In a crowd of musos, every bluffer needs at least a fighting chance — especially if the discussion turns drearily to the ‘literature’ of rock music…
A little knowledge, the saying goes, is a dangerous thing. A lot of knowledge is a boring thing. So the best idea is to take the path of least resistance.
Hammer Of The Gods
Written by Stephen Davis, this is the ultimate tale of rock ‘n’ roll excess on the road, based on two weeks he spent touring the USA with Led Zeppelin in 1975. The book positively reeks of booze, drugs, the occult and the sort of sexual excesses that would cause the Marquis de Sade to recoil in alarm.
Key moment: The fish (some say a red snapper, others a mud shark) being inserted into various parts of a Seattle groupie.
You Never Give Me Your Money
Peter Doggett tries to untangle the complex financial dealings of The Beatles after they split, while simultaneously recounting their story. Despite being a ‘business book’, the band members come across as greedy, grasping, double-crossing megalomaniacs who were bitterly lassoed together and who ran their finances with all the care of a tornado tearing through a landfill site.
Key moment: Representatives scouting out the possibility of a reunion show in New York’s Central Park mere weeks before John Lennon is murdered.
Keith Richards has rattled through life since the mid-1960s like a freewheeling drug sponge and yet his autobiography is surprisingly lucid and rich in detail, coming, as it does, from a man who has spent half a century hovering a few feet off the ground like a crumpled crisp packet over an air vent. The tours, the rivalry with Mick Jagger, the women and the drugs – the endless drugs – are spat out with studied nonchalance.
Key moment: The dismissal, once and for all, of the Marianne Faithfull/Mars Bar ‘story’ that long ago passed into urban myth.
Bob Dylan has spent his entire career creating myths about his life (like being an orphan and working the railroads/carnivals) and sending fans off on wild goose chases with every knotted lyric. So it’s a hell of a shock to see the first edition of his autobiography shedding powerful light onto whole eras of his life. It’s written in sections and has no clear chronology, but at least it’s readable, unlike his first book, Tarantula, an incredibly tedious and incoherent experimental prose poetry collection that defies further description.
Key moment: The evocation of arriving in a freezing New York in 1961, dizzy with promise, as he cracks his knuckles and prepares to turn the world on its head.
Diary Of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
Unlike those books endlessly banging on about excess, Mott The Hoople singer Ian Hunter lays bare just how mundane the whole thing is – a rock purgatory that is only punctured briefly when bands get on stage. Reading this, you don’t begrudge bands their on-the-road fun if the rest of the time is really as grindingly dull as Hunter suggests.
Key moment: David Bowie (who wrote All the Young Dudes for the band) makes cameo appearances and the pages, so grey with routine, finally crackle.
Mötley Crüe were, and let’s not mince our words here, a truly awful band. But their reputation was fished out of the musical gutter with the publication of this four-way group autobiography where each member got to tell their side of what went on. Features enormous hair, horrible guitar solos and a wardrobe based on a Hollywood depiction of what ‘streetwalkers’ wore in the 1980s.
Key moment: Mick Mars falls off his chair in the studio when trying to play the guitar line to Girls, Girls, Girls.
Please Kill Me
An oral history account of New York punk (a publishing template that many have since copied but not as well) by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain that covers just about everyone in the scene – from band members, venue owners and fanzine writers to fans. The good thing is that bluffers can just pick a few random sections to loosely quote and it will seem like they’ve read the whole thing.
Key moment: Lou Reed meets the Ramones for the first time and tells Johnny to use a better guitar than the $50 one he has, causing Johnny to sulk.
Jon Savage’s definitive account of UK punk that spends as much time talking about the scene leaders (Sex Pistols and The Clash) as it does about the lesser-known bands (The Slits, X-Ray Spex), and wraps the whole thing up in an intellectual bubble where fanzines are the direct descendants of the pamphleteer movement and Johnny Rotten is merely the latest in a long and healthy line of dissenters in British history who have wanted to destroy the status quo (not Status Quo).
Key moment: The Sex Pistols’ infamy overtakes them, they become targets for physical assault and so go to ground, robbing the scene of its figureheads.
For more musical notes, refer immediately to The Bluffer’s Guide to Rock Music®.