After a career spent in the headlines, a musician’s autobiography is their chance to set the record straight. To puncture or prolong the myths. They can be salacious, shocking, and surprising. Here are 7 of the best. 

Morrissey - Autobiography

Morrissey autobiography
Image via True to You

In a characteristic act of chutzpah, Morrissey insisted that his much-anticipated autobiography be published in the Penguin Classics imprint, usually reserved for literary masterpieces that have long stood the test of time.

The first 50% of the book justifies his arrogance entirely. It contains all the caustic humour and sentimentality anyone familiar with his lyrics would expect. As for the second half? Tragically, the book slumps into a dull legal procedural, which Morrissey spends bitterly addressing those who’ve crossed him over the years.

You could perhaps draw parallels with his recording career—sensational early stuff, followed by material people persist with through accrued goodwill alone.

 

James Rhodes – Instrumental

James Rhodes
Image via China Exchange 

The life-story of a classical pianist might be the last book you’d expect to come with an explicit content warning. Yet Instrumental’s is definitely warranted.

Generously peppered with swearing, Rhodes’ book is a deeply harrowing account of the sexual abuse he suffered aged 7, and his subsequent battles with addiction and mental illness. Given this, it’s remarkable that what shines through the book brightest is his passion for classical.

Each chapter begins with a piece of music recommended to accompany reading a brief biography of the composer. Frequently tough reading, but hugely life-affirming.

 

Charlie Louvin – Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers

Charlie Louvin
 Image via Saint Laika 

The tale of legendary country duo the Louvin Brothers makes for incredible reading. Charlie was a God-fearing, clean-living type, and Ira his total opposite. Yet the two managed to forge a stunning career as the US country scene fell in love with their tight harmonies.

Their relationship was a little more discordant. Punch-ups and on-stage implosions are a cornerstone of the business nowadays, but the Louvin Brothers were beating seven shades out of each other before the Gallaghers grew their first monobrows.

Charlie’s behind the scenes tales of the Grand Ole Opry (a Country Jools Holland viewed by millions) are consistently delightful.

If you like your autobiographies laced with star-studded anecdotes that end with the words ‘and that boy would grow up to be…’ this is the one for you. There’s practically one every chapter. Unmissable stuff.

 

Tracey Thorn – Bedsit Disco Queen

Tracey Thorn
Image via BBC

Caitlin Moran hit the nail on the head when she called Tracey Thorn ‘the Alan Bennett of pop memoirists.’

Bedsit Disco Queen is a matter-of-fact account of Everything But The Girl’s rise to fame that stays wonderfully grounded throughout. Thorn catalogues an astonishing list of career achievements and collaborations in a smart, self-effacing way.

For every tale of gigging with Paul Weller there’s one of entertaining baffled journalists with cups of tea in a dilapidated Hull bedsit. An account of a time when enthusiasm and a do-it-yourself attitude was enough for anyone to drift into a career.

There’s rare and wry warmth here that you’ll struggle to find other autobiographies.

 

Miles Davis – Miles: The Autobiography

Miles Davis
Image via Wiki

Celebrity autobiographies are so often written to please or appease, and are usually all the duller for it. Not so Miles Davis’ bracingly unapologetic autobiography, which is infinitely more illuminating as a result.

A fascinatingly blunt account of an incredible period in music history (or at least what Davis can remember through the fog of heroin addiction), a phenomenal cast of jazz greats join Davis for the ride.

Bird, Dizzy, Coltrane, Mingus, Monk—they’re all here.

 

Richard Hell – I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp

Richard Hell
Image via Macey J. Foronda

Richard Hell is the man Malcolm McLaren credits as the inspiration behind the Sex Pistols. His (quite literally) warts and all story offers an awesome insight into the New York scene that launched a thousand rock and roll bands.

If your favourite band play guitars, odds are that Hell was in one of the bands that influenced them. Those landmark CBGBs gigs that everyone claims to have been at? Richard Hell was there, and performing more often than not.

Featuring cameos from the likes of Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, and The Ramones, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp is an eyewitness account of the birth of some of the 20th centuries most iconic music.

 

Mark E. Smith – Renegade

Mark E Smith
Image via Paul Wolfgang Webster

The Smiths, Pavement, LCD Soundsystem, Nirvana, and Franz Ferdinand all acknowledge the influence of The Fall. Yet their lead singer/dictator Mark E. Smith remains one of music’s great outsiders.

His high turnover rate of band-members (you’re never more than 10 meters away from an ex-Fall drummer) means that plenty has been written about Smith. Renegade is his right of reply, a riposte to all the tales of tour bus chaos.

There’s no one quite like Mark E. Smith, and on this evidence you’d probably have to say that’s a good thing. Renegade veers between the cryptic, the blunt, and the contrarian, but remains fascinating. You might not come away enlightened, but you’ll certainly be entertained.

 

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