And now book publishing is choking on it, as rock enters its “memoir” phase.
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As befits the first composer of a “rock opera,” Townshend for the most part takes himself and his work very seriously. There are exceptions to this, of course: His wry anecdotes of The Who’s early touring show us that he also knows how comic timing works in print. My favorite, too long to recount in full here, involved a cake, a hotel swimming pool, a Lincoln Continental, and a lamp (don’t ask; it was Keith Moon’s birthday), and ended with The Who being permanently banned from Holiday Inn hotels.
The last of the RM authors to go it alone, Roderick David Stewart, CBE, seemed to me at times refreshingly staid in comparison with both Young (flighty) and Townshend (angst-ridden)—indeed occasionally almost dapper in an oleaginous sort of way. Also surprising was the news that the former Faces frontman and composer of “Da Ya Think I’m a Sexy?” was once a devoted reader of the Daily Worker (later the Morning Star), that former flagship of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain. On the whole, Rod: The Autobiography was far less sleazy than one might have expected: I underlined the word “sweat” (after seeing it on the first page) a mere six times, two fewer times than I found Rod writing about “breasts.” Admirable restraint on both counts.
THERE IS PROBABLY ONLY ONE ITEM OF INTEREST to be found in Steven Tyler’s Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?, a book otherwise full of infantile puns (“cum to find out”; “Ladies and Genitals”) and poorly deployed Tom Wolfe-style CAPS! Aerosmith was visiting the White House to play a private show for the president the day Slick Willie was impeached. After reading this, I had an RM epiphany. In 1998 Toni Morrison declared Bill Clinton “the first black president.” I’ve never been sure what she meant by this, and anyway she seems to have retracted her earlier statement during the 2008 election. So whether or not he is the first black president I can’t say. But I’ve come to think that Clinton, a loose fish who has grown rich blowing bubbles at his eager co-generationalists, may be the first—and so far the only: Bush is too earnest, Obama too staid and fussy—rock president.
That makes Clinton’s memoir, My Life—co-authored, simultaneously pseudo-confessional and evasive, overlong, superlatively reviewed and widely purchased but (one suspects) probably little if ever actually read—in some sense the archetypal, even if not the first, RM. Publishers should recognize this and follow Knopf’s lead by releasing deluxe, autographed, numbered, slipcased versions of future RMs; copies of the limited edition of My Life, with gold ribbons and fine purple cloth, still manage to fetch $700 on Amazon.
One more thing about Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?. Having seen Tyler’s title question repeated across the top of nearly 200 right-hand pages, I feel entitled to answer:
Yes, the noise in your head does bother me—almost as much as the words on the pages of your awfully written, self-aggrandizing, self-exculpatory, self-indulgent, graceless, tasteless, morally callow (one could go on) memoir.
PS: Rock and roll is noise pollution.
THE BEST OF THE RM LOT turned out to be Keith Richards’ Life (co-written with James Fox, a correspondent for the London Times), incidentally the most highly praised and widely purchased of them all. One certainly sees why the book was received with such enthusiasm in the London Spectator: The prose is very good in a rakish, Jeffrey Bernard sort of fashion, and Life is full of memorable phrases in Richards’ peerless, Jacobean cutpurse cum P.G. Wodehouse’s Ukridge register: “The Bible Belt was a lot tighter in those days”; “There were a lot of Pre-Raphaelites running around in velvet with scarves tied to their knees, like the Ormsby-Gores, looking for the Holy Grail, the Lost Court of King Arthur, UFOs and ley lines”; “I’ve been through more cold turkeys than there are freezers.” His great rolling lists of illegal drugs purchased and consumed remind me of the glorious catalogues of nouns in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.
About Richards there isn’t much I can add to what has been written in the scores of positive reviews that have appeared elsewhere. For once I agree with my fellow correspondents: Life was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Its author (or subject: What does one call a person who tells his life story to someone else who writes it down for him?) is a mystery to me. Richards’ antinomianism is not of a fundamentally different order from that of, say, Criss or Tyler; but somehow his across-the-tracks anti-glamour managed to win me over.
If Richards comes in at the top of his class in the School of Rock, then down at the bottom of the list, far and away the worst of the RM authors, is Hagar. In fact, if one agrees with St. Augustine that evil is really just a privatio boni or privation of the good, and comes up with a list of what, book-wise, constitutes “the good,” then there is, I think, a pretty decent case to be made that Red is an evil book. Badly written, badly edited (more on this later), it is an account of a life badly lived. It even has a bad cover: Out from under a cheap-looking red-and-white all-caps stencil font, doubtless meant to scream the title and subtitle at passersby, looks “Red” himself, his hair dyed “rock” blond, enormous “rock” sunglasses sitting just above his mental patient’s grin, wearing a solid black “rock” T-shirt, faded “rock” jeans, and a “rock” (read: peace sign) necklace.
Throughout Red, Hagar manages to elevate raunch and affront to the level of Platonic ideals. Of a disabled friend: “he was really f—-ed up looking from spending life in a wheelchair.” Of the same friend’s mother: “She would wipe his a— for him and everything.” Of former band mates: “They f—-ing arrested the f—- out of Larry and Dave.” Of himself: “I was probably the best guy in the world for about two years.” Ditto: “I’m a sexual person.” Of a studio secretary: “She came around from behind her desk, undid my pants, and started blowing me, right there in the lobby, about two in the morning. She wanted to take me in the Jacuzzi, but I didn’t go for that. I wasn’t that promiscuous then, but when a chick unzips your pants and starts going down on you, it’s really hard to say no.” Of chivalry: “When I found out Betsy was pregnant, I kind of decided to end my affair, or at least started slowing down.” Also, I doubt he impresses any of his readers when he admits to collecting unemployment after buying a $5,000 Porsche with a $5,100 royalty check—this appearing in his book not long after he has described writing a song meant as “a little political commentary on consumer society.”
Hagar also struggles to keep his facts and opinions straight. About this someone—his co-author, his editor, an intern at HarperCollins—should have done something, because the results make for a very embarrassing 252 pages. Compare: “Everybody in the family hated my dad”; “I loved my dad, but he was crazy.” “He never beat us kids, but he would thump my mom around”; “Because my dad hit so hard, I learned how not to get hit”; “My dad never laid a hand on one of his kids, ever, except one time with my brother.” “Me? I never worked another day in my life”; “I worked all that summer.” He was an avid fan of the Rolling Stones well before their first American Top 20 hit, has a Twiggy lookalike girlfriend prior to Twiggy’s American debut, and even covers The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in 1969, two years before Pete Townshend wrote the song.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?