Tag Archives: autobiography

A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel by Slim Jim Phantom

A Stray Cat Struts by Slim Jim PhantomWhen I look at musical biographies I’ve read in the past, from Laura Jane Grace to Tony Iommi to Ginger Wildheart to Frank Turner amongst others, it’s fairly obvious that most have focussed on frontmen or band leaders.

This seems to be a fairly standard trend so, coming to the autobiography of Slim Jim Phantom, most famously the drummer from The Stray Cats, I expected something a bit different, and that’s just what I got.

From the start Phantom makes it clear that his book won’t be a mudslinging ‘needless to say I got the last laugh’ type affair but a look at the positives that his life as a rockabilly musician of note has brought him.

That isn’t to say that it’s all saccharine sweet though as he and his various band members go through their share of problems but, for the most part, Slim Jim finds the good in all the situations, one way or another.

With this approach he makes it clear early on that he won’t engage with the potential fallout of the split of The Stray Cats, so when that comes it’s not a surprise (though later he sheds a little light on the relationships between himself and fellow Cats, Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker).

The Stray Cats

The Stray Cats

Up to the split of that band the book moves in, largely, chronological order tracing Phantom’s life from Massapequa, Long Island, New York to London where the Cats first found fame, through meetings and tours with The Rolling Stones and the kind of encounters and happenings that are genuinely amazing to hear given the speed with which they occur following the trio’s arrival in the UK.

In this we begin to meet some of Slim Jim’s ‘true pals’ who become a major feature of many of the stories and many are household names from the world of rock ‘n’ roll. While this could easily feel like name dropping par excellence, it actually comes across as if our humble narrator is as surprised by many of these encounters and friendships as we might be, including his marriage in the mid-1980s to Britt Ekland!

As the book goes on the stories focus more on specific subjects so there are chapters on Lemmy, ‘The Killer’ Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison and other rock ‘n’ roll heroes as well as Phantom’s endeavours in film acting, nightclub ownership and life on and around the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

Through all of these what makes the book so engaging is the manner in which Phantom writes. It’s as if he is telling you these stories one-to-one, and his enthusiasm for his music and extraordinary comes through strongly in every passage regardless of what he’s recounting.

As the book goes on he becomes more reflective as his hard partying days subside to watching game shows while on the phone with Harry Dean Stanton, spending time with his, evidently equally rock ‘n’ roll, son TJ and later charity mountaineering trips to Kilimanjaro and Everest.

Rockabilly music is never far away though and it’s clear this remains what makes his heart beat and its worth having YouTube handy to look up some of the Stray Cats performances he mentions just to revel in the same things he is.

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

What I think this accessibility and enthusiasm stems from is something he highlights and I’ve noticed in my own life that, in a majority of cases, drummers are the members of the band most happy to let down the facade of rock ‘n’ roll life, connect with others and generally are more open and sharing.

Using this Slim Jim lets us into his world in a far less self-conscious way than many other musicians making for a fascinating and easy read that may have a few rough edges tidied but feels honest and true in the way that the best things in rock ‘n’ roll should be.

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Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi

Tranny Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace and Dan Ozzi book coverIn May 2012 Laura Jane Grace came out to the world as transgender via an interview in Rolling Stone magazine. At that point her band, Against Me!, had been going through a lot of transition themselves and this marked something of a watershed moment, not just for Grace herself, but for the band.

In her autobiography, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout (written with Dan Ozzi) Grace explores her life and career up to this point in startling honest fashion.

The book starts in 1985 with Grace (then known as Thomas James Gabel) seeing Madonna on TV and the wheels are set in motion for her life both in terms of her personal development and her musical ambitions – of course stylistically, the music at least would go in somewhat of a different direction.

I won’t go into detail of her story, this would be the autobiographical equivalent of spoilers, but it follows a natural chronology starting with her life as child of a military family regularly moving from place to place and never forming solid foundations, something that comes into play as she moves into being a touring musician.

Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace

As the title of the book suggests the story has two main threads that Grace weaves together seamlessly. Each chapter loosely follows a section of her career based around an album or tour, especially once we get to the point to the point of Against Me! releasing their debut album, …Reinventing Axl Rose.

This is a fairly standard conceit and obviously makes logical sense for a musicians memoir, but, what lifts it beyond that is the combination of newly written passages and sections lifted from Grace’s extensive journals.

What this does is extraordinary as we get the view of Grace now, with not only hindsight but an almost entirely changed life, and the in the moment thoughts and views of Gabel at the time.

While the view taken rarely changes it gives the book a duality that only serves to hammer home the experiences of Grace’s dysphoria that, it is evident, were present from her early youth (certainly at least since seeing that Madonna performance).

Against Me! circa 2013

Against Me! circa 2013

These journals are fascinating as its clear Grace documented everything, really putting the reader in the moment with her at many key moments both for herself and Against Me!.

This makes for a very intense and personal experience, like we are a fly on the wall, or even closer than that. With that we share many nights with her on the bench seats of vans or bunks of tour busses, as well as the back of a police car or two, in a way I’ve never read in any other musician’s life story.

As a fan of Grace’s music I did wonder if her personal story would take preference but I’m happy to say that it doesn’t as it is clear throughout just how inextricably linked these two things are, more than comes across in many other such stories. That said the most fascinating stuff comes with her personal story and quite how she came to terms with her gender dysphoria and how she dealt with it (or didn’t) at different stages of her life.

Grace as Gabel

Grace as Gabel

It never paints transitioning or anything associated with it as a quick fix or an easy process as some flippant reporting of such has, both in relation to her and others. In this it does a great job of expressing the feelings she felt and what she went through that, as a cis-male, was one of the most valuable insights I’ve had into this.

The story of the band is one we’ve heard many times before with members falling out, life on the road extremes and just what its like to support metallers Mastodon on tour when you’re in a band playing punk rock.

But with this we get a look into the American punk scene from the late 1990s to the late 2000s. While this view is obviously that of Grace herself, it is fascinating to see the DIY end of things and how it relates (or doesn’t) to the mainstream world of pop-punk and what comes between.

This just adds fuel to Grace’s resilient fire as she faces off against former fans who now brand her and the band sellouts and how some came back round as this part of her story neared its end.

The final chapter and epilogue of the book change things up as Gabel’s journals are no more and we get pure Grace, rounding off her story in suitably open-ended but still satisfying fashion (for now) as we find out about the writing and recording of the Transgender Dysphoria Blues album and the reconstruction of Against Me! as, arguably, even more of a potent force than they ever were before and certainly a more focussed one.

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard) of Against Me!

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard)

All this makes Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout not just one of the most satisfying autobiographies but one of the most satisfying books I’ve read.

Like much of Grace’s music its fast, raw and honest while provoking thought and opening up a wider world of experience than most other does not and, given the subjects it deals with, it offers an invaluable and important insight into something not everyone will experience but everyone should be able to at least try to understand all in a very personal way.

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Songs And Words – Ginger Wildheart (DVD)

Ginger Wildheart - Songs & Words DVDA couple of years ago Ginger Wildheart announced a new campaign via his now well established channel on Pledgemusic to write and release a book tracing the story of his career song by song, Songs & Words. As seems to have become customary with these things the project expanded from a simple autobiographical book to a live stage show and then this DVD of that show – a kind of ‘Audience with… Ginger Wildheart’.

Recorded on the London leg of the tour, at the Leicester Square Theatre (apparently where the Sex Pistols played their first gig with Sid Vicious, according to Mr. Wildheart) it’s a lengthy affair, as anyone who’s brought any of Ginger’s recent albums would expect, but comes with an impressive air of intimacy as Ginger leads us through his career and life from the moment he was fired from the Quireboys by Sharon Osbourne to the beginning of what became the 555% triple album.

