Home Music Music Lists

The 50 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time

Awesome rock & roll reads, from Keith Richards and Patti Smith to Slash and Nikki Sixx

Chris Foster/REX/Shutterstock, R Bamber/REX/Shutterstock, Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock

Funny thing about rock & roll memoirs: They tend to have the same plot. Our heroes begin with big dreams about making it as rock stars. There’s the sleazy bars, the cheap motels, the shady managers. Then they get a taste of the big time: hit records, limos, drug orgies, groupies, diseases, the works. What could go wrong? Craaaash! But, hey, Elizabethan revenge tragedies all have the same plot too, and nobody complains when the royal family gets butchered in the final scene. Great rock memoirs don’t always come from great artists: Sometimes it takes one-hit wonders, losers, hacks, junkies, crooks. Every rock & roll character has a story to tell. Here are 50 of our favorites.


Steven Tyler: ‘Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?’ (2011)

If you can find a single coherent sentence in this book, write and tell the publisher, so they can correct this error in future editions. But happy hunting, because Steven Tyler’s brain is located, as he puts it, “in the way-out-a-sphere.” From Aerosmith to American Idol, Tyler has been “61 Highwayed and I did it my wayed; Little-Willie-Johned and been-here-and-goned; million-dollar riffed and Jimmy Cliffed; cotton-picked and Stevie Nick’d.”

[Find the Book Here]


Nikki Sixx: ‘The Heroin Diaries’ (2007)

This one gets the “truth in packaging” award — Nikki Sixx does so many drugs in this book it should come in an aluminum-foil dust jacket. It’s more personal than The Dirt, but just as juicy. It might be cheating to mention The Heroin Diaries on a list like this, since there’s barely any mention of his music, but anyone even vaguely interested in Mötley Crüe is going to be fine with that.

[Find the Book Here]


Alice Bag: ‘Violence Girl’ (2011)

A Chicana punk coming-of-age story from East L.A., where a barrio kid named Alicia Armendariz starts a hardcore band called the Bags, battles her way to the stage, then finds she has to keep on battling. Raised on the Mexican ranchera records of her immigrant parents, baptized in 1970s glam rock, Alice Bag thrives on her confrontational dust-ups with the slam-dancing mosh pit crew, in her pink dress and high heels. For her, it’s all about “the giddy adrenaline rush of the fight.”

[Find the Book Here]


Billy Idol: ‘Dancing With Myself’ (2017)

Billy Idol seems to show up at least once in every Eighties-Nineties memoir, usually when some sort of pharmaceutical dessert is consumed. So it’s only fitting he wrote his own. Hell, Billy’s index has more drama than most books: “Idol, Billy, cocaine use of,” “GHB overdose of,” “hair of,” “police anti-crack sting,” “violin lessons of.” From “White Wedding” to “Cradle of Love,” his purple prose is a thing of beauty, as when an early punk romance breaks up because the drugs “dashed my hopes on the rocks of desire as the sea poured into our kingdom.” No matter where he is, Billy never idles.

[Find the Book Here]


Debbie Harry: ‘Face It’ (2019)

The Blondie grande dame has told her story before — most notably in Making Tracks, her great 1982 photo-history with Chris Stein and Victor Bockris. But Face It has the complete saga: how Debbie Harry came out of nowhere to seduce the world, from CBGB to The Muppet Show, then lost it all, yet refused to give up and quit. Her whole book has the glorious sneer of a tough old punk queen who knows how cool she is and does not care if you agree. “My Blondie character was an inflatable doll, but with a dark, provocative, aggressive side. I was playing it up, yet I was very serious.”

[Find the Book Here]


Rick James: ‘Glow’ (2014)

Fame — it’s a hell of a drug. Rick James begins his chronicle in Folsom Prison after flaming out on crack, in the hard times between his “Super Freak” peak and his Chappelle’s Show comeback, which explains why it’s not titled I’m Rick James, Bitch. In the Sixties, he plays in a hippie band with a not-yet-famous Neil Young, stays up all night with Joni Mitchell grooving to Sketches of Spain, cruises the Whiskey a Go Go with David Crosby, gets turned on to acid by Jim Morrison. Then he sees KISS and gets a lesson in showmanship. Rick becomes the King of Punk Funk, hitting Studio 54 (“Tanya Tucker was my best friend”?) and beefing with Prince. And along the way, he meets some very, very kinky girls.

