My 2013 book report (Part 1)

Nov 06, 2013 No Comments by

Back in July, I made a resolution to blog more frequently. Nice idea. Too bad I only held to it for about three weeks. Now it’s November. So what have I been up to in the intervening months? Fatherly duties. A little freelance writing. Taking courses in front- and back-end web development at General Assembly. Recording a 13-song solo album. Tending occasionally to my SoundCloud page. And reading a bunch of rock books.

The number of rock musicians who’ve been writing autobiographies over the past few years is unprecedented. I blame Keith Richards. More specifically, I blame the roughly $7 million advance he received for his 2010 tome Life, co-written with James Fox. After that deal went down, a lot of other artists found themselves in a retrospective mood all of a sudden. Strange. But no matter what the motivation, we the music memoir-loving public are the real beneficiaries—most of the time.

Without further ado, here are the first two in a series of short takes on the music-oriented books (eight and counting) I’ve read most recently.

Who I AmPete Townshend, Who I Am (Harper) — I’ve been a major Townshend fan for decades and an admirer of his prose style, particularly his excellent liner notes for the Scoop series of albums collecting his home demos, so I expected this to be amazing. But it’s just okay. The much-touted revelations of early childhood abuse that would explain Pete’s brief entanglement with the law in 2003 on child-pornography charges aren’t exactly revelations, more like murky suggestions that he doesn’t seem to have the stomach to investigate further. The real revelation is that, for much of his tenure in the Who, Townshend apparently regarded the band as a big drag. Having to contend with Keith Moon daily could set anyone’s teeth on edge, I’m sure, but it’s disappointing all the same that Pete gives the band’s (and his own) creative achievements such short shrift. By about two-thirds of the way through, he’s basically given up on maintaining any central narrative thread; it’s just a lot of “this happened, then this happened.” There was still plenty here that I enjoyed—sharp insights into how his parents’ music-biz connections helped the Who early on, affectionate memories of the irreplaceable John Entwistle—yet as a whole, Who I Am is surprisingly unsatisfying.

RodRod Stewart, Rod: The Autobiography (Crown Archetype)This one was given to me as a present, and if it had been my choice, I doubt I’d have bought it. But that would have been my loss, as Rod: The Autobiography is delightful from start to finish. Stewart is a perceptive, droll, constantly self-deprecating narrator; who knew he could spin such entertaining yarns? It helps, of course, that he’s got such an incredible cast of characters to summon up, from Long John Baldry and Ronnie Lane to Britt Ekland and Rachel Hunter. One chapter is devoted entirely to his various hairstyles over the years. It’s brilliant. Even the photo captions are a treat. Regrets? He’s got a few, including several broken marriages and romantic relationships; an on-again, off-again feud with long-ago employer Jeff Beck; and his own creative inertia, which kept him from writing songs for years. But he doesn’t let any of that get him down for long, because he knows deep down he’s one lucky sod. I suspect Rod would be a fabulous dinner companion, though the conversation might be a tad one-sided.

Coming soon: Part 2 of my book report, featuring an unlikely rhythm section.

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