The first half of the show tracks the first run of The Wildhearts, the band for whom Ginger is, of course, most well-known, and while their exploits are fairly legendary, hearing them from the horse’s mouth is something else. This is where the show’s real appeal comes in that it really doesn’t seem as if Ginger is out to hide anything or cover anything up and he is brutally honest about a lot of aspects of his life – far more so than most other musicians you’ll find.

Jase Edwards and Ginger Wildheart

Ginger (with Jase Edwards)

So, we get stories of a fairly astronomical drug intake, misadventure when trying to record a music video in New York, squandering record company money on bizarre video projects in an attempt to get fired and more.

I’m sure that all sounds like a thousand other rock ‘n’ roll stories, what makes this feel a bit different though is the unassuming air Ginger has on stage that makes him come across like a ‘local musician’ (for want of a better description) – someone you could know playing shows in small venues, who happens to have stumbled into this world of excess and somehow managed to survive it for the best part of 30 years and counting.

The second half of the show charts the more musically eccentric side of Ginger’s career with solo albums, joining and leaving various bands and diversions in a Thai prison, punctuated by occasional reformations of the band that gave him his name. In some ways this less rock ‘n’ roll stereotype period (though there’s still plenty of drugs and related misdemeanours) is the more interesting and is where Ginger seems more relaxed – though that could be the brandy he’s swigging throughout the show.

Ginger Wildheart

Ginger Wildheart

A surprise highlight of this is that Ginger even discusses his most unusual album, World of Filth, that he released under the name Howling Willie Cunt, and even plays extracts from a few songs from it – these are not for the weak of heart (or stomach).

It’s not just the country & western abomination that we hear music from as, across the show, Ginger and long time musical collaborator Jase Edwards play acoustic medleys of tracks from most of the albums from Mondo Akimbo A-Go-Go to 555%.

While some of these sound as you might expect or as they do on Ginger’s acoustic albums (such as Kiss Alive II), others are something a bit different and a bit special to hear, especially the material from Endless, Nameless and The White Album which is general less heard to start with, let alone in this stripped down form.

While even three hours isn’t enough to fit in all the trials and tribulations of Ginger’s life (as the accompanying book goes into much greater depth) this is a fascinating watch for any fan and, I would say, for anyone with an interest in stories of musicians and dealing with the music industry as well as the more traditional rock ‘n’ roll debauchery side of things along with some great musical interludes.

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The First Third by Neal Cassady

The First Third by Neal CassadyNeal Cassady; off page progenitor of Beat, Dean Moriarty or Cody Pomeray to Kerouac’s Sal Paradise et al, inspirer (and more) of Ginsberg and Howl, godfather of psychedelic counterculture and The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test… or so legend would have it, but could all that possibly be the truth?

In The First Third, Cassady himself sets out his story in his words, or at least some of it, and proves, as you might expect, that it is both truth and a kind of fiction.

Published by City Lights, the original home of the Beat Generation, the book combines a partial autobiography with collected other autobiographical moments, poems and letters that go some way to show the man behind the myth, while backing it up at the same time.

Cassady’s story is one that could only have existed in its time, trapped between the expansionist, pioneering American Dream of the 1800s and the post war malaise that became the Great Depression. The main chunk of The First Third explores Cassady’s youth, following a fascinating if at times fractured exploration of his heritage as the offspring of two families who emigrated to the US as part of that mid-1800s boom.

Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady

His story, while one with a hint of typically romanticised nostalgia for childhood, is about as dysfunctional as they come; skipping between homes, ‘homes’, lodging houses and parents, mostly around Denver, Colorado, along with trips that would prefigure the story that would make he and his alter-ego Moriarty so famous.

Cassady’s style of writing comes in the form of a kind of precursor to the ‘spontaneous prose’ he inspired from Kerouac and, while clearly falling into the Beat aesthetic, has a naivety to it that suits the tales of his childhood adventures and make this section of the book fly by.