[Find the Book Here]


Elton John: ‘Me’ (2019)

When Elton published his long-threatened memoir in late 2019, the world learned why the biopic Rocketman was such a humorless drag — it turned out Captain Fantastic was saving all the juiciest dish for his own superb book. Me has the right mix of salty gossip and even saltier self-mockery. A shy English schoolboy named Reginald Dwight decides to become a glitter-rock starlet, dubs himself Elton, peacocks through the Seventies, only to end up a respectable elder statesman. Hello, yellow brick road.

[Find the Book Here]


Gucci Mane: ‘The Autobiography of Gucci Mane’ (2017)

Like everything else Gucci does, his Autobiography is a true original. The Atlanta trap pioneer starts out hustling, sips too much lean, gets an ice cream cone with lightning bolts inked on his face (he tells the tattoo artist, “Just make that shit real rock & roll”), goes to prison, comes out fighting for his sobriety and his artistry. He recalls his criminal past without “playing Scarface.” Most rap memoirs come when the artist is on top, but Guwop’s got a longer and more complex tale to tell, full of ups and downs, with a novelist’s eye. When he meets Migos, they wear fake jewelry to his studio, so he gives them real gold chains; he finds their old chains in the trash can.

Dean Wareham: ‘Black Postcards’ (2008)

Dean Wareham led the great New York guitar band Luna through the 1990s, after the breakup of the Boston indie pioneers Galaxie 500. He shares the dirty details of how tedious it can be to plug away in a semi-famous, halfway-to-the-big-time rock band: the airports, the motels, the bickering band politics, the broken relationships, the constant asking around to see who’s got the drugs. Nobody in this story gets rich, or even seems to break even — all anyone gets out of the experience is a few dozen excellent songs. And that ends up being enough.

[Find the Book Here]


Bobbie Brown: ‘Dirty Rocker Boys’ (2013)

Groupie memoirs are a booming industry, from Pamela Des Barres’ classic I’m With the Band to Pattie Boyd’s fab Wonderful Tonight. But the tiara goes to hair-metal video vixen Bobbie Brown, who contributed precisely zero to music history, yet became a star by shaking what mama gave her in Warrant and Great White clips. Dirty Rocker Boy is truly the Middlemarch of groupie lit. Bobbie rules the Sunset Strip dating Tommy Lee, Jani Lane, half of Milli Vanilli, one of the Nelson twins (she has a thing for twins), Leonardo DiCaprio, Dave Navarro, and that’s just for starters. (Though she draws the line at Scott Baio, because “my mom said never to trust a man with thin lips.”) Oh, how she hates that back-stabbing, Tommy-stealing Pamela Anderson. Yet she’s a woman of few regrets — definitely not including the “Cherry Pie” video.

Peter Hook: ‘Substance: Inside New Order’ (2016)

The New Order bassman has written three essential memoirs — Unknown Pleasures on Joy Division, The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club on drugs — but Substance is the best, because there’s no story like New Order. Three nobodies from Manchester, in shock after the death of their resident genius Ian Curtis, decide to keep going without him, dabble in electro NYC club sounds, and help invent the Eighties. (Bernard Sumner tells the same story in his Chapter and Verse; needless to say, a major theme of both books is how much they hate each other.) Hence the 1983 Greek festival with the Fall and the Birthday Party, a recipe for chemical disaster. Hooky calls it “the first time I ever got drunk on ouzo and also the first and last time Nick Cave turned into a bat and flew into my room.”

Neil Peart: ‘Ghost Rider’ (2002)

In the summer of 1997, Neil Peart’s teenage daughter Selena dies in a car crash. Less than a year later, his wife Jackie dies of cancer. So he gets on his motorcycle and hits the road, from Quebec to the Yukon, then down south to Mexico and Belize. He rides thousands of solitary miles, brooding over his grief, with no home to go back to, while his brothers in Rush give him the time he needs to fire up the willing engine. Ghost Rider is different from anything Peart wrote for Rush — an unusually personal statement from such a shy and private writer. But the Professor brings all his analytical rigor to these road journals — and leans on the healing power of mechanical music.

