Sunday 8 December 2019

The rockers we want to go on the record

Millions of fans await the autobiographies of five music legends, says John Meagher

Star men: David Bowie and
Elton John would both have
plenty of fodder for
Star men: David Bowie and Elton John would both have plenty of fodder for memoirs

It's set to be the year of the rock memoir. Already in 2011, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Van Halen's Sammy Hagar have released racy autobiographies that have shot up the bestseller charts and, in September, one of British music's original upstarts, Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder, will release his eagerly awaited book.

They arrive on the back of the hugely successful Keith Richards memoir, Life, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 22 weeks last year and Patti Smith's critically adored Just Kids autobiography, also published last year.

Earlier this month, HarperCollins snapped up the autobiography of The Who guitarist Pete Townshend after a bidding war; and now publishers are gunning for some of rock's biggest names, safe in the knowledge that securing their signature would ensure enormous, Richards-like sales.

But those signatures won't come cheap. Richards was paid $8m and Bruce Springsteen has been reportedly offered $10m.

Right now, you can be sure that the world's top publishers are pursing the five "biggies" below. All are in their 60s and have helped define the course of popular music. All have transcended their music and remain part of the zeitgeist. Each would be capable of "doing" a Keith Richards and delivering a memoir to appeal to millions.

Age: 64

Best song: 'Heroes'

Possible title for book: Star Man

Money-shot story: A no-holds-barred account of his sexual dalliances in the 1970s

As one of the most singular talents in the history of rock and having lived the most colourful of lives, a David Bowie memoir would be the ultimate gift for any music fan, and not just aficionados.

Bowie has effectively been in retirement due to ill-health over the past five years or so, but he has been a much-fabled fixture in popular culture since the mid-1960s.

For a 10-year period between 1970 and 1980 he was virtually untouchable, releasing one visionary album after the next. Several biographers have tried to capture Bowie's extraordinary creativity during that period -- on average, a new Bowie album appeared, every year -- but only he can truly explain what inspired each new incarnation. It is difficult to think of another artist of that stature who changed their sound (and image) so relentlessly.

It would also be fascinating to read his account of a less fruitful time, in the mid-to-late 1980s, when his dwindling talents culminated in the truly awful avant-garde rock band, Tin Machine.

And then there's all the personal detail that has become the stuff of legend: Bowie's enormous drug consumption, his drinking, his womanising, his bisexuality, his marriages. Oh, and that period in the late 1970s when he lived with Iggy Pop in Berlin and became obsessed with fascism.


Age: 67

Best song: 'Sympathy for the Devil'

Possible title for book: No Stone left unturned

Money-shot story: To gain "revenge" on Keith Richards' memoir, an embarrassing revelation about the guitarist

Much of the commercial and critical success of Keith Richards' memoir was down to his openness when discussing Mick Jagger. From his drug-taking to his shoddy treatment of romantic partners, it was easy to see just why Jagger was so annoyed by his bandmate's book.

In light of that, it's all the more reason, you might feel, why Jagger would be motivated to put his own side forward in an autobiography, while also dishing the dirt on "Keef".

It was clear from reading Richards' book that he and Jagger's futures would be inextricably linked almost from the moment they first met and it would thrill any Stones fan to read Jagger's honest appraisal of that love-hate relationship.

Jagger had been working on his memoir as recently as 2007 but gave up after admitting to be bored with the experience. Perhaps he needs a talented ghost writer to coax out the sort of nuggets his fans would lap up.

I'd love to read about his early life and influences and could devour chapter after chapter about the birth of the Stones and the rivalry with The Beatles in the mid-1960s.

Stones fans have long debated at what point the band ceased to be a creative superpower -- I reckon 1981's Tattoo You was their last great album.

But would Jagger's book truly examine the reasons why the group's gifts seemed to dry up after that time? And it would be intriguing to read Mick's views on capitalism -- few bands have been as money-driven.


