Lost in Music/This Little Ziggy
In the years following my disappointment with reading the acclaimed Nick Hornby rock novel High Fidelity, a book that I thought worked better in its slightly cheesy Hollywood movie form (despite the horrible segments featuring Lisa Bonet), I was turned onto two lesser-known rock memoirs with little distribution outside the UK that I found much more satisfying, Giles Smith's Lost in Music and Martin Newell's This Little Ziggy.
Like High Fidelity, these books detail the love and beauty fueling rock obsessives' frequently pathetic exploits. The books share some overlapping themes with each other, in large part because Smith and Newell were bandmates in Newell's cult-pop band, The Cleaners from Venus. Lost in Music is most similar to High Fidelity, with tales of a young man's move from record lover to nearly-successful musician to contented, music-loving journalist. The book is loaded with commentaries on favorite records, a fair share of lists, and other devices made popular in High Fidelity, but even when Smith is waxing over what I would consider a cheesy single from his record collection, there's never that sense that Hornby can't seem to avoid, that of the smug zealot of semi-hipness. Midway through the book, Smith meets up with Newell, and during his stint with The Cleaners of Venus, he realizes what separates himself from what he considers a true artist like Newell. Really sweet, humble stuff that's too often brushed under the carpet in rock writing.
Sweet humility and a great deal of self-deprecating humor are on display in Newell's memoir of his teenage years as an aspiring Glam Rock star. This Little Ziggy is dead-on in its tales of teenage rock rites of passage, from early experiences with rock 'n roll through teenage rebellion, school dropout, girlfriends, drugs, local band success, brushes with near greatness, more drugs, parental reconcilliation, and eventual inklings of one's own artistic voice. I laughed; I cried. Numerous times. This book is presently out of print and pretty tough to find. If you ever come across a copy, snatch it up! Before I leave this post, I must recommend the music of Martin Newell as well, especially The Greatest Living Englishman album.