Find the Book Here]


Tegan and Sara: ‘High School’ (2019)

The twin sisters trade off chapters in a moving tag-team memoir of growing up queer in the Nineties — for all the teen angst in High School, it also celebrates the “great comfort that comes from going through life with a witness.” Tegan and Sara come of age in Calgary, Alberta, rock to Green Day and Nirvana, party at raves, struggle to figure out their sexuality, awkwardly come out. The turning point: They discover their stepdad’s guitar in the basement and start secretly writing songs. (A very 2112 moment for these Canadian kids.) “Instead of smoking pot and falling asleep,” Tegan writes, she begins staying up late “with the guitar in my lap, trying to mimic the shapes I saw Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love making with their hands in their music videos.”

Donald Fagen: ‘Eminent Hipsters’ (2013)

What, you were expecting a cozy romance? Donald Fagen’s Eminent Hipsters is as misanthropic as any Steely Dan song, the kind of book where the rock star looks out at a live crowd and muses, “If these people could only see into the mind of the viperous Robespierre they had invited into their midst.” He grows up in Fifties suburbia, a jazz freak yearning to be as cool as Miles, Mingus, or Mancini. But the funniest chapters describe how much he despises touring with Steely Dan, spending his sixties on a tour bus, playing his oldies for fans who look “so geriatric I was tempted to start calling bingo numbers.” It’s the opposite of the great escape he plotted in “Black Friday” — yet something about his fate seems fittingly Dan-like.

Joe Boyd: ‘White Bicycles’ (2006)

Producers’ books tend to get overlooked — they’re the equivalent of drummers’ solo albums. But the British folk-rock producer Joe Boyd turns out to be a hell of a story-teller. He was on the scene for key moments: Dylan going electric at Newport, Syd Barrett in the early days of Pink Floyd, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention. He records outsiders from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Nico. As he writes, “The economy of the Sixties cut us a lot of slack, leaving time to travel, take drugs, write songs, and rethink the universe.” What makes the book remarkable is his clear eye: He never gossips, never tries to make the story about him. Hardly anyone in White Bicycles is a star — just kids with a shared passion for the practical magic of music-making.

John Lydon: ‘Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’ (1993)

The former Johnny Rotten has all the dirt about how the Sex Pistols pissed off the world. But he’s also got poignant details about his hardscrabble youth in London’s Irish-immigrant squalor, raised by a mother even more badass than he was. He also shares his deep hatred for religion, the Queen, the other Sex Pistols, hippies, rich people, racists, sexists, the English political system, Malcolm McLaren, and, of course, Pink Floyd. “A lot of people feel the Sex Pistols were just negative,” he says. “I agree, and what the fuck is wrong with that? Sometimes the absolute most positive thing you can be in a boring society is completely negative.”

[Find the Book Here]


Gregg Allman: ‘My Cross to Bear’ (2012)

A Southern Gothic rock epic. The Allman Brother sings “Whipping Post,” he snorts himself senseless, he rats on his drug roadie. And, of course, he marries Cher. On their first date, he even manages to stay off heroin until right after dinner. “I went to her house in a limousine, and when she came out, she said, ‘Fuck that funeral car,’ and handed me the keys to her blue Ferrari.… She didn’t have shit to say to me, and I didn’t have shit to say to her. What’s the topic of conversation? It certainly ain’t singing.” The second date goes a little better: “We made some serious love.”

[Find the Book Here]


Boy George: ‘Take It Like a Man’ (1995)

The confessions of a natural-born poseur. Boy George grows up as the “pink sheep” of his working-class Irish Catholic family, getting his start on the London club scene as a coat-check boy with a face full of cosmetics and a reputation for picking the customers’ pockets. He becomes an international pop sensation with Culture Club, while having a torrid affair with the drummer. The Boy doesn’t worry about making himself seem likable — quite the opposite. He bitches himself out along with everybody else, which is why his catty recollections make this book addictive.

[Find the Book Here]


Marilyn Manson: ‘The Long Hard Road Out of Hell’ (1998)

Marilyn Manson cranked out this book in his first wave of Nineties stardom — on the verge of releasing Mechanical Animals. It’s a hilarious monument to drug-addled megalomania. He grows up as Brian Warner, a typical Midwest dork; as he admits, “If every cigarette you smoke takes seven minutes off your life, every game of Dungeons and Dragons you play delays the loss of your virginity by seven hours.” But he reinvents himself as the God of Filth, learning the rules of rock stardom (“if the girl has a tattoo with your name on it, then it’s just common courtesy to have sex with her”) and snorting lines off his Rolling Stone cover. He also includes a helpful checklist of ways to tell if you’re a drug addict: “You use the word ‘blow,’” “You’re friends with a model,” “You know the name for the fleshy crevice between your thumb and index finger.”