The second half of The First Third is more of a mixed bag dipping in and out of tales from Cassady’s teenage and adult life that, as they go on, become increasingly concerned with a seeming obsession with sex and bragging about his sexual conquests. Here his naïve style becomes at odds to the content and often feels repetitive ably demonstrating that an addict talking about his addictions (it seems not only sex but drugs, alcohol and anything else that comes along) are certainly far from the most interesting of subjects.

Ginsberg and Cassady

Ginsberg and Cassady

This continues in the books final section containing a series of letters to Jack Kerouac and then Ken Kesey that bring us up to 1965, three years before Cassady’s death, which at least give the whole a kind of vaguely rounded complete autobiography feel.

In amongst this mixed bag of the books second half is its highlight, a short prose-poem Leaving L.A. by Train at Night, High… Subject wise, it’s all in the title, but Cassady paints a vivid picture from a late 1940s perspective, now lost to the sprawling metropolis the city has become, but with hints and suggestions that even now bring it back to life.

In all, Lawrence Ferlinghetti sums it up in his 1981 Editor’s Note when he describes The First Third as being written in ‘homespun, primitive prose’, but this seems to capture the spirit of the writer and his truly unique story from potential drop out bum to cult icon and hero of a new kind of American Dream that has also since been lost to history and nostalgia leaving in its wake some great literary art.

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Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir by Terry Gilliam

Gilliamesque book coverOf all the men who made up Monty Python the one who certainly most struck me as most interesting was Terry Gilliam. Known for his work on the animations that linked their sketches (along with often being ‘the other one’ in the sketches) he has gone on to be a revered filmmaker in his own right, including making one of my all time favourites, Brazil, but he is one of the few people in the public eye and in his 70s of whom you hear little beyond his work.

Well after reading Gilliamesque, his autobiography, it’s clear why as he remains, in his own way, a very down to earth soul.

The main gist of the book is exactly what you’d expect, charting Gilliam’s life from his youth in Minnesota and California through formative experiences at university (surprisingly on a religious scholarship) and onto his work for various publications before achieving wider notoriety with the Pythons and beyond.

As with the best memoirs it is very easy to fall into reading this in Gilliam’s own voice and it sheds a lot of light on his life while never straying into any kind of sensationalism or slagging that, given his relationship with Hollywood over the years, one imagines could precipitate.

Terry GilliamDivided loosely into the stages of his life revolving around his career it offers insights on all sides of thing while leaving enough mystery to maintain one of the things that makes Gilliam’s work so appealing – quite how all of this fantastic imagery and spirit is contained within one person.

So we get nice stories about the interplay of the Pythons, what it was like meeting and working with Hunter S. Thompson and how it feels having a film literally washed away from you on the set of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and figuratively on The Brothers Grimm and we get glimpses into his personal life and astonishingly active mental condition.

While Gilliam’s story is fascinating and engaging what makes this book quite so special is its presentation. At a ‘coffee table’ kind of size it is itself a Gilliamesque work of art, from the almost Joker like repeated ‘Me Me Me…’ around the sides to the new and archive artwork on nearly every page this is as much a visual story as a written one.

Along with the words this charts his life from early drawings and sketches to the airbrush work for magazines that led into the cut and paste animation style of Monty Python and on into the exquisite, eccentric, design work of his films from Jabberwocky and Time Bandits up to The Zero Theorem.

Terry Gilliam

Gilliam in 1970

While most of the subjects only have short parts (there’s a lot to fit in) it means the book flies along but is none the less engaging and interesting and in combination with the artwork makes it a must for any fan of Gilliam’s work or, really, anyone with an interest in his artistic style. The fact it also charts a life that could only have happened in the second half of the twentieth century just adds an extra layer and, at times, gives it a tone a kin to the work of the Beat writers of the 1950s.

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Arguments Yard: My Autobiography by Attila The Stockbroker

Arguments Yard by Attila The StockbrokerThe lives of many punks from the late 70s and 80s have been rendered in text in recent years with varying results, I have in the past particularly enjoyed John Lydon’s first autobiography, but none I have read thus far have quite left me with the same feeling as this one.

