By Marc Spitz
(Gotham Books, 2011)
In the smoldering wake of Keith Richards’ 2010 autobiography Life, the silence from Mick Jagger’s camp was deafening. In Life, Richards painted an often-scathing portrait of the Rolling Stones frontman, buttressing popular opinions of himself as the lovable ne’er-do-well and Jagger as petulant, cold and vain.
The singer withheld public rebuttal. In fact, it was Richards who reported Jagger’s terse reply, revealing that Mick dismissed the book as “a bit bitchy.” The fact that Jagger’s response issued from Richards only served to reinforce preconceived notions of the two.
Jagger’s defense has finally arrived, penned by formidable rock journalist Marc Spitz, whose punk rock meditations, and in particular his superb biography of David Bowie (Bowie: A Biography), reveal a style that is fast-moving, irreverent and fun as hell.
Spitz brilliantly fronts pop culture’s assessment of Jagger, playfully picking apart notions that Keith is the groovy old soul of the band and Jagger its calculating, business-driven brain. Though promising that Jagger is not “anti-Keith,” Spitz actually implies just the opposite and in doing so, proves that it is nearly impossible to tell the story of the Rolling Stones without choosing sides between the two men.
Jagger bears the daunting task of rebuilding fifty years of public opinion, left largely undisturbed by Jagger himself. As this is not an autobiography, Spitz is forced to tell the story through the eyes of others, drawing his material from previous interviews that Jagger has given, as well as commentary from Jagger’s associates and from Stones classicists like Nick Kent. There are fascinating insights but ultimately, because so many of Jagger’s struggles are already embedded in our cultural consciousness, without a fresh take from the man himself, speculation and hearsay abound.
Discussing musician Gram Parsons’ relationship with the Rolling Stones, Spitz muses that “Mick may have experimented with heroin at this time,” neither confirming nor denying the allegation. Mick might have also had a third nipple made out of bacon, but unsupported, this type of innuendo dilutes rather than propels the story.
Where the band’s legacy is concerned, Spitz excels, unfurling the story of the Rolling Stones in rich, rollicking detail. Heretofore peripheral stories are cleverly spun, such as the Stones’ concert with Guns N’ Roses, with Spitz describing a comical interlude where Mick tampers with Guns’ bassist Duff McKagan as GNR prepare to take the stage, or the wince-inducing blow-by-blow of Jagger’s “dignity-challenged” pursuit of Angelina Jolie.
If you’re looking for a history of the Stones, this is well worth the investment, simply because it is the most chronologically complete. But if it’s a candid tell-all from the man himself that you crave, your wait for the autobiography continues. Perhaps this is the book’s ultimate triumph- by staying clear of the mud-slinging, Jagger keeps the focus on those slinging the mud rather than on himself, a strategy that is both maddening and brilliant.
Aerosmith: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Boston Bad Boys
by Richard Bienstock
The title of this spectacularly-produced volume is misleading because it is so much more than a simple pictorial of Aerosmith, America’s answer to Led Zeppelin. While it has been decades since Aerosmith released anything interesting, let alone relevant, the band’s halcyon days and cringe-worthy decline are brought to stunning light in this title, which is part-coffee table book and part-music biography. Though impractical for airplane travel or even coffee shop reading, Aerosmith makes a stellar addition to anyone’s rock bio library.
Aerosmith unleashes a striking pictorial history of the band, along with compelling prose from Guitar World editor Richard Bienstock, creating a captivating, movie-like experience. The photos leave no era unexamined, with majestic shots of Aerosmith both on and off-stage snapped by iconic photographers like Kevin Estrada. Moreover, there are posters, ticket stubs and band memorabilia that open a dimension of insight far beyond the standard story-with-live-shots format.
Bienstock finds just the right tone to tell Aerosmith’s story without getting snarled in the briar patch of band allegiances. There is also the most comprehensive Aerosmith discography ever assembled, plus entertaining appendices like the section “Advice to Young Bands,” where journalist Phil Sutcliffe interviews guitarist Joe Perry and singer Steven Tyler about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Bienstock presents enough well-researched material to let readers form their own opinions and with material stretching well into 2011, this now stands as the definitive account of Aerosmith. Regardless of your opinion of the band, its colorful history and its recent sonic output, this is an expertly-told and impressively-packaged story of a legendary band’s rise, fall and refusal to die.
by Joel McIver
British hard rock authority McIver continues impress with the meticulously-researched, raucously-told tale of Motörhead, one of heavy metal’s most influential and beloved acts. Covering frontman Lemmy’s days in the 60s, when he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix (whom he describes as “cataclysmically stoned all of the time”), through his dismissal from Hawkwind and the formation of Motörhead, the story moves deftly through the band’s earth-shaking albums straight through to the present day.
Ample quotes from frontman Lemmy lend an entertaining and authoritative air, as he comments on everything from grunge to the Rodney King riots. Lemmy has already told his own story and McIver avoids rehashing what has been well-rendered by the man himself. McIver’s focus is the band Motörhead and all of its members, and his research covers the personnel changes, recording sessions and “lifestyle choices” (McIver’s euphemistic description of wanton amphetamine abuse) with insight and the occasional well-placed editorial.
It is noteworthy that Motörhead count among their fans some of rock’s largest icons. By the end of Overkill, you’ll know why.