10 Biographies and Memoirs Worth Discovering
I’m an avid reader of a variety of books, but for the most part, my current favourites seem to fall within the (auto)biography and memoir genre, especially those about entertainment personalities. The following is a list of recent releases that caught my attention, and obviously they reflect my personal choices accordingly. Enjoy!
Rock Hudson – All That Heaven Allows
The title of this one is taken from a 1955 film of the same name, that starred Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. The definitive biography of the deeply complex and widely misunderstood matinee idol of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Devastatingly handsome, broad-shouldered and clean-cut, Rock Hudson was the ultimate movie star. The embodiment of romantic masculinity in American film throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, Hudson reigned supreme as the king of Hollywood.
As an Oscar-nominated leading man, Hudson won acclaim for his performances in glossy melodramas (Magnificent Obsession), western epics (Giant) and blockbuster bedroom farces (Pillow Talk). In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hudson successfully transitioned to television; his long-running series McMillan & Wife and a recurring role on Dynasty introduced him to a whole new generation of fans.
The icon worshipped by moviegoers and beloved by his colleagues appeared to have it all. Yet beneath the suave and commanding star persona, there was an insecure, deeply conflicted, and all too vulnerable human being. Growing up poor in Winnetka, Illinois, Hudson was abandoned by his biological father, abused by an alcoholic stepfather, and controlled by his domineering mother.
Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Hudson was determined to become an actor at all costs. After signing with the powerful but predatory agent Henry Willson, the young hopeful was transformed from a clumsy, tongue-tied truck driver into Universal Studio’s resident Adonis. In a more conservative era, Hudson’s wholesome, straight-arrow screen image was at odds with his closeted homosexuality.
As a result of his gay relationships and clandestine affairs, Hudson was continually threatened with public exposure, not only by scandal sheets like Confidential but by a number of his own partners. For years, Hudson dodged questions concerning his private life, but in 1985 the public learned that the actor was battling AIDS. The disclosure that such a revered public figure had contracted the illness focused worldwide attention on the epidemic.
Drawing on more than 100 interviews with co-stars, family members and former companions, All That Heaven Allows finally delivers a complete and nuanced portrait of one of the most fascinating stars in cinema history. Author Mark Griffin provides new details concerning Hudson’s troubled relationships with wife Phyllis Gates and boyfriend Marc Christian. And here, for the first time, is an in-depth exploration of Hudson’s classic films, including Written on the Wind, A Farewell to Arms, and the cult favorite Seconds. With unprecedented access to private journals, personal correspondence, and production files, Griffin pays homage to the idol whose life and death had a lasting impact on American culture. Plans are underway to adapt this into a film as well.
Available from Harper Collins. Click here.
Robbie Robertson – Testimony: A Memoir
On the fortieth anniversary of The Band’s legendary The Last Waltz concert, Robbie Robertson finally tells his own spellbinding story of the band that changed music history, his extraordinary personal journey, and his creative friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century.
Robbie Robertson’s singular contributions to popular music have made him one of the most beloved songwriters and guitarists of his time. With songs like “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “Up on Cripple Creek,” he and his partners in The Band fashioned music that has endured for decades, influencing countless musicians.
In this captivating memoir, written over five years of reflection, Robbie Robertson employs his unique storyteller’s voice to weave together the journey that led him to some of the most pivotal events in music history. He recounts the adventures of his half-Jewish, half-Mohawk upbringing on the Six Nations Indian Reserve and on the gritty streets of Toronto; his odyssey at sixteen to the Mississippi Delta, the fountainhead of American music; the wild, early years on the road with rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks; his unexpected ties to the Cosa Nostra underworld; the gripping trial-by-fire “going electric” with Bob Dylan on his 1966 world tour, and their ensuing celebrated collaborations; the formation of The Band and the forging of their unique sound, culminating with history’s most famous farewell concert, brought to life for all time in Martin Scorsese’s great movie The Last Waltz.
This is the story of a time and place—the moment when rock ʼnʼ roll became life, when legends like Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley crisscrossed the circuit of clubs and roadhouses from Texas to Toronto, when The Beatles, Hendrix, The Stones, and Warhol moved through the same streets and hotel rooms. It’s the story of exciting change as the world tumbled through the ʼ60s and early ʼ70s, and a generation came of age, built on music, love, and freedom. Above all, it’s the moving story of the profound friendship among five young men who together created a new kind of popular music.
