Many legendary musicians have taken literary guitar solos off-stage by penning great rock memoirs. Music fans adore delving into their favorite artists’ juicy, tell-all autobiographies. Rock memoirs allow average Joes to experience the scandalous debauchery of the rock and roll lifestyle. From hit records and red carpets to drug addiction and sleazy groupies, these memoirs take readers on the rollercoaster ride of stardom. Whether written in 1960 or today, rock memoirs capture the drama of music heroes journeying towards their big dreams.
However, rock memoirs aren’t always the fascinating, soul-baring reads you’d expect. The genre has plenty of autobiographies filled with fluff already well-known on the Internet. Rock memoirs can also become garbled, indecipherable accounts by musicians who are more accustomed to writing notes than paragraphs. The best memoirs avoid the usual road-worn clichés and plots to eloquently share unhindered truths about rock stars.
Below we’ll recognize 30 great rock memoirs that deserve a sacred space on your bookshelf or Kindle library.
#1 – I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir
Releasing in October 2016, this much-anticipated memoir tells the story of Brian Wilson, the co-founder of the Beach Boys. Starting with his turbulent childhood with an abusive father, Wilson relays the mental illness, drugs, and sorrow that plagued his early life. He also offers glimpses into the songwriting process for hits like “Good Vibrations.” Readers witness his never-ending climb to survive the industry and remain one of music’s most revered figures.
#2 – Walk This Way
Divided in two, Walk This Way chronicles the history of the legendary hard rock band Aerosmith. Members Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Joey Kramer, and Brad Whitford take turns sharing recollections never publicly released. Book One focuses on the early years after their album Toys in the Attic debuted. Book Two takes place after their 1980s downfall and resurgence. Candid stories of concerts, drugs, partying, and women abound.
#3 – The Dirt
Perhaps the world’s most notorious rock band, Motley Crue collaborated to publish The Dirt in 2001. Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, and Nikki Sixx detail their 30-year career without holding back. Fans journey beyond their immortal music to learn about backstage scandals, love affairs, and addictions after their rise to fame. Over 100 photographs are included to depict the pleasures and perils of decadent rock star lifestyles.
#4 – Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir
Named a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, Carrie Brownstein’s novel allows a deeply personal look into how she redefined gender limitations in rock. From her childhood in the Pacific Northwest, Brownstein depicts the search for her true calling. The exuberant guitarist details her rise to prominence with Sleater-Kinney in the growing feminist punk rock movement. She also shares the experiences that spawned the TV hit Portlandia.
#5 – Born to Run
After his Super Bowl halftime show, “The Boss” himself began writing an extraordinary autobiography detailing his life from a childhood in Freehold, New Jersey. Set for release in September 2016, Born to Run vividly recounts Springsteen’s relentless drive for music. Readers watch as his career progresses from playing bar bands to headlining the E Street Band. Bruce Springsteen details the light and darkness of his experiences with raw honesty.
#6 – Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness
Ronnie Spector published this 384-page tell-all novel about her time as lead singer for the Ronettes, the hit 1960s “girl band.” Although there are glimpses into the glamour of rock stardom, much of the memoir centers on her rocky relationship with Phil Spector. She details how her powerful producer husband turned cruel and reclusive. Follow her inspiring battle to break free, overcome alcoholism, and recreate a life worth living.
#7 – Crazy From The Heat
David Lee Roth
Van Halen lead vocalist David Lee Roth produced the ultimate rock memoir with Crazy From The Heat in 1998. The archetypal rock star shares his life’s narrative in guerrilla style with plenty of expletives. With candor, Roth depicts the backstage life for the Guinness Book’s highest paid American rock group of the ’80s. David Lee Roth also shares his recording experiences as a solo artist and several unpublished poems.
#8 – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, wrote this unique rock memoir about his time with the ’70s punk band. The “God Save the Queen” singer depicts how the Pistols were working-class rockers with families, friends, and financial woes. Lydon is unabashedly spiteful in shedding light on the British class system and the music industry. John Lydon also adds perspectives on his band mates, including the notorious Sid Vicious.
#9 – Long Hard Road Out of Hell
America’s most controversial rock idol Marilyn Manson published a shocking memoir titled Long Hard Road Out of Hell. Born as Brian Hugh Warner, Manson discusses his unstable childhood, including his grandfather’s sexual fetishes. Its pages go in-depth on how the Marilyn Manson & the Spooky Kids formed and recorded the infamous “Antichrist Superstar.” Like other rock memoirs, the book references bitter breakups and dysfunctional relationships.
