By Andy Starz
Lots of people probably expect this list to include books like the KISS biography by David Leaf or Mötley Crüe’s infamously funny “The Dirt”. It is very likely that I’ll do a list about the most entertaining band biographies at some point but this is not it. No, this list does not include any musician’s biographies, secret confessions of groupies or lost diaries of star-fuckers, whose life story could be titled ‘I Fucked the 80s’. This is a list about great novels. Many of them talk about music but the major topic in each and every one of them is life. Or as Marcel Proust said: “the only gift the Lord never offers us a second time”.
Let’s face it; people have less and less time for literature. If we have to be honest with ourselves I’d even go so far as to say our culture has become indifferent to it. The culture is more interested in music, movies and TV, the book-reading crowd has become insular. To some people books have even become boring and reading has become segregated from the experience of real life. Basically – it ain’t rock’n’roll to read unless you’re reading a band’s biography.
Uh, I’ll call BS.
Let’s not forget that long before groupies started following bands around obsessively, there were women so fixated on Lord Byron that they followed him all the way from England to Switzerland. Before hotel rooms were set on fire while fat rails were being snorted off of stripper’s backs, Marquis de Sade and Rimbaud were pushing the limits at every turn; opiates were being experimented with, prostitutes visited (and shot), oceans crossed and wars fought with no fear of death, just a love of life.
Part of the reason I decided to do this list is also because every time I talk to a musician about their inspiration 8 out of 10 times they’ll talk about a book that changed their lives (or at least their perspective on things). When I write lyrics I’m drawn to the ideas and values that struck a chord in me as I read a great book. I know that to be true of a lot of friends of mine whose bands tour Europe and the Americas.
This is a list of the top 10 books (plus one bonus book I couldn’t leave out) anyone who lives life on the wild side should read. They are books about bad-asses, people fighting the system or indulging in their dark desires. They have inspired great music and have defined the image and the behavior of the hedonist, the crazy rebel and the maverick.
In fact next time you meet your favorite musician ask them if they’ve ever read one of the books on the list. I’m sure they will have and I’m sure it will hold a special place. Here it is the top 10 books you must read if you live on the wild side.
10. THE BELL JAR (SYLVIA PLATH)
No one was really sure what to make of this book when it was published in the 60’s. It has always been a novel haunted by its semi-autobiographical nature and the suicide of its author, one month after the novel’s UK publication. Okay, okay, so why is this novel on the wild side? The slow sad decline into mental illness doesn’t sound like Friday night on the town pounding shots. Well, what is one thing anyone who lives life on their own terms has to struggle with? The feeling of being alone and lost, trying to be yourself, to be an independent person rather than what society expects you to be. And that just happens to be central theme here. We all know at least half a dozen rock stars that felt alone and unaccepted by society.
“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
9. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (KURT VONNEGUT)
“So it goes.” I’m pretty sure that line doesn’t impress anyone on its own. Trust me though, once you get to reading Slaughterhouse-Five you’ll be repeating it to people until they stop inviting you out. In the 60’s Vonnegut was a rock star. People wanted to know his opinion on relevant social issues. He had been in Dresden during the bombing of the city and witnessed one of the most horrible episodes of the war. In Slaughterhouse-Five Billy Pilgrim, the novel’s main protagonist, becomes unstuck in time, he gets kidnapped by aliens, has sex with a model in an artificial habitat, is captured by the Nazis, travels to different points in his past and his future, and learns how and when he will die. Funny, touching and a frighteningly profound look on mortality and human nature; to this day the novel is banned in a lot of libraries and schools all over the world.
Oh and it has inspired a lot of American punk rock bands and songwriters over the decades.
“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.”
8. THE GREAT GATSBY (F. SCOTT FITZGERALD)
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume everyone is pretty familiar with Gatsby by now thanks to Leo’s portrayal of the character in the new film. And I liked the latest adaptation; it tried its best to stay true to the book. So let’s not talk about plot. Why is this book about the wild side? Are you kidding me? Crazy parties, loud wailing music, booze, infidelity, obsession, passion, crime, violence, sex and did I mention a lot of booze? It doesn’t get wilder than that! Jay Gatsby makes Charlie Sheen seem tame by comparison. Also, what does he have that every wild but sympathetic hero has? A dream. A goal and everything he does is driven at a hundred miles an hour by his untamed desire to achieve it. Ain’t that rock’n’roll? If it isn’t I don’t know what is.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
7. BRAVE NEW WORLD (ALDOUS HUXLEY)
Wait, wasn’t the title of an Iron Maiden album? Bingo. Yes, the album was named for this book and even the lyrics to the song are inspired by the novel’s story. Oh and let’s not neglect to mention that another work by Aldous Huxley was the influence behind Jim Morrison naming his band The Doors. What if everything in life is homogenized, efficient, easy to obtain and consumption is the highest priority in people’s existence? Wait…. This sounds really familiar…. Aaaaaanyway what if a savage was to come into this world, a man in touch with spirituality and his individualism, driven by passions and wild desires? What would he do when faced with a world where nothing but soulless consumerism holds any value? Well, read the book and find out!
