For some reason 4 out of the last 5 books I read had to do with musicians. I didn’t plan it this way. But that’s how it turned out.
The first two I read because of circumstance. I was in Portland and I was due to take the train back to Olympia for New Years Eve with nothing to read. While chasing Vinnie around the Buyolympia warehouse during a game of ‘monkey harvester’ (explained by Vinnie as follows: I’m the monkey, you try to get me ‘cuz you’re the monkey harvester.) I spotted a copy of The Go-Betweens by David Nichols. I bought it for the train.
A few days later in Olympia, I spotted a copy of the Neil Young biography, Shakey, in Adam and Jen’s guest room. I had heard a lot about, so I asked Adam about. He said it was good and he could have it.
Although I don’t really believe in biographies-- Adorno is right when he says that the "the peculiarity of the self is a monopoly commodity determined by society that it is falsely represented as natural," to which we could add in terms of rock bio's and romanticized the fuck out of-- I suspended my disbelief long enough to find both books interesting, probably because they were about artists I like. So I'd recommend them if your also a fan. (If your not I'd be interested to hear why you are reading them.) In terms of approach, focus, length etc, however, the two books couldn’t be different.
Shakey romanticizes Neil Young and tells the warts and all story of his life and his music. The author seems to be a rather obsessive fan (which may explain why a lot of the book is about Young’s reluctance to interview him. Can’t say I blame him.) and the lurid, destructive and amusing details are painstakingly detailed. If you want countless stories about Young being a jerk to his fellow musicians, (or his fellow musicians being jerks like stills, Crosby etc.) the lowdown on what drugs were used for each of his records, interviews with Young's parents, extensive but unrevealing interviews with Young, or if you’re a really big fan who wants to read nearly 750 pages about Neil Young, then this books for you. If not, I can spare you the time and tell you the many amusing anecdotes about Young’s eccentric behavior.
In contrast to Shakey, The Go-Betweens is positively restrained. The book provides a straightforward account of the band and how the members made up the band, only hinting at lurid behavior, drug habits etc. He’s also a good writer with interesting opinions and who goes through the entire story of the Go-Betweens in about 250 pages. (Although in some ways this seems too short.) Unlike Shakey the book also emphasizes the contexts the individual members of the band came from, the scene the band emerged in and how their travels, producers, labels etc. influenced the band. In other words, unlike the figure of Neil Young, who admittedly seems to be a compelling sorta of weirdo, but who is treated like some type of wacko superman, the Go-Betweens are treated like interesting people who wrote some great songs.
The other two books about musicians I read were Bob Dylan and Patti Smith’s memoirs. Tobi already wrote an incredible review of the Smith book, so read that. If you still want my opinion afterward ask me in the comment section. The Dylan book was also amazing but I still have to think about it.