Testimony is Robbie Robertson’s story, lyrical and true, as only he could tell it.
Published by Penguin Random House Canada. Read an excerpt before you buy it.
A documentary of the same title is also in production, with no release date noted as yet.
Stevie Nicks – Gold Dust Woman
Stevie Nicks is a legend of rock, but her energy and magnetism sparked new interest in this icon. At sixty-nine, she’s one of the most glamorous creatures rock has known, and the rare woman who’s a real rock ‘n’ roller.
Gold Dust Woman gives “the gold standard of rock biographers” (The Boston Globe) his ideal topic: Nicks’ work and life are equally sexy and interesting, and Davis delves deeply into each, unearthing fresh details from new, intimate interviews and interpreting them to present a rich new portrait of the star. Just as Nicks (and Lindsey Buckingham) gave Fleetwood Mac the “shot of adrenaline” they needed to become real rock stars―according to Christine McVie―Gold Dust Woman is vibrant with stories and with a life lived large and hard:
―How Nicks and Buckingham were asked to join Fleetwood Mac and how they turned the band into stars
―The affairs that informed Nicks’ greatest songs
―Her relationships with the Eagles’ Don Henley and Joe Walsh, and with Fleetwood himself
―Why Nicks married her best friend’s widower
―Her dependency on cocaine, drinking and pot, but how it was a decade-long addiction to Klonopin that almost killed her
― Nicks’ successful solo career that has her still performing in venues like Madison Square Garden
―The cult of Nicks and its extension to chart-toppers like Taylor Swift and the Dixie Chicks
Published by St. Martin’s Press/MacMillan Publishing. Click here to order.
David Bowie – The Oral History
Dylan Jones’s engrossing, magisterial biography of David Bowie is unlike any Bowie story ever written. Drawn from over 180 interviews with friends, rivals, lovers and collaborators, some of whom have never before spoken about their relationship with Bowie, this oral history weaves a hypnotic spell as it unfolds the story of a remarkable rise to stardom and an unparalleled artistic path. Tracing Bowie’s life from the English suburbs to London to New York to Los Angeles, Berlin and beyond, its collective voices describe a man profoundly shaped by his relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry; an intuitive artist who could absorb influences through intense relationships and yet drop people cold when they were no longer of use; and a social creature equally comfortable partying with John Lennon and dining with Frank Sinatra. By turns insightful and deliciously gossipy, David Bowie is as intimate a portrait as may ever be drawn. It sparks with admiration and grievances, lust and envy, as the speakers bring you into studios and bedrooms they shared with Bowie, and onto stages and film sets, opening corners of his mind and experience that transform our understanding of both artist and art. Including illuminating, never-before-seen material from Bowie himself, drawn from a series of Jones’s interviews with him across two decades, David Bowie is an epic, unforgettable cocktail-party conversation about a man whose enigmatic shapeshifting and irrepressible creativity produced one of the most sprawling, fascinating lives of our time.
Available from Penguin Random House Publishing. Click here.
Gordon Lightfoot – Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot’s name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness. His music defined the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and ‘70s, topped charts and sold millions. He is unquestionably Canada’s greatest songwriter, and an international star who has performed on the world’s biggest stages. While Lightfoot’s songs are well known, the man behind them is elusive. He’s never allowed his life to be chronicled in a book—until now.
Biographer Nick Jennings has had unprecedented access to the notoriously reticent musician. Lightfoot takes us deep inside the artist’s world, from his idyllic childhood in Orillia, the wild sixties, and his canoe trips into Canada’s North to his heady times atop the music world. Jennings explores the toll that success took on his personal life—including his troubled relationships, his battle with alcohol and his near-death experiences—and the extraordinary drive and tenacity that pulled him through it all.
Rich in voice from fellow musicians, close friends, Lightfoot’s family and the singer’s own reminiscences, the biography tells the stories behind some of his best-known love songs, including “Beautiful” and “Song for a Winter’s Night,” as well as the infidelity and divorce that resulted in classics like “Sundown” and “If You Could Read My Mind.” Kris Kristofferson has called Lightfoot’s songs “some of the most beautiful and lasting music of our time.”
