Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bios and Babes

Read Rod Stewart's Rod: The Autobiography and Peter Criss' Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss.

I've gleaned that my interest in rock bios spawns from a deep curiosity to know what is was like to be the center of a universe, where your songs are absorbed into lives across the globe, (nearly) everyone loves you, everything is free, and obtaining sex with whomever is effortless as a breath.

(Now, mind you, I wouldn't want that kind of life. For honest and true. I much prefer my quiet, middle-class, nearly anonymous life with the grand pleasures it offers through family, friends, pets, and entertainments.)

Rod's autobio can be summed up "yeah, it's great to be a rock star" and Peter's "how I spent most of my moment as a rock star completely pissed off."

Rod surprisingly has a charming, breezy writing style. I laughed hard every chapter, and smiled on nearly every page. Here's one of my favorite quotes (page 184):
Mick Jagger -- speaking, I assume, for and on behalf of Bianca -- made a tentative inquiry about the possibility of a little light partner-swapping with Dee and myself. Well, I suppose it's always nice to be asked, and comforting to know that you are in someone's thoughts, but the answer had to be no.  Partner-swapping wasn't my scene, and it certainly wasn't Dee's.
It's very satisfying, too, because he does not flinch from addressing anything you may have heard about him: the care and feeding of his hair, his relationship with ex band members (think Jeff Beck), the infamous incident where his stomach was supposedly pumped, and the first clear account of how the Plaster Caster gals did/do their work, which all others have glossed over: they fellate the subject.  Rod and Ron Wood both declined immortalization because the Casters reportedly display their more towering works as introduction to entice the proposed member to join the collection. The more modestly endowed Rod and Ron decided they didn't want that fact recorded in the life-size memento that would be dwarfed on the eventual shelf.

The most touching thing in it, though, is his insecurity about his music, and how hard it is to deal with the worry that what he's doing may not be good.  He sometimes had to be alone or with only a couple close confidants to record a vocal.  Since his persona is balls-out confidence, it was surprising that he admits it's just a stance.

Peter Criss has a bit in common with Ringo in that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley had most of the concept of KISS worked out prior to hiring Peter and Ace Frehley (save for the name and the makeup). He killed in his audition for the band and was hired on the spot.  The original record deal provided an equal 4-way split of the band's earnings, so it had the illusion of a democracy.

Yet, you are rarely hired into a democracy, and when royalties from song writing started coming in, Gene and Paul asserted their leadership of the band, and Criss is still pissed about it.  So, even though he claims happiness today, his anger comes through every other page and it seems to have poisoned his life more than it should have.

Highlights are: the famous soaring guitar solo in "Detroit Rock City" was done by Bob Ezrin, their wiz-kid producer, as Ace just wasn't feeling it that day (which Frehley freely admits in his appropriately spacey but somewhat boring autobio); the aroma of female pudenda that permeated the rooms where groupies would gather while awaiting pleasures with the band, especially Gene who would stay up all night and gather two new girls about every two hours; Paul, while often directly observed dipping into the female groupie pool, was also sometimes so wasted that when his gay groupies would start advances, one of the other band members would intervene and get Paul to his room alone; Ace was very fond of masturbation, and would commence at will, regardless of where he was - a street corner, in a tightly packed band van, and so forth.

I inadvertently listened to the whole book on CD of Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace. I picked it up because I was waiting for the book and wanted to get a start on it.  A week later I find I've listened to the whole thing.  One realization is I would not have managed to read it because his prose is as meandering as his guitar solos.  While I love his guitar solos, I could only enjoy his prose read aloud.  So that's my recommendation: listen to this one if you're a fan.

While rock fame and the ensuing life fascinate me, so does the flip-side of having tried, and almost making it, but stardom - or at least a long career - did not materialize.

Two artists I discovered after they resumed private lives were the Dance Hall Crashers and Alana Davis.  All their sites and fan sites have begun that weird erosion that takes place on web sites as technologies, web code and browsers upgrade.

Usually, a bit of googling will turn up some bread crumbs, and the two lead singers of the Dance Hall Crashers can be located: one is still singing in local bands while the other one has only a twitter feed, which may not even be hers.   Alana Davis has completely evaporated into the ether, apparently.

So, what must it be like to have had a couple hits, some radio play, a fan base, and then it's just over? I would imagine it's mostly life as usual, with some occasional small twinge, like the one you get when you remember the one who got away.  Carrie Fisher weighs in on that frequently, but she's still kinda famous and her mental illness colors it so much, it's hard to sort out the weltschmerz from the manic and the depressive.

I harbor a secret hope that maybe I'll have the opportunity to ask one of those three ladies that very thing.  If I do, I'll post it here.

Whilst mulling and researching for this post, I came across this article about Steve Perry of Journey.  I see in here echos of all of the above: Rod's insecurity, Criss' anger, Neil's elder statesman-ship, and life after fame:
"I don't want (any new album) to have pressure," Perry told Billboard in a late 2011 interview, "because I'll worry about it sucking, and then what am I gonna do?"
Finally, here are some related thoughts from an old post (scroll down to where I start talking about Phil Collins).
Update: Cracked has an article on what some rock stars did after.


Darrell Reimer said...

I've talked with a couple of acts I followed in the 90s who (usually) developed a rabid fan base in Europe, and got some "college" air play in the US, but didn't get that magic moment when they hit the stratosphere. For most of these guys (it might be different for women) there's a moment when everything seems to be on the verge of coming together, usually a record deal with a producer they've been after for years and a tour opening for the Stones (etc). And it's at this point all the other chickens come home to roost. After a few weeks of sobriety everybody realizes they hate each other and the thought of even being in the same city, never mind sharing a stage, is just too much for them.

I think the business of chasing The Big Break is terrifically exhausting, on every level.

Bob Ezrin is an interesting guy. For three decades he was the common factor behind just about every significant rock album you could name. Here's a link to an interview he gave last year. It's an hour long, and the first 9 minutes are standard warm-up, but after that I was hooked. He's still in the business, so he's judicious about his dirt-dishing. But man oh man: he does NOT want to talk about Rod Stewart. Gene Simmons, Roger Waters, Lou Reed even -- sure, why not? But Rod The Mod? Moving on.

Yahmdallah said...

Thanks for the insight on bands that are no more. I'm still toying with contacting the singers from DHC.

I'll certainly check that Ezrin interview. Thanks for the link!