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
6. 1984 (GEORGE ORWELL)
Rebellion. Sticking it to the Man. No, Big Brother is not just a reality show. Who doesn’t love all that good stuff? And no one has done it better than the mighty George Orwell. A dystopian novel in which one man, Winston Smith, engages in a dangerous forbidden romance with a woman named Julia. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The novel deals with suppression of intellectual, sexual and social freedom, propaganda, censorship and manufacturing consent through terror. Everything rebellious spirits hate. You remember Twisted Sister’s music video? Well imagine that instead of your dad hollerin’ at you for playing your music too loud you were being forbidden sex, you were even being forbidden the freedom of saying that 2+2=4? This novel is so influential that it has inspired generations of artists and continues to do so with its relevant and frightening themes on governments, their people and the importance of truth.
This novel has inspired everyone from David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs to Van Halen’s 1984 and to Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
5. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (ANTHONY BURGESS)
What did you expect? We can’t have a list about books and the wild side without Burgess’ 1962 novel about gangs, orgies, rape, murder and drugs. The novel’s protagonist and anti-hero Alex is a youth prone to extreme violence. He and his gang assault a young couple, beating the man and raping his wife, and later Alex kills an old woman. The authorities put him through cruel aversion therapy and he is ultimately reformed. That’s as far I will go so I don’t ruin the rest of it for you. This novel has inspired countless musicians like David Bowie, Rancid, Rob Zombie, Sepultura, Slipknot and believe it or not – Rihanna.
“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”
4. THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (OSCAR WILDE)
Don’t tell me you’re surprised! Putting aside the fact that Oscar Wilde himself was a bit of a wild one, Dorian Gray encapsulates the image of the rock star. Entirely obsessed with his own self-importance in the world, more in love with his own self than anything else, seductive, coveted, desirous of everything and willing to give nothing. Dorian Gray is so badass that he defies death itself…. Literally.
“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”
3. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (ERNEST HEMINGWAY)
An old man? The sea? You’re insane. Hold up there, oh ye of little faith. Ernest Hemingway is not only one of the greatest writers to have ever lived; he was also a paragon of manliness and had a penchant for fighting and partying. Let’s talk about the book though. I know that’s what’s got you wondering. This is the story of an old man who goes out to fish, ends up catching a huge swordfish on his line and has to fight nature itself to bring it back home so he can make money off of the catch. It is not only beautifully written, it contains the whole of human life in 127 pages. Why is this book for people living on the wild side? Because it is a story of struggle, victory and loss and anyone who knows life knows that those are things we all face whether we wear our hair long or short.
‘“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”’
2. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (HUNTER S. THOMPSON)
Or really anything by Thompson! Wow! He’s the guy with a passion for busting caps in people because “he thought they looked like a bear”. He’s also the guy who rode with Hell’s Angels and even they thought he was a bit too intense for them. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas first came out in 1971 in several issues of Rolling Stone magazine. The story focuses on Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo who are experimenting with various drugs, wrecking cars and hotel rooms, their demented psychedelic trips and their fight against American consumerism. Even Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee are going: “Holy sh*t, dude!”
“Too weird to live, too rare to die!”
1. ON THE ROAD (JACK KEROUAC)
Dam-dam-dam! And here we are at last. Number one! And although all of the books in this list deserve this spot, to me it is only right that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road takes first place. Kerouac spent years living on the road with his friends, crisscrossing America, without roadies or tour buses, just a passion for life and adventure. From New York to San Francisco, it is a book about music, promiscuous sex, fast driving, excessive drinking and drug taking. Don’t let all that fun fool you! This book has deep historic and spiritual context, a search for meaning and belonging in life, and it is a celebration of life as well. Kerouac’s characters are all based on his friends (all famous poets, writers and philosophers of the Beat Generation) and there is a guarantee that when you finish this book, and you put it down, it will change you forever. Bob Dylan said that it was this book that inspired his music and Ray Manzarek of the Doors said: “I suppose if Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, The Doors would never have existed.” He’s the real granddad of all bad-asses!
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
Article by Andy Starz – Copyright 2013 © Heavy Music Artwork.