In the third installment of my thrilling series, "Three books with the word Magus in the title" I looked at George Case's unauthorized biography of Jimmy Page, Magus Musician Man.
Among other things, I said:
So what is Page's story, assuming that he is really 'there' under the sketch created by artful re-arrangements of his words? It's a fairly typical one. Immeasurably talented young boy, loves Elvis (or rather Scotty Moore), joins a band, finds fame and fortune, does a spectacular amount of sex and drugs, cleans up just before death sets in, then becomes a family man and elder statesman, floating amongst the richocracy as stately as a galleon, bearing an OBE and adored by legions of fans.
Both of the magus books in this series of reviews so far have concerned death and rebirth … in this case Page from a very complex, beautiful and accomplished young man into quite an ordinary man. Rock music in general does seem to produce this progression, this reversal of the Monomyth, a journey downhill.
After the 02 gig I reversed myself a bit, and edited it to read that Jimmy Page probably wasn't an ordinary bloke after all. But my point still stands; the public like to read about someone who went somewhere spectacular and then came back again. They – we – prefer Sam Gamgee, back home with Rosie and the hairy-footed kids, to poor, changed Frodo Baggins fated to go to the Grey Havens to wait out his melancholy wasteland of eternity.
Another version, or reading, of the typical VH1 progression is The Man Who Learned Better – that's a Heinlein plot description for SF writers, but one which many rock stars live, or at least summarize themselves as having lived.
Yesterday I read the funniest thing since I first saw Spinal Tap, and it wasn't even a Rock Book – but a review of a rock book. It's the Sp!ked review of The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, by Nikki Sixx. I've never read the book, but the review, by Guy Rundle of Arena, is quite amusing enough for one rock reading session.
The review covers the history of rock and roll excess in a couple of hundred words. The first rock and rollers, like the recently deceased Ike Turner, expected to produce music and then gig to support it for ever. They were not regarded as poetic geniuses too fragile for this brutal world. But now you can't spit in a crowded room without hitting a troubled rock star. What the hell changed?
It wasn’t inevitable that the self-conception of the rock star would change from working muso to vitalistic genius, an image ingrained forever by the near-simultaneous excess-deaths of Jimi, Janis and Jim. The template was set for a career-path that became as rigid as a fitter-and-turner’s apprenticeship – early wild success, cultural hero status, world tours, excess, exhaustion, jadedness, breakdown, and the option of early death or eventual return; older, wiser, grislier, just wanting to talk about the music, man.
I said that too – see above. But Rundle takes this riff much further:
…as their couple of years of wild glory comes to be seen as mere pretext to the main business of collapse, redemption through rehab and the rediscovery of the simple things in life. This without anyone really noticing that the rock’n’roll lifestyle has become its very opposite. The early excess is now simply a long Shrove Tuesday before the dutiful lessons about original sin and concupiscence are taught to the downloading public. The whole process long ago became ghastly boring. With the premiere of the Osbornes reality show it became genuinely funny.
It would be unfair to pick out some gems from the review to put them here – it's worth reading it all. Suffice to say, Nikki Sixx is A Nartist, a sensitive soul, who flew too close to the sun, like Icarus, and tumbled to earth a wiser man. Sixx was, as Rundle says,
someone with a deep and unfathomable interior which needs must be expressed to the world - the full Wordsworth trip. This, above all, is the signal development of Sixties and after rock music; the belief that one was doing something more than running a danceband.
The reviewer gives some examples of Sixx's artistic output and profound thoughts on life, and one does get the impression that he tumbled to earth a wiser man (or Learned Better) for the simple reason that it is not possible to be less self-aware than the young Nikki Sixx. Therefore the journey, while statistically random in direction, is constrained at the lower limit, giving the casual onlooker the mistaken impression that it necessarily tends towards enlightenment. Luckily, Rundle is not a casual onlooker.
I often think about the variants of The Hero's Journey, and VH1 and rock books like Sixx's, have provided me with endlessly entertaining variations on the theme. In this case it looks like we've finally managed to find a personal story that really is archtetypal – only, unfortunately, it's archetypal of a prat.
You can be sure I'll be buying it.
Nikki Sixx, The Heroin Diaries
The Spiked Review of the above