There might be a noise ordinance at your favorite relaxing vacation spot, but there’s nothing stopping you from taking a rock book to the beach and cranking up the noise in your head amid the summer tranquility.
Our list of music-based summer beach reads includes some of the top memoirs that have come out over the last six months--by the likes of Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Heart, Pete Townshend, Cyndi Lauper, and Clive Davis--along with treatises on heavy metal and prog-rock that might have you banging your sunburned head against the back of the recliner.
LOUDER THAN HELL: THE DEFINITIVE ORAL HISTORY OF METAL
by Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman
If you want some debauchery and demonology to go with your gentle summer breezes, Louder Than Hell is the tome for you. It’s as easy to dip in and out of this epic compilation of rock-star anecdotes as it is to slip in and out of the pool, even though you might feel like you’re dripping blood on your beach towel after some of the hairier passages. The earliest chapters will have the greatest crossover appeal for non-metalheads, as the authors interview the members of seminal bands like Black Sabbath and AC/DC about both their serious and Spinal Tap sides. Later chapters get a bit more specific about subgenres ranging from ‘80s hair-metal to ‘90s thrash and industrial.
Sample passage #1 Gene Simmons of KISS: “At some point, I began to keep Polaroid snapshots of my liaisons to remember them. In a certain way, I loved every one of them. But when it was over, it was over. No fuss, no muss. No agony. To date, I have had over 4,600 liaisons. And I have to say that they were all wonderful, that they all enhanced my life.”
Sample passage #2 Sebastian Bach on his feelings when Skid Row’s brand of hard rock was rendered obsolete in the early ‘90s by grunge: “Yes, it definitely sucked and it was a bummer. But between 1989 and 1991 Skid Row sold 20 million records. We were all wealthy as f***, so it really didn’t suck that bad. It sucked, but I bought a five-acre estate and I could walk around in the woods and ride on a boat. So my attitude was, ‘F*** it, who cares?’ It gave us a chance to buy some s*** and have some fun.”
Sample passage #3 Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray, on how he found out Judas Priest’s lead singer was gay: At a party, McGrath was wearing “heavy metal jean shorts, rolled up...Then I see Rob Halford, and I’ve never met him before, so I am over the moon. I went to him with such enthusiasm--I looked like Play the Gameera Freddie Mercury, I go, ‘Rob, I’m such a big fan.’ I’m overly friendly, touching him…I gave Rob my number, told him if he ever wanted to hang out. He took it that I was cruising him, so he started calling my number...First message was [in British accent] ‘Hello Mark, it’s Rob here…I’d like to fly you out to Phoenix so we could see each other.’ The way he said ‘so we could see each other,’ I went, ‘He’s gay!’…I was too freaked out. He left a few messages, but he speaks so eloquently, I almost turned gay. I wish I had a gay inclination, ’cause it would have been Rob Halford if I was going to get down with a dude. Believe me. I felt bad if I misled him in any way. I was like, ‘Why would he think I’m gay? Oh, the shorts and the touching and the phone number.’”
ROD: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
by Rod Stewart
Stewart’s memoir, newly issued in paperback to coincide with the release of his Time album, is every bit as blithe as you’d expect and hope, even when debauchery gives way to domesticity as Rod the Mod discovers true love and fidelity late in life. There are enough true stories about his wild lifestyle back in the day that he’s happy to also address and dismiss the more legendary ones--attributing the urban legend about how he “serviced a gang of sailors in a gay bar in San Diego” to a fired assistant bent on immediate revenge. While he seems to merit his happy-go-lucky image, Stewart comes off as genuinely gobsmacked when his second wife, Rachel, tires of their nightly formal-dress dinners and leaves him, and an utter romantic when it comes to third wife Penny.
