A Note on Co-Authors

During this weeklong examination of the hard rock and heavy metal memoir trend, it’s impossible to ignore the role of the co-author in these projects. Sometimes the co-authors (or ghostwriters if you prefer that title) can bring a level of literary high art to the proceedings. Other times, co-authors are reduced to mere typists by the celebrities.

In Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, Nick Hornby writes, “Neil Strauss, the Studs Terkel of hair metal, has a good ear for the band’s self-delusions, idiocies, and fuckups. Strauss, one suspects, has class. (Wilkie Collins provides the book’s epigraph, for example, and I’m guessing that this wasn’t Tommy Lee’s idea.)” But while Strauss [disclosure: who is a friend and colleague] clearly influenced the Crue to take more substantive routes in The Dirt, it simply isn’t always possible for the co-author to change a celebrity’s mind.

Celebs are, almost by definition, highly opinionated and accustomed to getting their own way. And frequently, these book projects are just a hassle for the musician who would rather be writing songs, banging chicks, collecting art, racing cars, or whatever their preferred hobby is. Mike Sager alludes to such when he mentions that Vince Neil missed interviews and was more focused on Sunday football. Sager’s too professional to come right out and say it in the media, but God only knows what he had to deal with in order to get Tattoos & Tequila completed. The book pisses me off, but I’ve got a feeling that Sager deserves a medal for simply getting it published. Because that’s not always the case.

Random House sued rapper Sean Combs for never completing a memoir, a case that was ultimately settled. The music mogul also tussled with his co-author Mikal Gilmore, alleging that the journalist failed to meet contractual obligations.

More recently, the piano man Bill Joel cancelled his memoir mere months prior to publication. Media reports said the singer decided he simply wasn’t “interested in talking about the past.”

So the co-author’s job is a perilous task of corralling and wrangling celebrities that aren’t always cooperative. Of the hard rock and heavy metal books that we’ve discussed here at Slushpile.net, I would give mixed results to the ghostwriters.

I’ve never met Sammy Hagar but I’ve heard from people who work with him that he’s a fairly reasonable dude so I’m guessing that Joel Selvin had a decent experience on Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock.

I also haven’t met Dave Mustaine, but friends tell me that sobriety and maturity have settled the rocker down to reasonable levels so my guess would be that Joe Layden got along with the musician while writing Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir.

Steven Adler has always been cool to me and seems a very kind-hearted guy (if still troubled) as opposed to the way he’s portrayed on the rehab shows. So I kind of envy Lawrence J. Spagnola the experience of working on My Appetite for Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N’ Roses.

In short, when we criticize celebrity memoirs, it’s a challenge to know when to point to the finger at the co-authors. Sometimes they can add a great deal of heft, intelligence, and art to the project. But other times, they’re just hoping to avoid a lawsuit or to complete an interview before someone enters rehab. It’s a tough gig.

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