So you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll memoirist
Neil Young isn’t the only rocker vying for readers this fall. Inspired, no doubt, by the critical and commercial success of recent volumes by Keith Richards and Patti Smith (the latter of which won a National Book Award in 2010), a host of musicians have entered the memoir game of late, crowding bookstore shelves with backstage tales of guitars, groupies and how that No. 1 hit has always been misunderstood. Not all of these artists enjoy the respect showered upon Young and his classic-rock cronies. But in publishing, as in pop, light voices sometimes carry heavy loads.
“Who I Am”
HarperCollins: 544 pp, $32.50
The Who mastermind has served for decades as one of rock’s most fearless seekers, and in this long-anticipated book he plunges headlong into red-letter episodes including Who bassist John Entwistle’s unexpected 2002 death and Townshend’s 2003 arrest on child-pornography charges (he was later cleared).
Most rock ‘n’ roll line: “I had no doubt whatsoever that if I had failed to deliver The Who an operatic masterpiece that would change people’s lives, with ‘Pinball Wizard’ I was giving them something almost as good: a hit.”
“In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran”
Dutton: 387 pages, $27.95
Unlike most cred-obsessed rockers, the Duran Duran bassist presents his (and the band’s) story as one of substance in the service of style. And his natural raconteur’s wit lends Duran’s ruthless ambition some crucial charm.
Most rakish line: “Now, as the dark streets of Birmingham flashed past the cab, we plotted an audacious goal for this band of ours that had so far written only ten songs: to headline shows at Hammersmith Odeon by ‘82, Wembley by ‘83, and New York’s Madison Square Garden by ’84. It was a plan that seemed perfectly achievable.”
“Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir”
Cyndi Lauper, with Jancee Dunn
Atria: 338 pp, $26
One of the MTV generation’s first superstars, Lauper is still best known for bouncy early-’80s hits such as “She Bop” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Here, though, she traces her music — in chilling, no-nonsense language — back to a chaotic childhood streaked with abuse.
Most revealing line: “So when my mom came home from work one day and said she was in love, we all were happy for her and thought it would be better. But unfortunately, she married a pedophile who beat and bullied her.”
“Coal to Diamonds: A Memoir”
Beth Ditto, with Michelle Tea
Spiegel & Grau: 176, $22
This Arkansas-born belter leads Gossip, a fiery disco-punk trio whose cult-fave renown seems not quite to have justified the memoir treatment. Aware of that disconnect, perhaps, Ditto’s tone here vacillates curiously between the bildungsroman and the kaffeeklatsch.
Most digressive line: “My friend Lyndell is an amazing hairdresser, and she has recurrent dreams that her hands are cut off and she can never work with hair again, slicing locks into feathering cascades, blunting a bob, building a sculpture with a can of hairspray and a fistful of bobby pins.”
— Mikael Wood
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