Hard to believe there was a time when rock stars just made music. These days, artists don't merely release CDs--they release concert documentaries, making-of concert documentaries, behind the making-of concert documentaries. And if that's not enough--and in our culture of celebrity, how could it be?--a slew of artist-penned biographies have recently hit the shelf.
Anthony Kiedis' Scar Tissue is an alternately compelling and tedious portrait of the artist as a dope fiend. Working with Larry Sloman, who co-wrote Howard Stern's Private Parts, Kiedis is a mediocre writer prone to the same Earth Mother new age-isms that pockmark his lyrics as front man for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. ("I started to become aware that Flea...was not on the same heavenly ambient wavelength.") Of course, most readers will be digging for dirt here: childhood memories of getting stoned with his dealer dad in L.A., sleeping in the same bed with a naked Cher, not to mention a rise to fame that included the death of guitarist Hillel Slovak and more rehab stints than Robert Downey Jr. What Scar Tissue succeeds at is portraying the slavering desperation of your garden-variety drug addict. Kiedis may pal around with Madonna, but in the clutches of heroin and coke addiction, he's just another loser holing up in seedy motels, busting out of rehab, turning his life around only to run it straight into the ground. The book ends in a glorious swell of 12-step euphoria--a band that once used together now meditates together--but what most readers will remember is the ungodly excess of his past. Like the beautiful and volatile women he dates throughout, Kiedis may be glad to be done with drugs, but he can't help romanticizing them.
It's hard to romanticize anything about drummer Tommy Lee's TommyLand, a numbingly idiotic book that might as well be written in all lowercase with emoticons after every sentence. Lee could be a cautionary tale about the dangers of drug use, except I suspect he was always this stupid. The book begins with a conversation between Lee and--no joke--his own penis:
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"Dick: No matter what you write in this book of yours, I promise you, people will buy it for one reason--to find out how long I really am."
OK, so his dick speaks the truth. As for the man himself, Lee offers such aphorisms as "A good idea to fire up your relationship is to drive down the highway at about 65 mph and have sex with your girl." Apparently he doesn't drive a standard. Mr. Lee also suggests men shave their own pubes, have foursomes instead of threesomes (so no one's left out) and claims cum tastes better if you drink pineapple juice beforehand. Worse, Lee has next to no insight (or memory) regarding his high-profile relationships with Pamela Anderson or Heather Locklear, although there is one figure from his past he remembers: "One thing I don't miss about being in Mötley Crüe is seeing Vince [Neil's] bloated, disrespectful, fucking ass every day." Oooh, burn. Except Lee comes across as an unstable sex addict who stalks his way into girls' hearts. If you're curious about Mötley Crüe, I suggest VH1. If you're curious about sex, I suggest a more reliable source--like the boys locker room.
Former Jane's Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro's Don't Try This at Home concerns essentially the same subjects: drugs, sex and--what's the other thing?--rock and roll. But it's far creepier and dark. Written in collaboration with journalist Neil Strauss during a year in which Navarro was in the depths of heroin abuse and paranoia, Don't Try This is part art project, part diary of a madman. It begins with a premise: Navarro places an old-fashioned photo booth in his Hollywood Hills home and takes pictures of all who enter. The book is scattered with these images, usually unidentified--musicians, burnouts, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. More interesting, though, are the stuttered stories that accompany the photos, short essays by Strauss on navigating Navarro's erratic behavior, conversations between Navarro and visitors about prostitutes and guitarists and his own slipping-down life. Navarro is a complicated person--maybe a narcissist, maybe a little boy lost--and he's obsessed with documenting his own life. Thinking he's overdosed one night, he runs to get his camera to take a picture of himself. (In this context, his MTV reality series with current wife Carmen Electra makes perfect sense.) Eschewing traditional narrative for 4 a.m. ramblings and torn-up suicide notes, Don't Try This paints a haunting picture of addiction--one as scattered and incomplete as its subjects.
The much-anticipated Wilco Book makes no mention of front man Jeff Tweedy's drug addiction to prescription painkillers. In fact, it stays mum on almost all of Tweedy's personal life. Instead, the book examines components of the band's world--their loft, their instruments, their methods of songwriting--in the hopes that these tiny snapshots will add up to a larger whole. So here we find pages upon pages of curious doodlings and photos of drumsticks, a scratchy old bass, National Geographic spines. Personally, I'd rather read Tweedy's juicy tell-all. In lieu of that, however, I'll have to make do with the revelation that the drum in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is actually a hubcap, and that Tweedy challenged himself to write A ghost is born entirely in third person. It's terribly indulgent, and yet it seems to be the way Tweedy knows how to communicate, like a guy who can't stop relating everything in his life to sports scores. The book comes with a CD of hushed alternate tracks only of interest to hard-core fans, and in addition to the band's musings, the book also features two significant essays. Rick Moody (The Ice Storm, Demonology) makes a failed attempt to duplicate the band's looping, cryptic songwriting that only comes off as pretentious. Far more lovely--and comprehensible--is an essay by Henry Miller, in which he speaks of the great joy of painting in watercolor. If there's a sonic metaphor for what Wilco is doing, it may be just that: a wash of sounds and textures, meant to make deep and lasting impressions rather than perfect sense.