“Writing about architecture is like dancing to music.”



Last summer I gushed over the unbridled majesty of a well-written music biography. The purpose of the essay was to highlight the elements of a compelling rock biography and to point out some of the better examples in the last twenty years. I confess that I also enjoyed writing about the mud shark incident.

In the wake of that article, the world has seen two seismic events- first, a team of US Navy SEALS located Osama Bin Laden and shot him in the face; secondly, there has been an explosion of music-related biographies hitting the shelves. I’m not claiming that a link exists between my column and either of those two events, but in your private moments, do the math.

There has been a conspicuous spike in the public’s notice of rock bios in 2011. Certainly the commercial success of Keith Richard’s biography, Life (which I found a most excellent read) has renewed publishing’s interest in rock properties, resulting in the expansive promotion of such titles. In fact, two weeks ago I killed some time in a bookstore in Boston’s Logan Airport and found the following tower of books saucily showcased as “First Class Reads.”



In this display of aggressively-promoted new releases there are five music biographies (Nikki Sixx, Keith Richards, Steven Tyler, Ice-T and Prodigy). And this photo shows only one side of the display- the table contained several other rock bios. That a busy airport bookstore is devoting 25-30% of premium shelf space to junkie rockers and thugged-out rappers speaks volumes of book-buying trends.

Consumers are heeding the call and scooping up rock biographies as never before, causing some industry observers to brazenly postulate that these very books are saving publishing. With the influx of new titles, the inevitable debates and discussions are raging over which rock like hurricanes and which are more appropriately devoted to stabilizing wobbly furniture.

I’ve been consuming my fair share and it’s time to highlight a few of my favorites for those of you compiling your summer reading lists. I picked up two of these from the very table in the picture. Unsurprisingly, I also have suffered through quite a few rock books that made me pause and weep for the poor tree that gave its life for such grotesque monuments to self-service. Rather than waste your time scaring you away from such books, of which you were likely unaware, I’m focusing on titles that I found particularly well-done or interesting enough to let you make the call.

Let’s roll.

Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica

by Mick Wall

[St. Martin’s Press, 2011]

In my recent interview with author Mick Wall, he discussed his upcoming Metallica biography, clarifying that his account was told from the perspective of a non-fan. This was not to say that Wall dislikes the members of Metallica (quite the contrary) or that he has any aversion to their music, but simply that he is too old and too seasoned to let his account of a band be corrupted by an allegiance to their music, which has spoiled many a good biography. Wall offered a few teasers in the interview but held back on the more succulent revelations. Having finished the book, I will attest that it delivers in virtually every category that distinguishes a great rock biography from the pretenders.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a reluctant Metallica fan. I came to Metallica late in the game, turning on to them with the Black album and then working my way backwards. While I love the power of the rhythms and the complex melodies within their dual guitar attack, the band’s leaders (vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich) have always struck me as self-satisfied egomaniacs struggling with a collective inferiority complex. They tirelessly bleat over how hard it is to do what they do, how vastly they’ve influenced hard rock and the tremendous extent of commercial success they earned with precious little commercial airplay. These claims are all true, but it is entirely unnecessary to constantly point them out.

Enter Night chronicles a band that has sold an estimated 100 million albums over the course of 25 years, all the while surviving death, drug abuse, rehab, legal battles and some hellaciously embarrassing public relations nightmares. There is no shortage of ground to cover and Wall deftly guides the reader through the band’s history without sensationalizing any of it. The author’s keen and often dry observations are buttressed by accounts from the band members themselves, as well as a comprehensive cast of colleagues, associates, friends and detractors.

The prose is jammed with engrossing stories and sub-plots that read quickly with one flowing easily into the next. Critical supporting details and the massive revelations that Wall promised are delivered in spades. He discloses the band’s plans to fire founder and drummer Lars Ulrich, leading up to the death of bassist Cliff Burton, presenting ample witness accounts and insider testimony in support of the story, which has been relatively unexplored until now. Of Burton’s death, he exposes both the cold, business-driven face of the band contrasted with the profound emotional toll it has exacted from the members through the present day.  Guitarist Kirk Hammett recently shared “I still think about [Cliff] every day. Something he said, something he did, just… something.” Far from a hatchet job, Wall shows the members of Metallica to be essentially decent guys who struggle to balance their creativity with their fears, character defects and the corrosive properties of rock stardom.

The discussion of the Rick Rubin-produced Death Magnetic album (2008) provides a discerning account of both the musicianship and recording techniques employed- new approaches that ultimately convinced a skeptical fan base that the band could still ride the lightning. There is ample Dave Mustaine-related material in Enter Night, confirming some of Mustaine’s accounts while offering new perspectives on others. Wall lays out the evidence he has gathered, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions rather than beating them over the head with his own.

Some dynamite photographs are included and as with his other books, the “Notes and Sources” is remarkable in its depth and organization.

