walks through what life is like when struggling to stay clean, when completely messed up and immersed in drug addiction, and when drugs are the furthest thing from your existence. These are three completely different scenarios which lead to three completely different actions. And while Scar Tissue is another sad tale of the adventures in drug abuse, it at least, for now, has a happy ending. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Anthony Kiedis are still going strong.
Stephen Davis is one of the greatest rock biographers to ever grace the written page and he is also a writer that I look up to. Having written many great biographies on the lives of multiple musicians, Stephen Davis is revered in the rock and roll community. For Walk This Way he teamed up with Aerosmith to tell the story from their own mouths, which was a smart and satisfying way to write their biography. Written in 1997, Walk This Way covers the history of Aerosmith up to and including the release and subsequent tour of Nine Lives. Walk This Way is a story that is not only told by the members of Aerosmith, but also by a lot of people the band interacted with over the years. From former managers, to disc jockeys, to promoters and former band members, Walk This Way allows everyone to say a little of their piece, while allowing the five main members to be the driving voice behind the story. Brilliant writing and a great story that makes me yearn for a sequel.
Yes, Stephen Davis makes the list twice. No, it’s not because I am a huge fan, it’s because Old Gods Almost Dead is the definitive biography of the Rolling Stones, and a must read for any music fan. Even if you never heard of The Rolling Stones, you will love this book. Davis’ ability to create a phenomenal narrative story of how “The World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band” came to be is astonishing. Old Gods Almost Dead reads like a novel and tells the true story of The Rolling Stones. Nothing is left out. All of the details, good, bad, and ugly, are contained within the pages of Old Gods Almost Dead. It’s amazing how much the Rolling Stones have been through. The death of Brian Jones, Keith Richards’ drug problem, Mick Jaggar’s sex addictions… the list goes on and on. Now that they are all in their seventies, we forget that they were once a young, lecherous, wild, out of control band that happened to survive long enough to become senior citizens. Old Gods Almost Dead is the perfect reminder. If it wasn’t for a book that a little sleaze rock band from California wrote, Old Gods Almost Dead would be the greatest rock and roll biography ever written.
Perhaps the greatest rock biography ever written, Motley Crue’s The Dirt captures all the raw, raunchy, out of control debauchery that made the bands career infamous. While their music was solid, interesting, and fun, it was the after parties and their extracurricular activities that made them stars. Motley Crue holds no story back in The Dirt. What I like best about the book is the multiple author angle. Not only do the four current members of Motley Crue write their piece, but former lead singer John Corabi gets a say, manager Doc McGhee gets to tell his side of the story as well as producers and other people involved with the tale. This unique, multi-voice approach only helped make The Dirt that much better, because we get to read everyone’s version of what happened. Of all the music biographies that I’ve read (and it has been quite a lot), The Dirt is still the most fascinating of them all and the must read rock and roll story of all time.
So, if you’re looking for something to read this winter, or you have some friends that you want to get a gift for, but can’t figure out what to get them, I recommend he books above. What about you? What’s the greatest rock and roll biography you’ve ever read? Maybe there’s something that I need to add to my list.
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