Luke Haines: ‘Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Role in Its Downfall’ (2009)

The U.K. went mad for Brit-pop in the Nineties, while the U.S. went mad for grunge. Hardly anyone went mad for the Auteurs’ Luke Haines, even though his caustic Kinks-style indie balladry resulted in a few of the decade’s finest albums. (New Wave and Now I’m a Cowboy with the Auteurs, England Made Me with Black Box Recorder.) “Writing these psychotic episodes that I am now going to pass off as songs” — it leads to little fame, less fortune, and missing the whole Brit-pop gold rush. Bad Vibes is his revenge: a gleefully spiteful satire of rock life on both sides of the Atlantic. How petty is this book? There’s a footnote at the bottom of page 46 to explain who Radiohead are.

Brian Wilson: ‘I Am Brian Wilson’ (2016)

The Beach Boys’ tale has been told many times: Tortured teen genius Brian Wilson trapped in a surf band with his brothers and cousin, creating a Southern California myth out of his yearning tunes. Brian tells his story in an endearingly erratic style, jumping all over the timeline and trying real hard to find nice things to say about Mike Love. (If you’re looking for those, Mike’s Good Vibrations has 436 pages’ worth.) Even into old age, he still remains the shy, scared boy who wrote “In My Room.” “Songs are out there all the time, but they can’t be made without people,” he says. “You have to do your job and help songs come into existence.”

Robbie Robertson: ‘Testimony’ (2016)

As the guitarist and songwriter for the Band, Robbie Robertson chronicled ancient American myths, even while he was living out new ones. Testimony covers his early days: He’s just 14 when he gets a personal guitar lesson from his idol Buddy Holly. The Mohawk-Jewish Canadian hotshot hooks up with the Band, tears up juke joints with rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, ducks the cops, raids Europe with Bob Dylan, trysts with Edie Sedgwick in the Chelsea Hotel. Testimony ends on an elegiac note: The Band’s Thanksgiving 1976 farewell concert, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz.

Lemmy: ‘White Line Fever’ (2002)

“Laughing exercises all the facial muscles and keeps you from getting old. Looking stern gives you terrible wrinkles.” That’s right — Lemmy is here to offer you advice on holding on to your youthful looks. Among a few other topics: “Smoking pot helps the sense of humour no end, but after a while you lose it altogether and all you can do is talk about the cosmos and shit, which is really boring.” Boring is one word that never applies to the Motorhead madman. White Line Fever captures his lust for life — he tops any book here for most exclamation points per page — and his no-remorse metal spirit. For as long as this book lasts, Lemmy lives.

Neil Young: ‘Special Deluxe’ (2014)

Neil Young originally planned to call this Cars and Dogs, until he started to have doubts about his skills as a dog whisperer — but as he says, “I have had a love affair with cars my whole life.” Each chapter of Special Deluxe is a love song to one of the vehicles Neil’s driven down the human highway with his paintings: the 1948 Packard Woodie, the 1951 Willys Jeepster, the 1957 Corvette, the 1948 Buick Roadmaster Hearse. Every car inspires stories about the memories that go with it — his music, family, friends, drugs, guitars, bands — so Special Deluxe is far more revealing (and more fun) than his supposed memoir Waging Heavy Peace. A typical Neil twist: His book about cars gets more personal than his book about himself. Long may he run.

Henry Rollins: ‘Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag’ (1994)

Did Jack Kerouac ever write a book this great? In a word, no. This is the real on-the-road American adventure: a band of antisocial maniacs who hate each other crammed in a van, bumming from town to town, sleeping on floors when they’re lucky, getting clubbed by the cops when they’re not, doing it all for those few minutes of glorious noise. Black Flag were hardcore pioneers who paved the road other bands have traveled ever since, and Rollins’ tour diaries are the essence of that pain-is-my-girlfriend punk spirit.