Despite Wall’s personal relationships with the band, the book is unsparingly objective. Metallica fans should be satisfied by his evenhanded treatment, not to mention the wealth of information presented. As usual, Wall’s encyclopedic research and unparalleled eye for detail leave no aspect of the band’s history unexamined- this is the most comprehensive, current and readable account of Metallica available. Non-fans might have a hard time keeping up with the rotating personnel and heavy metal iconography, but even casual fans will find this a relentlessly captivating page-turner.


My Infamous Life: The Autobiography of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy

by Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, with Laura Checkoway

[Touchstone, 2011]

This was a fascinating read, primarily because I knew so little about the hip hop scene, its history and its key players. In fact, when I come across hip hop stories or reviews in my magazines, I almost always skip over them. Too much drama, too many goofy nicknames.

But My Infamous Life seemed to be popping up everywhere- not just bookstores I visited, but some of my favorite online book reviewers were covering it. When I saw it in the airport bookstore, I pulled the trigger and I’m happy that I did.

Certainly with any autobiography, events are retold through the bias of the author, regardless of any attempts at objectivity. With My Infamous Life, Prodigy includes such a vast trove of colorful details of the people, the parties and the attitudes within the scene that his own bias becomes irrelevant- there is so much ground-level detail that the reader walks away with a deep understanding of hip hop culture, from the artists all the way up to the senior executives. While Prodigy’s story compels on many levels, this book is a veritable primer on the second-wave rap resurgence in the 90s and all the conflicts, headlines, deaths, and triumphs that resulted.

The story reads as if it were dictated by Prodigy, one half of the multi-platinum hip hop duo Mobb Deep (along with partner Havoc). Wuthering Heights, this is not. It rolls with conversational slang, ample profanity and the profligate use of the word “Nigga.” This colloquial technique was effective in Timothy White’s Bob Marley bio, Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, and it works well here. Rather than feeling gratuitous, the slang reveals important nuances that serve a deeper understanding of the culture within the story. At times it reads like a hip hop tell-all, with plenty of salacious revelations, mainly about other rappers such as Saigon, Jay-Z and 50 Cent. But Prodigy is not afraid to shine the light on his own misdeeds, which is why I ultimately enjoyed this book.

Take away the testosterone-fueled boastfulness and some of the more one-sided accounts of feuds with other rappers and you have a gripping story. Prodigy was born to a member of the chart-topping girl group The Crystals (“And Then He Kissed Me”) and he has suffered from the painful and incurable Sickle-Cell Disease his entire life, which created torturous physical and emotional barriers that he had to overcome before he wrote his first lyric. His accounts of his roles in fights, shoot outs, drugs and other sordid crimes are often told as cautionary tales distilled into wisdom through the benefit of hindsight. Regarding other events, his lack of remorse is audacious, such as his matter-of-fact account of hiding a handgun for someone who had just robbed and killed a man for a pair of Walkman speakers.

This guileless approach to the story is its greatest success- though not entirely objective, it is clear that Prodigy believes every word of this book. Some of his views are both unsettling and surreal. For example, he discusses witnessing a UFO outside of his house (when his wife Kiki screams “Nigga, go check on the kids!” a freaked-out Prodigy declines, saying “You go!”), which he uses as a springboard for presenting his theory on aliens, “black people’s ancient ancestors,” and the “foolish” mistake of “crossbreeding with other races” (p. 274). I’m not giving anything away by noting that the book ends with Prodigy going to jail for a three year stint stemming from weapons charges (he swears he was set up), where much of this book was written.

His fans will gobble this book up and his detractors will disregard it. But in the middle there is a compelling story of one of the most mercurial figures to emerge from the mid-90s rap explosion. Whether you subscribe to his views or not, it is impossible not to be engaged by his charisma, his chilling candor and his eye-popping insights into the underbelly of hip hop.


ICE: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption- from South Central to Hollywood

by Ice-T and Douglas Century

[One World, 2011]

My other airport bookstore purchase, Ice-T’s memoir, was a thoroughly enjoyable palate-cleanser, although at a modest 240 pages, it is far too brief to adequately cover his storied life. Ice was orphaned at age twelve and tossed into the jungle of Los Angeles’ street gangs before a four year stint in the army. He then dove with both feet into a life of violent crime before cementing his fame as a groundbreaking West Coast rapper. Amazingly, he parlayed his criminal-turned-rapper persona into a successful acting career in both movies and television. With so much fodder, 240 pages feels sort of light.

Nonetheless, this book is in many ways what Prodigy’s autobiography is not- it is free of (too much) over-the-top boastfulness and told in a warm and engaging first person narrative (though like Prodigy, Ice doesn’t cheat anyone on the slang or N-bombs). While Ice is most certainly pulling punches, he also avoids grandiose warranties as to his own importance and his relevance in popular culture. The account comes from a man who has comes to terms with a controversial past and who is comfortable in his own thick skin. Ice reduces his experiences to the key facts, resultant consequences, and what he learned from it. For me, that’s the essence of a great story. Still, I would have loved more insight into some of his more controversial experiences, such as his thrash metal band Body Count and their law enforcement-baiting song “Cop Killer.”

