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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.

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 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)
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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?

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