Attila The Stockbroker, aka John Baine, has been something of a punk journeyman, starting out as a bass player before taking on mandolin, mandola (specifically one called Nelson), fiddle, medieval recorders and it seems anything else that comes his way. But it was his brand of ‘ranting’ performance poetry that made his name.

As well as the stories of gigs and tours, from Harlow in Essex to New Zealand, Canada and pretty much all over Europe, what really stands out in Attila’s story is how everything is related to his strong political beliefs and how these associate with his work.

From the start its clear (even if you didn’t know before, though chances are if you’re reading Arguments Yard you do) that Attila’s politics are, to say the least, to the left of things – I won’t go into detail as I know I’ll just get the specifics wrong. This informed a lot of the choices of gigs and tours he made and leads to us getting a very interesting insight into a side of the world in the 1980s the mainstream media tends not to discuss very much.

Particularly fascinating in this are the chapters on his tours of East Germany (and other Eastern Bloc countries), which paint a far more balanced picture than I’d ever heard. Certainly it wasn’t all wine and roses, and in some places things seem particularly bleak, but there is also a strong streak of free discussion and creativity evident – at least in East Germany.

Attila (seated) with fellow ranter Seething Wells

Attila (seated) with fellow ranter Seething Wells in the mid 1980s

What this serves to show, along with his discussion of his role in miners strike protests, is the level of truth Attila seems to imbue all his work with – again if you’re familiar with his oeuvre this won’t come as a surprise but its impressive to read none-the-less.

More fascinating stories are told of Attila’s formative years on the punk circuit delivering his left-wing message in the face of the National Front and the British Movement, far right organisations that had a worryingly large following in the early 1980s (and sadly seem to be raising their ugly, likely shaved, heads again today – boneheads though, not skinheads).

Much like the East German passages, these shed a new light (for me) on a period I’d only really ever heard one side of.

All these stories could be rather heavy going, but, in the deft words of Attila, they are engaging and absorbing throughout – even when he’s talking about football!

Having seen Attila perform a few times (and I’m proud to say having supported him once as my musical alter-ego) its clear he writes very much as he speaks. Throughout his voice came across, making it almost like having the audio book playing in your head, or Attila there telling you these stories first hand.

Dropped in at appropriate times across the book are some of Attila’s poems and the lyrics to some of his songs that help in telling the stories and setting the scene. Many of these are out of print elsewhere and are no longer performed making Arguments Yard the only place you can easily find them and again, through Attila’s writing style, they really leap off the page if his voice is kept in mind while reading.

Attila The Stockbroker on stage with Barnstormer

Attila on stage with Barnstormer at Vale Earth Fair 2014

The final third of the book deals with much more personal matters but again these are rendered in fascinating and truly open style, and still run through with a (mostly) more relaxed string of gigs and tours. This all culminates in Attila’s most personal and emotionally effecting work, in many ways his masterpiece, The Long Goodbye.

As a fan of Attila already, and sharing some (if not all) of his political ideals – I think it was Fat Mike from NoFX who said if you agree with everything someone else says it’s deeply suspicious – I very much enjoyed Arguments Yard, but I think for anyone with an interest in punk rock, performance poetry, and life in Britain and Europe in the last half century there is a lot to enjoy, all told through the unique, honest and powerful voice of a true ranter.

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Yes! by Daniel Bryan and Craig Tello

Yes! by Daniel BryanEver since Mick Foley hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list with his autobiography, Have A Nice Day, it has been de rigueur for popular professional wrestlers to tell their life stories in print.

These range from the excellent, the aforementioned Foley book and Ric Flair’s To Be The Man to the reputedly garbage, Chyna’s If They Only Knew, and now former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan (aka ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson) has added his to the mix in the form of Yes! My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of Wrestlemania (a companion to a recent DVD box set).

The most noticeable thing about this particular autobiography is its format. While a majority of it is Bryan (I’ll go with his WWE name as it’s a WWE book) telling us his story, each chapter starts with a section from WWE.com writer Craig Tello focusing on the days leading up to Wrestlemania 30, undeniably the protagonist’s biggest moment in ‘sports entertainment’.

