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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

The 25 Coolest Rock Memoirs

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)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns; Courtesy of Penguin

8

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)

David Redfern/Redferns; Courtesy of Holt Paperbacks/MacMillan

7

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)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns; Courtesy of Spiegel & Grau/Random House

6

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)

Sal Idriss/Redferns; Courtesy of Riverhead Books/Penguin

5

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)

Marc S Canter/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers/It Books

4

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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Keith Richards: Life (2010)

Val Wilmer/Redferns; Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group

3

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 bitching about Mick, this book exceeded any reasonable expectation for literary Keefness.

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Patti Smith: Just Kids (2010)

Jorgen Angel/Redferns; Courtesy of Ecco/Harper Collins Publishers

2

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 Patti 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 Dylan: Chronicles, Volume One (2004)

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

1

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?

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