If you’re like me, you like hiding in cupboards and leafing through hosiery catalogues by torchlight.
Also, if you’re like me, you enjoy reading books about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The first rock book I ever read was the Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, which I haven’t included in this easily-digestible, soon-to-be-forgotten, why-do-I-even-bother list because I’m assuming you’re not sixteen and feeling different and special. If you are sixteen and feeling different and special, get off the internet and go write some poetry in your room. If you’re older than sixteen–and you no longer feel special or that your life is of any real consequence–continue reading this list of sensational rockographies you just gotta read before you die next week. Oh yes, statistically one of you will die next week, and I’m writing this for you.
Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis
This is the page-turner of all page-turners. I don’t know what Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga looks like in light of the #MeToo movement (answer: absolutely terrible), but when I read it as a teen it was brilliant. And you don’t even have to be into Led Zeppelin to enjoy this girthy tome. I didn’t know anything more than ‘Stairway to Heaven’ when I read it, and I couldn’t put the bugger down. Everyone knows Led Zepp were completely bananas in their prime, but the revelations about their behaviour on tour–not to mention Jimmy Page’s dabbling in the dark arts–will make you wish you had tried harder at guitar instead of masturbating by torchlight in a cupboard.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
If this book hasn’t been recommended to you ten times already, you need to find some new friends. Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s painstakingly constructed oral history of punk, is another major page-turner, and tells the story of punk rock straight from the horse’s yellow, toothless, heroin-ravaged mouths. Featuring everything from the Velvet Underground to Iggy Pop to the Ramones to Television, Patti Smith, Sid, Nancy, The Germs, and every other blip on the punk radar, Please Kill Me is the story of punk as told by the people who were there. They lived it. They were there, man. I mean to tell you they were right in the frickin’ thick of it. McNeil and McCain interviewed hundreds of people for the book, and then took their stories and stitched together an incredible narrative that debunks myths, affirms rumours, contradicts, enlightens, and ultimately keeps you awake way past bedtime.
Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon
I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I’ve always felt like Kim Gordon was a little too cool for school, y’know? A bit too whatever. But I read the book and now I really like her. Like, a lot. We’d probably make great friends and do fun stuff together like yarn-bombing. Girl in a Band is Kim’s life story, from her childhood in Rochester, New York, all the way up to the tragic dissolution of Sonic Youth. Cover to cover, it’s a terrific read, but I have to say my favourite parts are the ones where she rips into Courtney Love and confirms every suspicion I ever had about that wretched, swindling hag. I didn’t much like the stuff she said about her ex-husband, Thurston, though. Yes, he cheated on her after nearly thirty years, and, yes, in doing so he effectively destroyed not just their marriage but one of the greatest rock bands in the world, but come on, give him a chance! Just kidding. I’m surprised at how even-handed she was. Well played, Kim. Read this book!
The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Mötley Crüe and Neil Strauss
I haven’t gone near the movie The Dirt (it looks fucking dreadful, not to mention utterly disingenuous), but the book it’s based on, The Dirt, is brilliant. When I read this oral history of Crüe, I didn’t much care for Crüe at all; but once I finished reading about Crüe… I liked them even less. These guys were unforgivable pigs. They used to have sex with groupies and then put their penises inside burritos on the way home so their girlfriends wouldn’t know they’d cheated. What. The. Fuck. Guess what else they did? You wanna know, right? Even if it’s worse than the burritos? You wanna know what else? Huh? Exactly. And that’s what makes this book hard to put down: the sheer filth and degradation. Each chapter is dictated by a different member of the band, and they contradict each other and bitch and dish, and it’s really funny. Haha. You will laugh. Even though they are disgusting pigs and should be ashamed of themselves. Five stars. Margaret?
Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis Jnr. by Sammy Davis Jnr. and Burt and Jane Boyar
No, Sammy did not rock, but, boy did that cat SWING. I love Sammy Davis. He was easily one of the coolest people who ever walked the earth, and he lived the most incredible life. Seriously. While reading Yes I Can, I would frequently have to stop reading, shake my head and think about what Sammy just told me. Being a black man in America was beyond fucked when Sammy was coming up (not that it’s great now), and the bullshit he went through is beyond belief. But, despite the odds, he climbed his way to the top, making Yes I Can an incredible and un-put-down-able read. And, unlike most of the other books listed here, Sammy’s autobiography is loaded with insights and lessons he learned along the way. I love this book.
The Fallen: Searching for The Missing Members of The Fall by Dave Simpson
A friend loaned me this book, and I’m glad he did because The Fall was nuts. What a fucking a band. Formed in Manchester in 1976, they released 31 studio albums, 47 live albums, and chewed through 43 members during their 42-year reign. And that’s what this book is about: the ex-members. The blurb on the back says it all:
A book that cost the author his car, his health, and his relationship of 17 years, Dave Simpson tracked down 43 former members of the Fall – many of whom hadn’t been seen or heard from since their departures from the band. It’s said that discarded members could take years to recover, turning to acupuncture, meditation, even free-jazz. Hear the stories of the ghosts of Fall-past.
Founder Mark E. Smith was the only constant member of The Fall, and when he passed in January 2018 (you probably saw the outpouring of grief on Instagram–barf), the band came to an end. Amazing book.
Set the Boy Free: The Autobiography by Johnny Marr by Johnny Marr
I’m reading this one right now, or rather Johnny Marr is reading it to me via audiobook. I could listen to Johnny Marr read the telephone book. If I ever meet him, I’ll ask him to record my outgoing message because that’s the sort of asshole I am. Although I have not finished having this book read to me, I can tell you it’s great for these reasons: he talks about the formation of The Smiths, the rise of The Smiths, the sad and tragic end of The Smiths. He also talks about his post-Smiths musical activities, which blew my mind because I had no idea how many records he’s featured on. Throw a rock in the record store and you’re bound to hit something Johnny Marr played guitar on. Anyway, I’m not done yet, but I’m giving five unbiased stars.
Also, you should read the autobiography Coal Black Mornings by Suede’s Brett Anderson. Really enjoyed that.
Do you have a favourite rockography? Why not mention it in the comments under the Insta/Facebook post for this. You might even like to vehemently disagree with someone else’s opinion and start a fight.