Some Interesting, Great, and Not So Great Rock Autobiographies

A biography of Leonard Cohen is published in November
Blame Bob and Keith – and Patti too. If it weren't for the runaway success of Dylan's Chronicles (published 2004), Richards's Life (2010) and, to a slightly lesser extent, Just Kids by Patti Smith (also 2010), the shelves this autumn would not be heaving under the weight of recollections by rock's big beasts. Between now and Christmas, autobiographies are expected from Neil Young and Pete Townshend, Rod Stewart and Peter Hook, not to mention the biggest beast of them all, perhaps – Steven Patrick Morrissey. In between, we have high-profile biographies ofLeonard Cohen and Led Zeppelin, an appreciation of Prince and an account by Mick Jagger's accountant. Rarely have the half-remembered recollections of artists, many au fait with recreational chemistry, been more in demand.
The celebrated memoirs of Dylan, Richard and Smith ramped up expectations for the rock autobiography. Pre-Keef'n'Bob, rock memoirs were specialist titles, sold in comfortable numbers to fans, musicjournalists and sensation-seekers, thumbing the index for names and dates. Then, perhaps, they radiated out to the wider circle of autobiography junkies. There were small publishing sensations in the biographies of excess, like those of Mötley Crüe, which harked back to the original Viking rock myth anthology, Hammer of the Gods, in which Led Zeppelin allegedly did rude things with fish.
But these three very literary books broke out of their reservation with elan, escaping into the wider-reading wild, chased by critical acclaim and garnering huge sales. It helped, of course, that Dylan was an enigma who remained an enigma even when setting the record straight; it helped, too, that when Richards was commenting on the size of Jagger's member, his own memories of discovering the blues in bomb-scarred postwar south London were so beautifully drawn. With Smith, you got the bang of a poet and a famous artist for your buck.
Mystery currently surrounds Morrissey's autobiography, one of the most highly awaited works in any genre this year. The singer has been alternately stoking appetites for his book and doing himself down, certainly in an interview with Radio 4's Front Row last year. "I am not that interesting," he reckoned.
Elsewhere, more questions are about to be answered. The Who's Pete Townshend was researching childhood sex abuse for this memoir when he was arrested on child pornography charges in 2003; let's hope Who I Am will explain. Leonard Cohen, the poet laureate of the blackened heart, was nearing retirement age when he found that his former manager had been helping herself to his money; Sylvie Simmons's book goes into considerable detail. We've chosen a cross-section of the most intriguing titles across both rock and pop; expect to receive more than one of these for Christmas.


by Sylvie Simmons (Jonathan Cape, Nov)
The publishers say: "Sylvie Simmons draws on Cohen's private archives and a wealth of interviews with many of his closest associates… as well as professors, Buddhist monks and rabbis, to share stories and details never before revealed..."
What to expect: Semi-authorised examination of the life and loves of the septuagenarian Montreal poet and reluctant troubadour. Juicy bits include the huge loss of assets to his former manager.
Sample quote: "To have been redeemed from depression in his old age only to have to spend it in an eternity of legal and financial paperwork was a cosmic joke so black as to test even Leonard's famous gallows humour." KE


by Peter Hook (Simon & Schuster, Sept)
The publishers say: "Joy Division changed the face of music. The sound of music. The meaning of music … [In] frank, no-holds-barred style … Peter 'Hooky' Hook gives us the inside story of life with Joy Division."
What to expect: Above all, continued guilt about the suicide of singer Ian Curtisand continued wonder at how he managed to be so many different things to so many different people. The current, bitter feud between Hook and Bernard Sumner – always referred to as Barney, because "he still gets really
annoyed when I call him Barney" – simmers throughout, with frequent airings of what Hook views as the guitarist's meanness and laziness, tempered with admiration for his playing. As is to be expected from a northern man of a certain age, the past is viewed as another country – they did things better there, pet.
Sample quote: "A lot of people say Atmosphere is their favourite Joy Division song, but it's not mine; it reminds me too much of Ian, like it's his death march or something, and it figures that it's one of the most popular songs to play at funerals." MH


by Neil Young (Viking/Penguin, Oct)
The publishers say: "This is a great rock memoir that takes its place alongside those of Bob Dylan (Chronicles) and Keith Richards (Life)."
What to expect: Eschewing a ghost writer, Americana's most eminent Canadian opens a rare window into his closely guarded personal life as well as his cars, train sets and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Many have commented on how his tone is up close and personal.
He says: "Writing a book is not that different from writing songs. It just doesn't have a melody." KE


