Former Guns N' Roses manager Alan Niven once told me that rock 'n' roll is created because people are subconsciously trying to form the perfect family that they didn't experience as children.
As transparent as that may seem, it's an easy concept to grasp. Heavy metal lyrics celebrate the underdog and the unknown, sticking a big middle finger to society, and marionetting the masses, demanding that we act, feel and look a certain way. The most amazing guitarists, drummers and bass players in heavy metal admit to spending most of their childhood alone, honing those musical skills.
The darkness of heavy metal and rock is one that often pulls people into the light. Finally understanding that journey is usually the revelation that prompts an influential musician to write down their story that they fought so hard to create. And while the exploration of that journey usually leads down some dark paths, as they say, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn."
Over the years, these stories have created quite the bookshelf of musician memoirs and creative non-fiction. A few that you must check out if you haven't yet:
Get in the Van by Henry Rollins: A true tour-diary look into the musician's "American dream": a bunch of punk-minded hostile band members crammed into a tour van, getting beat up, and trying to make it, all in the name of hardcore music.
Crazy From the Heat by David Lee Roth: There's no doubt that this book (which shares the same name as the frontman's 1985 solo debut) was extremely underrated; mostly because it came out in 1998 when the music industry interest in the Van Halen bros and Roth was practically non-existent. However, Roth presents a wealth of knowledge and zen in his writing, as well as stories from his childhood, rock climbing hobby, poetry, and Mad Hatter ramblings.
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Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen by Al Jourgensen: I have a soft spot for Jourgensen because our interviews are always so honest and entertaining. However, this book is one of the craziest things you'll ever read. Thirty-plus years in heavy metal for this vocalist equals countless years of drug addictions, three times declared legally dead, and recording more than 13 Ministry albums. But besides at look into all that, there's even better stuff, like how Al hates performing live, has encountered extraterrestrial beings, and has had some sexual experiences that are the stuff of nightmares.
Others I must mention are My Life With Deth" by David Ellefson, I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne, and Slash by Slash -- but I won't bore with a list of the best heavy metal memoirs out there. Been there, done that.
Instead, I'm going to tell you about three brand-new ones that take a different angle of the traditional rock star stories.
When Carla Harvey released her work of creative non-fiction, "Death and Other Dances," in August 2014, I figured it would circle around the band she fronts alongside Heidi Shepherd, the Butcher Babies. But after I read it, I loved how it really had nothing to do with the band at all. And it made me realize that the strongest music memoirs should circle around the passion, life, and outside environments of those who make the music we can relate to.
"Music is definitely my savoir. I didn't want to put too much of my music career in this book because it wasn't so important here," explains Harvey. "Maybe in the future. But even as a kid my best friend was heavy metal. And a lot of kids are that way. We live in a world where both parents usually have jobs. You're left unattended. You know, navigating through your own shit, like teenager years, and it's tough. And the one thing that is always there is music; it's a constant."
As a huge fan of Rollins and Charles Bukowski, Harvey wanted to take the elements of her own life to write her book. The result wasDeath and Other Dances
, which tells the story of a biracial girl in Detroit, growing up in a world of family dysfunction, racist peers, budding sexuality, and her obsession with death, which parlayed from obsessively envisioning the death of her lovers right before a break-up, to earning a degree in mortuary science as an adult. From working in strip clubs to Playboy TV to food porn, the constant theme in this book is her struggle to embrace her inner artist and venture out on stage for the right reason. It offers just a glimpse how she developed her growls and screams and melodic manner that has developed the Butcher Babies' signature sound.
The next book I'm looking forward to is Scott Ian's I'm The Man: The Official Story of Anthrax, which publishes October 14. Known for mixing brutal honesty, humor and music at the fast-paced speed that his band Anthrax has become known for, Ian details his life story from a dorky Jewish boy from Queens, New York to realizing he wanted music to be his life after seeing The Who on TV and KISS live. Using heavy metal as an excape from his dysfunctional world, Ian, recently told Lithium Magazine that this is also what makes his memoir different from others:
"It doesn't take the usual story arc that most of these rock/metal biographies and autobiographies do. That arc is usually the rise to fame, the fame, the crash and burn, and then some sort of redemption. I don't have that story arc. I don't know what you would call my story genre, but it's more about coming from nothing and being able to do all that I have done. Anyone can do it."
But don't worry Anthrax fans; there's plenty of full-color autobiographical comic book inserts, and much about the band in its heyday, as well as the Big Four performances.
Last but not least, we have Phil Anselmo's Mouth For War: Pantera and Beyond. Scheduled for release January 13, this long-awaited memoir is sure to be revealing. The former Pantera vocalist has come a long way -- he's fronted such bands as Down, Superjoint Ritual, Arson Anthem and Phil Anselmo and the Illegals, and started his own New Orleans-based record label Housecore Records.
According to Anselmo, while Pantera was a huge part of his life the book is more about himself and the journey from the highs, lows, and all that's in between. From the rise of Pantera putting out the first extreme metal album to debut as number one on the Billboard music charts (1994's Far Beyond Driven), to hitting rock bottom and being legally dead for four minutes after a heroin overdose, he was a part -- and the brunt of the blame by many -- of the disintegration of one of the best metal bands to influence the scene. According to co-author Corey Mitchell, it dives deep into Anselmo's brain, detailing not just his story, but the loss that has surrounded him such as friend Darrell Abbott's on-stage murder. Readers can expect to hear his side of the story, and it will be interesting to see if it is as accusatory as Rex Brown's or Vinnie Paul's.
But if curling up with a good book and a bottle of your preferred poison isn't your style, there's the a fresh audio/visual route of hearing the dirt on your favorite rock stars.
Take "Rock Star Stories" for example. This video series was created by Affliction Clothing specifically for the brand's YouTube channel.
These musical munchies top about five minutes and combine live concert footage and interviews with artists and bands. It truly shows the artists in a laid-back, personable light, telling some of their favorite old and new stories that you most likely haven't heard anywhere else.
Think the Butcher Babies discussing why they chose to cover The Osmonds and ZZ Top on their 2014 EP. Fear Factory divulging how they slept in some chick's rec room on a Sepultura tour because a member wanted to get laid, and were raided by a security team in the middle of the night. Steel Panther in Gothenburg, Sweden with blind and deaf groupies. Halestorm's Lzzy Hale on when she was had the opportunity to give Alice Cooper drugs when she ran into him at a record store.
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