Rock Reads: Rod By Rod Stewart
Any rock biography that dedicates an entire chapter to one's hair is might as well donate all existing copies to firing ranges. Why would anyone waste time on something as ridiculous and superficial as one's hair when many other more attention-grabbing aspects of a career will go unnoticed? Then again, not everyone is Rod Stewart, whose new autobiography Rod may take the award for the year's most entertaining rock biography. Over the last few months, I have had more books sent to me than I can read. Despite a deluge of incredible biographies by Neil Young, Pete Townshend and the first approved Springsteen biography in a quarter of a century Rod should not stand a chance, and in an odd twist of fate, it may be the best of the bunch. Comparing these four books against one another is criminal as they all take different tones and approaches, but Stewart's is the best written of the bunch and the most brilliantly sardonic. The only time I was not smiling with this book was when he spoke of the love of his children, his wives and their lives together and during these passages, my heart grew. He can be scandalous but comes off as equally sweet.
Rod Stewart may be the rock era's greatest interpreter of songs and yet, he has embraced so many types and genres of music, that he has left a discomforting feeling with many. There is three distinct Rod Stewart's people love and all of these personas get significant screen time in Rod. The first being the bluesy rock n' roller who recorded with Jeff Beck and the Faces in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the second being the pop star of the late 70's through the early 90's and lastly the "Great American Songbook" crooner. His early career with Jeff Beck, Ron Wood and the Faces is spoken of with not just fondness but with insightful particulars including one time where Little Walter, the great American harmonica player, pulled a knife on Stewart. He speaks movingly and affectionately of his times with Jeff Beck and the Faces. He confesses that he has attempted to do a blues standard record with Beck in recent years but the two of them cannot seem to find middle ground to make it a reality. He also speaks about how he wishes the Faces had never broken up and it was only when Ronnie Wood took a job with the Rolling Stones that he felt the band was finished. While his earlier career will hold the most interest for music aficionados, the peaks of his solo career are equally engrossing. We learn stores behind "Maggie May", "Do You Think I'm Sexy", "Forever Young" and "Downtown Train". He speaks of his incapacity to write new material further he views himself as a great interpreter of songs. Surprisingly, I come away from the book with a better understanding for why he tackled the "Great American Songbooks" for the better part of a decade, an idea he initially pitched to his manager in 1983 (that is not a typo). I took away his immense love of music and that he made these records not just for financial gain, but because he is at his best when interpreting and why not tackle the greatest songs ever composed? Lastly, he ends the book with a chapter of his new record, all of which he wrote coming out in 2013. He speaks honestly about finding his muse and how over the course of a year, it flowed out of him. I do not think I have been this excited for a Rod Stewart record in two decades. If it is half as good as Rod then it may be his best record in decades.
There are several chapters dedicated to his obsessions with cars, model trains, women and soccer. I cannot blame him for writing so keenly about his hobbies because it is evident these items make him who he is. He speaks fondly of his friendship with Elton John throughout and one particular passage where they exchange gifts for Christmas one year will make you laugh aloud. He does discuss the overindulgence and pitfalls of the later 1970s. He gets divorced, abdicates the UK for the US, breaks up with the Faces, becomes addicted to cocaine and steroids, embraces disco, reunited with Jeff Beck only to part ways again and meets several women of his dreams only to screw it up time and time again with his philandering. Despite these dalliances, Stewart always finds a way to bring it back to the music. His memory is fertile, full of wit and remorse but above all else, he has a keen awareness of the gaffes he has made and looks back in detestation at some of the things he did. Rumor is that the British journalist Giles Smith assisted Stewart with his memoirs. I hope he is being handsomely rewarded because he has elevated this book to heights few could have foreseen. Telling a tale with a wry smile and open heart is not as easy as one would think and Smith and Stewart find a serendipitous balance here. Even clichéd pitfalls contain such zest you do not cringe when reading them.
Rod made me fall back in love with not just his underrated catalog, but with the man himself in a surprising, charming, cheeky and humorous look into his entire life. He doesn't feel like an elusive rock star out of touch with reality (even though he is just a bit) but by infusing the narrative with great humor, capricious prose and a beating heart, he's written not just one of the best rock n' roll autobiographies of the last ten years, but possibly the most entertaining one as well. There are artists with more admiration and critical acclaim with books out at this time that may overshadow Stewart's but none are as well written or evoke a tremor of glee the way Rod does. A must read for all music fans.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Rock Reads: Rod By Rod Stewart