Friday, April 29, 2011

Weekend Listomania (Special The Pen is Quieter Than the Guitar Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental Boswell sister Fah Lo Suee and I will be be heading to a mysterious mountain retreat to judge the third annual Susan Sarandon Movie Haiku Invitational Pro-Am.

In case you're unfamiliar with the SSMHIPA, it's a yearly conclave where Zen Masters from all over stop clapping with one hand long enough to craft the greatest three line poems inspired by Sarandon's filmography they possibly can.

The previous winners (from 2008 and '09,respectively):
"Thelma and Louse"
Great ad for Southwest road trip.
Except that last part.

Sequel idea
The pitch: "Harold and Kumar
Go to White Palace."
Obviously, I'll post the winner as soon as there is one. Or isn't, if you know what I mean.

In any event, and because things will probably be fairly quiet around here until our return, here's a fun little project to help us wile away the hours:

Best or Worst Rock Biography, Autobiography or Memoir!!!

No arbitrary rules at all, you're welcome very much, and I'm willing to give you a lot of leeway about the definition of memoir. Also -- band bios are totally kosher in this context.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. I Slept With Joey Ramone (Mickey Leigh, with Legs McNeil, 2009)

Been meaning to write about this one -- specifically, the 2010 paperback edition, with updates on the legal wrangling that followed Joey Ramone's death -- for a couple of months, but I kind of got sidetracked by the Keith Richards book. In any event, Mickey Leigh is Joey's kid brother and (as you may have gleaned from the song I posted yesterday) a genuine musical talent on his own. I figured I already knew everything I needed to know about The Ramones, but as it turns out I was wrong, and then some. Which is to say that Leigh's book is both a fascinating account of the birth of punk rock and a funny and ultimately very touching account of one the great sibling rivalries of our time. Highly recommended, even if you never went to CBGBs.

4. Wouldn't It Be Nice (Brian Wilson, with Todd Gold, 1988)

Not really bad, as these things go, i.e. it sounds like Brian's voice. But the pernicious influence of the head Beach Boys' probably evil shrink/adviser/claimer of songwriting credits Eugene Landy is all over it, and after a while you just want to find the guy and smack him.

3. Papa John (John Phillips, 1986)

A very creepy book by an apparently very creepy guy. I read this when it first came out, i.e. years before the really disquieting stuff alleged by daughter McKenzie became public, and even then there were long stretches of the thing where I felt like I needed to take a shower after finishing them.

2. Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n Roll (Nick Tosches, 1985)

Maybe not the best book ever written about rock, but certainly the funniest; Tosches deserves secular sainthood for the chapter on Jimmy "Rocket in His Pocket" Logsdon alone. I should also add that if you haven't read Dino -- his absolutely astounding portrait of the black hole of nullity that was Dean Martin -- you need to get over to Amazon pronto.

And the Numero Uno piece of revisionist crap -- we're talking so bad that its author should be rotting in hell for having written it -- clearly is...

1. The Lives of John Lennon (Albert Goldman, 1988).

Having deliberately and inaccurately attributed a racist remark to Sam Phillips in his earlier Elvis biography, thus inserting a bogus element of bigotry into the very moment of the birth of rock 'n' roll, the now mercifully forgotten Goldman was moved to pen a life of the martyred Beatle whose theme -- reiterated endlessly -- is that its author has a larger penis than the subject of his research. Truly, one of the most loathsome misuses of dead tree products in the history of publishing.

Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?


Gummo said...

I never read the Goldman dreck after suffering through his endless catty abuse of Lenny Bruce in what was supposed to be a biography but in reality was one long Nancy Reagan Just Say No commercial.

I don't read a lot of rock bios but Dylan's Chronicles Vol. 1, though mostly anecdotal, was much better than it had any right to be.

I find most rock bios to be neither good nor bad but, y'know, servicable. Which is probably why I'm blanking out on titles right now....

Anonymous said...

Levon Helm's "This Wheel's on Fire" and Ben Fong Torres' "Hickory Wind" (Gram Parsons).

I don't read many of them, either, but have noticed recent books from Jack Bruce and about Arthur Lee at the library, so I might be making some exceptions.

NYMary said...

How did Just Kids not make this list?

steve simels said...

Because I'm obviously going senile.

Gummo said...

NYMary asks a damn good question.

What's more, why didn't I mention it, since I just finished it!

Jeff M said...


Dylan Chronicles Vol. 1.

Marianne Faithfull An Autobiography (1994).

