While Schuler Books and local libraries are stocked with rock ‘n’ roll biographies spanning all genres — sometimes the hard-to-get, feasibly out-of-print, gems deliver more debauchery.
If you’re willing to waken the sleuth in you, try digging around for these rare tell-alls detailing some of Michigan’s oddest icons.
I Need More by Iggy Pop (Two Thirteen Sixty One)
Suggesting someone read about Iggy Pop is a bit like ringing the bell for Adele these days — it’s not as if the guy needs any more exposure. The Muskegon-born musician’s ability to milk eight great years, 1969-1977, into a career spanning almost four decades is more of a testament to his self-promotion abilities than his musical skills. I Need More is the first solid document of the Stooges era, released originally in 1982 by an obscure Czech publisher.
It’s clear that Iggy needed no ghostwriter, as his voice is captured on the page in the same way he speaks: in simple, well-placed words. He tells of living at the Tropicana Hotel in Los Angeles next to Ed Sanders as Sanders was penning The Family, the ultimate account of Charles Manson, and praises his first hero in life, Mickey Mantle. The 122-page book, with its references to “chicks” and other (much more derogatory) terms is real Iggy before the image cultivation took over.
Me, Alice by Alice Cooper and Steven Gaines (Putnam)
The Amazon.com listing for this book says a used copy starts at $386, but you can find it if you look hard enough. This came out in 1976, just as Alice’s solo career was taking off and he was in his 20s, brash and constantly drunk. Cooper tells of being born in Detroit and moving to Phoenix at age three to accommodate his asthma. There’s some good narrative of the band getting together, flailing through the ranks and finally making it. And he can’t help but name names, like the time Janis Joplin asked if he wanted to sleep with her.
By the winter of 1970, the band was living in a farmhouse in Pontiac, freezing after the electricity was turned off due to an unpaid bill. He took to staying in a warm trailer on a Christmas tree lot in downtown Detroit, where his girlfriend, Cindy, was selling trees to help pay the bills.
True story: I tried in 2011 to discuss the trailer home with Alice when talking with him for a book I was working on. “No, I don’t know where you would get that,” he scoffed. Me, Alice, was never reissued. Again, it would tarnish an image that by now is carefully tended in order to keep from offending the weak in spirit.
Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk by Dan Sicko (Wayne State Press)
Released in 1999, then reissued in 2010, this text is worth the price just for the narrative account of EDM icons Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, the so-called Belleville Three. The trio is credited with creating Detroit’s techno sound, which was embraced overseas before bouncing back to these parts and getting these innovators their due.
Just as important is author Sicko’s smart, “start at the beginning” structure of taking apart the reason the techno movement had so much heft. He goes back to the 1980s, when the Electrifying Mojo and Richard Davis were integrating various forms of music, from Kraftwerk and Gary Numan to Afrika Bambaataa and the Gap Band, Mojo on his radio show and Davis as a musician in the nascent techno act Cybotron. Techno Rebels is a solid account of one more music culture that Detroit has created better than the rest of the world.
ICP: Behind the Paint by Violent J with Hobey Echlin (Psychopathic Records)
“Not since I read the autobiography of Winston Churchill and Timothy McVeigh have I been so moved.” Now there’s an Amazon review to remember, especially when it involves anything connected to the Detroit rap duo Insane Clown Posse, the world’s most-hated band. Behind the Paint is a heavy-duty street memoir, at times LOL funny, at others stunningly sad. Violent J tells of a childhood living on welfare, abuse at the hands of a step-father, bouts with depression and hatred from the music establishment that ICP was trying to crash. From those ashes comes success that most can only dream of — sold-out tours, platinum records and name-drops in popular culture that are increasing every year. J’s ability to stay positive through the journey is a testament to the power of attitude and good spirit.
Steve Miller is the author of Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City and Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made.