More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon by Steven Davis; Gotham Books, 409 pages, $27.50.
Carly Simon is a child of the silver spoon: Her father was a founder of Simon & Schuster, and lunch guests at home included Albert Einstein, George Gershwin and Martin Luther King Jr. Yet Carly too had a dream: to write good songs, which came to include "You're So Vain," "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be" and "Haven't Got Time for the Pain."
But Simon's life wasn't one long dinner feast, writes biographer Steven Davis. For one thing, she had a stammer and was terrified of flying. And she suffered such intense stage fright that it once triggered menstrual bleeding during a gig. "There was blood everywhere," she recalled.
And then there were her men: Cat Stevens ("Anticipation" was written as she waited for him to show up for a date), Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger (not a flame, she says — just a backup singer on "You're So Vain"), Kris Kristofferson and husband James Taylor.
Davis, an admirer of Taylor and Simon, tells the hard story of Taylor's depression and heroin addiction, which eventually sank the marriage. And though Simon was renowned for that toothy smile, she once told a writer, "I would pity you having to relive my experience, 89 percent of which was painful."
That's something for wannabe stars to keep in mind.
My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman (with Alan Light); William Morrow, 378 pages, $27.99.
Gregg Allman's father survived D-Day but was murdered when Gregg was 2 years old. He and brother Duane became very close and later started a band that worked hard — 306 gigs in 1970 — to gain rock 'n' roll glory, including a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year's Grammys.
That success came in spite of ready access to alcohol, mushrooms, heroin and cocaine, Allman says in My Cross to Bear. In one passage he admits stealing some "blow" from a sleeping Duane in 1971, then lying about it hours before the motorcycle crash that killed him. "I have thought of that lie every day of my life," Allman says, "and I just keep recrucifying myself for it." (Bassist Berry Oakley would die in a drunken motorcycle encounter with a bus the following year.)
Allman had multiple collisions with women. Spouse No. 3 of six, Cher, rated him her best lover, but Gregg declined to return the compliment — at least, about her music: "I'm sorry, but she's not a very good singer." Cher also tried to help him sober up, to no avail.
But wait, there's a happy ending: When Allman's vodka intake hit two quarts a day he quit the bottle, got a new liver and experienced a religious awakening. That particular cross he seems happy to bear.
Life by Keith Richards (with James Fox); Back Bay Books, 576 pages, $16.99 (paperback).
Everyone agrees this is one of the best rock bios ever. And how could it not be? In the beginning (when he was 18), Keef and the Stones lived in a dirty flat, stole food from local markets and played American blues. Within a few years, they were global music deities.
Richards is best known for two things: 1) playing rhythm guitar and 2) somehow still being alive today, despite years of various addictions. If you're wondering what life is like for a junkie, this non-overdramatized account includes tips for avoiding overdoses, dealing with threatening dealers and surviving a drug bust (tip: line up really good lawyers in advance).
Richards carried a knife (and sometimes a gun), but was proud to be a Boy Scout and often reads the Bible. Though he bedded many a woman, in many cases he only wanted to cuddle. (Hey, just like Elvis!)
Richards has been off heroin for 30 years (alcohol is another matter). Another thing he's off: his lead singer. "I used to love to hang with Mick," he writes, "but I haven't gone to his dressing room in, I don't think, 20 years. Sometimes I miss my friend. Where the hell did he go?"
As for where the hell Richards has gone, the answer is Connecticut: There he lives with wife Patti, listens to Mozart and never regrets having picked up the guitar.
Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler; Ecco, 376 pages, $27.99
(reviewed by Bob Cataliotti)
The title of this "rock 'n' roll memoir" by Aerosmith lead singer (and American Idol judge) Steven Tyler seems to promise a fun-house tour of the author's rock-star psyche. Aside from the gonzo "Tylerisms" that pock the narrative, however, it's a fairly standard litany of an unholy trinity: drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll.
The revealing stuff comes early on: Tyler evokes a youth divided between the Bronx and a rustic family retreat in Sunapee, N.H. He spent his teen years as an aspiring drummer, hanging out in Greenwich Village and idolizing Brit invaders like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. "They were the musical G-spot," goes a tamer Tylerism.
Once Aerosmith hits the big time, the memoir rides a merry-go-round of drug abuse, dysfunctional relations with women and bandmates (notably guitarist Joe Perry), and R&R — relapse and rehab. "Like most rock stars," writes Tyler, ringing our doorbell with a cannon, "I suffer from Terminal Adolescence." His fans will rush to climb aboard this carousel; those not yet along for the ride may answer Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? with "Dude, it kinda does."
Writer and musician Dave Shiflett, author of the 2012 e-novel In the Matter of J. Van Pelt, posts original music at daveshiflett.com.
You may also like: A special tour inside the offices of Ray Charles.
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