Rob Sheffield on 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time – Rolling Stone
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The 25 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 memoirs: They tend to have the same plot. Our heroes always 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 25 of our favorites.

Kristin Hersh: Rat Girl (2010)
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Kristin Hersh: ‘Rat Girl’ (2010)

Even if you know nothing about Hersh's band – the 1980s Rhode Island art-punks Throwing Muses – her story is an essential first-hand account of the 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.

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

Officially this is an "authorized biography," by longtime Beatle hagiographer Barry Miles. But that's just a front, because the book really exists as a vehicle for McCartney to tell his story in his own words. Some fans were understandably put off by the way he squabbles over credits, even breaking down songwriting credits by percentages. (To pick one controversial example, he calculates "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 ever existed, which might be why his memories make such marvelous company.

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Nile Rodgers: Le Freak (2011)
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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 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. "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?"

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The RZA, The Tao of Wu (2009)
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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.

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Slash: Slash (2007)
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Slash: ‘Slash’ (2007)

There's no shortage of Sunset Strip metal-sleaze gossip books out there, including other GNR 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 one of a kind, surprisingly reflective and wise 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."

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