Sample passage On being cited by Johnny Rotten as a symbol of what was wrong with rock 'n' roll in the mid-‘70s: “While punks were dressing in ripped T-shirts and bondage trousers patched with beer towels, you would have found me in my Rudolf Nureyev phase: harem pants, silk slippers, silver clips around the ankles, bit of a sash going on at the waist. Looking back, I can see how that would have got right up the nose of a young whippersnapper with an electric guitar and some attitude. Comfy, though--I’ll say that much for it. Every man should have a brief Rudolf Nureyev phase, if the option is there…In a sense, punk gave people like me a kick in the pants. A kick in the harem pants, in my case.”
KICKING & DREAMING: A STORY OF HEART, SOUL AND ROCK & ROLL
by Ann & Nancy Wilson, with Charles R. Cross
The Wilson sisters didn’t know they’d finally be getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they sat down to do their memoir, but the timing couldn’t have been more magical, man. The two of them alternate passages and prove more candid on matters of love than you might expect from their circumspect interview over the years. If you wondered why there appeared to be some tension onstage when the original ‘70s lineup got on stage at the Hall of Fame induction, it might have something to do with the Fleetwood Mac-style romantic entanglements among the band in their classic period. Nancy tired of guitarist Roger Fisher’s wandering eye and broke his philandering heart by leaving him…for drummer Michael Derosier, another poor choice of partner, she soon came to realize. Meanwhile, Ann undertook a torrid affair with Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter before discovering he was married. Meanwhile, thanks to the many sleazy men who had less luck with them, we get to hear stories of the kind of vintage sexism that inspired “Barracuda.”
Sample passage “At one hotel, we met Eddie and Alex Van Halen. Over the course of a few hours, they had a Kamikaze-drinking contest, followed by a cocaine-snorting fest. Once they were good and loose, they got into a fistfight. Moments later, they were hugging each other and falling down, saying, 'I love you so much, man.' They would cycle through this pattern every hour. Eddie and Alex let it be known that if Ann and I wanted to sleep with them, they would be amenable to that. Their concept was two brothers with two sisters…They wanted us in one bed. It wasn’t the only time we had that offer, and as with every other request, we turned it down.”
YES IS THE ANSWER, AND OTHER PROG-ROCK TALES
edited by Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell
Yours is no disgrace if you love Rush, who just gave prog a belated entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or Yes, who arguably should have gotten in even before Geddy. Even if you were only a prog-rock dabbler, you’ll still love a lot of the essays in this highly readable compendium of appreciations of some of the subgenre’s superstars and unsung heroes. Contributors range from famous novelist Rick Moody (who waxes eloquent on Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and screenwriter Larry Karaszewski (celebrating Todd Rundgren’s Utopia) to singer-songwriter Peter Case (making the case for the Incredible String Band). These highly personal pieces are wonderful as musical exegesis and personal memoir, not to mention just plain fun, whether the authors have put their prog days behind them as guilty pleasures or continue to celebrate the supremacy of oddball time signatures.
Sample passage #1 Essayist Tom Junod on loving Yes: “I wanted my parents to like Prog; to recognize that Rick Wakeman was a better keyboard player than Roger Whitaker; to know that the music their son listened to behind his closed door contained literary references and ‘classical motifs.’ But all my parents knew, when they saw the Roger Dean posters on my wall and heard the sonic overkill of Relayer, was that I was on drugs.”
Sample passage #2 Jeff Gordinier on Styx’s transitional period between art-rock and sap: “’Babe’ suggested that Styx’s arranged marriage of Prog and Pop had the potential to open up a whole new target market, the one generally referred to as ‘women.'”
Sample passage #3 Joe Meno on being confused by Rush: ““How could there be a Hard Rock song that did not--in any way as far as I could tell--allude to sex? Did Rush misunderstand the most basic premise of rock and roll?”