[Find the Book Here]


Kim Gordon: ‘Girl in a Band’ (2015)

The NYC art-punk legend brings all her fearsome charisma to the page. Gordon grows up in the sad hippie twilight of Boogie Nights-era SoCal, escapes to the Big Apple, hooks up with guitar boy Thurston Moore and starts Sonic Youth. Eventually, she sees the collapse of her band along with her marriage. But Girl in a Band captures the thrill of being young in a new city, on fire with creative energy, as she and Moore walk the Soho streets by night to put up their gig posters. She also produces Courtney Love’s first album with Hole: “Courtney told me she thought Kurt Cobain was hot, which made me cringe inside and hope the two of them would never meet. We all said to ourselves, ‘Uh-oh, train wreck coming.’”

Jay-Z: ‘Decoded’ (2010)

If you’re curious about what it’s really like to be Shawn Carter, you’ll learn more about his hard-knock life from his albums, which have always gone heavy on the In My Lifetime narrative. But what he’s really trying to do here in Decoded is write the whole story of hip-hop, merely using himself as a prime example, as he rises from criminal-minded fan to industry kingpin. Like he says, “Rap is built to handle contradictions.” Most surprising moment: Hov defends the Coldplay duet “Beach Chair” as “one of the hidden jewels of my catalog.”

[Find the Book Here]


Tommy James: ‘Me, the Mob and the Music’ (2010)

The Goodfellas of rock & roll literature. Everybody knows the Tommy James oldies — “Mony Mony,” “Hanky Panky,” “Crimson and Clover,” etc. But according to Tommy, these songs got on the radio because he had some influential mobbed-up friends pulling the strings. (And, of course, pocketing the loot.) The whole topic of criminal connections in the music business is still taboo — see Fredric Dannen’s 1990 classic Hit Men for the full picture. But Tommy James is the first star to tell the story from the inside: How the Mafia gave the world “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

[Find the Book Here]


David Lee Roth: ‘Crazy From the Heat’ (1998)

You know what’s crazy? How underrated this book is. Diamond Dave’s book of pensees really deserves to be read wherever generally insane ramblings by generally insane dudes are read. Crazy From the Heat barely got noticed because it came out in the late Nineties, when public interest in Van Halen was at an all-time low. But every page abounds with his stark-raving lunatic eat-‘em-and-smile rock & roll Zen wisdom. Preach, Dave: “I’m not real good with baby steps. My specialty is ass-kicking. Does that sound unreasonable? It may well be, but I guarantee you, you will find no reasonable man on top of big mountains.”

[Find the Book Here]


Kristin Hersh: ‘Rat Girl’ (2010)

Even if you don’t know Kristin Hersh’s band Throwing Muses, Rat Girl is a crucial first-hand account of the Eighties indie-rock uprising. Her narrative voice is warm, friendly, and surprisingly funny. When Hersh gets pregnant and decides to have the kid, without giving up her band, she shrugs, “I’ll cross the living-in-a-van-is-probably-child-abuse bridge when I come to it.” Deep down it’s a story about messed-up kids finding one other, starting a band, and accidentally scrounging up an audience of similarly messed-up kids. It belongs on the shelf next to Michael Azerrad’s classic Our Band Could Be Your Life.

[Find the Book Here]


Morrissey: ‘Autobiography’ (2013)

One of the all-time great poison wits airs every last grievance he’s nursed for decades, giving the world the bitchiest music memoir ever, as well as one of the funniest. Morrissey hates perilously close to everyone he’s ever met — especially the other Smiths. No detail of his career is too tiny to inspire some petty bile: “I vomit profusely when I discover that the album has been pressed in Japan with Sandie Shaw’s version of ‘Hand in Glove’ included. I am so disgusted by this that I beg people to kill me. Many rush forward.” (See Johnny Marr’s Set the Boy Free for the Smiths story from the perspective of a thoughtful and charming adult.) Best moment: Moz has breakfast with his hero David Bowie. “David quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had so LITTLE sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive.’”

Richard Hell: ‘I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp’ (2013)

So many CBGB-era punk memoirs out there, but Richard Hell’s is unique — poetic yet never pompous, bemused without corny punch lines. As a 17-year-old Kentucky kid, he runs off to NYC to be a poet, but ends up a rock & roller. “‘Sacred monster’ is definitely the job description,” Hell writes. “Being a pop star, a front person, takes indestructible certainty of one’s own irresistibility. That’s the monster part.” He depicts his music comrades — Tom Verlaine, Robert Quine, Patti Smith, Lester Bangs — and all the girls he’s loved before. (Hell was the punk Leonard Cohen in that department.) He quips about his popularity with critics, “because they were predisposed to favor noise, intellect, and failure.” In the final scene, he runs into his old nemesis Verlaine for the first time in years — flipping through the dollar bins outside the Strand Bookstore — and walks away in tears, musing, “We were like two monsters confiding.”

