An unusual flurry of rock books this winter offers fans a behind-the-music intimacy
December 12, 2007
NEW YORK ” For those rock ‘n’ roll fans on your gift list this holiday season, there are plenty of new offerings to keep their heads bopping along happily into the new year.
There are fresh sounds from Eric Clapton, Sting, Genesis, Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash and Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx.
There’s just one twist: None are on CD racks.
All are on bookshelves ” part of an unusual flurry of autobiographies out this winter by aging rockers with some hair-raising stories.
Clapton’s self-titled autobiography is already a hit, having sold 525,000 copies. Joining him on best-seller lists is “Slash,” “Ronnie” and Sixx’s “The Heroin Diaries.”
Why would rockers ” those near-mythical gods of sex, drugs and general excess ” turn to that most stodgy of storytelling modes, the written word?
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“I think there are a couple of motivations: One, they’ve lived their lives and it’s time to look back on them ” the lived life is worth examining,” says Broadway Books Executive Editor Charlie Conrad, who worked on Clapton’s book.’
“And also, from the standpoint of the public, rock figures are out there on the cutting edge ” the knife edge. They live life to its extreme. And if they survived, they have a good story to tell.”
Those stories include tales of love, loss and friendship, but also nasty bouts with venereal diseases, scary strippers and mountains of controlled substances.
Clapton, who pushed aside a ghost writer in favor of penning his own book, discusses the death of his son Conor, his various addictions, and his love triangle with Pattie Boyd and George Harrison, a topic already broached in Boyd’s recent tell-all “Wonderful Tonight.”
Wood, who offers his own night bedding Boyd, also delves into his years freebasing cocaine and the time he had an armed face-off with Keith Richards, with both pointing guns at each other.
The original lineup of Genesis ” including Peter Gabriel ” collaborated for the first time in over 20 years for “Genesis: Chapter and Verse,” which offers polite first-person account and photos.
Sixx’s diary is a tad darker ” an unvarnished look at his life on the road in 1987, when he struggled with addictions and depression. There’s the time he woke up during an earthquake and ran outside, naked and clutching a crack pipe. In another entry, he writes: “This morning I woke up with my shotgun in bed with me.”
Not to be outdone, Slash, a founding member of Guns N’ Roses who makes several wicked cameos in Sixx’s book, has his own accounts of debauchery, delivered in a straightforward, often amusing way.
He tells of one night being kicked out of a Canadian hotel, drunk and soaked in his own urine. But to his surprise, he’s not as frozen as he feared: “That’s a wonderful side effect of leather pants: when you pee yourself in them, they’re more forgiving than jeans,” he writes.
Publishers say the warts-and-all profiles that emerge from these books are crucial for their success. In an Internet-fed and reality-TV soaked world, book buyers already consider themselves insiders, and successful authors can’t just phone it in.
“I’m sure they’re not telling every single crevice of their darkest soul, but they are giving you some real stuff. I think that’s a real difference,” says Elizabeth Beier, executive editor of St. Martin’s Press, which published the Wood and Genesis books.
For the less squeamish reader, there’s always “Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far” by Amy Grant, which includes the singer’s lyrics, poetry and vignettes ” all of a decidedly uplifting variety.
And Sting has published a book of his lyrics, complete with his more highbrow observations. Of the song “Synchronicity II,” he writes: “I was trying to dramatize Jung’s theory of meaningful coincidence.”
Publishers say the current crop of rock tell-alls owes much to the success of Bob Dylan’s 2004 autobiography “Chronicles: Volume One,” which sold 425,000 hardcover copies.
“The Dylan book coming out and being so well received kind of showed people, ‘Your regular recording and performing career doesn’t have to be over for you to do your memoir. You don’t have to wait until the whole story is utterly completed and you’re in your dotage,”‘ says Beier.
“We’re just starting to see the first fruit of that and there are some more coming. It’s just a category that seems to be very interesting.”
Barnes & Noble Inc. buyer Kim Corradini is seeing better-than-projected sales of rock books. The chain plans special displays for Christmas and has placed larger-than-usual orders.
“So far, all of the music biographies, autobiographies and memoirs are selling even better than expected,” she told The Associated Press in an e-mail interview. “Unlike two years ago when all of the big releases were on the Beatles, this year we have a diverse selection of books on very popular artists from various musical eras.”
Lisa Gallagher, publisher of William Morrow and HarperEntertainment, says she was impressed by the multigenerational audience at a recent Slash book signing on Long Island. Sales for his book have exceeded the 100,000-copy mark.
“At the signings, when you’re looking at the line, it is both people who you could imagine bought ‘Appetite for Destruction’ back in the day and it’s also younger people as well,” she says. “I think this is a very broad audience.”
Books mining the seamier side of rock are nothing new, of course. Recent notable titles include Anthony Kiedis’ “Scar Tissue”; “Hammer of the Gods,” about Led Zeppelin; “No One Here Gets Out Alive” on The Doors; and Motley Crue’s “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.”
What seems new now is a renewed push for autobiography, publishers say. They point to the overall strong demand for memoirs as a reason more musicians are putting down their instruments and picking up pens. They also note a slip in overall album sales.
“You have to wonder if they’re looking to books as a kind of exciting medium as the traditional record medium kind of goes to hell,” Conrad says. “Maybe they’re suddenly noticing there’s business to be done and advances to be paid.”
Sixx has taken that one step further. His book came out the same time his new band, Sixx: A.M., released a sort of soundtrack to the memoir, with each song tied to a book chapter. Some 200,000 copies of the book have been sold.
“The cross-promotion there just really worked well. We’ve benefited from the success of the CD and they’ve benefited from the success of our book,” says Anthony Ziccardi, vice president and deputy publisher of Pocket Books, which put out the Sixx book.
“We’re definitely talking to a number of people about doing something similar or just telling their story for the first time. I think there’s definitely a renewed interest in that.”
Other rock books available this winter include a biography on Gram Parsons by David N. Meyer, and an upcoming unauthorized bio of Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose, by Mick Wall.
The next big rock autobiographies on the horizon? One by Pete Townshend, and one by another Rolling Stone ” Keith Richards, who was reportedly paid more than $7 million by Little, Brown & Company for his drug-fueled memories.
That may be a risky prospect. Conrad recalls band mate Mick Jagger also being under contract to write his autobiography many years ago, only for him to back out.
“There’s a great story about how he was signed up for all this money and then he just couldn’t remember anything,” says Conrad. “And if he can’t remember, what about Keith? Let’s just hope his collaborator can do a lot of interviews.”