Age: 69

Best song: 'The Long and Winding Road'

Possible title for book: 'Yesterdays' Money-shot story: Just what did he and John Lennon get up to in Los Angeles during the latter's so-called "lost weekend"

Macca assisted author Barry Miles with his "authorised biography", Many Years from Now, published in 1998, but has never written his own memoir.

One might argue that there's little left to be said about The Beatles -- who have been the subject of an estimated 5,000 books -- but as one half of the most admired songwriting partnership of the 20th Century, McCartney could provide an intriguing insight into the creative partnership he enjoyed with John Lennon.

His own analysis would surely benefit from being viewed from the distance of 40 years or more.

Of course, McCartney had several sterling artistic moments since The Beatles' demise -- the recently remastered McCartney album, from 1970, attests to that. And then there was the brief bout of collaboration with Lennon in Los Angeles in 1974, when John was separated from Yoko Ono and going through his so-called "lost weekend" phase. It's a period McCartney has been largely unwilling to dwell on in interviews.

There's also that dark period in December 1980 when Lennon was murdered. Anyone who attended McCartney's O2 Dublin show a couple of years back will have been struck by the sense that the death has left a gaping hole in his life. Would a McCartney memoir speculate on whether a Beatles reunion might have happened had Lennon lived?

McCartney's personal life would also provide an intriguing insight into the man, not least a frank account of his troubled marriage to Heather Mills.


Age: 61

Best song: 'Born to Run'

Possible title for book: The Boss

Money-shot story: How he adjusted to mega-stardom after the Born in the USA album

Unlike the three aforementioned names, Springsteen is not trading off past glories. He remains one of America's finest songwriters and his recent albums, Magic and Working on a Dream, boast material that can stand alongside the best tracks of his enviable back catalogue.

A Springsteen book would likely do excellent business in Ireland, where The Boss enjoys an especially passionate following.

His headline performance at Slane Castle in 1985 remains one of the most fabled gigs ever held in this country -- but then he is a performer who seems incapable of delivering a bad concert experience.

The death of his close friend and E Street band linchpin Clarence Clemmons last month has surely brought his own mortality into sharp relief. And with a 40-year career behind him, this could be the ideal time for him to look back on a life less ordinary.

As a highly politicised musician who rarely pulls punches, there would be no shortage of targets for his ire: step right up, presidents Reagan and Bush.

But it would be a deeply personal insight into his music that would be most intriguing. We got a glimpse of his creative process last year in a feature-length documentary on his once "lost" album, The Promise, and it would be spell-binding to read about the gestation of such classic songs as Thunder Road and Atlantic City.

And maybe, just maybe, Springsteen could talk about that Slane gig. It clearly means a lot to him -- "rock aristocrat" Henry Mount Charles has spoken about Bruce returning to the site of the concert a few years ago to re-live a special memory.


Age: 64

Best song: 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'

Possible title for book: Rocket Man

Money-shot story: The part where he tells wife Renate that he's gay

Any publisher approaching Elton John with chequebook in hand can at least be reassured that they are going to get value for money. The man born Reginald Dwight is not known for keeping opinions to himself and his brusque but hugely engaging personality would help elevate a future memoir above the ordinary.

There's so much to the man, not least a lengthy music career with plenty of highs and lows. He has spoken at length about his working relationship with his long-term songwriting partner, the comparatively low-key Bernie Taupin, yet that creative union would be best explained in a memoir.

Elton intrigues on so many levels: there's his tireless work with Aids charities; his friendship with the late Princess Diana; his first marriage and subsequent "coming out"; his civil partnership with filmmaker David Furnish. And then there's that famous temper -- one captured memorably in Furnish's fly-on-the-wall documentary, Tantrums & Tiaras.

I've never read a boring interview with Elton John and an autobiography could well trump Keith Richards' in the gossipy, bitchy stakes.

Indo Review

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top