Ice brings unwavering self-awareness to his tale and accepts accountability for and reactions to many of his choices. His discussions of his criminal practices are thrilling- from the mechanics of jewelry store smash-and-grabs to his stint as a pimp (“A pimp’s got three feet: Two on the ground, and one in your ass”), Ice describes the philosophies and methods of the various crimes with the wisdom of a guy who has been there, done that, and paid some dues along the way. As he admits, these exploits could have been an entire book unto itself, but he chooses to offer a select few examples and move on to the next chapter. Still, where other rappers showcase their thuggish behavior as a vehicle for earning respect, Ice is clearly happy to have left the gang-banging life behind him.

I was not prepared for the deluge of incisive wisdom and head-shakingly astute observations contained in these pages. Whether he’s talking about Sharon Osbourne (“I don’t think any guy can look at Sharon and not respect her hustle”) or the difference between nerds and geeks (“A nerd talks about it. A geek can actually do it”), his perceptions are canny and often quite funny. His publisher obviously felt the same way because the book culls his best bits of wisdom as an appendix.

Unlike Prodigy’s bio, Ice-T’s autobiography will most certainly earn him new fans and likely the respect of many who read this book. Delivered with insight, sincerity and just the right dose of humor this is a great beach read. While the story could have benefited from a deeper exploration of his more depraved misdeeds, there are plenty of gripping stories, wild revelations and famous names to keep readers thoroughly entertained while not feeling like they’re being hustled.


Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal

by Eddie Trunk

[Abrams, 2011]

If you love heavy metal or would like to delight someone who does, pick this book up, stat. Neither a biography nor a history, this is the ultimate music reference manual for all things heavy. With a forward by Rob Halford (Judas Priest), the book contains 35 profiles of some of the most essential bands in hard rock. As with any rock list, debates will rage over the propriety of excluding some acts (Blue Cheer) while including some rather um… “adventurous” choices (Billy Squier). No matter, this is not so much a definitive list of the most important bands in rock and roll as a love letter to the music and the artists who create it.

Trunk is a fan among fans, himself famous for hosting VH1 Classic’s wildly popular talk show, “That Metal Show,” which features roundtable discussions with rock’s most colorful and influential artists. Whereas Mick Wall (above) presents his book from an objective journalistic perspective, Trunk challenges you to find a bigger fan than he. You probably won’t.

The template for each band profile is the same- there is a high level overview of the artist along with  its “Classic Lineup” (the definitive members of the band), as well as “Key Additional Members” (relevant personnel who have passed through the band). For music geeks, this feature alone could fuel tireless debate, which is half of the fun of a book like this.

Trunk also includes each band’s discography, a “Did You Know?” sidebar for unusual facts and his personal ultimate playlist for each band. This too is fodder for robust debate and it serves as a nice entree into the music of bands with which the reader might not be familiar.

He tells each band’s story in a few pages with ample editorial insight, including his own experiences as either a young fan of the band or interacting with the musicians in a professional capacity. Trunk does a nice job of balancing the objective stories of the artists with his own experiences. For example, he’ll tell you that Motley Crue reunited in 2005 and then discuss an interview he did with the band at that time, the questions he asked and what the band was like during the exchange.

The danger of a book like this is walking the line between gratuitous name dropping and delivering entertaining firsthand accounts of his experiences. Thankfully, he does this well. His stories come off as genuine rather than self-serving. Remember, this isn’t just by a fan- it’s for fans and he is sincerely excited to share these experiences with metal maniacs across the globe.

And because Trunk is, above all, a fan, the dirt he does include largely serves to enhance the legend of the artist, rather than expose darker behaviors behind-the-scenes. He doesn’t sully any reputations or call anyone out for their sins.  But that’s not why you’d buy this book in the first place. If you really want the dirt, there are plenty of unauthorized biographies on all the bad boys of music. Trunk’s book is an entertaining one-stop shop for the metalhead in the house- jammed with pictures, lively stories, unusual facts, and mountains of lists for late night debate. Keep your online music service handy while reading this book- you’ll be throwing up the horns and turning it up to eleven before you reach Black Sabbath.

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JOE DALY writes for a number of publications, including the UK's Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazines, Outburn, Bass Guitar Magazine and several other print and online outlets. He is the music and cultural observer for Chuck Palahniuk's LitReactor site and his works have been published in several languages. When he is not drafting wild-eyed manifestos, Joe enjoys life in San Diego's groovy North County, teaching music journalism, doing yoga, running, playing guitar and spending tireless hours in deep and meaningful conversations with his beloved dogs, Cabo and Lola. You can check out his rants at http://joedaly.net and follow him on Twitter: @JoeD_SanDiego

78 responses to “Read You Like a Hurricane: New Music Biographies- May, 2011”

  1. Great round-up JD! I’m psyched about Enter Night. Glad to hear it’s worth the read.

    • Joe Daly says:


      Enter Night was great. I had a tough time putting it down. Reading about young Cliff Burton, his supportive parents, hippy-ish sensibilities and ocean-deep understanding of music theory was particularly enjoyable. Hope you dig it- let a brother know what you think!