Lightfoot is an unforgettable portrait of a treasured singer-songwriter, an artist whose work has been covered by everyone from Joni Mitchell, Barbra Streisand and Nico to Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Gord Downie. Revealing and insightful, Lightfoot is both an inspiring story of redemption and an exhilarating read.
Available from Penguin Random House Publishing. Click here.
Mike Myers – Canada
How can one not feel patriotic without owning a copy of this book? Comedy superstar Mike Myers writes from the (true patriot) heart about his 53-year relationship with his beloved Canada. Myers is a world-renowned actor, director and writer, and the man behind some of the most memorable comic characters of our time. But as he says: “no description of me is truly complete without saying I’m a Canadian.” He has often winked and nodded to Canada in his outrageously accomplished body of work, but now he turns the spotlight full-beam on his homeland.
His hilarious and heartfelt new book is part memoir, part history, and pure entertainment. It is Mike Myers’ funny and thoughtful analysis of what makes Canada Canada, Canadians Canadians and what being Canadian has always meant to him. His relationship with his home and native land continues to deepen and grow, he says. In fact, American friends have actually accused him of enjoying being Canadian—and he’s happy to plead guilty as charged.
A true patriot who happens to be an expatriate, Myers is in a unique position to explore Canada from within and without. With this, his first book, Mike brings his love for Canada to the fore at a time when the country is once again looking ahead with hope and national pride. Canada is a wholly subjective account of Mike’s Canadian experience. Mike writes, “Some might say, ‘Why didn’t you include this or that?’ I say there are 35 million stories waiting to be told in this country, and my book is only one of them.”
This beautifully designed book is illustrated in colour (and not color) throughout, and its visual treasures include personal photographs and Canadiana from the author’s own collection. Published in the lead-up to the 2017 sesquicentennial, this is Mike Myers’ birthday gift to his fellow Canadians. Or as he puts it: “In 1967, Canada turned one hundred. Canadians all across the country made Centennial projects. This book is my Centennial Project. I’m handing it in a little late. . . . Sorry.”
Available from Penguin Random House Publishing. Click here.
Armistead Maupin – Logical Family: A Memoir
In this long-awaited memoir, the beloved author of the bestselling Tales of the City series chronicles his odyssey from the old South to freewheeling San Francisco, and his evolution from curious youth to ground-breaking writer and gay rights pioneer.
Born in the mid-twentieth century and raised in the heart of conservative North Carolina, Armistead Maupin lost his virginity to another man “on the very spot where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.” Realizing that the South was too small for him, this son of a traditional lawyer packed his earthly belongings into his Opel GT (including a beloved portrait of a Confederate ancestor), and took to the road in search of adventure. It was a journey that would lead him from a homoerotic Navy initiation ceremony in the jungles of Vietnam to that strangest of strange lands: San Francisco in the early 1970s.
Reflecting on the profound impact those closest to him have had on his life, Maupin shares his candid search for his “logical family,” the people he could call his own. “Sooner or later, we have to venture beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us,” he writes. “We have to, if we are to live without squandering our lives.” From his loving relationship with his palm-reading Grannie who insisted Maupin was the reincarnation of her artistic bachelor cousin, Curtis, to an awkward conversation about girls with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, Maupin tells of the extraordinary individuals and situations that shaped him into one of the most influential writers of the last century.
Maupin recalls his losses and life-changing experiences with humor and unflinching honesty, and brings to life flesh-and-blood characters as endearing and unforgettable as the vivid, fraught men and women who populate his enchanting novels. What emerges is an illuminating portrait of the man who depicted the liberation and evolution of America’s queer community over the last four decades with honesty and compassion—and inspired millions to claim their own lives.
Available from Harper Collins Publishers. Click here.
Tina Turner – My Love Story (Official Autobiography)
Tina Turner is the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a musical icon celebrating her 60th year in the industry. In this dramatic autobiography, she tells the story of a truly remarkable life in the spotlight.
From her early years picking cotton in Nutbush, Tennessee to her rise to fame alongside Ike Turner, and finally to her phenomenal success in the 1980s and beyond, Tina candidly examines her personal history, from her darkest hours to her happiest moments and everything in between.
