In the realm of music biographies, there are a few that rise above the echelon and find their way into popular culture. Due to an oversaturation of the market of “celebrity memoirs” and a reduction in demand for the “tell-all”, these books are becoming fewer and fewer. In recent times, Jimmy Barnes’ Working Class Boy and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run have become contenders for this category. But today’s dual review features 1990s and 2000s classics that are well and truly must-reads, even for those who are not fans of the acts to which the musicians belong.
Anthony Kiedis, of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, 2004 memoir Scar Tissue, had been on my radar for over ten years. I had been a fan of his band for a long time, particularly as their music opened up my musical experience in a way that was completely unique – they created a funk experience that also rocked just as hard as my grunge loves but with a much more light-hearted temperament. However, this book is not an experience for the light-hearted. Explicit in its description of drug use, sexual experimentation and domestic drama, nevertheless, in hindsight, Kiedis maintains a sense of optimism, reflection and spirituality in his life at the time of composition of this book.
Detailing his life from early childhood, Kiedis was introduced to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll from a young age – particularly from the influence of his father, John Michael Kiedis. There are doubtlessly confronting scenes of his father “allowing” his adolescent son to make love to his young girlfriend, scenes of an even younger Anthony smoking pot with a group of his fathers’ friends in an apartment party, and negligence of Anthony’s school life. In the expression of the writing of this book, we can clearly see that Kiedis is an intelligent and well-spoken man that is a credit to his statement that, in spite of everything else that was happening in his formative years, he still managed to make school and study a priority. In spite of everything else that happens in this book – stay in school, kids.
Another interesting and, at times, harrowing descriptions in this book is the formation and rise to success of the band, Red Hot Chili Peppers. It is thought-provoking that the only member of the band that did not have any musical training or experience prior to the formation of the band is given a voice in this book, and is arguably the most recognisable and iconic members of the band. This is even given some time in the book itself, as a critique upon the music industry and indeed upon the consumer of music as heaping interest upon the lead singer, perhaps at the sacrifice of the greater musical influences in the band. One of the parts I was morbidly curious to read about was the band’s original formation, particularly the original and late guitarist, Hillel Slovak. Although his musical talent was certainly given the time of day in the book, his penchant for drug use was perhaps given even greater voice in the book. Tragically, his reaction and addiction to drugs cost him his young life. Perhaps the closest to Slovak, Kiedis did not even attend his funeral. The treatment of Slovak’s death was curiously distant in the book. I’m sure that this was due to his refusal to accept the news as well as his state of mind when the news was broken to him.
More on the musical descriptions on this book, Kieids also details the now famous relationship between the band and John Frusciante, who rockets the band to fame with their 1991 album that took over the world Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik (which perhaps would have been a more apt title for this book, given its content) as well as his departure from the band. It has always been my opinion that Frusciante’s guitar lines are synonymous with the band and the band’s success – Scar Tissue cements this even more so than before. Kiedis really describes beautifully how the band shows signs of deterioration with the release of One Hot Minute (1995) and recruitment of Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navvaro, a man with issues aplenty himself. The re-recruiting of Frusciante shows a real new beginning for the band as well as Kiedis’ personal life.
There are many different girlfriends that Kiedis introduces us to through the course of the book. Although the relationships are described with beautiful intimacy, we can clearly see that Kiedis had trouble with steadiness in the relationship – evidenced by the number of women we encounter throughout his life’s journey. Some of the photos in the glossy paged inserts are quite intimate as well, so be warned when reading in public! I think that the most memorable of the women that Kiedis writes about is Claire Essex (Yohanna Logan) – a beautifully damaged woman who was far too similar yet fragile and mentally unstable to remain in an exclusive relationship with Kiedis.
All in all, Scar Tissue is an iconic book of an iconic frontman. We can take from this book just how lucky Kiedis is to A. still be alive in the face of enormous drug abuse and B. to have had such great people in his life to create music and friendships. The great danger, though, when detailing one’s own life story in a musically-influence memoir, is going too early so to speak. In the years since Scar Tissue has been published, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have undergone another rebirth in both styling and band members, as well as more turmoil and great joy in Kiedis’ personal life – all of which I would be very interested in reading about in 2017.
This is certainly also the case with my next examination – Marilyn Manson’s The Long Hard Road out of Hell. Co-written with infamous author of The Game, Neil Strauss, in 1999. Detailing his early and formative years as Brian Warner, as well as his gradual rise to fame prior to the release of 1998 album Mechanical Animals, this is another example of the power of memoir.
Manson has a reputation within the entertainment industry as being highly intelligent and creative, and this book proves that reputation to be 100% accurate. If this wasn’t evidenced enough throughout his lyrics as well as his interviews (particularly famous is his interview with shock jock Bill O’Reilly), this book highlights this in abundance. Poetic, artistic and confronting, this is undoubtedly the work of a genius. But it is certainly not for the faint of heart.
This is clear right from the outset. The opening chapter, “The Man That You Fear” (named from Manson’s 1996 single), is revealing, repugnant and heartbreaking. We learn so much about Manson’s evolution into his stage name in these opening few chapters – how he created a world and a persona to make up for the unforgiving and repressive one in which he lived. Although he details certain family relationships with a great deal of tenderness and love, others are frightening and dark.
The move to the music career of Marilyn Manson and, in particular, his relationship with Twiggy Ramirez – such an iconic one in the world of alternative rock music. Creating innovative and unique music, Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids’ rise to fame is documented through life on tour and the growing seriousness with which Manson and the others take their music as the years go by in the chronicle.
This book is not only a beautifully written mediation on life, music and poetry, but it is also an artistic vision. Unlike the generic presentation that many biographies take on (writing with one or several glossy inserts of pictures pertaining to the writing), Manson’s book intersperses narrative, poetry, excerpts and pictures. Clearly the focus is Brian Warner/Marilyn Manson, but he also includes photos of fans, loved ones and even influences. Some particularly memorable encounters from the book include Courtney Love, Trent Reznor, Hunter S Thompson and David Lynch. All of these names have become in one way or another synonymous with Manson himself, particularly the latter as he continues to make his name as a fine actor.
Much like Scar Tissue, The Long Hard Road out of Hell is extremely explicit in its detailing of sex and drug abuse. Much more “violent” than Kiedis’ memoir, Manson tells of the sadomasochistic sex that occurred throughout the band’s touring circuit. There really is very little left to the imagination – but what this really does is add to the veil of mystique around the name of Marilyn Manson. He makes no excuses and pulls no punches is his vivid descriptions of both sex and drugs, and yet this only further contributes to why many hold fears around him.
Famous for the shock factor of live performance (blood, horror and simulations of violence) as well as the, at times, shocking lyrics and demeanour, the book is similar. In fact, though, this is sophisticated beyond many other musicians. Even the name Marilyn Manson in itself is an intelligent play on words – a portmanteau of Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson, the divine and the mad. But what of the shades of grey? What of the good sides of the supposedly evil, and the horrific sides of the supposedly flawless? He examines the virtues that society holds loftily, and swings these on their head.
The Long Hard Road out of Hell could only have come from the pen of Marilyn Manson. It is a beautiful and mad account of a truly great musician and artist. It is a shame that it ends right on the cusp of even greater things to occur in Manson’s career. Fans have been begging Manson for a follow-up memoir detailing the greater moments that follow the release of this book. What are his thoughts on being such a scapegoat in the wake of the Columbine shooting tragedy? Where does his future lie – in the music industry or will he focus solely on acting? When will we know more about the music he released in the twenty-first century? I’m sure that Manson would write eloquently and with grace and candour about the world of the last twenty years, in the same way that he has in this remarkable memoir.