Tello’s sections have a few interesting moments, particularly in relation to Bryan’s training (focusing on legit kickboxing and MMA based work) and his attempts to maintain a near vegan diet, though they often veer into somewhat ‘celebrity’ territory which isn’t so much where my interest lies.

Bryan Danielson and Jushin 'Thunder' Liger

Bryan Danielson and Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger

Bryan’s sections however are far more interesting. Tracking his life from school in Aberdeen, Washington (the same town that gave us Kurt Cobain, fact fans) through his early interest in pro-wrestling to training, his run as ‘King of the Indies’ and on to becoming a WWE ‘Superstar’.

Throughout his story the already modest and likeable wrestler comes across even more so and it is clear that from a young age he was a genuine and huge fan of pro-wrestling. He tells of taking in everything he could from the monsters of the then WWF to the early technical and cruiserweight style performers that gave him his real inspiration.

As a fan of wrestling seeing this side of Bryan and hearing his insight into the wrestling I grew up watching is genuinely fascinating, as is seeing his love grow into his journey into the industry as he clearly shared many of the same thoughts as me (and no doubt many others).

Danielson and McGuinness

Danielson and McGuinness

As the book goes on we get an insight into his training and his time wrestling on the ‘indies’ travelling from Texas and California to Japan, England and Germany and each brings out some fascinating and entertaining stories. While a lot of these stories are similar to ones told by Chris Jericho in his book, Bryan gives us a very different perspective on them that feels much more down to earth.

Across all of this Bryan isn’t afraid to discuss wrestling as the entertainment it is, which gives another interesting angle on things as he speaks about it from both an athletic context (and with a hard-hitting, intense, style like Bryan’s athleticism is key) but also the pre-determined elements. Most interesting in this regard is a short section talking about his rivalry with Nigel McGuinness and the problem with concussions that continue to affect both men and a section about performing at British holiday camps.

Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 30

Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 30

As we get up to his WWE run Bryan isn’t afraid to address some of the issues he’s had and reflect on how their translation onto TV is one of the things that elevated him to the level of appearing in the main event of Wrestlemania.

Alongside this his stories of some of his fellow performers have given me a new respect for some of them that has rarely come across on TV and, in the case of William Regal, has just increased my respect and appreciation for his work.

The book ends, as the title suggests with the events around Wrestlemania 30 which, a year and a bit on, leaves a bit of a bitter after taste due to what came next.

Ultimately though this is a solid, if slightly on the short side, story of true fan living a dream and all the time that comes with the feeling that isn’t just the party line but is the actual truth of the situation – something often hard to find in the strange world of professional wrestling.

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Wilko Johnson – Looking Back At Me

wilko johnson - Looking Back At MeReading the autobiography of Wilko Johnson at this particular time is going to be slightly affected by the guitar legend’s current state of health, but I will try to overlook that in reviewing the book, though its safe to say it gives some of the stories Wilko tells an extra resonance.

Starting out as a photo book chronicling Wilko’s musical career, co-writer Zoe Howe soon realised the stories that accompanied the photos and sketches she unearthed with Wilko would make them all the more interesting. So, rather than a straight autobiography, what we get in Looking Back At Me is a combination of images from Wilko’s life alongside what seem to be pretty direct transcripts of the man’s stories.

While its fair to say Wilko’s time in Dr. Feelgood, the band that made his name, takes up a fairly major chunk of the book, we do get a deep insight into other factors of his life, particularly before the Feelgoods.

Wilko JohnsonIt is this pre-Dr. Feelgood section where the book is at its best as Wilko spins a tale, and reading the book it really does feel like he is telling you these stories directly, through his youth on Canvey Island, to grammar school in Southend and on to university and the beginnings of his relationship and marriage with Irene, who it is clear was nearly as much a part of the Wilko Johnson story as Wilko himself – although at times in a decidedly unconventional, but it would seem ultimately honest and true, marriage.