THE SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE
by Clive Davis, with Anthony DeCurtis
If you’re looking for humility, you’ve come to the wrong place. But the longtime label chief’s legacy has intersected with so many of the greats (Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan) and the ephemerals (Taylor Dayne, Milli Vanilli) that you’d be hard-pressed to be a student of pop history and not want to hear Davis’s account of about a thousand artists’ rises…and, in many cases, of course, their falls, which usually come about when they fail to heed the mogul’s advice about recording outside material. You don’t care about Johnny Winter’s contract negotiations? Jump ahead to the chapter on Puffy’s business prowess. Tales of Whitney’s sad downfall not your thing? Use the index to jump back to the moment when Davis suggests to folkie Bruce Springsteen that he could maybe, you know, move around a little onstage.
Sample passage “We were all taken aback when Kelly [Clarkson] and [manager Jeff] Kwatinetz launched what amounted to a media campaign pitting her against the label and, more specifically, me. She and Kwatinetz spoke to the press, insinuating that I did not want Kelly to write her own songs because she was a woman…The rock press, of course, ate all this up. It became a David and Goliath battle between an all-powerful music mogul and a solitary young woman fighting bravely for the right to self-expression…Kelly explained to a reporter that she told me, ‘I get you don’t like the album. You’re 80--you’re not supposed to like my album.’ And there I was, a mere 74 at the time!”
WAGING HEAVY PEACE
by Neil Young
There might never have been a memoir with as severe a case of literary ADD as Young’s autobiography, which sounds like it’s being dictated in real time as a time-jumping stream of consciousness. This can be initially confounding, but ultimately fun, because Young’s recollections are like the weather: If you don’t like 1988, stick around, because it’ll be 1971 or 2005 in a minute. The countless passages about his love of vintage automobiles and toy trains will have most readers doing some skimming. But if you want to know about, say, the inner machinations of Buffalo Springfield (both Mach 1 and the short-lived reunion), you’ll have reason to be riveted. And even though he can come off as callous about some of his personal and professional relationships, there’s a sweetness and disingenuousness to his prose, particularly in a few passages where he wonders if he still has time to amend for the emotional oversights of earlier decades. His wandering mind might be a tough place to live, but it’s sure a fun place to visit.
Sample passage “People have tried to sound like me to the point that my dad thought ‘A Horse With No Name’ was mine! (Hey, wait a minute? Was that me? Okay. Fine. I am back now. That was close!)”
CYNDI LAUPER: A MEMOIR
by Cyndi Lauper, with Jancee Dunn
The New York Times called Cyndi's autobiography “boisterous, erratic, sometimes goofy, and--very much like its author’s music, in all this--not quite as dumb as it may seem.” She still speaks, on paper as well as in real life, in the voice of the outer boroughs, but she takes her responsibility as a political progressive seriously enough to have had a lot of angst about whether or not to record “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” because she was worried about whether it was “good for women.” (Obviously, ultimately, she came down on the side of yes.) The timing of the book coincides with a comeback, of sorts, not for her recording career but with the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which features some boys who want to be like girls who want to have fun.
Sample passage “The few friends I had…declared themselves gay, and when they came out, I thought, ‘Ooh, I’m gay because they’re gay.’ So I tried. One of my close friends said she was in love with me. Well, I didn’t want to lose my friend, so we held hands, and then we would kiss, but it wasn’t how I was feeling. I even read The Fox by D.H. Lawrence, but no matter how I tried, I just wasn’t feeling what she felt…I had to come out as a heterosexual.”
WHO I AM
by Pete Townshend
Of all the beach reads recommended here, the Who mastermind’s is the closest to being a downer--or, as the Guardian called it, “a strangely joyless affair”--just because of its self-seriousness and how the author always found reason for angst, even over what should have been his giddiest triumphs. If Louder Than Hell has plenty of groupie stories, this is the book if you want tales of a rock star turning down meaningless sexual conquests (some of them, anyway) because he can’t help wondering what the purpose of it all is. Rolling Stone said this book “could be the most conflicted rock memoir of all time.” But would you expect any less of the guy who had the deaf, dumb, and blind kid turn into a fatally tortured guru?
Sample passage “Mick [Jagger] is the only man I've ever seriously wanted to [have sex with].”