The rock book biz

These days rock and roll memoirs seem like reality TV shows in that you’d think everyone’s got one.

The current round of rock biographies comes in no small part from the incredible success of Life, by Keith Richards, which has been on the best-sellers list ever since it came out nearly a year ago. Sammy Hagar’s autobiography was also a recent best-selling success, and perhaps a lot of rockers have been thinking if his book could be a best-seller, so could theirs.

When Richards was ready to set his life to paper, Little Brown outbid everyone at auction, paying $7.3 million for it, though it’s doubtful any other rocker can make that kind of record advance for their books, and have it pay off like Keith has.

Still, next up are autobios of Ace Frehley, Duff from Guns N Roses, Gregg Allman and Pete Townshend just signed book deals, and funny enough, Billy Joel cancelled his book right as it was about to be released, and had to give $2 million back to Harper Collins he’d already been paid to write it.


One publishing exec told TheWrap that a rock biography is “pretty easy to produce, and with an already built-in audience, fairly cost-effective.” And as Neil Strauss, co-author of Motley Crue’s The Dirt, told the site, “We’re in era where fans want something to buy – even though they’re not buying the music anymore.”


But while Strauss added that “rule No. 1 for a good rock book is you have to tell everything,” this may no longer be the case. With so many rock stories we’ve heard it all, and what can anyone put in a book that can shock us anymore? 

What made Keith’s book a success is how it was told, in his voice, his own personal point of view of everything, and not just his life, but how rock and roll really took off and became a business around him. If rock books will continue to be successful, a unique way of telling the story is crucial, otherwise it’s going to be the same story with interchangeable musicians. (You also wonder how many times Gene Simmons and Nikki Sixx will release the same books with different covers.)


Lastly, for whatever it’s worth, here’s some of my all time favorite rock books, which include:


Hammer of the Gods, the first true metal / hard rock tell-all; Hit Men, the All the President’s Men of the music business’ Living With the Dead, a book by the Dead’s road manager that proves that peace and love hippie bands can be crazier and more outrageous than you could ever imagine; Slash, a great autobio by the mad hatter himself that takes a very candid look back; Wonderland Avenue, an insane, true rock n’ roll drug nightmare that’s the real Million Little Pieces; and Shakey, an epic biography of Neil Young that got unprecedented access to his life, no easy feat for any journalist.