Chuck Berry: ‘The Autobiography’ (1987)

The “Johnny B. Goode” man who invented rock & roll tells a few stories about what he saw along the way. As a Fifties black pop star, scoring hit records in a land full of violent racism, his story seems to touch on all the contradictions and injustices of American culture. In the early Sixties, while bands like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Beach Boys were hero-worshipping him, Berry himself was rotting in jail, railroaded in a blatantly racist trial. That’s where he wrote the deeply ironic “Promised Land” — a classic celebration of American dreams, written in a prison cell.

[Find the Book Here]


David Bowie: ‘Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust’ (2002)

It’s a massive coffee-table art book, with lavish images of Bowie in the Seventies from photographer Mick Rock. But the main attraction of Moonage Daydream is the text by the man himself. He’s in top form, whether he’s shopping for shoes with Cyrinda Foxe (who teaches him to wear “palm-tree’d fuck-me pumps”) or sipping tea with Elton John (“We didn’t exactly become pals, not really having that much in common, especially musically”), or partying it up with Mick Jagger (“I have absolutely no recollections of this party at all”). The closest this world will ever get to a straight-up Bowie autobiography — but who’d ever want anything straight-up from Bowie?

[Find the Book Here]


Rod Stewart: ‘Rod’ (2012)

A typical scene from this flawless masterpiece: Rod, Elton, and Freddie Mercury spend a drug-crazed evening in Bel Air plotting to form a supergroup. “The name we had in mind was Nose, Teeth, & Hair, a tribute to each of our most-remarked-upon physical attributes.” Rod reports, “Somehow this project never came to anything, which is contemporary music’s deep and abiding loss.” It’s funnier than anything in the Freddie or Elton biopics — films where Rod isn’t even mentioned. Nobody’s turned this book into a movie, but maybe that’s because Rod has no use for crash-flop-comeback arcs. He’s just spent 50 years being Rod Stewart, and nobody’s ever loved anything as much as he loves being Rod Stewart. The best line comes when he’s accused of ass-wiggling in the “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” era: “We’re talking about a difference in fashion here, and the cut of the clothes, rather than a wholesale change in my approach to buttock work.”

Anthony Kiedis: ‘Scar Tissue’ (2004)

The Red Hot Chili Pepper tells a quintessential made-in-L.A., rise-and-fall-and-rise story, complete with all the californicatory details. Kiedis muses about his childhood, his band, his face time with the Dalai Lama, and his many, many, many ex-girlfriends, most of whom inspire him to share a kind word, a nude photo, or both. (Ione Skye was “an au naturel, soft, soulful forest nymph.”) Scar Tissue has the best final sentence of any book on this list, starring Keidis’ lovable pooch Buster: “And when I do think, ‘Man, a fucking motel room with a couple of thousand dollars’ worth of narcotics would do me right,’ I just look over at my dog and remember that Buster’s never seen me high.” Let’s hope Kiedis writes a whole book about Buster some day.

[Find the Book Here]


Ronnie Spector: ‘Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness’ (1989)

The New York doll of the Ronettes had one of rock & roll’s biggest voices. She also had one of rock & roll’s most famously nightmarish marriages, as she was practically kept captive by Phil Spector for years. But if you’re looking for self-pity, you’ll be disappointed, because her book, like her voice, is full of cocky, smart, self-aware humor. And, yes, in case you were wondering, it totally sucked to be married to Phil Spector.

[Find the Book Here]


John Taylor: ‘In the Pleasure Groove’ (2012)

Duran Duran’s bass rake John Taylor was the glammiest of New Romantic rockers, a swirl of hair and lipstick and cheekbones. But he ended up one of the wisest. JT started young — at 14, he met lifelong friend Nick Rhodes, who shared his taste for music and fashion. “Nick and I both wore chiffon without needing much encouragement,” he writes. “We found ourselves mixing it up with ladies’ blouses.” When he and Nick start Duran Duran, they get into more ladies’ blouses. One minute his parents are asking, “You’re not going out dressed like that?” The next, he’s on MTV pouting in “Girls on Film.” In the Pleasure Groove is a wildly funny tour of the pop hustle, but it’s also full of poignant introspection and gentlemanly warmth. It’s touching when JT recalls how the band changed with success. “Nick was getting married? I thought we were married!”