  2. Awesome. Especially since I will never read any of these books. You’ve done it for me! And I feel the more enlightened because of it. I did read Keef’s Life this year, so I’m not entirely out of the bio loop. I think if I did pick up one of these books it would be Ice T’s, if for no other reason than that about 10 years ago he lent his name to an imprint that reissued most of Iceberg Slim’s books. Slim is one of my all-time favorite authors, and criminally under-appreciated in the literary world. He’s the Bukowski of pimps, and a brilliant prose stylist. I wonder if Ice T mentions this in his book? Further, I imagine that’s where he appropriated the “Ice” name?

    Anyway, cool roundup of an oft condescended to genre.

    • Joe Daly says:

      That’s what I’m here for, man. I’ll also watch TV and movies for you, for a modest and entirely-appropriate fee.

      You’ll be happy to know that Tracey Marrow, aka “Ice-T,” did in fact take his name from pimp-turned-author Iceberg Slim.

      While I’m skeptical that rock bios are saving publishing, I do agree that they are too-easily written off as fluff or nerdy niche pieces when many of them stand alone as top-flight nonfiction.

      • Can you watch Fast Five and Thor for me as well? Maybe twice each? I will send you nine dollars and an autograph of Richard Anderson, who was TV’s Oscar Goldman, the Ray Banned fixer behind the Six Million Dollar Man’s various exploits.

        Thank you, also, for not attributing the “writing about music is like….” quote, which everyone from Truman Capote to Tom Waits has been given credit for, even though it was probably Richard Hell’s guitar tech who first said it while fluffing a groupie.

        • Joe Daly says:

          For Richard Anderson’s autograph, I’ll also throw in a free viewing of “Forks Over Knives” and two episodes of “Glee.”

          Glad you caught the quote thing. Amazing that people will still swear it originated from Monk, Costello, and others. I figured, why not just make up my own and see who runs with it?

  3. Greg Olear says:

    This is great, Joe. My only knowledge of Mobb Deep derives from “Hit ‘Em Up,” in which ‘Pac mentions the sickle-cell anemia. Might be good to brush up on the other side of things…

    • Joe Daly says:

      Thanks, Greg. I looked forward to Prodigy’s more than Ice-T’s because I knew zero about him. Your awareness of “Hit ‘Em Up” eclipsed anything I knew about him before the book. Maybe that’s why I ended up digging in- I went in with a tabula rasa and no expectations. A rare, but winning attitude when picking up a new book.

      Rock on, gangsta.

  4. Art Edwards says:

    “This was not to say that Wall dislikes the members of Metallica (quite the contrary) or that he has any aversion to their music, but simply that he is too old and too seasoned to let his account of a band be corrupted by an allegiance to their music, which has spoiled many a good biography.”

    That’s what keeps me away from so many rock bios. It has to be written by someone who is not part of the choir. I’ve always believed that the real stories of rock are the ones that cut against the standard VH1 take of ascension, egos, drug abuse, break-up, whatever. There’s so much deep and interesting material in any of these arena acts, but if the band has any control of it, it become propaganda and, worse, boring.

    Thanks for the post, Joe. You’re doing us a service.

    • Joe Daly says:

      but if the band has any control of it, it become propaganda and, worse, boring.

      Art, this is dead on. Even one-sided autobiographies can be mildly redeemed if the author hits controversy square on, or sheds new light on the story. But the far greater sin is where the artist uses the book as a milquetoast vehicle for auto-fellatio. When it’s clear that’s the direction of the bio, I generally abandon ship. Life is too short to waste on boring biographies. Thx for the comment. Now we know that when your rock bio comes out, we can dive in knowing that you already know the score!

  5. gloria says:

    Goddam, you write a great book review. Seriously. Your attention to research, detail, and analysis and your ability to distill this information into a succinct, readable, and compelling mini-story is rare. Huge kudos, man.

    I’m fascinated to read these books. Yes, yes, especially Enter Night, but perhaps even the Prodigy one which, like you, I would never have picked up.

    Thanks for this, Joe Daly! Rock on, sir.

    • gloria says:

      Oh, yeah – and thanks for the heads up on the Ice T book. I’ve loved that guy going way, way back. I’m not shocked at all that his book is so full of insights and wisdom. He’s always struck me that way.

      • Joe Daly says:

        His appendix of wisdom at the end of the book is great! Another gem:

        “Never confuse popularity with respect.”


        “You don’t need a yacht- you just need a friend with a yacht!”

    • Joe Daly says:

      Thanks, G! I enjoyed writing these reviews. I sort of struggled with the question of inserting myself into the dialogue, which I normally don’t like. But in this case I felt like adding some context might be appropriate- clarifying that I’m not a hip hop fan might be helpful for others in the same boat. I think that just as it helps to know whether you’re getting a one or multi-sided story in a bio, it also helps to know where your reviewer is coming from with respect to the material.

