[imagesource: Ken Regan]
Nowadays, bona fide rock stars can’t behave anywhere near as poorly as they used to.
If Mick Jagger hosted an all-night rager and rooms were trashed and televisions chucked in the hotel pool, for example, somebody would leak cellphone footage and we’d probably get one of those half-arsed apology posts from the legend.
There were no such worries for the likes of Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and other names that have gone down in history.
When it comes to a good rock memoir, though, it’s not just about tales of excess, says Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield.
He recently took to ranking the greatest ever written, saying that “great rock memoirs don’t always come from great artists: Sometimes it takes one-hit wonders, losers, hacks, junkies, crooks. Every rock & roll character has a story to tell.”
The full list ranks 50 memoirs if you really want to bulk up your ‘to read’ list, but let’s focus on the top five, starting with one that I’ve actually read:
Keith Richards: ‘Life’ (2010)
Like a lot of books on this list — only more so — Life makes you marvel that the guy who lived through all this chaos could end up remembering any of it. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how a guy who lived the rock & roll myth as hard as Keith Richards could still talk his way through a transaction at the drive-through window, let alone a book this great.
The man snorted his own father’s ashes, so of course, his book was going to be grand.
In fourth place is Questlove: ‘Mo Meta Blues’ (2013):
One of the most emotionally honest books ever written about going through life not just in love with music, but practically crippled by how much you love it. For Questlove, born into a Philly family of touring musicians, being a fan is his sacred vocation as much as his night job as America’s favorite drummer…
A one-of-a-kind book, from a one-of-a-kind mind.
Fair enough – on the list.
Bronze goes to The Boss… Bruce Springsteen: ‘Born to Run’ (2016):
Springsteen dropped this book as a total surprise, with no warning he was gearing up for his one-man Broadway show. The shock of Born to Run is how loose and friendly it is, with the all-caps jokes of a dad who loves to text…
Born to Run is a guy telling his stories out loud, trying to figure out his toughest mysteries.
The second greatest rock memoir of all time, at least according to this highly subjective list, is Patti Smith: ‘Just Kids’ (2010):
An incredibly romantic portrait of two young hustlers in the big city: Patti Smith and her best friend, artist Robert Mapplethorpe, have to keep telling each other how great they are, because nobody else will believe it. The most amazing thing about this book is the warmth, the lack of bitterness — what Smith seems to remember most about New York bohemia in the 1960s is all the moments of awkward kindness.
A rockstar-worthy drumroll for number one, please…
Bob Dylan: ‘Chronicles, Volume One’ (2004)
Everybody knew this guy had a way with words. But it’s safe to say that nobody expected his autobiography to be this intense…
He evokes his early folk-rogue days in New York, even though he hated being perceived as the voice of a generation: “I was more a cowpuncher than a Pied Piper.”
Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, so it’s fair to say his talents have been recognised.
They don’t make them like they used to.
You can see that full list of 50 memoirs here.
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