Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Musical Notes: Rock Star Autobiographies

By Jeff Burns

I am a child of the 1970s and 1980s, so like most people, my musical tastes are somewhat stuck in that era.  80s British New Wave is my favorite, but my taste covers the period. For me, the fall of 2015 was a great time as publishers released four autobiographies from four of my favorite artists, all trendsetters and survivors of decades in the music industry.   Why did they all have to come out at once? It’s an embarrassment of riches. They’re all on my reading list; maybe they should have a place on yours too.

Elvis Costello, born Declan McManus, was the son of a crooner and followed his father into the music world, just following his own punk/rock path.  However, musical boundaries don’t exist for Elvis, and he has been influenced by and collaborated with artists from every genre, from George Jones and Loretta Lynn to Aretha Franklin and The Clash. He’s known for his complex and meaningful songwriting.  Turns out, he proves in Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink that he can write prose as well. I was lucky enough to attend a book talk/performance in Atlanta, and the stories he told were great.

Tom Jones’ autobiography, Over the Top and Back, relates the story  of his Welsh upbringing and his unlikely rise to international superstar and sex symbol.  In his career spanning more than six decades, he has also crossed boundaries, performing in rock, blues, country, and gospel among others.  At 75 years old, he’s still a phenomenal artist.

Chrissie Hynde is one of the leading ladies of rock and roll.  She is the quintessential rock chick. Whether as a solo artist or as the front woman of The Pretenders, she’s rocked for forty years.  Reckless: My Life as a Pretender covers that career, in which a girl from Akron Ohio became a major player in the London rock scene.

If Chrissie Hynde is the illustration of the word “rock” in the dictionary, Grace Jones’ word would be “wild.”  Model, actress, disco queen, rocker, pop star, Grace Jones doesn’t follow anybody’s rules, even her own, since the title of her autobiography is I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.  She is definitely an iconoclast, and her book promises to be a wild read.

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