Rules for Rock Biographies

Certain sharp moments remind me to stop and be grateful I live in the San Francisco Bay Area: the sight of the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge, glimpsed as I drive home from the grocery store; a table spread with newspapers, fresh Dungeness crabs, loaves of sourdough baguette, and cold bottles of Sonoma Chardonnay; foggy summer mornings resolving to crystal blue afternoons.

And of course, six and a half foot tall drag queens reading onstage from Britney and Lynne Spears’ 2000 book, “Heart to Heart.” (I paraphrase here:)

“I think everyone should have their own style and not try to copy me. I change it up all the time. Bangs. No bangs.”“I hate going out to the clubs. I’m like, ‘Y’all go on without me.’ Sometimes when I DO go out, I see people drinking alcohol and taking drugs, and I’m like, ‘y’all are messed up!’”

The event was the “Way Behind the Music: From Ozzy to Jewel” event at the Make-out Room in San Francisco on Wednesday night, part of the NoisePop 2012 festival and in cooperation with the SF Litquake literary festival. Local music and literary luminaries hopped onstage to read the purple prose of musicians who penned an autobiography because they offered to, were asked to, or really needed the money after a string of album flops. The lineup of subjects – Ozzy Osborne, Alicia Keys, Dick Clark, and Chuck D of Public Enemy – had me thinking: jackpot! This is like “Turn Down the Music and Read, the Multivolume Discount Edition.”

The sheer number of readings allowed me to synthesize four handy rules for writing a rock biography or autobiography:

1.) Don’t Worry About Offending People

I think I speak for the entire crowd when I say that the excerpt from first book, “Three Dog Nightmare: The Continuing Chuck Negron Story” as read by Parker Gibbs will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Chuck Negron, one of the lead singers of Three Dog Night, relays a tragic medical incident. Because this is a family blog (Hi Mom and Dad! Hi kids!) I’ll have to shorthand it. Basically, Negron tells us how the overuse of a certain special instrument and the ensuing wear and tear – and I do mean tear – lands him in the ER. As Gibbs read the piece, complete with zesty sound effects (“riiiiiipppppp!”) people were groaning, “Oh my GOD”ing, and “Ok, that’s enough”ing .

Put it this way: as Gibbs warned might happen, next time “Joy to the World” comes on the radio at a summer barbeque where someone is cooking a Ball Park Frank, I’m going to be in the corner, quietly throwing up.

2. ) Details, Details, Details

A surprisingly large number of the bios included excruciating attention to detail, particularly those from hangers on of actual musicians. Perhaps there is a pressure to prove that you really were there. Case in point: creative name speller Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler’s “Dream On: Livin’ on the Edge with Steven Tyler and Aerosmith,” which relays a wife’s-eye view of living with the most wifey-looking rocker in history.

In a passage during which Cyrinda relays a fun game she played with her husband that will have to be PG-13′d down into “The Maypole Dance,” we learn about the sunburn cream she applies prior to game commencement, and the repeated forays she must make to determine whether the diamond bracelet encircling the Maypole has its safety latch clasped. And it’s fair to say that anyone who reads this book could do a detailed forensic anatomical drawing of Steven Tyler, should an emergency arise. See Rule #1 – Cyrinda’s hitting on all cyrinders.

3.) You Can Disguise a Missing Story Line Through Fancy Language

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