Reading on the Backbeat

December 30th, 2012

I’ve been on a rock “autobiography” binge (the quotation marks are a tribute to the inevitable co-authors), partly as a guilty pleasure and partly as preparation for a possible book, and Slash’s book, titled, naturally, Slash,  is a fair representative of the strengths and weaknesses of the genre.

On the plus side, co-author/ghostwriter Anthony Bozza does a credible job of creating a voice that sounds something like the way one might expect Slash to sound. Also on the plus side, the section of the book that deals with the evolution of Guns ‘n Roses, the discovery of their musical strengths, and the making of the first (astonishing) album are quite interesting.

But the part everyone actually wants to read, the story of the band’s lengthy and acrimonious dissolution as Axl Rose gradually took over the band and even assumed ownership of the name, is incredibly oblique: a few of the tantrums are here, as are the famous shows that began 3-5 hours late, but there’s no clear picture of what drove Axl, undoubtedly one of rock’s towering lunatics, to such extremes. Every (apparently) censored paragraph suggests a whopper of a non-disclosure cause in the papers that finally cut Slash free from the band — or, possibly, the band free from Slash.

Slash comes across as an intelligent, sensitive, talented man who has an infinite reserve of denial. He’s talking about “drinking for fun” when he’s starting at nine A.M., passing out literally every night, vomiting in restaurants, shooting heroin for variety, and nodding out at family Thanksgiving dinners. In the meantime, he’s highly critical of drug use among the other band members, especially the heroin-addled Steven Adler.

As a little roundup of the books I’ve read so far in this genre, Sammy Hagar’s Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock is the most unintentionally funny, a clueless pean of self-praise by someone whose talent definitely took a backseat to his luck; Steven Adler’s My Appetite for Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N’ Roses is the saddest and (of necessity) the worst-focused. Motley Crue’s blisteringly candid The Dirt: Confessions Of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band is the most engagingly lurid, and Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue is the most unflinching. Currently reading Marilyn Manson’s The Long Hard Road Out of Hell and finding it surprisingly deep and touching, considering how irritating I always thought its author was.

And then I’ve read a dozen more that are just variations on a theme: talent, group, drugs, excuses, breakup, redemption, even if redemption often sounds like sour grapes. And I’ve got about ten more waiting for me.

The things writers go through.

5 Responses to “Reading on the Backbeat”

  1. EverettK Says:

    Whew, you’re made of sterner stuff than I, Tim! I know you’re a “rock man” from the cradle, and I’m sure I’d love any book you wrote on the subject, but I find myself with very little interest for reading about the lives of “real life” rock starts and rock bands. Too many of them appear to be spoiled, self-conceited, self-destructive wastrels. Surely, talent can be successfully exercised without blowing up the fuel depot.

    By the way, does 2006 REALLY equate to 2011? And what happened to 2012? And what happens tomorrow??? (See the VERY bottom of this page…)

  2. Julie Evelsizer Says:

    Have you read Dave Davies’s “Kink”? What a life of sex, drugs and rock’n'roll. Then things get really weird. His brother’s “X-Ray” doesn’t make sense, at least as a rock’n'roll autobiography.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Julie, hi, Everett –

    Dave is and always has been the in-your-face Davies, while Ray (one of the great songwriters in 20th-century rock) is, I think a much more complicated figure, and one who wears multiple masks. All you have to do is look at the first-person characters he’s created in his songs.

    Everett, we’ll be doing a site update for LITTLE ELVISES, and will catch all that haserai at the bottom of the pages. What most interests me about rock is what happens to the relationships, creative collaborative relationships, when fame and drugs arrive. People who collaborate are often interdependent in ways they don’t even realize, and betrayal, whatever comprises it, can bring really bitter rifts — look at Lennon and McCartney and Jagger/Richards, to take two prehistoric examples. There’s a lot to write about there, and it’s probably even more interesting if the success that brings about the rift is modest.

  4. EverettK Says:

    As always, Tim, you’ve hit upon the crux of the situation, the item in the car wreck that’s too fascinating to look away from. One creative person destroyed by fame and success is just a tragedy, whereas a creative collaboration between two or more individuals, fighting to survive through the same fire storm has so many more dimensions.

    That brings to mind the thought/question: when did “creative collaborations” become a common thing? Thinking back, there are instances of pairs and teams of scientists working away for the past several hundred years, but in terms of the arts, especially music and literature, it seems to be a fairly recent thing. Maybe I’m just ill-educated, but I can’t think of many (if any) examples before the last 100 years.

  5. Sylvia Says:

    One interesting “novel” you might want to check out is Sway. Very intriguing look at a cross-section of people. I spent a lot of time on Wikipedia afterwards and was quite surprised to find out that the general story is all true (the quotes and specific scenes are necessarily made-up). It makes for fascinating reading, in my opinion.

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