Summit County Library has rock star biographies
September 21, 2012
Summit County Library has a good selection of the current explosion of biographies of rock stars. They read like a combination of love letters from adoring fans, exposes from the National Enquirer and chronological tidbits of music history from the Sixties. They appeal to oldsters who want to take a trip down memory lane or find out what was really going on in their musical idols’ lives. Such bios also interest younger adults curious about musical roots in America and England.
The biography of James Brown, “The One,” is fascinating and gives us the full picture of an artist. Author R.J. Smith’s story of James Brown begins in 1739. Yes, Afro-American history is the beginning of the book and becomes interwoven with Brown’s life. Experiences from personal poverty and the Civil Rights movement piled upon one another to influence Brown’s feverish rhythms, crazy dance moves and even the famous “cape.” He worked hard to make it; and his story is spellbinding.
An autobiography wherein the reader can learn some great musical history is Buddy Guy’s “When I Left Home.” Buddy Guy has been described as “the greatest blues guitarist of all time” by Eric Clapton and John Mayer, among others. He writes a simple story that makes you feel like you’re listening to him in your living room. His gentle tone, as he relates starting out on a Louisiana farm, hearing the blues for the first time and struggling to make it to Chicago, is a stark contrast to the frantic desire to perform by James Brown.
Then there are the Stones’ stories. To start, there are two biographies about Mick Jagger – one entitled “Jagger” and the other, “Mick.” “Jagger” is written by Marc Spitz, who also wrote “Bowie.” It’s the same story as “Mick” but gives more authentication to a typical, self-indulged, rock star lifestyle. “Mick” may not leave you inspired but will leave you understanding that the longevity – whether in age, cultural interest or sales of music by any of the Jurassic rock stars – is miraculous. Maybe these volumes should be filed under “unexplained mysteries” instead of “biographies.” One has to ask how anyone can live like that for very long. Probably the best-written Stones story, however, is the gigantic autobiography of Keith Richards. “Life” is coherent, honest and without the sensationalist feel of either “Mick” or “Jagger,” which, it must be stated, are “unauthorized.”
Some current autobiographies are written by women of rock. “More Room in a Broken Heart” by Carly Simon and “A Natural Woman” by Carole King are different pictures of rock star life. From a woman’s perspective, the trials of the music world have much to do with relationships and introspection, which lead to considerable depression in both cases until each finds her inner peace. Simon may still be searching.
Steven Tyler’s “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?” is very popular, as is the less interesting “My Cross to Bear,” by Gregg Allman. The publishers of Life have just released “Bob Dylan: Forever Young,” which is so full of photos and written so casually that it seems like a comic book – and it’s that easy to read, too.
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The common thread in these stars’ lives seems to be the focus on their creativity – the desire to write or sing or play. All the rest, including sex and drugs, prove to be distractions in their lives. After having their lives in the spotlight, distorted or not, our old stars seem to want to tell their own stories.