Paul McCartney: ‘Many Years From Now’ (1997)

Officially this is an “authorized biography,” by longtime Macca friend Barry Miles. But that’s just a front, because the book really exists as a vehicle for Paul to tell his story in his own words. Every page has killer lines, like when he reveals “Can’t Buy Me Love” was recorded after a nine-day orgy with Miami Beach’s finest hookers: “It should been ‘Can Buy Me Love,’ actually.” Some fans were put off by the way he squabbles over credits, even breaking down songwriting by percentages. (To pick one controversial example, he calculates that “Norwegian Wood” as 40 percent his and 60 percent John’s.) But on the page, as well as in song, his voice overflows with wit and affection. And he did less to fuck up his good luck than any rock star who has ever existed, which might be why his memories make such marvelous company.

[Find the Book Here]


Nile Rodgers: ‘Le Freak’ (2011)

The “sex, drugs, and disco” revolution of the Seventies, as seen by the Chic guitarist who permanently changed the way music sounds and feels and moves. This is a cerebral and unabashed celebration of disco; as Nile Rodgers puts it, “We shared Afrobromantic dreams of what it would be like to have real artistic freedom.” He also reveals that when he and Bernard Edwards wrote the classic “Upside Down” for Diana Ross, everybody at Motown hated it. The song would have been axed forever, if not for the one listener who recognized its brilliance. “We played it for Gene Simmons of KISS, who was recording next door, and he told us it was great. We respected Gene, but he was dating Diana Ross at the time, so what else would he say?”

[Find the Book Here]


Carrie Brownstein: ‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’ (2015)

The Sleater-Kinney guitar hero (and Portlandia comedian) finds her voice as one-third of the greatest American punk band. She grows up in Seattle, with a closeted dad and an anorexic mom, desperate to get into a group and make her own noise. She joins in the Nineties riot-grrrl explosion, seizing the excitement she feels seeing a band play live: “I needed to press myself up against small stages, risking crushed toes, bruised sides, and the unpredictable undulation of the pit, just so I could get a glimpse of who I wanted to be.”

The RZA: ‘The Tao of Wu’ (2009)

How do you choose between the RZA’s two excellent memoirs? (Choose the sword and you join me. Choose the ball and you join your mother. You don’t understand my words, but you must choose!) The first installment, The Wu-Tang Manual, is more of a beginners-guide handbook to the Shaolin mythology. But The Tao of Wu digs deeper, as the RZA broods on hip-hop and spirituality. He combines esoteric Buddhism, true mathematics, kung-fu flicks, chess tactics, and comic books into his own unique theosophical ruckus.

[Find the Book Here]


Slash: ‘Slash’ (2007)

There’s no shortage of Sunset Strip metal-sleaze gossip books out there, including other excellent GN’R memoirs — see Steven Adler’s My Appetite for Destruction or Duff McKagan’s It’s So Easy (And Other Lies). But Slash’s book is surprisingly reflective, yet hilariously blasé about all his decadence. Low point: Slash collapses during a hotel drug binge and gets rushed to the hospital, where the doctors restart his heart. He complains, “I had no remorse whatsoever about my overdose — but I was pissed off at myself for having died. The whole hospital excursion really ate into my day off.”

[Find the Book Here]


Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz: ‘Beastie Boys Book’ (2018)

By now, any Beastie Boys fan would figure we’d heard all the stories already. Not even close. Years after losing their best friend Adam Yauch to cancer at 47, the surviving Beasties cook a 600-page bouillabaisse of the adventures they shared, from the South Bronx’s Disco Fever to Dolly Parton’s birthday party, from the hip-hop explosion to taking Lee “Scratch” Perry to Greenwich Village’s Halloween parade. It’s a Paul’s Boutique-size treasure trove. When they lament how they sold out original drummer Kate Schellenbach and kicked her out of the band, they pass her the mic to write her own chapter about it. Horovitz recounts a ridiculously complicated trick Yauch played on him — planting some old jewelry in his bag — requiring so many years of planning, so much “prank stamina,” all he can do is bow. It’s a tribute to all the ways music helps friends elevate each other, and ultimately mourn each other.