Amongst this section the parts that fascinated me most were the sections chronicling Wilko’s travels to India where he paints a vivid picture of the journey, one which feels almost mythical at times, but is always kept grounded thanks to the storyteller’s own brilliant and unique take on the English language.

Dr. Feelgood

Dr. Feelgood

Once Dr. Feelgood enter the picture we get, for a few ‘chapters’ at least, a fairly conventional rock ‘n’ roll autobiography with tales of both the music and the excess that went along with it, however, as the Feelgood years come to an end we get something that you don’t often see in these kind of books – a genuine sense of regret from the author.

It’s this, which continues into some of the stories of his life immediately post-Feelgood, that really allows the reader to know this is Wilko’s story, straight from the horse’s mouth, and not forced into being a glossy fairytale as drug problems, bad artistic choices and the loss of once essential personal relationships are lost and show a man seemingly in decline.

Wilko in Game Of Thrones

Wilko in Game Of Thrones

Thankfully that’s not how it ends though as the feeling I got by end of the book, which brings us up to date with tale from the set of Game Of Thrones, where Wilko plays “The King’s Justice” Ser Ilyn Payne, and his interest in astronomy, was one of positivity in a life lived to its full.

While Wilko Johnson may be something of a cult figure in the rock ‘n’ roll world his story is certainly one worth hearing, and, thanks to the style of this books creation, it really does feel like Wilko is telling you his fascinating story in his own poetic way.

Wilko Johnson’s farewell tour recently rolled through The Fermain Tavern in Guernsey, you can read my review and see my photos from the shows here.

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A Lion’s Tale: Around The World in Spandex by Chris Jericho

A Lion's Tale - Chris Jericho coverEver since Mick Foley wrote Have A Nice Day pro-wrestling autobiographies have become something of a must for pretty much any performer who ever had even the slightest recognition in the mainstream.

While some, like the aforementioned Foley’s or Ric Flair’s books are fascinating insights into the strange and bizarre multi-million dollar carnival of pro-wrestling, others are clearly cash-ins that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

So where does Jericho’s book come in this scheme?

Thankfully it’s nearer the caliber of Foley’s work than say, The Hardy Boyz, as it takes us largely through the Lion Heart’s time working through the 90s indie wrestling world and in Europe, Mexico and Japan, as well as his time in WCW.

Written while Jericho was on a break from WWE in the mid-2000s the book pulls no punches in its discussion of pro-wrestling, this gives us a truly interesting look at the much misunderstood industry and points out its flaws as well as its good sides from training right through to the big time – although as it ends with Jericho’s WWE debut it does, potentially, let Vince and co off the hook.

Lance Storm and Chris Jericho

Lance Storm and Chris Jericho

That aside we get to see how ‘The last survivor of the Hart Dungeon’ made it from a bowling alley in Calgary to the biggest arenas in the world.

For me the most interesting parts were hearing about how the industry differs from one country to another. While Canada and the USA have all but merged in terms of pro-wrestling the stories from Mexico, Germany and Japan show very different ways of doing things and explain a lot about the different matches I have seen from each region – particularly the European approach where many of wrestlers mentioned have visited Guernsey over the years to flog their shtick of ‘homage’ of famous guys from the US.

What we also get an insight into is how the characters of wrestlers are created, or at least how it worked for Jericho.

Having established himself as a heel (bad guy), Jericho angled to work that role whenever possible but, depending on the bookers (the guys who put the matches and shows together) they would either work with him or impose their ideas and if Jericho didn’t follow he’d be out of a job.

Chris Jericho in JapanThis led to some interesting moments that have been left out of WWE’s official history of “the Ayatollah or Rock and Roll-a” including The Phoenix in Mexico and the one time only appearance of Super Liger in New Japan and how such things effected his journey.

The last chunk of the book deals with the time in WCW and again gives an interesting view of how things were working there as, while it doesn’t exactly paint the likes of Bischoff, Hall, Nash and Hogan in the best light, it doesn’t do a complete hatchet job on them either as it draws a picture of a company running totally off the rails, which cleared up some of my questions about how WCW hit such a peak and then so quickly collapsed before it was taken over by WWE in 2001.