#10 – Many Years From Now
With author Barry Miles, Paul McCartney wrote Many Years From Now to disprove that the late John Lennon was the Beatles’ only creative leader. The 650-plus memoir centers on the duo’s 50-50 songwriting partnership through hits like “I Feel Fine” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” From Beatlemania on, McCartney reminiscences on the genesis for every song penned with Lennon while taking credit for the band’s immersion into the avant-garde.
#11 – Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie’s debut novel gives unprecedented insight into his intriguing, sexually ambivalent stage persona Ziggy Stardust. Photographer Mick Rock assists in chronicling imagery from Ziggy’s stratospheric two-year stardom. Vast albums of images compile to detail the onstage performances and backstage scandals through his blockbuster retirement. It’s among the finest rock memoirs that beautifully immortalizes the late icon in high-definition.
#12 – Chronicles: Volume One
Through his own eyes, Chronicles: Volume One details the critical crossroads in Bob Dylan’s early life to begin the planned three-volume memoir. The National Book Critics Circle Award finalist shows Dylan’s first arrival in magical Manhattan. The story poignantly shares details about his 1960s breakthrough album. From nightlong parties to fleeting loves, readers witness Bob Dylan’s rise into fame as the “spokesman of a generation.”
#13 – Cash
Having sold over 90 million records globally, Johnny Cash is deemed one of the most influential musicians for songs like “Ring of Fire” and “Man in Black.” Cash’s deep baritone voice crossed lines from country and blues to rock and roll. From his boyhood in Arkansas to super-stardom in Nashville, Cash reminiscences on the legend’s lifetime. The autobiography highlights his 40-year career, including his marriage to June Carter, with wry humor.
#14 – Scar Tissue
Released five years after Californication, this rock memoir follows the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lead vocalist through his drug addiction battle. Son of Blackie Dammett, Anthony Kiedis first experienced drugs with his father at 11. When the band formed in the ’80s, Kiedis had a hardcore addiction. He details the effect of Slovak’s overdose death on his downward spiral. Audiences witness his fight against relapses to restart a productive, happy life.
#15 – Just Kids
Chosen for Publishers Weekly’s top 10 best books, Patti Smith’s memoir provides the same lyrical quality as her influential album Horses. Beginning in 1967, the book portrays Smith’s early career homeless and hungry in Brooklyn. That’s when she encounters Robert Mapplethorpe, a young photographer, and her life forever changes. Patti Smith tells their inseparable friendship’s moving story during the halcyon days of the Hotel Chelsea.
#16 – My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor
Hardcore punk icon Keith Morris chronicles his revolutionary 40-year career as one of music’s hardest working men. Beginning with his childhood in Los Angeles’ South Bay, the book provides a lens into Morris’ development to legend status. From leading the Circle Jerks to appearing in cult films like Repo Man, Keith Morris shares interesting perspectives on the entertainment industry and his battle with diabetes.
#17 – The Beatles Anthology
Released with the documentary series in 2000, The Beatles Anthology is a large-format hardcover book infused with photographic artwork. Archived interviews with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr as well as producer George Martin are combined into one epic rock memoir. Every page is brimming with recollections from their early days in Liverpool to their ultimate breakup, including Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono.
#18 – I, Tina
Adapted to the film What’s Love Got to Do with It with Angela Bassett in 1993, Tina Turner’s rock memoir retells her life from growing up as Anna Mae Bullock. The best-seller transports readers from her meager beginnings in Tennessee to her volatile relationship with blues musician Ike Turner. Her superstar account shares the pain and abuse that sparked one of rock music’s greatest comebacks.
#19 – Slash
Legendary Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash opens up to share his own experiences with the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle. The notoriously private musician pens a jaw-dropping memoir detailing the factors leading to the band’s demise. Beyond wild parties, groupies, drugs, and never-ending tours, Slash depicts the dictatorship rule of Axl Rose. He explains how Axl’s determination to change the band’s sound with synthesizers ripped them apart.
#20 – I Am Ozzy
Prized for its laugh-out-loud humor, I Am Ozzy provides a rambling memoir of the Black Sabbath frontman’s life. Born John Osbourne, he grew up within an impoverished British family in Aston and seemed destined for manual labor. On a trip to prison, Ozzy became enamored with the darker side of rock and roll. Life spirals out of control with recording, drinking, drugs, and women. But the unpolished autobiography then shares the satanic rocker’s rebirth.