Dean Wareham Black Postcards.


Keith Richards Life. Unlike Simels, I found it vastly dispiriting. Keith was my definition of cool, "cool" being (for me) a hip word for gallant-- and the book was not that. I simply did not expect a rancorous tell-all.

Anonymous said...

Me, The Mob, and the Music, by Tommy James. This is such a movie of the week. Maybe even a mini series.

You probably left off Just Kids because it's so much more than a memoir.

BTW, I worked for the guy (who must remain nameless) who agented Goldman's first Lennon book (and also his horrendously awful one on Elvis). I hope they both (agent and author) ended up making license plates.


steve simels said...

Vis a vis Goldman: he was also a thief.

The entire first chapter of his Lenny Bruce book -- the only good thing in that otherwise wretched tome -- was written, uncredited, by a novelist whose name now escapes me.

I sat next to him on a plane to Memphis on the occasion of the first (and only) rock critic's union convention. He was a reasonably well known guy at the time -- if I do a little research, I can probably come up with his name.

Anyway, Goldman totally ripped him off.

mister muleboy said...

My vote for best:

Billion Dollar Baby
by Bob Greene

I'm not sure whether it's a memoir or a biography, or neither -- so shoot me.

It's a memoir and autobiographical in that its author, Bob Greene, was Santa Claus on the Winter 1973 "Muscle of Love" tour by Alice Cooper. And its a memoir of that tour. An

Alice Cooper were fragmenting at the time: Vince ("Alice") was tiring of playing the ghoul, and wanted to branch out and be loved as a "character." He was also interested in glitzy rock "productions," thinking that was what made the band Alice Cooper as popular as it had become in 1973 -- flying on your own "Billion Dollar Babies" jet can fuck up your insights! As can alcoholism.

Greene gained the confidence of each member of Alice Cooper, and they relayed their own limited perspective of band troubles -- not knowing that the whole of their insight -- as reported by Greene -- was a fantastic depiction of the death spiral of a rock band.

Something most of the readers of this fine blog have lived through.

This may not translate, but Greene's conversation with Neal Smith about "fucking on acid while in Utica" are priceless.

Great book. Too bad it broke up the band. Or at least sped its end.

postscript: Greene allegedly banged underaged girls later in his career, and lost a position of some prominence as a journalist

Word Verification: swornpro

damned straight!

Mike said...


Lost In Music - Giles Smith

Wouldn't It Be Nice, for all the reasons already listed

steve simels said...

You are correct about Billion Dollar Babies -- probably the best backstage rock book ever. Didn't know, or perhaps forgot, about Greene's later infamy.

Gummo said...

Oh, and a couple of ice ages ago I really enjoyed Al Kooper's Backstage Pass, which I understand he has returned to, revised & updated. But the version I read was the original release.

Shriner said...

One of the funniest books I read -- and I really don't like the band -- was Motley Crue's autobiography. Especially Tommy Lee's jail musings.

One of the most dull books I read recently was Pat Benatar's. Nothing -- beyond a few very light examples of sexism in her career -- was that interesting about her (mostly wonderful) life as a female rockstar.

Chuck Negron's book is notable for it's opening chapter about something I don't even want to type as it's so upsetting...

dave™© said...

The big problem with that Brian Wilson "autobiography" is Brian didn't write any of it - it was mostly cobbled together from previous articles about him where "he" was replaced by "I". For example, it reprints a section of Jules Siegel's legendary "Goodbye, Surfing, Hello God!" where Brian is talking to Siegel about his music in between snorts of nitrous oxide from a can of whipped cream. Brain, of course, later disavowed the whole thing. Any digs at Mike Love, however, should probably stand...

pete said...

Lawrence Schiller was the guy who wrote Goldman's first Lenny Bruce chapter, I think? yes?

Was there a tour book called STP that followed the 1972 Stones tour of the USA? I remember it as doing a good job balancing the titillating details with an ironic detachment from the titillating details.

Loved the Tommy James book, although it's really more a portrait of the infamous Morris Levy than of TJ.

Hated Dylan's book, even if his people did invite my daughter to premiere of the Scorcese film. A cynical exercise.

And, yes, slow death to Albert Goldman. His Elvis book is even worse than the Lennon book. Roy Blount's NYTRB review, widely anthologized, is well worth reading.

Steve Simels said...

The I'm thinking of wasn't Lawrence Schiller. I think his name was Jules something....I'm trying to get in touch with some of the people who were on that junket with me -- I'll find out eventually....

