In 2001, in his debut book Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota Chuck Klosterman wrote “I mean, nobody literate cares about metal, right?” Obviously, Klosterman himself didn’t think that metal was unworthy of literary examination and he plowed ahead with the book that set the foundation for his successful career.
The dismissive attitude Klosterman examined in his book pervaded the publishing industry for years. Just a few years ago, as I started the process of shopping my book about hard rock and heavy metal, my agent and I were constantly told by editors, “Metal fans don’t read” or “Rockers don’t buy books.” As late as the spring of 2009, editors at major mainstream publishers were still claiming that no one would buy a book about heavy music.
However, over the months and years, there has been an interesting sea change in metal book world.
This past weekend, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler debuted at #2 on The New York Times bestseller list with his book Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?. Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx returned to the bestseller list with his photography journal This is Gonna Hurt debuted at #4 on the May 1st compilation. Sixx is no stranger to bestselling books, having worked on the seminal The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Band with his bandmates and then achieving solo success with 2008’s The Heroin Diaries. Vocalist and tequila purveyor Sammy Hagar debuted at #1 on the April 3rd list with his memoir Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock.
This recent spate of top selling heavy metal memoirs is not a recent phenomenon. Last summer, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Guns ‘N Roses’ Steven Adler, and Motley Crue’s Vince Neil all hit the publishing charts. Prior to that, there were bestsellers from legendary singer Ozzy Osbourne, the former Korn guitarist Brian Welch, guitar god Slash, KISS driving force Gene Simmons, and plenty others.
The coming months are littered with heavy metal books as well. Former Velvet Revolver and Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland publishes Not Dead & Not for Sale: A Memoir this week. Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor is releasing The Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good in July. Marauding guitar hero Zakk Wylde has Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berzerker’s Guide to World Tour Domination in September. Duff McKagan from GnR, Velvet Revolver, and Loaded will release It’s So Easy (And Other Lies) in October.
Original KISS members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss have signed book deals with Gallery Books and Scribner respectively. The posthumous memoir of vocal god Ronnie James Dio sold to MTV Books. Black Sabbath’s Tommy Iommi sold his book to Da Capo while Metallica’s Kirk Hammett went with Abrams.
In short, the last decade has seen a seismic shift in publishing attitudes towards hard rock and heavy metal. Whereas the genre’s fans were initially dismissed as illiterate neanderthals, now those rockin’ readers are seen as guaranteed book buyers. Not too long ago, publishing intelligentsia said “Rockers don’t read.” However, recently, a bestselling author told me, “Heavy metal fans will buy anything.”
This week at Slushpile.net, we’ll take a look at the heavy metal book phenomenon. We’ll look at the causes, we’ll focus on some cool titles that didn’t get the attention they deserved, we’ll examine the books that nothing but cash grabbing products, and we’ll also make a case about how this trend is near the end.[Editor’s Note: There was a Los Angeles Times entry entitled “How Rock Music is Saving Books” that touched on some of these topics, at a higher level. The link to that article is not active on the newspaper’s website.]