A review of the best rock biographies with insights and warnings

Photo by Kai Oberhäuser on Unsplash

All rock and roll stars are happy/unhappy/happy again in their own way. That is assuming they do not end up dead or broke. Who ever said do not meet your heroes, could have added or read their biography. You will only despair at the depravity, the vices, the personality faults, and just maybe some shafts of light will shine through.

I have done the hard yards and read over one hundred and twenty of their lives and tribulations as documented in various texts for you. It is not pretty reading. A soon sameness theme emerges of youthful joy, mate-ship, musical…


Photo by Quinn Buffing on Unsplash

A garage band starting out in the garage needs some content. The Replacements were famous for their give up and play covers shows. Jimi Hendrix took a Dylan lyric and a few chords and took a song to another planet. Leonard Cohen said about Jeff Buckley, it’s his song now, he deserves it, the song deserves it. Picture ‘Twist and Shout’ and it’s Paul McCartney’s sideways head shake that comes to mind.

This is the weird and wonderful world of cover versions. Here are just a few of the gems I have uncovered over the years.

Firstly, a top ten of all time. I contend no one can argue with no. 1. The rest …

1) Jimi Hendrix, ‘All…


The Replacements (affectionately known as ‘the Mats’ hereafter) are a band with followers like no other. On one of the Facebook pages, followers actively report on hearing a Mats song randomly on the radio, or during a Netflix show, and immediately make a post of the moment. Like a butterfly collector curating their specimens from the field, the enthusiasm is both infectious and curious. This is long after their 80's heyday but social media is full of posts of devoted fans who have found the still active bass player Tommy at a gig, or just acquired a ‘Tommy …’ tee…


Five Live 1986 University of Otago

Straitjacket Fits: A Life in Three Gigs

One New Zealand band could burn up a stage like no other — ‘Straitjacket Fits’. Starting in 1986, the time of their early pomp, and into their 1990’s heyday; then the reunion tours of 2005 and 2018, it has been a blast. Here is how I lived it, black jersey attired, arms folded, black boots toe tapping a shuffle to the beat, ensconced somewhere at the back, once a Speight’s ale now a crafty one, in hand. While I have many favourite New Zealand bands that I have seen play live on stage…


Moon Over Wellington (JS Mowat 2020)

An Appointment With The Waterboys and Mr Yeats

The stars aligned, there may have been a crescent moon that night. The Waterboys were in town for the first time in Aotearoa New Zealand. You can wait a long time out here in the Southern Pacific to see a favorite overseas act.

This was one chance/one gig only/one night only. Come the date 21 January 2013, we were just down the road a piece to the big city gig, with Auckland a short car trip away. That afternoon we coasted the Kaimai’s, motored on through Matamata, and arrived in Auckland as…


Now that's a cool list idea. A track for every decade. Some good tracks selected and as you say each to their own. I would plum for Jimi Hendrix and 'Purple haze for the 60s, so many to choose from with the Who, Stones, Kinks et al, but Jimi just picks up a guitar and takes you to another place. The 70s gets the Stranglers and 'Hanging Around' for its 60s connection (keyboards), punk menace, and a four piece locked in on a great tune. The 80s gets me Lloyd Cole and the Commotions 'Charlotte Street' off an all time…


Have to agree with your Spaklehorse comment, when to stop selecting his tracks. Add to that anything by Mark Lanegan, or the Cure in their Faith/Pornography phase. I kinda prefer pathos to depressing as a descriptor, as great art/songs have a beauty that is inspiring rather than depressing to me. I like too the juxtaposition some songwriters use either a dark lyric balanced by a jaunty tune (the Jam - A Town like Malace) or Wilco and the Summerteeth album. Enjoyed the read.


Liking this idea of rock and literature. Some good ones identified by you and readers in comments. Love that Ramones story, which by all accounts is true, classic Dee Dee. So to throw a few more into the mix: 'Wuthering Heights' by Kate Bush must be the classic of the genre; the very literate Loyd Cole and the Commotions namechecked 'Speed Boat' by Renata Adler; The Jam and David Bowie both had a crack at 'Absolute Beginners'; the Waterboys did a complete and subperb album on the poems of WB Yeats (An Appointment With Mr Yeats); As did Grant Hart (Husker Du) with 'The Argument' based on Paradise Lost; and the Doors in name and with 'Break on Through (to the Other Side) channelled Aldos Huxley and his work 'The Doors of Perception'.


You picked out some good ones there. KT Tunsell was an assured master class and delivered. My best of class goes to the ageless Iggy Pop, complete with Josh Homme (QoTSA) on guitar, Matt Helders (Artic Monkeys) drums, and more, filling out the band in red velvet dinner jackets. Then you get the shirtless Ig, bounding into the band space arresting everyones attention with the stomp along classic 'Lust for Life'. Iggy then moves forward into the communal space like no other performer before and has very other band in the room, swaying, clapping, and singing along. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lJqBsrShys


Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash

This is a band not for the faint of heart, not for the uncommitted. They will raise you up/take you down, amaze you/daze you, and never cease to craze you. Maybe that is the killing joke. If it is, I am in on it.

Instigated in a fire ritual of the occult, the members formed in London, there were early gigs playing support for Joy Division, later they scored an unlikely and never repeated 80’s hit. They soon abandoned the mainstream and have been left of the dial ever since. The members have found success in many side projects, collectively…

Jim Mowat

Writes about rock and indie music. Long term music lover and follower of Indie-Alternative sounds, rock with an edge and a good lyric.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store