Rock 'n' roll may have initially been conceived as solely a young person's concern. The Who's Pete Townshend crystallized that sentiment in 1965 when he concocted the battle cry "Hope I die before I get old" for the band's seismic single "My Generation." Forty-six years later, however, he's still at it. Along with refusing to age gracefully, Townshend is joining the ranks of several of his peers and penning what promises to be a sprawling memoir of his days at the pinnacle of rock greatness.
Pete Townshend memoir finds publisher
Slated for publication later this year, Townshend's book will be just the latest in a recent wave of rock 'n' roll autobiographies in the works ranging from Allman Brothers' founder Greg Allman through the Smiths' Morrissey. These books will join erstwhile Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver vocalist Scott Weiland's "Not Dead & Not for Sale: A Memoir"; Steven Tyler's "Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?"; Patti Smith's award-winning "Just Kids" and a host of other musicians' memoirs competing for space on bookstore shelves. Here are a few of our very favorites.
"Life" (Back Bay Books)
Despite being the butt of innumerable jokes and urban legends about whole-body blood transfusions, snorting his late father's ashes and having accrued a certain notoriety for his predilection for mind-altering pharmaceuticals, iconic Rolling Stones founder Keith Richards’ autobiography, “Life,” flies squarely in the face of the guitarist’s ornate reputation. A richly detailed, engaging read, “Life” traces Keith’s roots from his life as a boy in postwar England and his lovably eccentric family (Richards credits his grandfather Gus for bolstering his love of music) through the early days with the nascent Stones, his dueling romantic interests with his band mate, the late Brian Jones, to his notoriously fractious rapport with Stones frontman and archfoil Mick Jagger (referred to periodically throughout as “Brenda”). Despite Keith’s profile as the ultimate rock ’n’ roll outlaw, “Life” refreshingly paints the portrait of a thoughtful, grounded and loving family man.
"I Am Ozzy" (Sphere)
Given how Ozzy “Prince of Darkness” Osbourne was represented in his family's long-running MTV reality series, the general public may have been surprised at the notion of the iconic rocker writing a memoir. What many have forgotten, however, is that long before he became TV's favorite lovably doddering cartoon character, Ozzy Osbourne was the storied frontman and firmament-threatening voice of heavy metal archetypes Black Sabbath years prior to his bat-biting and Alamo-soiling days as a solo artist. "I Am Ozzy" traces the man's trajectory back to his impoverished origins in working-class England through his trailblazing days with Sabbath, his turbulent, booze-addled lows and his undying devotion to his notoriously headstrong spouse Sharon, the woman who single-handedly made him a household name. Throughout, Ozzy writes with an affable humility that largely defangs his parent-worrying notoriety.
"White Line Fever" (Simon & Schuster)
The veritable embodiment of a "warts and all" autobiography (given its subject's famously skin-locked facial growths), the autobiography of Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister of the ferocious British band Motorhead reads like a breezily bawdy anecdote told over many drinks in the back of a seedy dive bar, which is probably exactly how it was conceived. Despite Motorhead's status as one of the toughest, fastest and loudest bands ever to brutalize an amplifier, Lemmy recounts his story with a gruff, candid eloquence punctuated with potty-mouthed exclamations. For any student of no-holds-barred rock 'n' roll, Lemmy's book should be required reading.
"Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway" (It Books)
As much a gripping tale of young survival as a rock 'n' roll tell-all, former Runaways vocalist Cherie Currie's autobiography unflinchingly reveals the darker side of fame. Orchestrated by Svengali Kim Fowley in the latter half of the 1970s, teenage Currie and her equally youthful band mates (including Joan Jett and Lita Ford) may have helped kick down the door for women in rock and galvanize the burgeoning flames of punk, but it all came with a heavy price. Currie's harrowingly frank disclosures about dealings with drugs, alcohol and sexual abuse transform "Neon Angel" into a riveting cautionary tale.
"Decoded" (Spiegel & Grau)
As much a detailed account of the celebrated rapper's rise from inauspicious beginnings in Brooklyn as an open love letter to the art form and culture of hip-hop, Jay-Z's lavishly illustrated, nonlinear "Decoded" is a tantalizing glimpse into the mindset of a private, complicated artist who many consider the greatest of his genre. Those hoping for a play-by-play breakdown of Jay-Z's meteoric rise to the top might be disappointed (the book has little regard for chronology), but as a taste of how Jay-Z perceives the state and evolution of hip-hop and his ambition to find his place in it, it is invaluable.
"Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock" (HarperCollins)
Former Montrose frontman Sammy Hagar was already an established hit-maker (thanks to fist-pumping anthems like "I Can't Drive 55") before he replaced the flamboyant David Lee Roth in Van Halen in 1985. How he filled his predecessor's formidable shoes and led that already mega-successful outfit to greater heights is only one phase of Hagar's remarkable story. Hagar pulls few punches in "Red," whether detailing the messy, protracted dissolution of Van Halen or maintaining that he was abducted by aliens. It might not all sound entirely credible, but given the longevity of his career, Hagar has plenty of reasons to still be smiling.
Steve Tyler tells Matt Lauer: 'I needed that cocaine'
"Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs" (Picador)
Years before the preeminent figure of British punk rock reformed his seminal Sex Pistols, became a reality-TV star or started appearing in ads for England's Country Life butter, John Lydon (aka "Johnny Rotten") penned this sardonic memoir to set the record straight. While still steeped in his signature brand of bug-eyed venom, Lydon's book is actually rife with moments of poignancy, especially when he describes his family and the tragic fate of his former band mate and friend, Sid Vicious. While he has since arguably gone on to commit punk heresy in the eyes of some purists, Lydon's never been more blunt than within these pages.
"The Dirt" (HarperCollins)
Not so much a proper memoir as a volatile oral history, "The Dirt" paired New York Times writer Neil Strauss with the notorious L.A. metal band for a salacious series of disarmingly detailed, separate interviews that turned back the clock on the band's penchant for irresponsible hedonism and bleary-eyed rock abandon. The exploits, altercations and tireless misbehavior detailed within didn't so much shed a new light on the band, but rather catapulted their reputation toward new stupefying depths. Even if you were never a fan of Motley Crue's brand of high-decibel bombast, "The Dirt" shouldn't leave you bored.