Viv Albertine: ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys’ (2014)

“Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I’m a bit of both.” Viv Albertine helped shape London punk as the wild-child guitarist of the Slits, striking her warrior pose on their album cover. Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys is her tale of fighting her way into rock & roll as a rebel girl — starting a band with Sid Vicious, dating the Clash’s Mick Jones, idolizing Patti Smith and Yoko Ono, inspiring future generations of feminist punk. But by the early Eighties, it’s all over — Viv’s an anonymous aerobics teacher, wondering what the hell happened. She rolls through motherhood, cancer, and divorce, only to realize she needs to get back to her guitar. Her abrasive humor is exhilarating — more Fleabag than Please Kill Me. The only man who never lets her down: John Lennon, her lifelong muse. “He wrote and talked about his mother, Yoko, even his aunt, all the time, acknowledging how important women were in his life — so I assumed all boys were like this — and to my huge disappointment, almost none of them were or are.”

Keith Richards: ‘Life’ (2010)

Like a lot of books on this list — only more so — Life makes you marvel that the guy who lived through all this chaos could end up remembering any of it. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how a guy who lived the rock & roll myth as hard as Keith Richards could still talk his way through a transaction at the drive-through window, let alone a book this great. Despite all the cranky bitching about Mick, this book exceeded any reasonable expectation for literary Keefness.

[Find the Book Here]


Questlove: ‘Mo Meta Blues’ (2013)

One of the most emotionally honest books ever written about going through life not just in love with music, but practically crippled by how much you love it. For Questlove, born into a Philly family of touring musicians, being a fan is his sacred vocation as much as his night job as America’s favorite drummer. Sure, his memoir has encounters with Prince, KISS, and Erykah Badu, but the show-stopper is when he and his sister hear “Rapper’s Delight” for the first time: “The two of us stared at the radio the entire time it was happening; it was our equivalent of the old radio drama The War of the Worlds. All the black kids in Philadelphia who were listening to the radio that day have the same story.” Or the time he hears Prince’s “Housequake” in the laundromat and runs all the way home to tape it off the radio. A one-of-a-kind book, from a one-of-a-kind mind.

Bruce Springsteen: ‘Born to Run’ (2016)

Springsteen dropped this book as a total surprise, with no warning he was gearing up for his one-man Broadway show. The shock of Born to Run is how loose and friendly it is, with the all-caps jokes of a dad who loves to text. He goes deep into his spiritual badlands, from his alcoholic dad’s “six-pack seances” to his struggle with depression. But he skips some of his most famous stories to get to ones you haven’t head, like when he and Little Steven get kicked out of Disneyland for violating the dress code, or when he ends up at Frank Sinatra’s 80th-birthday dinner singing jazz standards at the piano with the odd trio of Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, and Bob Dylan. Born to Run is a guy telling his stories out loud, trying to figure out his toughest mysteries.

Patti Smith: ‘Just Kids’ (2010)

An incredibly romantic portrait of two young hustlers in the big city: Patti Smith and her best friend, artist Robert Mapplethorpe, have to keep telling each other how great they are, because nobody else will believe it. The most amazing thing about this book is the warmth, the lack of bitterness — what Smith seems to remember most about New York bohemia in the 1960s is all the moments of awkward kindness. Best scene: Allen Ginsberg buys Patti a cheese-and-lettuce sandwich at the Automat, because he thinks she’s a pretty boy. When she breaks the news that she’s a girl, she asks, “Well, does this mean I return the sandwich?” Ginsberg just keeps talking to her about Jack Kerouac while she eats — a gentleman as well as a poet.

[Find the Book Here]


Bob Dylan: ‘Chronicles, Volume One’ (2004)

Everybody knew this guy had a way with words. But it’s safe to say that nobody expected his autobiography to be this intense. He rambles from one fragment of his life to another, with crazed characters and weird scenes in every chapter. It all hangs together, from his Minnesota boyhood (who knew Dylan started out as such a big wrestling fan?) to the “deserted orchards and dead grass” of his Eighties bottoming-out phase. He evokes his early folk-rogue days in New York, even though he hated being perceived as the voice of a generation: “I was more a cowpuncher than a Pied Piper.” So where’s that Nobel Prize already?

[Find the Book Here]