      Glad you dug the reviews- let me know what you think of the reads.

  6. Irene Zion says:


    Usually am enraptured by your writing.
    I say “usually” because I don’t know any of these music people except for “Ice-T” who I’m pretty sure is an actor on one of the Law and Order shows. I find it hard to believe he sings, although he has a very odd name for an actor, I’ll give you that. I have to emphasize, though, that I’ve seen a good many of the shows and he has never sung a note. Just saying.

  7. Dana says:

    “Writing about architecture is like dancing to music.”


    HA! I see what you did there. Also, your mud shark link is hilarious.
    I have to stop reading your reviews though, because they remind me of previous recommendations I haven’t gotten to yet and make me want to pick up even more. I’ll definitely be getting the Metallica and Ice-T bios, so thanks for your always terrific and succinct reviews. You’re the man, man.
    (But not in a bad way.)

    • Joe Daly says:

      I was wondering who might catch that. Yeah, if you can’t quote ’em, make ’em up!

      The mud shark story, though murky and full of rumor and innuendo, is still fun to tell. Unless you were the groupie or the mud shark. Then it probably feels a little tasteless.

      Thank you for clarifying your comment about the man. I was ready to get all salty.

      Let me know your take on those bios. Rock and roll book club!

  8. jmblaine says:

    I’m all about the Eddie Trunk book
    & still waiting for some body to
    get a book about Kiss right.

    I would’ve thought there would
    be more books that got the tone right-
    When I read Fargo Rock City I was really excited
    & then it seemed like Klosterman fell into
    a hipster writing status or something.
    Not that I don’t like all his books
    but on that first one this guy was
    writing in-depth from a fans point of
    view about Vinnie Vincent Albums!
    I mean, that’s what I’m all about.

    Think about this:
    A Klosterman/Trunk book.

    Trunk gets a little stogy
    Klosterman needs to talk more
    about Krokus.

    • Joe Daly says:

      I researched Gene Simmons for another
      piece that I was doing for another column
      and was not surprised to find that he has
      published quite a few books about KISS.
      I don’t know if I’d trust him to be
      even 30% objective though.

      I dig Klosterman and have read
      all of his books.
      I enjoy when he writes non-music
      stuff because it showcases his wit as
      more than just a jaded rock scribe.

      Klosterman on Krokus would rock like
      Nashville Pussy.
      Have I ever shared with you how
      much I love Nashville Pussy?
      “A lot” doesn’t come close.

  9. James D. Irwin says:

    I enjoyed reading this much more than I would have enjoyed reading any of those books.

    I think I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of rock biographies. I am meaning to read Keith’s autobiography though. I’m sure that’ll be more entertaining than the average bio.

    You mentioned something in the review of the Metallica book about Mick Wall being an older non-fan. I think that’s the problem— these books are usually written by young sycophants or the band member when he’s a doddering old man with a faded memory and self-inflated sense of self-importance.

    It’s not just music bios to be fair. I’ve just read Diego Maradona’s autobiography in which he largely takes credit for everything that happened in football between 1978-1994. It’s amusing, but only for a little while…

    • Joe Daly says:


      You hit the nail on the head about the hazy memories retrieved from the drug-addled remains of a brain from a delusional former rock star- they aren’t just unreliable, they’re often presented through the hazy lenses of fear and ego. Maybe that’s the best reason for a person of note to release a bio in their prime- sure, there may be more to come, but at least you’re catching the person while they’re still in the thick of it. Biased or not, it would at least be more interesting.

      So you’re saying that Maradona’s bio is a no-go? Does he at least shed any interesting perspective on the Hand of God?

      I promised myself I wouldn’t talk football for awhile, given the results of this past weekend. But if you want to answer the above question, I’m interested. But only in that.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        Oh no, for the most part Maradona’s book is fascinating. It gets a bit obnoxious at times, but a lot of it is actually quite well written and usually very interesting. You end up understanding him more, and having a bit more sympathy for him.

        It made me quite glad that I’m unlikely to become the best player in the world…

        • Joe Daly says:

          It made me quite glad that I’m unlikely to become the best player in the world…

          I dunno man, you’re still young and you’ve got a lot of living to do. I see no reason why you don’t have an excellent shot at becoming the best football player in the world someday. I’d by the book and the DVD.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          most players get signed up when they’re in their teens. It happened to a guy at my school, I think. Even some of the guys I play with for fun are insanely good… but still not good enough.

          I’m a decent enough player though. A touch too selfish. My problem is if i take it past more than two players there’s no chance I’m going to pass… I’m going all the way at that stage… Two weeks ago we were playing in the park and I scored not one, but two goals like Maradona’s second against England in ’86.

          Othertimes I can’t score in an open goal.

