Rob Sheffield on Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time - Rolling Stone
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The 50 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time

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

25 best rock memoirs

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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.

Keith Richards: 'Life' (2010)
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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.

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Questlove: Mo Meta Blues (2013)
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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)
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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)
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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.

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

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