On top of all the wrestling stuff we also get to find out about Chris Irvine, the man who is Chris Jericho, and see how his life has panned out from being a young wrestling fan onwards.

Chris Jericho in WCWIt’s this that takes the book up a level as we gain a real insight into why he does what he does in the ring and how his real life and wrestling life have affected each other over the years.

This is something that doesn’t always come across as, for some, its something that they don’t want to put across (or would spoil their in-ring persona) or there seemingly isn’t that much to tell – here though, much like in Foley’s story, we get a balance of the two that really made me connect with Jericho in a way that the best autobiographies (on any subject) do.

While I’m not going to claim A Lion’s Tale would be a fascinating read for non-wrestling fans, it is one the books on the subject I’ve read which would at least be accessible and, for any ‘Jericho-holics’, is a must, while there is certainly something in there for both more casual fans and even some non-fans to find out more about both the man and the multi-million dollar sideshow world he lives in.

And here’s a little bit of Jericho himself talking about the book:

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A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman

A Liar's Autobiography posterIt can only be said that the Monty Python team have never really been ones to do things the easy way and this trend more than continues on the latest film to focus on them, and specifically Graham Chapman.

Based on Chapman’s mid-80s autobiography, and using an audio recording of it made at the time as its backbone, it tells what could be an entirely made up account of his life with extra vocal inserts from the rest of the Python team (with one exception) and a few others including a suitably Python-esque cameo from Cameron Diaz.

Stylistically the film is fantastic as it takes the original and new audio tracks and lays them over an hour and a half of animation that varies from work reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s to children’s cartoon styles (on the brilliant Sit On My Face musical number) to the frankly nightmarish as we see Chapman going cold turkey through his own eyes.

A Liar's Autobiography 1This combination of styles keeps up the film’s overall conceit of dubious truth brilliantly as we are never totally sure where we stand and are kept on edge all the time as the scenes rattle along.

Away from the design, which reflects the style and content expertly, comes the film’s main problem – its conceit of how true the story is.

While in a book I could see this working as we are reading Chapman’s own words of the page, here, despite the use of the audio recordings, the very nature of making it into a film presents a disconnect in this relationship which makes the oddly believable, but certainly heightened, stories hard to pick out from the completely fabricated in a way that rather than adding an air of the Pythonically absurd is just frustrating.

Graham Chapman animationMixed within the confusion are some great moments, first is a scene from Graham’s youth where he and his mother went to meet his father at the site of a plane crash where the young boy remembers vividly seeing “body parts in the trees” which is rendered in brilliantly gruesome fashion.

Also well put across are the scenes surrounding Chapman’s first meeting with his long time partner David and his coming out to his friends which seem to grasp something of the way society felt about gay men at the time, but also hints at the more liberal world to come and paints a great picture of the juxtaposition between Chapman’s perceived and actual lifestyles.

Terry Jones and Michael PalinIn the end the film is imbalanced and disjointed and, I would have thought, for anyone not a fan of Monty Python, would seem to tell its story in a hugely nonsensical way – however, as a fan, I found it an interesting exploration of Graham Chapman’s life.

The main documentary in the extra features works very well as a companion piece to the film as it features both contributors who knew Chapman, including his brother and comedian Barry Cryer, alongside the Pythons, and the directors and animators who created the film’s visuals.

A_Liars_Autobiography-3_largeAcross the 48-minute doc we find out just how much of the story is true and it serves to add a context to the main feature that I thought it was lacking and helps to really make the film more digestible.

While I understand the original film may not have wanted to be easily digestible, to me it veered slightly too far into the willfully obscure to match its content, almost like Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life does, and so is at best rather flawed, but, with the extra context provided by the bonus documentary it does become something interesting and worth seeing for fans of varied animation styles and Monty Python and people more interested in pop culture history.

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