Every time I walk into a bookstore I'm reminded that while people may no longer read books, they still like to buy them. Or at least wipe their dirty hands on them, while their children put them in their mouths.
Naturally, since I know and care nothing about health, economics, sports, cooking, history, poetry, literature, politics or gender studies, I gravitate to music and TV, where I always find new books I don't want to read. Maybe you care what Anthony Kiedis or Slash has to say, but I'm happy pretending they don't exist. And while I'm sure the guys in Matchbox Twenty deserve a three-volume biography on their great works, I'm not the one to read it.
But it made me think about the rock biographies I've read over the years and how certain ones were better than others, how after reading them I felt not only like I learned something about the performers in question but something about myself. Like if I really paid attention, I, too, could finish a long book without a lot of pictures.
Here are the five biographies that if you read them, you will become more like me than you ever wanted to:
Dino by Nick Tosches: OK, you might not think of Dean Martin as a rocker. He certainly wouldn't. But this guy was a true punk. He didn't care about anything. Or if he did, he didn't let on. Nick Tosches is one of the few writers who can actually write. Put the two together and you've got a peanut butter cup that will blow your mind and your intestinal track. Pros: Uses the 'F' word a lot. Cons: Book weighs more than the Bible.
The Kinks Kronikles by John Mendelssohn: You know how some people who like music get way too caught up in little, anal-retentive facts that make most people tired. Well, John Mendelssohn might be one of those people, but he doesn't let it anywhere near this quick, concise history of the band. Mendelssohn seems to think there even might be something wrong with someone who likes the group. He goes and sees them live and they're awful. He only loves them more. Pros: You can read it quickly because it's short. Cons: You may not be able to find it, since it isn't in print. But that's what used bookstores are for. Use them!
Bill Graham Presents by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield: Bill Graham was a rock concert promoter, a tough as nails negotiator and a guy who never backed down and scared the crap out of a lot of people. Lots of people didn't like him. I never met him and couldn't say either way. But this book has some of the funniest stories about rock stars and their management that if even a third of it is true, well, keep out of the business, son! Pros: It's in "talking book" format, so no one's using big words. It's conversational. Cons: The guy dies in the end.
Head On by Julian Cope: The autobiography that proves that British kids are worse behaved than their American counterparts, no matter how many doomsday scenarios you hear in the U.S. press about how our kids are morons. Granted, we probably are morons, but we don't urinate and take drugs in the same careless way as Julian and his friends and we don't seem to hate each other as much. Pros: Julian's a natural born storyteller with no ambitions to get literary and kill us with bad symbolism. Cons: This is only part one of his story. He followed it up with Repossessed, which means half your life will be over by the time you finish them.
Shakey by Jimmy McDonough: Neil Young is many things to many people. What he is to biographer Jimmy McDonough is something McDonough's analyst will have to figure out. McDonough lived on Young's ranch waiting for the moments when the moon would be in alignment and Young would agree to spill his guts. McDonough spent years of his life waiting. And then Neil didn't really want it published. McDonough had a twinkie and cried. Then the book came out and it was LONG. Pros: Everything you ever wanted to know about Neil Young. Cons: Tons of information you didn't want to know about Neil Young. But you can always skim. Or borrow my copy. I've crossed out all the crap you don't need!