In her honest and heart-felt voice, Tina reveals:
· How (love) and a kidney transplant saved her life – and how her new husband made an incredible personal sacrifice
· How she has coped with the tragic suicide of her son
· How ex-husband Ike Turner forced her to go to a brothel on their wedding night… and why she tried to kill herself because of Ike’s mistresses
· The Cinderella moment when David Bowie made Tina a star …
· …and the day Mick Jagger ripped her skirt off!
AND MUCH MORE
Available from Penguin Publishers. Click here.
Jake Shears – Boys Keep Swingin: A Memoir
In this deeply affecting memoir, one of rock music’s most entrancing figures transforms the vividness of his musical world into an unforgettable literary account of overcoming odds and finding his true voice. Long before hitting the stage as the lead singer of the iconic glam rock band Scissor Sisters, Jake Shears was Jason Sellards, a teenage boy living a fraught life, resulting in a confusing and confining time in high school as his classmates bullied him and few teachers showed sympathy.
It wasn’t until years later, while living and studying in New York City, that Jason would find his voice as an artist and, with a group of friends and musicians who were also thirsting for stardom and freedom, form the band Scissor Sisters. First performing in the smoky gay nightclubs of New York, then finding massive success in the United Kingdom, Scissor Sisters would become revered by the LGBTQ community, sell out venues worldwide, and win multiple accolades with hits like “Take Your Mama” and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” as well as their cult-favorite cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”
Candid and courageous, Shears’s writing sings with the same powerful, spirited presence that he brings to his live performances. Following a misfit boy’s development into a dazzling rock star, Boys Keep Swinging is a raucously entertaining memoir that will be an inspiration to anyone with determination and a dream.
Published by Simon & Schuster. Click here to purchase.
Richard Silvin – I Survived Swiss Boarding Schools: All That Glitters Is Not Gold
Richard René Silvin rubbed elbows with Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, the Rockefellers, and the Onassis family, as well as royalty from across the globe. But it came at a cost. In his gripping memoir, I Survived Swiss Boarding Schools: All That Glitters Is Not Gold, the accomplished author and sought-after historian reveals dark moments that accompanied his privileged life, from enduring beatings by a headmaster to being branded a “homo” in an abundantly homophobic era.
The 1950s and ’60s marked an era of glitz and glamour, when the world seemed transfixed on the flamboyant lifestyles of the rich and famous. But pull back the curtains and there are untold stories that reflect a much darker reality for some of the “privileged” children of these celebrities. Silvin shares his riveting and dramatic account about his time behind the walls of two very different Swiss boarding schools. At the tender age of seven, Silvin was enrolled in La Clairière, a tiny Swiss boarding school for young boys that his parents had never even seen. It was there where he learned to escape random beatings by the headmaster and to avoid a pedophile woodcutter.
Three years later, René was moved to the world-famous Le Rosey, where he was surrounded by children of Hollywood legends like Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich; international corporate tycoons like the Rockefeller and Onassis families; and European and Middle Eastern royalty. But his brushes with celebrity came at a very steep price. He endured harsh discipline from his disapproving family and Le Rosey’s headmaster, but somehow, he found the determination to emerge from his nightmare through his pursuit of athletic excellence. He chose rowing, a previously popular sport, then led by the current Aga Khan. But René resurrected the sport, and they ultimately became Swiss national rowing champions in 1966. His story culminates in an unexpected and intriguing twist.
Visit Silvin’s website to purchase the book, along with his previously published works as well.
Prince – A Private View
While this might fall within the biography/memoir genre, it’s a great photo book dedicated to one of music’s late great performers. Afshin Shahidi met Prince in 1993 and soon became his cinematographer and later one of the only people allowed to photograph him. He collaborated with Prince longer than any other photographer. Afshin was the only photographer allowed to shoot the legendary 3121 private parties in Los Angeles that became the most sought-after invitations in Hollywood; some of those photos are included in this book.
Prince: A Private View compiles photographer Afshin Shahidi’s work into a journey through Prince’s extraordinary life. With never-before-seen photos, it is the ultimate collection of shots of Prince. Brief, but complete and rich, stories about Shahidi and Prince’s collaboration and time together are alternately incisive, personal, and even funny. Awesome coffee table addition, featuring a forward by Beyoncé.
Published by St. Martin’s Press/MacMillan Publishing. Click here to buy.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.