Brooklyn Girl said...

Well, this is obviously a stretch, but since you said no rules ... the Broadway show "Lennon" was the most painful piece of crap I have ever sat through (well, with the possible exception of "Capeman"). Rumor has it that Yoko and the director communed with John's ghost before every rehearsal on what to do. If so, he was playing a very mean trick on them ...

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add to my prior entry and nominate Shout, by Philip Norman. Don't know what I'd think on re-reading, but back, circa 1982, it seemed to contain the secret of life.


Anonymous said...

It's been years since I read Grace Slick's book "Somebody to Love (might have had a question mark)" but was struck by her lack of interest in MUSIC.

No listening to the radio under the covers stories, no "this song/artist blew me away when I first heard him/her etc. I had never seen those elements missing from an auto-bio by an artist before.

steve simels said...

Ooh -- I just remembered who the novelist Goldman ripped off for the Lenny Bruce book was. And Wiki since informs me he's currently dead, I see no legal reason not to tell the story with names named.

Which I will do on Monday -- the circumstances under which I met the guy are QUITE a story as it turns out.

Gardner said...

Love the Chuck Berry memoir, especially the part about "wading nude in the nest." I'm betting he wrote it himself. Sounds just like him.

I've read Guralnick's Elvis bio four times. Sometimes it seems to me like the Great American Novel, though of course it really happened. To us.

I didn't find the Dylan memoir at all cynical. Rather the opposite. Given the subject and his history, I was amazed how open it was.

Parts of Marsh's "Before I Get Old" are wonderfully inspired, and I do admire the way he both loves and stands up to Pete throughout. I just wish Dave didn't have such an aversion to the more mystical side of The Who.

Anonymous said...

I'm a HUGE Peter Guralnick fan - read 'em all, but "Feel Like Going Home" is the personal favorite. (In Boston, we have what is known as the "Two Peter Rule." If you're at a show, and both Guralnick AND Peter Wolf are in the house, then you're in for something special.)
Concur w. Gummo on Al Kooper's "Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards" - Man was the Zelig of Rock - he got around.
Worst? I confess to have read more than one book by Goldman. (Hangs head in shame). My old store used to see almost ALL of the various "As told to" genre - I'd take one home for a couple of nights and them return it. Most were mediocre at best, but I don't recall any being particularly egregious. - bill buckner

drkrick said...

Marcus Grey's "Last Gang in Town" about the Clash was pretty good, if exhaustive. The contrast between the cheerfully mercenary Mick Jones and the self-sabotaging idealism of Joe Strummer is the best example "greater than the sum of their parts" in rock since Lennon & McCartney.

cthulhu said...

I enjoyed most of Dave Marsh's "Before I Get Old" bio of the Who. His recounting of Townshend and Daltrey finding out that Keith Moon had just died is heartbreakingly terse. The big bio of Keith Moon ("Moon", by Tony Fletcher) was pretty unflinching with respect to Moon's dark side (his treatment of his wife Kim, for example) but got a bit boring.

Frank Zappa's autobiography was very enjoyable, although I would be surprised if Pissed-Off-Leftist Simels liked it (Zappa being fairly libertarian...)

billy b said...

Agreed on "This Wheel's on Fire". And on Zappa's autibio.

"Saucerful of Secrets" about the Floyd was also good.

steve simels said...

Never read the Zappa book alas.

billy b said...

Never read the Zappa book alas.

I think I still have it. You want I should send it to you?

Shriner said...

The Zappa book is great. I still pull it out and reread it every so often.

Noam Sane said...

I haven't read many rock bios, not sure why. But there was a Mose Allison biography - "One Man's Blues" or some equally uninspired title - that was really interesting if you're into the guy. I'm halfway through the new Monk bio (by Robin Kelley) and am thoroughly enjoying it, it's a very detailed look at his career as well as the arc of modern jazz.

Then there's the Miles autobio.

Some good selections for my summer reading list here, thanks all.

Anonymous said...

Then there's the Miles autobio...

Oh God, the Miles book! I used to like to read aloud from that when things got slow. (Assumes raspy, Miles-like voice: "That Symphony Sid was one motherfucker that I never did like.."
And I completely concur on Kelley's Monk book. Best new music book that I've read in the last few years... - buckner (redux)

pete said...

I put this in the wrong place:

"Atantic City"
Watching her at the window.
To be a lemon!

steve simels said...

There's a Mose Allison book?

That I would read, for sure. Love that guy...