Musician's Book Club: Lou Reed, Metallica and Joel McIver
It is interesting to wonder whether famous musicians and rock stars read music biographies. We recently heard author Joel McIver tell a story which reveals something about this question. We asked Joel if he would write a few words about it and he kindly agreed.
Since 1999, I've written 15 books for Omnibus Press, commissioned initially by Chris Charlesworth and then David Barraclough, and of those I think the biggest seller has been Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica, the first proper, full-sized biography of Metallica. It was first published in 2003 and is dedicated to my daughter Alice, who was born just before it was released. It did well, going into at least 10 translations, and it's been updated a few times over the years, so people are evidently still reading it. I think one of the reasons it did well was its pretentious title, reflecting the combative zeal I felt at the time about setting the Metallica story straight. I was 32 when I wrote it, and very keen to express my opinions about the best and worst music by my favourite band. Now, aged 51, I'd be rather more objective with my approach, and indeed, having expressed those opinions hundreds of times in print, I'm much more tolerant about Metallica than I was back then. Basically, I've grown up.
Still, I remain proud of Justice For All, my fifth in a line of books which now stretches to 35, and I was reminded recently that it has served a serious purpose when I was told that the late Lou Reed had bought and read it. A friend of mine, a well-known musician himself, was visiting the studio of the late producer Hal Willner, who was working with Reed at the time. Seeing a copy of Justice For All on the studio desk, my friend asked what it was doing there, not having heard Willner express an interest in Metallica before. “Oh, that’s Lou’s!” chuckled Willner, explaining that Reed was researching Metallica at the time. This was shortly before the recording of Lulu, the ill-fated collaboration between the two creative behemoths. Evidently Reed wanted to know more about the band that he was about to partner up with, and chose my book for his research.
It's funny to think of Lou Reed, the transgressive, art-rock pioneer whose mind operated on a different plane to the rest of us, taking the time to read my hot-headed thoughts on Metallica's recorded work and how it compares with, say, Slayer and Kreator and the rest of the Eighties thrash metal canon. Of course, I have no idea if he took any of it seriously, but I did end the book with the conclusion that Metallica are a cultural phenomenon like few others and that they deserve to be appreciated far beyond the metal audience, so perhaps that helped convince him that the Lulu project was a good idea. He died two years after the album was released to almost universally bad reviews, which was sad. Lulu is definitely a difficult listen, but it has its moments, and the artistic direction behind the music is admirable, whatever you think of the actual songs. I like to think that he and I would have agreed on that point.
Joel McIver, 2022
Let us know if you know of any more examples of legendary musicians and rock stars reading music biographies!
You can browse a selection of classic Joel McIver books published by Omnibus Press here.