I've been reading Morrissey's memoir, Autobiography, published by Penguin Classics (!) and I have to say that so far it's been pretty great. I'll do a full review when I'm done but what I like about the opening chapters is Morrissey's voice and his beautiful evocation of the Irish diaspora community in 1960's Manchester. There have been several negative reviews of the book, one by Stuart Maconie in The Guardian which I respect and a silly and typically unfocused one by The New Yorker's pop music critic, Sasha Frere Jones that I completely discount. Frere Jones has annoyed me for years because he's an aristocrat who - I reckon - only got his job through influential connections, in hundreds of articles he's evinced no understanding of pop music at all, and by a long way he's the New Yorker's dullest writer. Of course maybe I'm biased, I've always liked Morrissey, and I've done a few oblique shout outs to his music and his prose skills over the years in my books (you may have noticed several mentions of The Cramps' Fanzine Legion of the Cramped in at least two of my novels: Legion of course was edited by Morrissey and was his first prose work.)
If it continues to be this good Autobiography could get into the unofficial top 10 list of rock memoirs, which is the kind of thing Morrissey would hold in utter contempt. What are the greatest rock memoirs? Well, there's a list on Rolling Stone Magazine, here, but its a bit of a dodgy effort as you'll see if you go over there. (It really took a ghost writer of genius to make Steven Tyler's life incredibly boring and to include his memoir on their list proves that a) they haven't read the book or b) they have no literary compass at all.) I reckon that you need 3 elements to produce a really great rock and roll memoir: 1) Solid music credentials. 2) Good anecdotes. 3) Good writing. You can be missing or weak in one of these elements but if you're missing in 2 its fatal. Morrissey has all three working for him so far in my read (but the Guardian says the book declines after the midway point).
So what are the best rock memoirs? I'm not going to pretend to be some big well read music guy. I'm not. I haven't read a lot memoirs period and I certainly haven't read everything on the Rolling Stone list (or would want to) but for what it's worth here's my little list of the 10 best rock autobiographies which I have actually read. I'm putting Morrissey in at number 7 for now...My number 1 memoir is John Lydon's Rotten: No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs and coincidentally if you look at my list it turns out that being black, Irish or Jewish is a big plus when it comes to rock memoir writing...
10. Touching From A Distance: Deborah Curtis
9. Twisting My Melon: Shaun Ryder
8. The Hacienda - How Not To Run A Club: Peter Hook
7. Autobiography: Morrissey
6. The Tao of Wu: The RZA
5. Take It Like A Man: Boy George
4. Chronicles: Bob Dylan
3. Rat Girl: Kristin Hersh
2. Just Kids: Patti Smith
1. Rotten - No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs: John Lydon