Aside from being the estimable drummer for the Roots, Late Night bandleader, omnipresent cultural figure and certifiable Prince expert, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson is now a memoirist, albeit reluctantly. A musical prodigy, he began playing in his parents' band while still in grade school. His new book, Mo' Meta Blues, takes a discursive route through Thompson's childhood through memories of his favorite songs and albums and winds through the Roots' long, wavering climb to where they are now, with detours through his many collaborations, perhaps most notably with D'Angelo. Questlove spoke to Rolling Stone last week from his office at 30 Rock.
It would seem that the challenge wasn't in the writing so much as finding the time to do it. You are famously a busy dude.
Between this book and [teaching a course at] NYU, I feel like I went to college. Between my syllabus and handing in these 3000-word chapters, it was like take a college exam.
If this was your college education, what did you graduate with a degree in?
I earned a doctorate in Questology. It's one thing to be me. It's another to step outside yourself and revisit it. Some of these things were easy – it was fun talking about Sesame Street or rollerskating with Prince – but it's a whole 'nother ballgame revisiting painful memories.
What was the process of assembling the book?
You have to understand – I am more used to social media, which alows you to ramble and kind of color outside the lines. Thats how I got the book deal in the first place, off the strength of my liner notes for the Roots and my presence on okayplayer, and my following on Twitter and Facebook. So [the publisher], since 2009, been begging me to do the book. They let a year go by of me successfully avoiding them and then, by 2011, they were like "OK, dude, we gave you the money. Now where is our book?" [Laughs] Even then, I didn't know what the true structure of the book is. It went though so many drafts. I thought, "Let me make the ultimate mixtape book," or "Let's talk music, but not me." I worked backwards. Chapter one was the hardest one to write, because it took me a second to think that my story sorta did matter. I didn't think we had an exemplary rock star story.
Mo' Meta Blues isn't exactly Mötley Crüe's The Dirt.
That's exactly what I had in my mind, that I had to be at this Neil Strauss level, but that the stuff I wanted to share perhaps wasn't worthy. But they convinced me that there is a world of music nerds out there, like me, and I could somewhat be engaging to them. It's also another thing – who writes a story at the halfway point of their career? [Laughs]
There are little juicy bits, but you respect people's privacy throughout the book. Was that a concern because you work with a lot of these people still?
I wasn't trying to tell anyone else's story. Most bios are the same – beginnings, the rise, discovery, the stardust comes, and then you reveal all the salacious details, the redemption . . . That's not my story.
You don't have the requisite rehab tale.
[Laughs] Nope. This is about how music is a sanctuary for me. I am one of 15 people who have entered and exited this band. We all have different sordid tales. That would be a more interesting story – oral history of the Roots. Everyone gets their own chapter dedicated to them, Arrested Development style.
If someone bought the film rights to Mo' Meta Blues, who would you want to have play you?
If they ever turn my life into a movie, I want that movie to be animated [laughs].