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CD Reviews:
Guitarists' Memoirs Lead Latest Music Books

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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They usually do their talking with six strings and a hunk of elaborately carved wood.

But this month, rock guitarists Eric Clapton, Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones and Slash from Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver are speaking — loudly — through the pages of their individual autobiographies, with varying results.

“Clapton: The

Autobiography” (Broadway Books, 343 pages) has the most buzz of the bunch but is also the most disappointing. What could have been a revealing look behind the careful veil of privacy Clapton has always maintained instead proceeds with the same kind of stoic reserve; he tells his readers a lot but shows us very little.

To his credit, Clapton gentlemanly accepts responsibility for the drug addictions and relationship problems that have been chronicled more entertainingly elsewhere — especially in ex-wife Patti Harrison’s new tell-all “Wonderful Tonight” (Harmony Books, 336 pages). But “Clapton” misses that depth of details, tawdry and otherwise, and leaves us wondering about the real tumult of bands such as Cream and Derek and the Dominoes, the true nature of his rivalry with Jeff Beck and other aspects of his mythology that he only touches upon lightly, if at all. A desire to murder Mick Jagger for stealing one of his girlfriends just doesn’t rank high enough on the juicy scale.

“Clapton” better succeeds in chronicling his early life, including being raised — unknowingly at first — by his grandparents, and his immersion into music and the Swinging London scene of the early and mid-’60s. There are also some affecting accounts of his stints in rehab and, of course, the unspeakably tragic death of his son Conor in 1991. These should not be discounted, but readers are left with an overall sense that what was left unsaid would have made for a far more interesting memoir.

Neither “Ronnie” (St. Martin’s Press, 358 pages) nor “Slash” (Harper Collins, 463 pages) — both publishing Tuesday — shares the eloquent style of “Clapton,” but both make up for it with their chatty demeanors and unapologetic tale-telling. Wood’s book in particular has an affable tone that indicates why he’s so “matey” with seemingly the whole of the entertainment industry as he casually namedrops musicians, actors and socialites on nearly every page.

He gets caught in a few factual fumbles — misspelling the name of bass great Stanley Clarke (he forgets the e) and botching his account of the Stones’ 1978 appearance on “Saturday Night Live” — but Wood nevertheless entertains with a nonstop barrage of anecdotes about sharing a London flat with Jimi Hendrix, wrecking hotel rooms with the Faces, having his own affair with Patti Harrison when she was between marriages to George Harrison and Clapton, his romantic dalliance with Canadian first lady Margaret Trudeau, having fellow Stones guitarist Keith Richards threaten to shoot him when Richards discovered Wood freebasing cocaine and calling on the Stones to bail him out of financial problems.

And Wood is so disarmingly good-humored and friendly about all this that it’s likely no one will be angry over the revelations.

“Slash” is a more frightening proposition, however. Written with musical journalist Anthony Bozza, it’s a blowby-blow account, literally and figuratively, that follows in the no-holds-barred tradition of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and Motley Crue’s “The Dirt” in exploring a world of unbridled sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll — especially drugs, as Slash offers up his own personal, harrowing heroin diaries.

The bombshells within are both major (Slash has been wearing a pacemaker for the past seven years) and minor (he once auditioned for Poison). But mostly Slash offers a verbal all-access pass into Guns N’ Roses’ wild skyrocket ride to superstardom and subsequent self-destruction. It fills in a lot of blanks and answers a slew of questions, a welcome trip through the “Jungle” with a reliable guide.

These are the most notable of a series of intriguing rock books hitting the stores this fall. Others worth checking out include:

“Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band and the Basement Tapes” (Jawbone Press, 336 pages), in which musician/author Sid Griffin offers the most comprehensive look at Dylan’s most prolific and mysterious year (1967) of musicmaking. It’s a period that still holds great sway among Dylan’s fans, who will be well-served by Griffin’s meticulous reporting and detailing.

“Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America” (Harmony Books, 659 pages) is the season’s finest Fab Four tome, an intelligent and scholarly, if occasionally dry, bio in which Jonathan Gould uses time and geography to wrap some context around the Beatles’ history. A thoughtful entry in a particularly overcrowded field.

“The White Book”

(Thomas Nelson, 250 pages) is a lighter and more gossipy look at the latter days of the Beatles by Ken Mansfield, the former U.S. manager of their Apple Records label. Like Apple staffer Richard Dilello’s “The Longest Cocktail Party,” it captures the frivolity and the pathos of the band and its organization falling apart, but with the slightly removed perspective that came from being headquartered across the pond.

“Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” (Chronicle Books, 224 pages) is the companion to Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary of the same name. It’s not quite as comprehensive, or as dense, as last year’s “Conversations With Tom Petty,” but it will still have fans free fallin’ over its photos of band and memorabilia.

“Genesis Chapter & Verse” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 359 pages) is a lavishly illustrated authorized oral history overseen by the band itself, also incorporating managers, producers, record company executives and others who have been part of Genesis’ 40-year orbit. It’s also driven by a self-critical perspective that’s usually missing from such endeavors.

“Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music”

(Hyperion, 320 pages), Grammywinning record producer Phil Ramone’s memoir (with help from author Charles L. Granta) about his work with Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Tony Bennett and loads of other luminaries. It’s a polite work and mostly concerned with artistry rather than gossip, but Ramone still offers plenty of good insider anecdotes.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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