by Barney Hoskyns (Faber, Sept)
The publishers say: "A unique look at the history, adventures, myths and realities of this most legendary and powerful of bands, Trampled Under Foot is … a compelling portrait of the four musicians themselves, as well as a fresh insight into the close-knit entourage that protected them."
What to expect: An oral history of the band that requires at least a passing familiarity with their story before you embark on it, since you can't rely on someone who was a teenage groupie at the time to give all the relevant context. The overwhelming theme – though this was perhaps not intentional – is that Jimmy Page was an unspeakable tosser and drummer John Bonham was a violent alcoholic who should have been avoided by everyone bar his wife and Robert Plant. In a nutshell: youth, success, drugs, wankerdom, death, fall, redemption – the classic rock tale.
Sample quote: "If, as the driver of the thing, you are a complete shitbrain, it's likely everyone else is going to be a complete shitbrain. And when you lose the plot, there's an awful lot of people who want to lose the plot with you. Because it's fun and glamorous and all that." MH


by Philip Norman (HarperCollins, Oct)
The publishers say: "This revelatory tour de force is ample tribute to a flawed genius, a Casanova, an antichrist and a god."
What to expect: A well-researched, boot-licking romp through the life of the never-to-retire rock star by someone who has already written three (well-received) Rolling Stones biographies. This frontman-specific study burrows into Jagger's high-profile love affairs and controversial behaviour – but suggests he was more interested in social advancement in the 60s than being outrageous. Norman also knocks his subject for not pursuing film roles or politics, while presuming he has talent for the latter.
Sample quote: "Looking at that craggy countenance, one tries but fails to imagine the vast carnal banquet on which he has gorged, yet still not sated himself." JR


by John Taylor (Sphere, Sept)
The publishers say: "A fascinating, irresistible portrait of a man who danced into the fire and came through the other side."
What to expect: Pseudy, booze-soaked/drug-caked memoir of 80s excess by the bass-playing pop heart-throb, now a sober father of three. There's juicy stuff about the Everests of cocaine available when Duran Duran recorded down the corridor from Bob Dylan and Bryan Ferry, plus eyebrow-raising details from their first US  tour – legal ages of consent in each state were added to the top of daily
itineraries. Taylor has already said that Nick Rhodes won't be reading it, but Simon Le Bon says he'll do the audiobook.
Sample quote: "Behind the party face, I was caught up in a vortex of fear, arrogance, loneliness and extraordinary popularity." JR


by Matt Thorne (Faber, Oct)
The publishers say: "Will stand for years to come as the go-to book on the Great Man."
What to expect: An exhaustive academic tome on the enigmatic star by a novelist with a lifelong Prince obsession. This is Thorne's first foray into long-form pop writing: he is better known for co-founding the New Puritans literary movement and 2004's Booker-longlisted novel, Cherry. Sadly, Prince doesn't grant Thorne an interview and his absence is felt throughout, longingly. But Thorne scours the archives regardless, interviews collaborators forensically and deconstructs and philosophises earnestly.
Sample quote: "My interest is in… the giant super-narrative that [Prince] diligently adds to… a work of art that remains narrowly focused on the same subjects and emotions that have driven him since day one – love, sex, rebirth, anger." JR


(Penguin, Dec)
The publishers say: Nothing. But Morrissey was quoted last year saying he hoped his autobiography would be "an instant Penguin classic".
What to expect: One of the most celebrated wordsmiths currently working in the English language waxes eloquent. Two hundred thousand droll, mordant mots. Six hundred and sixty pages of record-setting; alternately self-deprecating and spiteful. An extract was published in a Tate St Ives exhibition book in 2009 in which the young Morrissey and friends are spooked on a moor.
He says: "I see it as the sentimental climax to the last 30 years. It will not be publKE
ished until December 2012, which gives me just enough time to pack all I own in a box and disappear to central Brazil. The innocent are named and the guilty are protected." 


by Pete Townshend (HarperCollins, Oct)
The publishers say: "Incredibly, as a man who has achieved so much, this truly unique story of ambition, relentless perfectionism and rock'n'roll excess will be regarded as one of his greatest
What to expect: One of British rock's most reflective stars, Townshend has literary chops as well, having worked as an editor at Faber in the 80s. Expect a "pretty brutal" analysis of the Who's music, and some account of his arrest on child pornography charges in 2003, which he claimed was research on his own childhood abuse for the purposes of this book.  
He says: "Writing is my principal daily occupation. Rock'n'roll is a tough career, however cynically or comically it is portrayed by its detractors. I am lucky to be alive and to have such a crazy story to tell, full of wild adventures and creative machinations." KE


by Beth Ditto (Simon & Schuster, Oct)
The publishers say: "Marked with the frankness, humour and defiance that have made her an international icon, Beth Ditto's unapologetic, startlingly direct and poetic memoir is a hypnotic and inspiring account of a woman coming into her own."
What to expect: Squirrel-eating. But more than that, how a southern girl broke free from expectation and discovered the transformative powers of punk rock, the grammar school of misfits, and got the hell out of Judsonia, Arkansas.
She says: "My life was supposed to be simple and non-negotiable: birth, church, work, marriage, kids, death. But along the way something happened. My memoir talks directly to disenfranchised, misunderstood kids everywhere." KE

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