Something must have flittered through the cosmos last year, prompting anyone who ever picked up an instrument to write – or contribute to – their life story, with all of them releasing the results this fall.
For awhile, rock fans could only natter on about the Keith Richards autobiography, but in the past four months, artists ranging from classic pop stars (Tony Bennett) to ‘80s favorites (Cyndi Lauper, John Taylor of Duran Duran) to rock ‘n’ roll behemoths (Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend) have delved into self-exploration.
Here are some selections.
“Bruce” (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, $28) by Peter Ames Carlin
The notoriously private Springsteen lends enough of his voice to Carlin’s biography to enhance its credibility. Exhaustive research and interviews with band members – including Clarence Clemons last year, shortly before his death – portray a boss who could be both cold-hearted (Max Weinberg still hasn’t gotten over Springsteen harshly axing the E Street Band from his life in the late ‘80s) and emotionally generous (Springsteen personally called the families of 9/11 victims whose obituaries mentioned their love of his music).
Though some of Carlin’s footnotes are extraneous and distracting, he nonetheless culled minute details and stories from band members and Springsteen himself, from the day Springsteen’s mother, Adele, walked her “quivering son” into a Jersey music store to rent his first acoustic guitar to his mini-meltdown during a missed lighting cue at sound check at the Atlanta tour opener in March 2012.
In between are anecdotes about the blazing “Born in the U.S.A.” tour that catapulted Springsteen to stadium savior, his constant struggle with depression (he started taking anti-depressants in 2003) and, for the tabloid-minded, a few details about his first marriage to Julianne Philips (“Did Juli speak to you at all?” Springsteen asks the author).
Unless Springsteen decides to pen a memoir, this is as close as we’ll get to Springsteen unmasked.
Atlanta connection: Many, from the aforementioned tour opener, the first without Clarence Clemons, to the unannounced introduction of his controversial song, “American Skin (41 Shots),” at an Atlanta stop during the 2000 tour with the reunited E Street Band.
The book also details Springsteen’s partnership with producer Brendan O’Brien, the first “outsider” to handle studio duties in Springsteen’s then-30-year-career.
“The band sounded like the band, but not like I’d heard them before, and that’s what I was looking for,” Springsteen says of O’Brien’s production work on 2002’s “The Rising.”
Great vantage point from the Atlanta show:
“Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir” (Atria Books, $26) by Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn
In the early ‘80s, two female pop stars emerged simultaneously – Lauper and Madonna.
One was blessed with iron lungs (blowing up balloons backstage was a pre-show warmup) and a propensity for weirdness, while the other was masterful at marketing herself.
Decades later, one is playing theaters and clubs but is still respected as one of the most formidable singers in pop, while the other is producing flimsy music but selling out arenas worldwide.
You do the math.
While the first half of Lauper’s book zig-zags in a non-linear “I gotta tell you this, no, wait, first let me tell you about that, but hang on, let’s talk about this for a minute instead” manner – it’s a style that Northerners will be familiar with, but can still make for cross-eyed reading – she settles down in the second portion, explaining her personal reasons for supporting AIDS research and creating her True Colors fund, which benefits the gay and lesbian community.
Those curious about her first marriage to Dave Wolff (her manager and the dude in the “Time After Time” video) receive an honest account of a relationship turned sour (Wolff was more interested in the Hollywood scene), and, in an interesting side note, Lauper mentions the unpleasant experience of working with Jeff Goldblum on their flop film, “Vibes” (“I don’t know why he had to be that way, but he was really awful,” she writes).
She’s also typically candid about the “high school” environment while working on “Celebrity Apprentice” and proud that contemporary artists such as Nicki Minaj openly cite her as an influence.
It’s all part of Lauper’s circle of life that she so firmly believes in.
Lauper at Chastain Park Amphitheatre in 2010:
John Taylor, “In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran” (Dutton/Penguin Group, $27.95) by John Taylor
For a period in the ‘80s, Duran Duran was the most popular band on the planet, and Taylor, its chiseled-cheekboned bassist, the main subject plastered on the walls of millions of teenage girls.
