I’m often asked what my favourite music bio is – or favourite “music book” – and the answer I usually want to give is this, Bob Geldof’s autobiography. Except it isn’t really about music – and it wasn’t really the book that lit the fuse for me. It was released in 1986 but I didn’t read it until a decade later. By 1996 I’d already read hundreds of music bios. And, as with concerts, I was absorbing all manner of things – artists I loved and loathed. I just wanted to learn. For every Dylan bio there was a book about The Spice Girls. Some of my favourite music bios are about bands I don’t really care about. Some of my favourite musical artists have never been particularly well served by books. I get the feeling, as with music documentaries, that many people just say the name of their favourite artist – it’s almost irrelevant whether the finished product celebrating them is any good or not.
Now, I’m something of a Bob Geldof fan.
In that, I grew up knowing about him – loving the Don’t Like Mondays song and my special late night as a kid was watching Live Aid. So I knew about his importance. For his efforts around Live Aid alone the book is significant, his story is worthy. I also loved the movie, Pink Floyd – The Wall.
What I remember about this book best is that Geldof is rather unlikeable and very comfortable in that – he knows he’s a shit; he grew up poor and in rough times and he was a bit of a jerk. He owns that. When people started throwing around talk of him being knighted he rejected this on the fact that he wasn’t a good person, conceding that with regards to Live Aid he had done one good thing. He got that it was redemptive, but only in part. It didn’t clear his name.
We are talking bog-standard juvenile delinquency in a sense – but he is a compelling writer. Where I had slight issue that Shayne Carter was talking up being a bit of a prick in his otherwise brilliant book I felt 100% that Geldof was a cunt. And that he was neither proud of it nor embarrassed by it.
There’s some interesting stuff about the making of The Wall movie – an unhappy experience all up. And of course the really amazing material surround Live Aid; mind-boggling to think of post-internet: 20 hours a day on the phone, people dropping in and out, bands agreeing to reform then fighting and breaking up, Geldof the conduit. Talking to big egos, barely able to control his own. It’s a thrill-ride to read about even this far removed from the event. And of course it’s tied to memories of experiencing the event – even though to rewatch Live Aid now is nothing special at all.
There is some talk of his own music of course. We get the history of the Boomtown Rats, ne’er do wells that…did okay…
And like any good music bio – it did make me check out more of his music. I loved that Loudmouth compilation that covers essential Boomtown moments and key solo tracks. And I’ve tuned in for albums since, even if I don’t really care about them. The book did that for me I guess.
But the best thing it did for me was open my mind to a person owning their terrible traits, neither being proud nor embarrassed of their faults, simply aware of them. The documentation in this book is like a pure form of journalism at times. It’s his record, skewed to his bias, naturally. That’s unavoidable. But there’s no real finessing of the story. It’s raw. Presumably real. And it reads so well – just pulls you along.
I loved this book so much – and still think about revisiting it. But I worry, now, that I might not like it anywhere near as much. Geldof seems like even more of a dick these days, for all the good he might have tried to do in the world he now seems driven by a deep boomer belligerence that is so deeply unattractive.
This book was loaned to me by someone at the very start of our friendship. It was one of the things that cemented it. She gave me the book and told me a similar thing to how I felt, basically, “not a massive fan of his music but this is a great book”. That’s one of the things that will actually point me to a music bio more than someone telling me they are a massive of fan of someone’s work and that therefore the book is also good. That always seems harder to believe.
Books That Blew My Mind is an occasional series here at Off The Tracks – thinking back on great books that I loved (and still love); books that found me at just the right time.