Though I've always had a soft spot for a really good biography, for some reason over the last 6 months or so, rock biographies have been my books of choice, and I've been voraciously going through as many as I can get my hands on. Is it just because I want to know every last bit of gory details of every band and rock star that I have even a passing interest in, or perhaps today's society and its fascination with following any 'trainwreck' imaginable is rubbing off on me? Or, is my thirst for music leading me to these startling revelations, to not only gain more knowledge of all my favorte albums by all these legendary performers, but how they were created?
I'm not really sure, but whatever the reason, I'm buying. Though I've read some interesting bios over the years on Freddie Mercury, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Allman Brothers, Black Sabbath, The Doors, Fleetwood Mac, and Led Zeppelin, I think my recent fascination with the rock bio began with Clapton, which gives a whole lot of insight into the world of Eric Clapton, perhaps too much so. It's amazing how the guitar legend is even alive today, after his many years of heroin and alcohol addiction, and what's even more impressive is how someone that loaded for so long was able to create music even halfway interesting. I guess there's something to the old 70's saying that drugs & alcohol fueled the creative juices?
It's not just Clapton who stumbled his way through the 70's, no, not by a long shot. Walk This Way tells the frightening tale of the boys from Boston, Aerosmith, and their cloudy haze through a wild bunch of years under the influence of cocaine and heroin. Somehow Toys in the Attic and Rocks were two of the results of those years, and there were other solid albums as well, but many will say the tepid releases the band has put out since they went sober signals that their best music was created when the members were as high as a kite.
Old Gods Almost Dead is a stunning memoir of the career of The Rolling Stones, written by Stephen Davis, who also wrote Walk This Way and Hammer of the Gods. Again, how Keith Richards is alive today, and not playing in that All-Star Band in the sky with former band mate Brian Jones is a mystery. For the record, a whole book could probably be written about Mick Jagger's love life, but rest assured Davis goes into great detail here on that topic as well.
Fans of The Eagles will be shocked at just how hostile the environment was behind the scene in that band after giving Don Felder's Heaven and Hell a read. I'm surprised the guitarist lasted as long as he did in that band, after the claims of verbal abuse ego infested dictatorship he and the rest of the band received from Don Henley and Glenn Frey. Again, lots and lots of cocaine, mixed with ego clashes, did not make for a happy ending here.
Neil Young's bizarre life is out in the open in Smokey, a fascinating look at this talented, yet tortured artist, and Bowie breaks down the career of one of rock's most puzzling icons, a man who reinvented himself time and time again. Other recent adventures I've taken include Grand Funk Railroad, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney & Wings, Duane Allman, Pamela Des Barres, The Who, Keith Moon (now that was a tragic tale!), Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, Jack Bruce, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. On tap, I've got my eye on bios of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Free, Tommy Bolin, Rod Stewart, Ritchie Blackmore, Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck, Janis Joplin, and Dave Davies. It's a safe bet I won't stop at just those either.
As fun as these rock & roll biographies and autobiographies are to read, what you ultimately get out of them is the stone cold fact that these people are no different than you and me. Sure, they have all this money and fame, but their lives are no easier than ours, and in many cases the fame & fortune just bring tragedy, misery, addiction, and despair. No book was more telling of that then The Dirt, which gives all the sordid details about the crazy lives of Motley Crue. These guys were basically just a bunch of California rockers who took things to the excess, and then some. Regular guys, like many of us were when we were teenagers, crazy about music, women, booze, and drugs, except the Crue had plenty of money and groupies to fulfill their fantasies and take it extemes that most people wouldn't think of.
It's something to remember when idolizing not just rock stars, but actors, athletes, politicians, writers, you name it, anybody in the public spotlight. They all are just people, with strengths, weaknesses, temptations, and emotions just like the rest of us. Their story could be very similar to anyone you see on your local news report, except those folks are not put on a pedestal and in front of a camera every day of their lives.