But the young man born Nigel John Taylor in Birmingham – a dweeby sort as a child – had a hard time coping with this explosion of fame, even though he was surrounded by longtime friends and bandmates (guitarist Andy Taylor – no relation – was Taylor’s favorite drug buddy) and loving parents in England.
While there are dozens of references to Taylor’s bad boy behavior with women and drugs, he’s too much of an English gentleman to go into sordid detail (Motley Crue’s “The Dirt,” this is not), which, to some longtime fans, might be a bit of a disappointment.
But those fans will also relish this unadorned, wincingly honest behind-the-scenes account of life in a band that allowed for meetings with David Bowie and dates with supermodels in between crafting some of the ‘80s most memorable pop piffles.
Atlanta connection: Taylor shares an anecdote about a fan encounter that will surely raise civic pride to a new level.
“The fans would do some pretty crazy things over the years, but my favorite has to be the girl in Atlanta who was present at a press conference we gave on the reunion tour. I had a cold and was sniffling into a series of tissues, absentmindedly throwing them into the wastepaper bin under the table. Next time into the city, the girl called out to me at another public appearance, ‘I was the girl who got your cold.’ I wondered what on earth she was talking about. ‘After you left the press conference last year I stole your used tissues. I wanted to get your cold.’
Duran Duran playing a great show at Center Stage in 2011:
Rod Stewart, “Rod: The Autobiography” (Crown Archetype, $27) by Rod Stewart
It doesn’t matter that Stewart is such a louse. He’s so honest about his two-timing (and sometimes three-timing) his various leggy blonde girlfriends over the decades that it seems easy to forgive his lothario behavior.
Written in the same charming, humorous voice that Stewart brings to interviews, he spares few details in his accounts of bandmates, music industry friends (he’s particularly close to Elton John, whom he calls “Sharon,” while Stewart is “Phyllis” – the result of a joke from Stewart’s manager) and his inner circle, to whom he’s remained loyal.
Chapters begin with whimsical introductions such as, “In which our hero has a fortuitous encounter in a railway station,” and Stewart is forthright in his realization of the ticking clock and his career, which has seen a staggering 200 million albums sold and an unchanging hairstyle.
And for those who despised his series of huge-selling standards albums, guess what? It was an idea he initially explored in 1983.
Atlanta connection: Stewart was part of a soccer team of “British expats” who traveled to New York to play in a national cup competition. Because of a gig in Atlanta the previous evening, he was unable to play in the game, but flew in the next morning to cheer from the sidelines.
“Unfortunately, I had brought with me, to share the big-match excitement from a seat on the bench, two strippers of my acquaintance from the fabled Atlanta Gold Club, a popular postshow haunt for me and the band in those times. Despite being off work, neither of these women had chosen to wear much…Fatally distracted, the Exiles fell 4-1 behind…I still blame myself.”
Stewart playing two of his good songs at Philips Arena in 2011:
“Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll” (HarperCollins, $27.99), by Ann and Nancy Wilson with Charles R. Cross: The Heart sisters share chapters in their own voices, such as Ann’s “epiphany” of seeing Cher at an early Heart performance and their infatuation with The Beatles.
Pete Townshend, “Who I Am” (Harper, $32.50), by Pete Townshend: A rough upbringing led to a lifetime of psychological angst for the genius behind The Who, and he is still carrying the scars.
Tony Bennett, “Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett” (Harper, $28.99): The crooner takes a different approach to his book, choosing not to dish but to impart words of advice – albeit sometimes clichéd, such as “Don’t let the naysayers get you down” – while recounting his glorious career that has crossed paths with everyone from Paul McCartney to Lady Gaga.
Neil Young, “Waging Heavy Peace” (Blue Rider Press, $30): The first true glimpse anyone has gotten of Young, told in his own words, from his Ontario upbringing to his musical travails in Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene