Want to read some of the more hair-curling tomes of excess and debauchery in the vast land of rock and roll sagas? Three books stand head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Whether or not you’re a fan of Led Zeppelin, Mötley Crüe, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, these three books are must-reads for the serious seeker of rock’s most engaging yarns.
Hammer of the Gods
Nearly thirty years ago, Stephen Davis opened eyes and ruined reputations with the page-turner Hammer of the Gods, about the members, management, and crew of Led Zeppelin and their penchant for under-aged groupies and over-the-top antics. Here, in between televisions sets crashing to the pavement and rocks stars being wheeled down the halls of the Continental Riot House covered in various foodstuffs from the hotel kitchen, was first revealed the then hotly-denied, now common knowledge “Shark Episode.” Davis also chronicles Jimmy Page’s heroin addiction, a crippling car accident involving Robert Plant and his family that changed the face of Led Zeppelin forever, and the violent mood swings and eventual binge-drinking death of John Bonham. Road manager Richard Cole confirms nearly all of Davis’s claims in 1992’s Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored. But Hammer of the Gods is a much more appealing read. Sometimes, it seems, someone with nothing to lose tells the story with more flash.
Then again, sometimes you need to hear it straight from the people who lived it. In 2001’s The Dirt, Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, and Nikki Sixx, with help from New York Times writer Neil Strauss, leave no stone unturned. In fact, if there’s one question you’ll find yourself asking by the mid-point of this book, it’s, “How did they ever make it through this alive?” Some of the best “dirt” concerns the people who either didn’t or almost didn’t make it out the other side. In an incident as notorious as the Shark Episode, Nikki Sixx was dead of a drug overdose until paramedics revived him with two adrenaline shots to the heart. Mick Mars has battled Ankylosing Spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that can sometimes cause vertebrae in the spine to fuse together, for decades. Vince Neil was charged with manslaughter in the DUI death of his friend, “Razzle” Dingley, drummer for the rock group Hanoi Rocks. The most emotional part of the book chronicles Neil’s daughter Skylar’s losing battle with cancer. And Tommy Lee remembers in detail his jail time for allegedly abusing then-wife Pamela Anderson. Meanwhile, the list of ex-girlfriends and ex-wives reads like a who’s who of Playboy and Baywatch. Former managers, record producers, band mates, and lovers weigh in. Everyone seems to be constantly at each other’s throats, yet Mötley Crüe plays on. In fact, at this writing, the big screen production of The Dirt is set to begin filming in the spring of 2014.
Anthony Kiedis, lead singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, chose Scar Tissue, the name of a popular song off the group’s 1999 Californication album, as the title of his 2004 memoir. Kiedis recounts his no-holds-barred early life, living with his father in Hollywood and making it as a successful child actor, meanwhile learning the ins and outs of sex and drugs before most children even know where babies come from. Scar Tissue reads like a novel that you can’t put down as Kiedis and co-writer Larry Sloman record the rise of the Chili Peppers, changes in and deaths of band members, tours, albums, long-term relationships, and perhaps most importantly of all, Kiedis’s several attempts to kick the drug habit he acquired as a teenager. Just when it seems like he has his addictions under control, he brings the reader back to yet another seedy downtown L.A. motel room for a new narcotics fest. Nevertheless, Kiedis, not completely “clean” until the book’s final pages, wraps up the tome by stating he wouldn’t change a thing about his life, lived well beyond the limits of most individuals. Yet the darkest moment of all was to come to page 465 and find that there weren’t a thousand more pages to indulge in.
To Live or Not To Live Vicariously
While the term “party like a rock star” can hardly be attributed to these books, Hammer of the Gods, The Dirt, and Scar Tissue offer myriad examples of our musical heroes living in enviably glorious excess on one page then crashing to the ground from dizzying heights on the next. At the very least, these great reads allow us to live vicariously and curse our nine-to-five lives at the best of times, and to cherish our stable existences at the worst.