          I remember being ten and desperately wanting to be a professional player. Now I’m older I’m glad I wasn’t good enough… I mean the money would be fantastic, but the pressure? The constant training?

          Writing is more fun, and probably more satisfying when it comes to the end…

        • James D. Irwin says:

          less risk of injury too— in the past year two of my best friends have suffered broken arms and torn acls…

        • Joe Daly says:

          I mean the money would be fantastic, but the pressure? The constant training?

          You mean like with stand-up comedy?

          I still think you could revolutionize the EPL. You will never convince me otherwise.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Far less pressure in comedy, at least at this level (i.e. bottom rung of the ladder) and you are, to an extent, master of your own work schedule.

          And of course you can keep trying until you’re into your thirties before giving up, whereas if you haven’t be signed by a club by the age of about 16 your chances of making it professional are about zero. Even if you are signed the chance of making it into a long career are slim. Some guy do work their way up though. Very few.

          The main difference I suppose is that I’m better at writing than I am at sport.

          Having said that I did have a good game as goalkeeper in the park today. Have you seen Gordon Banks save against Pele? I made a save like that, only more difficult.

        • Joe Daly says:

          I imagine that there are certain comforts that come with being relatively new at something- specifically, low expectations. Still, where your purpose is to entertain those who can’t, be it sports or stand up, the pressure is pretty intense. I have to believe that the butterflies you felt during your first gig at stand up would not have been a whole lot less intense than an athlete taking the field on the big stage for the first time. At the core of both situations, your ego and self esteem are on the line. Granted the stakes with the latter are bigger and further fetching, but I don’t think that makes the anxiety in the former any less valid.

          I heard about that save that you made at the park the other day. The stations here were covering it. It’s being treated like the Wilt Chamberlain 100 point game- there’s no footage of it, only eyewitness testimony passed around secondhand. Still, we believe.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          With most stand up you can drink first to calm nerves…


  10. pixy says:

    dear joe daly:

    why do you keep writng these blisteringly awesome reviews of book that use the word “buttressed”? i’m so behind on reading that i don’t even know where to start. especially considering i’ve NEVER read a rock bio before.
    i’m taking a “history of rock” class online this summer, but i don’t think that’ll do me.

    what do you recommend for the first-time rock bio reader?



    • Joe Daly says:


      Thanks for your titillating comment. As you know, I enjoy words that contain “tit,” even when I need to stretch their propriety within my comment.

      My recommendation to you is “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” the Jim Morrison bio. Whether or not you’re a Doors fan is irrelevant. It is well-written, furiously compelling and objective enough that you’ll know when you’re getting straight scoop and when one of the subjects (Ray Manzarek) is talking scheisse. It cannot help but confront the gargantuan drug and alcohol abuse issues that brought Jim to his knees, but it also dissects his love of poetry, philosophy and writing in such a way that you find yourself relating to him on both an intellectual and creative level.

      I don’t know if it’s been updated with the revelations surrounding his death that came out a few years ago. I doubt it has, because one of the authors is dead (I believe). But it’s a savage read. Let me know what you thinkie.

      • pixy says:

        you know, it doesn’t surprise me that manzarek would talk shite, he always struck me as the bill gates/steve jobs type in the band: the brains, but grumpy (understatement) when he doesn’t get his way.

        and for your love of the word “tit” i think i may have to get you a bird clock wherein the 5 o’clock bird is the tufted titmouse so you can think of “tit” and drinking all at the same time.

        • Joe Daly says:

          The titmouse!

          Did you know that the production company that produces Metalocalypse is Titmouse? Very interesting.

          I remember seeing one interview with Manzarek where he tries to propagate the myth that Jim is still alive somewhere, hiding out. “Maybe he’s dead… but maybe he’s not.”

          Someone needs to pick up an “I’m a Horse’s Ass” button for Ray. Great keyboardist but lousy PR guy.

        • pixy says:

          i did know that about metalocalypse! i always wondered if they, too, had a titmouse clock. ours was at the startup i worked at about 12 years ago for a very weird british dude (he insisted that everyone call him G.O.A.T. or billy {goat} even though his name was colin). we were in his garage. and 5 was tufted titmouse time and that’s when the booze would come out. except on fridays, where it would come out at noon: the thrush.

          manzarek strikes me as someone who will never be satisfied. poor dude.

        • Joe Daly says:

          Titmouse time is the most excellent colloquialism for happy hour that I’ve ever heard. Keep the fires burning, Pixy.

          I’m probably too hard on Manzarek. He’s a super creative guy- I think that he probably wanted more credit/fame for his contributions to the Doors and it all got eclipsed by Jim’s brilliance and bad behavior.

          Densmore is still my favorite Door.

        • pixy says:

          oh no joe, don’t think i am judging manzarek off of your thoughts on him, that’s the impression i get about him in general.
          maybe its that kyle maclachlan played him as such in the doors movie and that was the last time i really delved deeply into doors stuff?

          and i like krieger, but only because frank whaley played him in the movie and i will always think of archie in field of dreams when i see frank whaley. so it’s “archie’s playing krieger! i wanna hug the cute and sweet right outta him!”

          i need to stop watching movies.

        • Joe Daly says:

          Wow- I forgot about that move. Val seemed pretty dead on, eh?

          Frank Whaley was surprisingly good in the Doors movie. But I don’t think he will ever reach the heights of radness that he saw in Swimming With Sharks. He was ti-fucking-tanic in that movie.

  11. I really enjoyed this, Joe. I am envious of that music library you keep in your head. I’m lucky if I can name the title and the artist of a song I have heard a zillion times. I was in the car with a bunch of teenagers the other day and one of the girls asked me if I was going to read the book the old man from American Idol wrote. It took me several minutes to realize she meant Steven Tyler.

    • Dana says:

      hahah! Oh my.


    • Joe Daly says:


      That made my day. It’s hilarious and somewhat satisfying that for a new generation of music fans, Steven Tyler will be known as simply the old judge on American Idol. My girlfriend’s son saw him on the cover of People a couple weeks ago and asked in total seriousness, “Is that a man or a lady?” Cue that ol’ familiar song…

      Thanks for the read, Robin- please please please share any and all other observations on aging musicians from these sassy teenagers. There’s a column idea in there somewhere.

  12. Becky Palapala says:


    I may actually read the Metallica one.

    The black album was instrumental in bridging the gap between the middle school radio/rap/hip-hop/pop musical life I had begun to embark on and the high school grunge/alternative path I ended up. If it weren’t for a bass-playing first boyfriend, a timely introduction to marijuana, and the black album, I don’t know if I could have ever accepted Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

    I know for Metallica die-hards, the black album signifies the beginning of the band’s decline, but everything else they did seemed before my time, the stuff of people’s older brothers.

    I refuse to be ashamed of how much I love that album.

    I, too, cannot cope with the egos. Lars Ulrich especially. Multi-millionaire crybaby and he just loves to TALK. [insert sound of chicken clucking here]

    The. Worst.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Would like to add that this song, especially, makes me nostalgic in a very manic way–like I want to defect from respectable adult life and start going out in public dressed as my 15 year-old self.

      Shave the sides of my head like Jason Newstad.

      Run around sticking out my tongue and showing total strangers my little black-nail-polished middle finger, pretending to myself that I’m terrifying the conformist straights.

      I ask no one, bitches. To the game you stay a slave. YEAH! What he said!


    • Joe Daly says:

      Well fucking said.

      For a long time I felt self-conscious about professing my love for the Black album, for fear of some angry Metallica fan running up and accusing me of being a sell out (I wasn’t all that logical during those years [probably not much more now, either]). But I love Mick Wall’s take on that album- yeah, they could have done what Slayer did and keep doing the same thing that they were doing so well. Or, they could have brought in a new producer and asked him to make something big and heavy and that could be played on the radio once in awhile. No shame there, in my opinion. So they made something new, it sounds fucking great, and it became a jumping off point for another 15 years of great music.

      Have you seen the movie Some Kind of Monster? Whether or not you dig Metallica, it’s a pretty interesting flick. My favorite part (to loathe), is watching Lars drunkenly giggle as he watches his art collection being sold for millions of dollars. It says so much, but then, so does Lars.

      That being said, I’ve heard many people call him out for being a below-average drummer. I know I’m exposing some naivete here, but I think he sounds just fine (when he’s drumming).

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I don’t know boo about his relative talent. I mean, I can tell a complicated drum piece from a more basic one, but it’s not as if perfectly excellent drummers never play a basic drum piece.

        All I know is that I find him personally repugnant. Him and his unreasonable forehead. But what does he care? He’s rich, Bitch!

  13. My bookshelves are stacked with mostly unread music biographies. Every year my mum buys me at least two of them, and then I just read something else instead. I’m not really into biographies of any sort (except Allen Ginsberg by Barry Miles). Having said that, I adored the first three quarters of Keef’s Life. Great read.

    Like you, Metallica are a reluctant passion for me. I love their music but they came across as total dicks. I would not like to meet them. They do make for interesting reading, though.

    • Joe Daly says:

      So out of the ones you have read, what’s your fave?

      I dug Keef’s as well. You get the sense that he’s really got a passion for music that almost makes him seem as much of a fan as a star himself. Cool read, but yeah, loooooong.

      • Biographies I’ve enjoyed: Jack’s Book by Barry Gifford because it was so groundbreaking. I later met him and it’s one of the few times I actually asked for someone to sign something. I’m generally not an autograph guy. Also loved Outlaw Journalist by William McKeen. I was lucky enough to be given one of his author’s copies well before publication, and I’ve carried it with me through most of Asia, reading and rereading. And, of course, there’s Allen Ginsberg by Barry Miles which is -and I can’t think of better words than to simply quote the Guardian’s rave review- scholarly but much fun.

        Keef’s book was great but once they got into the eighties I think it lost its steam and became fairly random, so it took me a long, long time to get it finished. He certainly did come across as a big fan of music (especially his own) but also seemed like a bit of an asshole when he talked about always carrying a knife or a gun, and slipping into macho talk every now and then.

        • Joe Daly says:

          Yeah, true about the whole rogue personality thing with Keef. But for me the slow part was the beginning- I thought that the book devoted far too much tree to Keef running around post WWII London, playing with his wee friends.

          Beat-wise, and I don’t know if this even qualifies, I’ll never forget reading Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie. That changed so much for me and as I type this, I realize I haven’t really acknowledged, to myself or others, how much HST has influenced my outlook on writing. Weird. I need to go back to that.

        • I think I enjoyed the childhood bits more so than the later years. I felt he wrote more vividly and it was strung together a bit better. At the end it was like: “One story. Another unconnected story. The true version of something you heard about in the tabloids. Another story.” Very jumpy and strung together.

          Better than Sex is a fairly underrated book. Love the parts about Clinton vacuuming up the fries, although evidently the story behind that meeting was quite depressing in reality. I have a nice hardback copy of it with all the weird page designs.

  14. Richard Cox says:

    The Mick Wall book intrigues me. I had nothing to say about Metallica until I saw that Classic Albums episode. Now I’m totally hooked. I’ve been listening to them fairly regularly as of late.

    For the rest, I’ll take your word for it. You, sir, are the master

    Somewhat off the subject, have we discussed the “When You’re Strange” Doors doc? Good stuff.

    • Joe Daly says:

      If you ever get a chance to see the “Some Kind of Monster” doc, I think you’ll find it pretty interesting. I watched it with a buddy who’s not much of a metalhead at all, and he got way into it. Whether it’s exposing their strengths or their flaws, it makes for interesting viewing.

      That Doors doc was pretty good, huh? I wasn’t sure I’d like it with the theatrical bits scattered through it all, but man, it turned out to be pretty well done. Were you a fan going into it?

      • Zara Potts says:

        I can totally attest to that. I hate metal, but I loved ‘Some Kind of Monster.’ In fact, Simon and I were talking about it today!

  15. Great stuff, Joe. I feel like I burned myself out on rock bios just a few years before the genre entered its golden age.

    Have you ever read any of the Nelson George essays on Hip Hop? Some of his stuff is insanely brilliant. “Gangstas–Real and Unreal” made me give much respect to Ice-T (and Iceberg Slim).

    • Joe Daly says:

      Thanks, Tyler. I’ve never read any of those essays on hip hop but I’ll def check out the one you mention.

      Oddly, your name came up this afternoon as I was pounding out some fresh powder at a coffee shop in Del Mar. An old associate of yours- Jen D., stopped to chat about books and TNB and such, and she asked if I had read any of your stuff and if not, what might be wrong with me. I mentioned that I enjoyed your essays here and she insisted that I check out your book, stating that the way that you write about music would inspire any and all music fans. So yeah- I guess I’m off to get your book and very much looking forward to it.

      • Right on! North County San Diego has become such a literary Mecca. The book won’t be out until Oct., but I’m sure hoping it will appeal to fans of rock nonfiction…

        • Joe Daly says:

          Thanks for the update- I’ll be looking forward to it then. Next time you’re back in this neck of the woods, maybe you can set up a North County reading. I’ll be happy to pass along a rock bio or two that might restore your faith in the genre.

  16. Lorna says:

    “but in your private moments, do the math”

    Uh, in my private moments, the last thing I want to do is math.

    If I recall correctly, the most recent rock biography I read was something on Elvis shortly after his death. I’m not much of a rock biography reader, but if I was, I’d pick up that Metallica book, for sure.

    • Joe Daly says:


      You know, I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read a full on definitive Elvis bio. I’ve read a couple shorter ones- mainly showing off pictures with the story tucked in between. Someday I’ll sit down and take on a proper scholarly assessment of The King.

      In the meantime, if you ever do find yourself hankering for a rock read, that Metallica book is a great read.

  17. Nice breakdown of the breakdown, MPB!

    I haven’t read a lot of music birographies – one notable exception being The Dirt, which was a gift from Zara Potts. I’d like to, I think, and here’s a good primer to get me started. I’d be fascinated by the Metallica and Ice-T bios; definitely two for the list!

    • Joe Daly says:

      Thanks PB-

      The Dirt was one hell of a read, wasn’t it? Neil Strauss did a bang up job with that one. It always surprised me that with the skills he has, he maintains such a focus on his whole bit about strategies to pick up women (http://www.neilstrauss.com/). Hey, whatever floats your boat, but it’s tough reconciling this seasoned, talented author with this other personality.

      That being said, his new book (not about seducing strange women) looks interesting. Might give it a read.

      The Metallica one is fantastic- a very gripping read. The Ice-T one is straight up fun- great for a plane or a day at the pool.

  18. Deanna says:

    First off I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear
    your mind prior to writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Kudos!

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