The rock novel that makes Mötley Crüe dull

Book review: it’s quite a feat to write a boring book about the music industry

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

8 August 2015

9:00 AM

My Life and the Beautiful Music Jon Hotten

Cape, pp.256, £14.99, ISBN: 9780224077835

Novels set in the music business (from blockbuster to coming-of-age) are few and far between — far less than in the film industry, say. Is this because writers are scared of looking square, Daddy-O, being as a breed not the most ‘street’ of types, whereas pop stars have traditionally been quite rough, ready and proletarian? Mind you, these days so many chart musicians are privately educated bedwetters that, shamefully, this shouldn’t be a problem any longer. I look forward eagerly to the roman à clef which reveals the backstage Babylon of Mumford & Sons.

It certainly couldn’t be more boring than this stinker. I haven’t read any books by Bret Easton Ellis, but I imagine they’re a bit like this: a bunch of seen-it-all ciphers wafting around Los Angeles, turning on and copping off, with no one enjoying it. And it’s all meant to mean something horrid about democracy and capitalism while being a damn sight nearer to Flanders and Swann: ‘Ma’s out, Pa’s out, Let’s talk rude!/Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers/Let’s write rude words all down our street/Stick out our tongues at the people we meet/Let’s have an intellectual treat/Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.’ And sure enough, there’s a quote from old Fun-Boy Three-Names at the start: ‘LA forces you to become the person you really are.’ Sure — but couldn’t you say the same about Penge?

‘This book is based on the experiences and recollections of the author. Names of people, places, dates and details of events have been changed and characters created as a literary device and to protect the privacy of others.’ This seems a wise move. If I, for one, suspected that I had inspired a character as drippy and dreary as the ones who waft across the pages of this tome-stone, I’d sue. They’re all utterly interchangeable. You’ve very probably come across a string of paper dolls with more depth and differentiation. Even when ‘real’ people, such as Pamela Anderson and the chaps from Mötley Crüe, rock up, there’s no sense of excitement; the wild bunch are a mild bunch, the wild parties mild parties and the principals all take a walk on the mild side.

It’s also strangely old-fashioned. A girl (single, young) is described as ‘openly flirting’ with a single man at a party. Whoa — shameless hussy! ‘Want to come round the back and smoke a joint?’ someone asks. ‘The singer who slept with the older wife of another rock star’, ‘the bass player who was raising one of his bandmate’s children as his own’ — it’s set in 1988, but seems as wide-eyed as 1955 where matters of sex and drugs are concerned. (I half expected to read the words, ‘She flew, hatless, into the street’ at some point.)

When the mores weren’t confounding me, the ‘insights’ just made me want to blow a loud childish raspberry: ‘The one thing your lover can’t give you — the experience of another.’ What, not even if they put on a Blair mask and clown-shoes and talk dirty in a South African accent?

There’s a lot of tossy meteorological details — ‘golden light’ and ‘sea-blue sky’ and ‘white caps of the waves’ and ‘Phoenix was hot with a dry wind’ — to the point where you think you’ve wandered into a bad bit of travel writing rather than the steamy, no-holes-barred exposé of ‘the glory days when the music business was a vast and amoral empire and sex, drugs and rock’n’roll were the lifestyle of choice’ promised by the blurb.

The central plot — that a random man is pretending to be the rock star Nikki Sixx — is appropriate, as this book is pretending to be a sensational exposé while actually it is marginally less thrilling than one of those garden accessories catalogues that falls out of Sunday newspapers. It somehow makes weird sense that the author, once of Kerrang! magazine, is now the proud parent of the cricket blog the Old Batsman. Add cycling spinsters and warm beer to the mix here, and you’ve got a slice of life so tepid that it would warm the cockles of even John Major’s cautious heart.

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Show comments
  • Roger Banks

    Love your canny British wit. (Always best read aloud with English accent.)

  • damspam

    This is the pitfall of writing Rock Fiction: pointless plots and shallow caricatures living juvenile fantasies. However, I’ve read two good Rock Novels, both of which had musicians as protagonists and whose characters couldn’t care less about living the “lifestyle.” The author, Chad Peery, has played with a number of name bands, but in his writing presents many of his contemporaries as thoughtful, intelligent, and interestingly flawed people. Both books were excellent reads, and the stories could have worked well outside of the music world. That the stories had their genesis in worlds most of us will never see, makes it just that much better.

  • PaD

    the music world and its inhabitants,other than a handful of genuine artists,eg BobDylan ,contains about as much human interest as a wet fag-end on the floor of a rainy bus shelter.

    • PaD

      that goes for those who write about it too.

      • MacGuffin

        And for those who would want to read about it.

  • blandings

    “A girl (single, young) is described as ‘openly flirting’ with a single
    man at a party. Whoa — shameless hussy! ‘Want to come round the back and
    smoke a joint?’ someone asks. ‘The singer who slept with the older wife
    of another rock star’, ”

    Crikey, sounds like my sixth form on a wet Wednesday.