The Gift Guide
Rockin' reads 2010 and other delights
Published: November 24, 2010
Book publishing may be on the skids, but the music biography is fortunately nowhere near extinction just yet.
The big news this year, of course, is Life by Keith Richards (Little Brown, $29.99), which has already hit No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list. The Rolling Stones' musical architect claims inside the dust jacket that he hasn't "forgotten any of it," and, while there is the occasional memory lapse (he has Dylan going electric a few years before he actually did, for instance), Richards manages to leave very few, um, stones unturned. Those who still picture Richards as the Russell Brand-like wasted caricature the mainstream press has portrayed for years now will undoubtedly be the most impressed by both the honesty and thoughtfulness shown here.
But these 550 pages are especially meant for rock fans to relish. One can actually imagine Keith's famous voice relaying these tales; the book is that conversational in tone. So as not to give too much away — and leave it for you to relish — let's just say that the much-publicized tidbits, such as his "Brenda" nickname for Jagger or mistaking Johnny Depp as a drug dealer for two years before he finally caught on, are just the hilarious tips of the proverbial iceberg. Numerous rumors are addressed once and for all. It's the best rock autobiography since Dylan's Chronicles but much more complete and encompassing.
No book has ever been any more unapologetic about hard drug use as Life often is, whether addressing pal Gram Parsons' short life or law hassles; heck, even Burroughs seemed more cautionary. Many of us have often wondered what Richards thinks of those who followed his "outlaw" rock 'n' roll example, and, in many cases, entered a life of heroin addiction sans the luxury being a Rolling Stone provided. One such disciple was the great British rock journalist Nick Kent, whose Apathy for the Devil: A '70s Memoir (Da Capo, $17.95) is one of the more fascinating reads of the year. He goes even more personal here than in his essential anthology of rock profiles, The Dark Stuff, with reflections on, among other things, his affair with Chrissie Hynde and Sid Vicious beating him to near-death with a bike chain in London one night. He's often called "Britain's Lester Bangs" — so his long account of hanging with Lester and crew at the CREEM house in Birmingham while in Detroit for an early Bowie show is gold; later, he writes of being lost on the streets of downtown Detroit in a "drugged daze." Kent describes Bangs as looking like "a rodeo clown" without makeup, but writes: "Just thinking about his generosity of spirit still makes my eyes moist." And who can resist a section that begins: "Iggy Pop's penis is actually a bit of a thorny topic with me"?
Keith makes several appearances in Cheetah Chrome's A Dead Boy's Tale (Voyageur Press, $24) including once, with the other Stones, at a roller-skating (!) party. Keith's ex Anita Pallenberg (who introduces the two guitarists), Nico, and a Who's Who of New York City punk legends and denizens also appear in this very typical but highly readable tale of sex, drugs and music (with emphasis on the latter two), as do a slew of Detroit names, from Iggy to Niagara to Ricky Rat. While Kent and Chrome ultimately tell tales of redemption, Steven Adler's imaginatively titled Appetite for Destruction: Sex, Drugs & Guns N' Roses (It/HarperCollins, $25.99) demonstrates there's often a price paid for lives of excess, as anyone who's seen the stroke-inflicted drummer on Celebrity Rehab knows. And a story of excess (as well as a story of "Axl-Rose-is-fucking-nuts!") this is, featuring some of the best non-Internet porn material one is going to find in any of these books. "We both shot our come on their faces," he writes of a cocaine-fueled, Frederick's of Hollywood-themed Christmas Eve romp with Nikki Sixx and a bunch of groupies at the latter's L.A. home. "It was awesome." I imagine it was, even if Shakespeare this ain't. But then, Rick Springfield, whose main drug of choice is sexual addiction, doesn't write anything nearly as pornographic in his primarily aimed-at-fans autobio, Late, Late at Night (Touchstone, $26). So go figure.
Ms. Cherry Vanilla makes no apologies for her sexual addictions in Lick Me: How I Became Cherry Vanilla... (Chicago Review Press, $24.95), parlaying a legendary libido from groupiedom — including memorable encounters with Leon Russell and Kris Kristofferson, even an underaged Butch Patrick of The Munsters — to publicist divine for David Bowie during the height of his Mainman glam heyday to a cult rock stardom of her own during which she introduced the world to Sting — and she still offers no apologies.
Eileen Sisk would have us believe that Bakersfield country legend Buck Owens and Buckaroos' guitarist Don Rich got at least as much pussy on the road as Adler and Springfield used to in her Buck Owens: The Biography (Chicago Review, $24.95). Alas, the problem with biographies sometimes is that musical heroes don't always come off nearly as likable as you'd like them to be. And Owens is basically a dick in this one. It's not unfair like the material in Albert Goldman's notorious Elvis — which, unfortunately, is listed in Sisk's bibliography — and the impeccable research and detail make it very readable. It's just that Buck Owens was real nice the times I met him — so maybe a book that concentrates as much on the genius that was behind his best music as much as it does on the dirty details is in order.
Goldman's Elvis is used as a major source in Alanna Nash's Baby, Let's Play House: Elvis Presley & the Women Who Loved Him (It/HarperCollins, $27.99), which really could've been an excellent approach to the legend but takes material from enough highly unreliable sources — including the already much discredited Byron Raphael — to render much of it unbelievable (too bad because the anecdote about young Elvis meeting a super queened-up Little Richard is ... well, probably too good to believe, even if it is a great story). Elvis: My Best Man by George Klein with Chuck Crisafulli (Crown, $25) is more believable, balanced and, quite surprisingly, at this late date, offers a few new insider insights for those of us who remain obsessed. Dr. George Nichopoulos' The King & Dr. Nick: What Really Happened to Elvis & Me (Thomas Nelson, $24.99) is an interesting addition to Elvis lore, even if it does find the King's personal physician passionately presenting himself as the doctor who tried to get Elvis off drugs. Some people may view that as akin to, say, George W. Bush trying to present himself as the "dissenting" and "peace" president. Or, wait ... A fourth Elvis title — Gillian Garr's Return of the King: Elvis Presley's Great Comeback, (Jawbone, $19.95) — is exactly what its title suggests, exploring the '68 TV special and subsequent triumphant return to the stage.
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