Rock stars act as our surrogate pricks. In both senses. Like actors and athletes but without the expectation of role modeling, they must sleaze their iconic genitalia across the uncivilized world to compensate for John Q. Pubic's enforced abstinence. At the same time, spoiled, flogged and isolated, they must snort themselves into walking comas to avoid either perceiving their own dehumanization or acknowledging their routine violations of lesser hominids – violations we can only imagine inflicting on our bosses and landlords.
What a thankless burden. If you think rock stars' glamour and wealth compensate for their status as Judas goats, all you have to do is read virtually any music biography and relish the litany of nurtured hatreds, bankruptcies, broken marriages, rehabs, neuroses, illnesses and deaths. Tat for tit: Justice demands destruction. A happy rocker isn't worth a shit.
When I told my friends I was writing about rock bios, they bombarded me with books and related their own favorite tales: Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham forced to travel in a toilet-equipped trailer and wear diapers to accommodate his chronic incontinence, Miss Pamela dumped by a long succession of celebrity fucks, Iggy receiving his first dose of the clap from Nico, Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan enduring a weeklong erection after smoking a special cigarette with Buddy Miles. As Frank Zappa wrote in his own tome, “People who have never been in a rock band maintain the most ridiculous fantasies… It's not that I haven't had a few laughs out there – but let's just say the ratio isn't that terrific.” My own impressions of the many rock bios I've read can be summed up in a single line from Ian Hunter's Diary of a Rock Star: “My bowels are in a state.”
Slowly, rock performers have begun to realize that they need not relinquish their best dirt to “unauthorized” bios; autobiography is now the thing. Far from whitewashing, authors of recent tell-alls have satisfied their public obligation by portraying themselves as assholes for whom no depravity is too extreme. The stylistic template is the first line of one of the first rock bios I ever read, Peggy Caserta's Going Down With Janis: “I was stark naked, stoned out of my mind on heroin, and between my legs giving me head was Janis Joplin.” Whether the rockman did it or not, he'd better print it, or someone else surely will.
Always more apt than he got credit for, Dave Davies has learned from his brother's mistakes. In X-Ray, published stateside in 1995, Kinks leader Ray Davies did just what you'd expect, producing an urbane, tasteful, witty book with pretensions to Literature, in which even the most explicit sex stuff comes off as intelligent and sensitive. Snore.
Dave's 1998 Kink: The Outrageous Story of My Wild Years as the Founder and Lead Guitarist of the Kinks (Hyperion) ain't having none o' that. After impregnating and abandoning his first teenage love, Dave goes on to fuck numerous women, fuck numerous men (at a time before this became hip), and vomit up his daily diet of booze and drugs for years, making a proud bozo of himself on several continents while insisting that his chaotic contribution to the band was essential to its success (which is true). When at last he proclaims that his mind is temporarily inhabited by invisible “intelligences” that reveal to him the secrets of the world's misery (carnivorousness, lack of niceness), he can't believe it when folks start avoiding him.
Choice moment: A close friend, who “shared everything with me, including his wife,” overdoses and dies after Dave has lent him a pair of boots. “I felt really bad for his wife, who had a little boy from a previous relationship . . . God, how I loved those boots, but I just never had the heart to ask for them back. I wonder where they are now?”
Now multiply the excess by five. After this decade's much-publicized cleanup, the jolly middle-aged lads of Aerosmith definitely want you to know what they're cleaning up from. Last year's Walk This Way (Aerosmith with Stephen Davis, Avon) features so much nasal vacuuming it should have been published by Dirt Devil. “I snorted my plane, my Porsche, my house,” says singer Steven Tyler modestly, and lest you think he's just the band's most conspicuous victim of anesthetics, he also emphasizes that he's a butthead born and bred. “I stuck a firecracker up a frog's ass and watched him explode,” he brags; other childhood antics include stealing from his employer and shoplifting from the supermarket. “I made him a carriage boy so he wouldn't steal me blind,” says the market manager, Peter Agosta, who soon switched to managing Tyler's band. Kids: Need professional guidance? Try this creative path!
With the twig thus bent, it's no surprise to find a grown-up Tyler – the greatest rock singer currently practicing, by the way – flinging food in L.A.'s Dar Maghreb restaurant, stealing an antique knife from a museum, and hiding one girlfriend behind the refrigerator while the other is visiting. This is not fanzine stuff; your reaction is less likely to be “Wow, cool!” than “How did these idiots make any music?” And they've survived to be more popular than ever. Must be the talent.
Marilyn Manson has talent too, but his gifts are a bit more psychological than musical, and that's why The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (Marilyn Manson with Neil Strauss, Regan Books) has proved such a triumph. Better than anyone else, Manson understands an audience's need to despise its idols. Upping the ante on every previous autobiography, he offers a chronicle of cynicism, self-indulgence, contempt, self-loathing and epic drug use so relentless that even the most insecure reader will end up feeling superior.
You say Steve Tyler stole from markets? Well, Manson stole lunch money from little girls! You say Jackson Browne beat his girlfriend? Manson beat his mom! After enduring a miserable childhood, would Manson want to spare others the same? Nope, he likes to slash his arm in front of picnicking kids! How does he feel about his worshipful fans? He likes to line them up and give them enemas, or maybe hog-tie them in choke ropes and make them confess their sins! What does he do when a former lover harasses him? Tries to burn her alive!
And he's funny. There's a great one-liner on every page, and Manson's rules governing cheating on your girlfriend (“#4: Blowjobs don't count – they're like handshakes and autographs”) will have you weeping with laughter. There are even moments of poetic wisdom: “Relationships never break cleanly. Like a valuable vase, they are smashed and glued, smashed and glued until the pieces just don't fit together anymore.”
Of course, if you believe every word of this – that a tourmate ate a bowl of cereal covered with enema spew, for instance – you're stupider than Manson thinks you are, and he thinks you're pretty damn stupid. He expresses affection for carny hustler/Satan sultan Anton LaVey: “His kind of intellectual elitism (and mine) is actually politically correct because it doesn't judge people by race or creed but rather by the attainable, equal-opportunity criterion of intelligence.” Most of us like to think we're smart, but naturally Manson misstates the proposition so as to both flatter and con the reader – contrary to his dictum, intelligence is innate. If you're dumb, you will never attain Manson's level, no matter how fervently you worship the Adversary. And if you're buyin' this book instead of writin' it, well, uh . . .
Call me a moron, but I love rock autobiographies. Not for information, not for insight, but for their function as auxiliary entertainment, and for confirmation that rock stars have lousier lives than mine. So keep it comin', guys and gals; this is the stuff legends are made of. And if you need somebody to invent a few grotesque lies about you, ring me anytime.