PositiveThe Times (UK)Jennifer Otter Bickerdike goes deep into uncovering what made this complex woman tick ... A labor of love of a biography that highlights the contradictions of a woman who could be charming and monstrous ... Bickerdike’s feminist agenda sits uneasily on Nico, given that the singer steered clear of any kind of ideology ... Nonetheless, the details the author has unearthed shine through. It is a gripping portrait of one of the most fascinating figures in late 20th-century music.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Peppered with fact-checking footnotes to point out where others have got it wrong (or where Dylan has lied), the book really comes alive at the beginning and the end, when Heylin goes beyond the endless details to capture his subject’s situation with sympathy ... some fascinating revelations ... for depth of research alone, is hugely impressive. Unfortunately, it can also be hugely annoying. The tone jumps from lofty to faux hip: people are forever penning this and opining that, while Dylan himself is described as a \'young tyke\' twice in the space of two pages. Heylin has got to the bald truth, not by speaking to Dylan (who cannot be trusted), but by scraping through his relics. And everything he has found is put on display rather than buried into the story. It is the opposite approach to Dylan, who hid the truth to let the magic shine ... I can’t share Heylin’s astoundingly high regard for his own work, but if you do want to strip away the mystery and get a logbook on Dylan’s inescapable reality in time for his 80th birthday in May, this is the one for you.
PositiveThe Times (UK)As it turns out, Entwistle was just as fascinating as his more voluble bandmates. The writing here is prosaic and lacking in flourish, but suited to its subject. Entwistle was the quintessential ordinary man living an extraordinary life ... All of this is recounted by Rees in an unfussy fashion. You feel the lack of contribution from Townshend and Daltrey, and we are told about Entwistle’s legendarily vicious wit without seeing examples of it, but the amiable [manager BIll] Curbishley has a lot of insight into the character of his former ward ... Most of all, though, The Ox makes being the bassist in the Who seem like the best and the worst job in the world, which, given Entwistle’s contradictory nature, is entirely fitting.
MixedThe Times (UK)The few chapters that Prince did put down, presented here in their original handwritten form and also set in type (to double the page count), make up the first of the book’s four parts. In his trademark style, a quickly exhausting precursor to textspeak, Prince covers his fun mother and disapproving father, his childhood bouts of epilepsy, musical and sexual discoveries during puberty, reflections on life in Minneapolis . . . and that’s it. And we’re still a long way from anything that can reasonably be called a narrative ... Does this count as a memoir, which The Beautiful Ones is implied, if never named, as being? No, it doesn’t. It is more the publishing equivalent of those expensive box sets that record labels pump out after a beloved artist’s death, knowing there will always be a market for unheard recordings and unseen photographs if bound together in a suitably lavish fashion. There are some nice finds here...but the lack of newly written material leaves this intended revelation of Prince’s world view frustratingly incomplete ... The most revealing, certainly the best-written, section in the book is Piepenbring’s introduction ... [a] handsomely presented, visually sumptuous, ultimately unsatisfying scrapbook of Prince’s life. Prince’s silent-movie-star aura remains intact, even after death.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... a self-deprecating, funny, ultimately rather melancholic memoir from someone who found his voice not so much through his attributes, but his lack of self-worth ... [John] isn’t modest about his musical talent, detailing how he could hear a tune and play it on the piano straight after from the age of five. However, in most other aspects of his life he’s quick to admit his failings, sex in particular ... Petridis has done an excellent job of capturing what reads like John’s conversational tone. Me is very much a post-rehab book. He isn’t afraid of putting the boot in, and David Bowie and Tina Turner come off pretty badly, but mostly there is self-realisation, apologies to the people he has hurt, and reflections on where the coke binges, shopping addictions and endless need for attention came from ... Sometimes he can get a bit holier-than-thou, forever warning his druggy friends of the pitfalls lying before them, and given that it is called Me, there’s no shortage of ego. Ultimately he’s hardest on himself. You cannot help but enjoy his company throughout, temper tantrums and all.
PositiveThe Times (UK)David Browne takes the long and winding road to the present, when David Crosby insulted Neil Young’s girlfriend (now wife) Daryl Hannah in 2014 and gave the kiss of death to any more pension fund-friendly reunion tours. Doggett writes in the more engaging style, Browne takes the superfan’s approach of documenting everything whether interesting or not. Both biographies are likely to bring the reader to the same conclusion: these four men, all now in their seventies, however talented and well intentioned, were a tornado of dysfunction ... Both books, but Browne’s in a more comprehensive fashion, use the saga of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as a metaphor for the Woodstock generation and their doomed mission to return to the garden.
RaveThe TimesIt has taken a biographer as perceptive and clear-sighted as Philip Norman to do Clapton justice, revealing him to be a complex, troubled man whose drive to be the best guitarist of all time—and to sleep with as many women as possible—came from a deep-rooted insecurity and sense of abandonment ... Norman, who has written biographies of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, has captured Clapton’s contradictions in style ... Despite everything, you end up liking Clapton, and feeling as if you know and understand him. It is proof that Norman’s biography has done its work.
RaveThe TimesThe Hard Stuff can be read as a manual of how not to become a rock star. Drugs, band feuds, jail and radical politics all combined to prevent stardom. This is a story of bad luck and bad behavior in equal measure ... Kramer captures the sadness of jail life ... Being a regular working-class Detroit guy in a band who could never quite get their act together, Kramer doesn’t mythologize. He simply tells it like it is, painting a portrait of American life far bleaker than you might expect ... All of this feeds into a far more likeable and engaging rock memoir than most ... Kramer brings to his writing a quality so many rock stars lack: self-awareness. Clearly written and imbued with a hard-won, commonsense strain of wisdom, Kramer’s tale of a life in street-level rock’n’roll is as gripping as it is sobering.
MixedThe TimesHilburn’s exhaustively researched book on the life of Simon is, while not exactly sycophantic, at the very least extremely generous ... this is a Paul Simon biography that all too clearly comes with the official seal of approval. Once you have accepted that, you can enjoy Hilburn’s skill as a master storyteller ... There isn’t much on Simon’s personal life, which is fair enough — he has endeavoured to keep his family out of the spotlight — but the love/hate relationship with Garfunkel is another matter ... Garfunkel either declined or wasn’t asked to give his side of the story, leaving his voice to be heard only in a couple of quotes from press interviews. Nonetheless, with everyone else from Quincy Jones to Fisher contributing, and with Hilburn’s deep understanding and feeling for Simon’s music shining through the pages, this is an illuminating biography that does its subject (a little too) proud.