#21 – Clapton
Clapton portrays the rock star’s life in an unseen light starting with his debut in Cream and their untimely breakup two years later. Eric Clapton shares his experiences working with Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and long-time friend George Harrison. Here readers discover his love for George’s wife, Pattie Boyd. His heartbreak leads to heroin, despair, and hit songs like “Wonderful Tonight.” Life seemingly improves as he wins Pattie’s affection, until the devastating death of their four-year-old son.
#22 – Amy, My Daughter
Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse’s memoir was written in 2013 by her closest advisor and friend, her father Mitch. The intimate account separates fact from fiction by detailing the true events that shaped her music career. Mitch doesn’t shy away from discussing her drug addiction that inspired the hit song “Rehab.” Audiences witness what happened behind-the-scenes in the months leading to the talented musician’s tragic death.
#23 – I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp
Since retiring from the music industry in 1984, Richard Hell has published countless books, including his own rock memoirs. This novel renders his shift from a bucolic childhood in Kentucky to New York City’s punk rock movement. Known for co-founding bands like The Heartbreakers and working with artists like Patti Smith, Hell forever cemented CBGB as the epicenter for punk. The memoir celebrates his passion while warning of its implicit risks.
#24 – Journals
Originally contained in over 20 notebooks, Journals presents a collection of Kurt Cobain’s handwritten notes and drawings. From a kid in Aberdeen, Washington, to a morbid punk rocker, the entries depict Corbain’s unlikely rise to fame. Readers glimpse his innermost thoughts as Cobain signs with Sub Pop, forms Nirvana, and writes “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” But entries turn darker as coping with the fame ultimately leads to heroin addiction and suicide.
#25 – Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout
Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer for Against Me!, will offer this vivid memoir of her tumultuous search for self-identity in November 2016. Born Thomas James Gabel, Laura shares how she grappled with feeling detached from her body. Tranny shares her struggles with gender transition, sex, failed relationships, and drug addiction while becoming a punk rock icon.
#26 – Life
As winner of the 2011 Norman Mailer Prize, Keith Richards’ memoir Life was written with journalist James Fox to chronicle the Rolling Stones guitarist’s rousing stardom. Richards delivers an unfettered story of his career from small gigs to sold-out stadiums. Rock fans are entranced with firsthand accounts on his love for Patti Hansen, rocky relationship with Mick Jagger, tax exile in France, and more. His journey becomes immortalized like the riffs of “Satisfaction.”
#27 – The Autobiography
Pioneering rock and roll guitarist Chuck Berry’s memoir not only shares his own past, but also uncovers dark truths about race in America. Growing up in a poor, segregated St. Louis neighborhood, Berry discusses his family roots and his feeling “black.” From performing with Johnnie Johnson’s trio to signing with Chess Records, he recounts his galloping success redefining rhythm and blues to the distinctive rock sound. The Autobiography also includes a discography of his musical masterpieces.
#28 – Don’t Try This at Home: A Year in the Life of Dave Navarro
After messy breakups with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction, guitarist Dave Navarro partnered with writer Neil Strauss to chronicle 12 months of his life. He purchased a photo booth to record every celebrity, dealer, and hooker who stopped by his house. The resulting 57 chapters speak to the quasi-glamorous rock and roll lifestyle. However, readers eventually witness Navarro’s sobriety as his career and marriage restarts.
#29 – Girl in a Band
Published in 2015, Girl in a Band shares the autobiographical story of Sonic Youth’s bass guitarist and fashion icon Kim Gordon. The memoir’s vivid pages open several chapters of her life for inspection from California to New York City. She visually details her music and passion for taking women into the unchartered territory in the Alternative revolution. Gordon also describes her personal life, marriage, and relationship with her daughter, Coco.
#30 – Take It Like a Man
Boy George strutted into rock stardom in the early ’80s with “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” His platinum Culture Club hits, avant-garde style, and captivating melodies fueled media’s obsession with the English singer. That’s until his life took a downward spiral. Boy George’s relationship with Jon Moss disintegrated, Culture Club collapsed, and drug addiction wreaked havoc. Take It Like a Man retells his highest highs and most desperate lows in mesmerizing detail.
Search for these 30 great rock memoirs to read profound, inspiring recollections from one-of-a-kind music icons who’ve experienced successes and downturns in the public eye.