Friday, 5 December 2014

05/12/14 - The Gifting Season

It’s around this time of year that people start banging on about the commercialisation of Christmas, how it’s a shopping holiday and so forth. These people can sod off – a holiday is a holiday, and if they’re going to be so damn pious about the ‘true meaning of Christmas’, they’re very welcome to spend the morning of the 25th in church having a good old pray, then go home for a sensible glass of water and a ham sandwich. Honestly, bloody killjoys.
Of course it’s a commercial holiday, but who cares? That’s the point. Get the family together, put on funny jumpers, give each other presents, eat too much, drink too much, watch some Christmas telly, fall asleep. Lovely.

I love Christmas and I won’t hear a word against it. But I understand that the acquisition of appropriate presents can cause a little stress in the run-up to the yuletide season so, dear reader, I’m here to help. I’ve got some gift ideas for you.
If all else fails, and you can’t be arsed to put much thought into it, you can always grab a book from Waterstones or something. Now, Christmas is traditionally the autobiography season, so this week’s ’Pips aims to help steer you through the choppy waters of printed celebrity lifestyle stories; you don’t necessarily need to buy the newest releases just because they’re on offer and fresh on the shelves (otherwise you’ll end up trudging through the mangled idiocy of Joey Barton, or Jordan’s seventh volume, or whatever). So, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve briefly summarised a number of biographies and autobiographies that I’ve read over the past couple of years or so, to better inform your choice. (You’ll notice that they’re largely about musicians or comedians but hey, they seem to tell the best stories.)
I know you’re busy, so I’ve kept it as snappy as possible. Happy shopping.

Stephen Fry – More Fool Me
Being a fan of Stephen Fry is sort of a gimme these days, but if you grew up infatuated with A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster and so on, as I did, and then obsessively read all of Fry’s novels (and, by extension, fell head-over-heels for the works of P.G. Wodehouse), then you’ll be a card-carrying Fryophile.
His first autobiography, Moab is my Washpot, was all about his childhood. The second, The Fry Chronicles, takes you up to 1987. More Fool Me is the next bit, the cocaine years.
If the recipient in question likes Stephen Fry, they’ll like this. Yeah? Good.

Slash – The Autobiography
Written with Rolling Stone journo Anthony Bozza, Slash’s story is neatly summed up by the byline ‘It seems excessive, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen’. Fair enough.
Features lots of peculiar stories about drugs, snakes, car crashes, and playing guitars in dirty places. Genuinely fascinating.

Cash – The Autobiography
Similarly titled to the above (hence the two of them sitting side-by-side on my bookshelf), but written some time before. It’s about Johnny Cash, obviously – not Pat Cash, or Tango & Cash.
Sort of like the movie Walk the Line, but in book form. Tells lots of fairly incredible stories about a fairly incredible man.

Bill Bryson – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Bryson’s recent works have shifted from travel writing to historical narrative (At Home, One Summer: America 1927, A Short History of Nearly Everything, etc), and his autobiography takes this narrative style and applies it to his own childhood. Compelling stuff, and you’ll learn all sorts about 1950s America too.

David Mitchell – Back Story
It’s impossible not to read it all in the voice of Mark from Peep Show. Because, y’know, they have the same voice.
I narrate much of my life in that voice anyway, generally involuntarily. And I keenly share Mitchell’s views on flat-roofed pubs.

Keith Richards – Life
How is he still alive? Who knows? But thank goodness he is, this chunky book is brilliant. He relates all kinds of fascinating titbits about the early days of the Stones, dispels a few myths about his own experiences, and generally makes you feel like a chump for not having a more interesting life.
The episode in which he flees Britain for Morocco in his Bentley is particularly good.

The Rik Mayall – Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ
Oh, Rik. We miss you.
This superbly deranged autobiography, in which he refers to himself as ‘The Rik Mayall’ throughout, was written back in 2005. It’s utterly insane, largely made-up, and very, very Rik.
My advice: read it while drunk. (If you’re giving it as a gift, sellotape it to a bottle of Thunderbird.)

Russell Brand – My Booky Wook & My Booky Wook 2
Brand’s taking a bit of flack these days for his mad opinions and misguided attempts to engender social change by, er, telling people not to vote. (Sorry, what?)
But before he started to implode – and importantly, after he washed the drugs out of his blood – he took the time to write down a few stories about himself. And they’re bloody good too. Beautifully written, and really very amusing.

Stewart Lee – How I Escaped My Certain Fate
One of my favourite comedians, Lee is a polarising figure. He hates the generally acknowledged view of what comedy is, seeking to relentlessly deconstruct it in quite some detail. Many people find this dull. I don’t. I find it hilarious. You might too.

Alan Partridge – I, Partridge
Partridge is, of course, a fictional character. And you know what to expect here – if you enjoyed the TV shows, you’ll enjoy this. It’s more of that, in book form.

Duff McKagan – It’s So Easy, and Other Lies
Honestly one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read – possibly the best.
For those not in the know, Duff was the bass player in Guns N’ Roses. He had a massive appetite for booze in the GN’R period, so much so that his liver actually exploded. So his life as told in this book is split into two parts: 1) massive, astonishing rock ‘n’ roll excess; 2) cleaning up, being sensible, buying a bicycle etc.
Turns out he’s an incredibly nice man, so you’re rooting for him throughout.

Simon Pegg – Nerd Do Well
Another nice man. Pegg’s story is charmingly modest and humble; by the time you’re halfway through, it feels like you’re reading about one of your mates getting a few big breaks. Good fun.

Alex James – Bit of a Blur
…and another nice man! You’re probably aware of Alex James’s evolution from ‘that bloke in Blur’ to ‘that bloke who makes cheese’ – this is the full story. It’s all very sweet. (Also, for those of you who are reading every book in this list – you can cross-reference the episode with Alex James and Damon Albarn’s first visit to the Groucho Club with Stephen Fry’s account of the same incident, in that first book in the list up there.)

Ozzy Osbourne – I Am Ozzy
Seems like ages ago that The Osbournes was the biggest thing on telly, doesn’t it? But if you remember it fondly and want to know just how real it was, this book will tell you.
A thumping good read, this – file it alongside Keith Richards, Slash and Duff.

Tim Burgess – Telling Stories
He was the singer in The Charlatans, of course. If you ever sidelined them as the nice boys of indie, wait till you read all the tales of armed robbery, smuggling, violence, and heroic cocaine ingestion. Intriguing.

Dave Grohl – This is a Call
Categorise Dave alongside Duff in the ‘nicest men in rock’ area. This book is actually a biography, written by Paul Brannigan, but is brilliantly researched. Many interesting stories from Grohl’s punk youth, the Nirvana era, how he recorded the first Foo Fighters album single-handedly to get over Kurt’s death, and so on. Very good indeed.

Richard Herring – How Not to Grow Up
Herring’s stand-up routines are sprawling, intricately constructed things, and this autobiography, written on the approach to his 40th birthday, runs parallel to the ‘Oh Fuck, I’m 40!’ material.
Still feel like a teenager at heart? Don’t worry, so does everybody else. Herring vocalises your feelings for you quite neatly here.

Richard Ayoade – Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey
Well, this is just fucking strange. It’s not actually an autobiography at all, I merely add it for variety and intrigue. It’s a book in which a fictionalised caricature of Richard Ayoade interviews an even stranger and more beguilingly befuddling fictionalised caricature of Richard Ayoade. Constantly hilarious, but really quite peculiar.

None of that grab your fancy? One Direction have a book out, as do various footballers and that bloke from Westlife. Wait till after Christmas though, they’ll be in the bargain bin. You can just say it got delayed in the post.

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