Music Memoirs & Biogs

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division – Peter HookUnknown Pleasures – Inside Joy Division Peter Hook

Peter Hook was always more than just a bass player.

He played a huge part in shaping the distinct sound of two of the most ground breaking and celebrated English bands of the last 30 years. His memoir Unknown Pleasures does a very good job of stripping away the mythology that clung to Joy Division in the wake of the tragic suicide of singer Ian Curtis. Hook presents the members of Joy Division as four ordinary blokes that got swept up in the Punk movement and very quickly began to forge something very special.

There are plenty of anecdotes that help dispel the myth that Curtis was a tortured genius who was somehow set apart from the rest of the band. There is also huge sadness and regret in Hook’s recollections, borne of the bands failure to realise that Curtis was in trouble. Hook writes engagingly about a part of his life that he remembers with great fondness. There is plenty of humour, some of it of the very laddish variety but you always get the sense that these are his words, his story told from his unique perspective.

A must read for all Joy Division fans.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


Chapter and Verse - Bernard SumnerChapter and Verse – Bernard Sumner

Bernard Sumner was a founding member and guitarist with Joy Division and is still the singer with the latest incarnation of New Order. There is a sense that the current enmity that exists between Peter Hook and the rest of his former bandmates came about because of petty resentments that began to bubble up between Hook and Sumner, the two main creative forces in New Order.

Sumner’s memoir spans the period from a difficult childhood through to present day New Order – he goes to great lengths to emphasise that the current line-up is the best and happiest he can remember, a sly dig at his former band mate perhaps. It is more comprehensive than Hook’s memoir, but curiously the New Order section of the book is pretty vapid and empty. Even more curious is how closely his recollections of the Joy Division years mirror Hook’s – many of the anecdotes are the same.

He is more forthcoming than Hook about the divisive rift that developed – Sumner very much places the blame at his former bandmate’s door, citing Hook’s increasingly erratic behaviour as Sumner perceived it. Of the two memoirs, I found Hook’s a better read; Chapter and Verse tails off badly once it reaches the New Order years – interesting to see how Hook tackles that subject with his much heralded second book in the works.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


M Train – Patti SmithM Train - Patti Smith

Anyone who read Patti’s Smith award winning Just Kids will know that Smith doesn’t offer up the usual rock memoir tittle tattle. No stories of rock and roll excess, or recollections or brainless on tour high jinks. If you buy M Train hoping for insights into how Horses was recorded, or some potted history of her life as a musician you will be sorely disappointed.

What you get is a beautifully written book that is an absolute pleasure to read. Lyrical, insightful, pure poetry at times. Smith offers us a glimpse into her very private world – her love of art, her solitary life in Manhattan, her adventures while travelling the globe.

There is a haunting quality to her prose; Smith frequently drops surreal and dreamlike random observations and recollections into the narrative. The great loves and losses of her life are always there, informing every gorgeously written passage of this fantastic book. Everything about this memoir, from the beautiful cover to the black and white travel Polaroids reproduced throughout, smacks of the work of a true artistic soul. Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


Girl In A Band - Kim GordonGirl in a Band: A Memoir – Kim Gordon

The title is taken from one of Kim Gordon’s most hated interview questions: “What’s it like to be a girl in a band?”, a question that understandably must have exasperated someone who was a central figure in one of America’s most influential and iconic bands. Gordon’s memoir is not an exhaustive history of Sonic Youth, far from it.

It begins with an account of the band s final concert – Gordon’s marriage to fellow band member Thurston Moore had collapsed after she discovered he had been having an affair. Understandably, the band was never going to survive the fallout of that; they split in 2011. From this starting point, Gordon writes about a largely uneventful and happy childhood, somewhat overshadowed by her brother’s mental health problems. Her background is as a conceptual artist, and she spends almost as much time in the book talking about her passion for that as she does about her spell in Sonic Youth. She writes about the challenges of being a parent in a successful touring band, her friendship with Kurt Cobain and how much the city of New York has changed from when she first arrived there.

Much like her onstage persona, the writing is cool and detached; there is no anger, bitterness or recrimination in her words, despite the hurtful deception that destroyed her marriage and her band in one fell swoop. Girl In a Band is a fascinating read but not necessarily a book for fans looking for any deep insights into the music of Sonic Youth.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain Story – Zowe Howe Barbed Wire Kisses

Alan McGee called them “the most dysfunctional team of people to ever get success”. This is from someone who still regards the Jesus and Mary Chain as one of the greatest rock bands he ever saw. The task for writer and fan of the band Zowe Howe was onerous – prise open what has remained resolutely closed off until now. She makes a decent fist of it, even without the cooperation of one half of the notoriously cranky combination that is the Reid brothers.

Guitarist William Reid declined to get involved, despite the recent reformation of the band after a long spell of sullen silence. Howe’s biography takes a pretty traditional approach – it is the history of the band from early origins until the present day. There are plenty of guest cameos from their peers, singing the praises of the band, highlighting their influence.  But one thing becomes glaringly apparent  – the Reid brothers are not the most exciting subjects for a rock biog.

Incredible music but not shiny showbiz people. There are no stories of wild excess or rock and roll debauchery – essentially, the Reid brothers lived pretty boring, normal everyday lives, even at the height of their success. They were only really interested in making music and found it difficult to conceal their disdain for everything that went with being a successful rock band. Barbed Wire Kisses is one of the few books that attempts to explore the insular world of the Jesus and Mary Chain and for that alone, it’s a must read for fans of their music.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


Creation StoriesCreation Stories – Alan McGee

Alan McGee was the founder of one of the most successful British independent record labels ever – this is an undisputable fact. How Creation got to that position is less clear, and having read this entertaining tome, I am none the wiser. What jumps off the page in this memoir is just how haphazard and borderline clueless those involved in the rise of Creation Records were – most of the time, they all seemed to be winging it, fuelled by copious amounts of drugs and alcohol.

McGee’s talent was in spotting true greatness before everyone else got a whiff of it. He was able to reproduce that one trick time after time – the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Oasis –the list goes on; all bands who were either incredibly successful, incredibly influential or both.

The business side of Creation was very often car crash material but while a cogent McGee was  at the helm, they could do no wrong. Creation Stories is an entertaining account of the rise and fall of both McGee and the label – both ultimately a casualty of the rock and roll excess that he so craved in the beginning, but burned him out in the end. It’s a book packed with anecdotes and stories, delivered with typical blunt Glaswegian humour and honesty.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


Renegade – Mark E SmithRenegade -Mark E Smith

First published in 2008, I picked this up recently in the bargain bin in a local bookstore. The first two chapters are a riot – Smith wastes no time in tearing into a litany of ex -Fall band mates. It is savage, vitriolic and very funny. At that point, it was shaping up to be one of the best rock memoirs I had ever read but after two hundred pages of Smith on one long, extended rant, it becomes a little wearisome.

There are still some very funny passages;  Smith definitely has his own unique and jaundiced view of the world but by the end, it is hard to escape the sense that he has developed a siege mentality, somewhat similar to fellow Mancunian miserabilist Morrissey. He is not short of self-belief, and not afraid to launch the occasional broadside at the competition with a variety of bands and contemporaries subject to the Smith treatment.

Renegade is not like any other rock memoir you are likely to read.  Mark E Smith pulls no punches, and his scattergun attack on almost everyone who has drifted into his orbit, makes for a highly entertaining if occasionally one dimensional read.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)