By Philip Norman, Doubleday Canada, 622 pages, $35
Veteran rock-icon biographer Philip Norman celebrates and expands the Jagger legend in this exhaustive study. While Norman is clearly an admirer of the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest rock band” (four previous books on the Stones), his well-researched recap of Jagger’s eventful life and times, from his privileged private-school upbringing to his inevitable knighthood, reveals a figure forever obsessed with preserving his carefully constructed public persona as rock’s pre-eminent bad boy. Running more than 600 pages, the profile touches on the people who have come and gone from Jagger’s orbit since he co-founded, or co-opted, the Stones way back in 1962. Life with Jagger has worked out brilliantly for some (Keith Richard, Andrew Loog Oldham and ex-wife Bianca) and much less so for others (Brian Jones, Marianne Faithfull and scores of other women who shared his bed). Along the way, Norman documents the infamous drug busts, scandals and semi-scandals and scattered progeny (Jagger has fathered seven children and is a four-time grandfather) in clipped fashion. In Norman’s view, Jagger is less a rock-and-roll survivor than a “British national treasure as legitimate as Shakespeare or the White Cliffs of Dover.”
Waging Heavy Peace
By Neil Young, Blue Rider Press, 497 pages, $31.50
Neil Young is not your average rock star. Sure, he did his share of pot and coke, but compared with Mick Jagger and others, the dissipation level was low and the commitment level high. And it’s this sort of obsessive commitment – to his cars, to purity of sound in music and to his cerebral palsy-afflicted son, Ben – that gets the old man looking at his life into narrative trouble. This book, sans ghostwriter, is meandering, often unfocused. But there’s an unmistakable voice, demonstrably the author’s, which will please his legion of fans. As a ramble through Young’s life, beliefs and battles (would there were more about Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young), it’s like a lesser Neil Young album: several hits, but a bit too much filler.
The John Lennon Letters
Edited by Hunter Davies, Little Brown, 392 pages, $32.99
This heavily illustrated, heavily annotated collection is a little shy on actual letters, but what we do get enough of is Lennon’s unmistakable voice, ranging from witty and ebullient to raw, emotionally tumultuous and even angry, as in a long letter to Paul and Linda McCartney responding to her letter of complaint over business matters. Still, a treat for Beatlemaniacs and Lennon lovers.
The Creative Journey of Joni Mitchell, by Katherine Monk, Greystone, 298 pages, $21
Canadian journalist Katherine Monk, previously the author of Weird Sex & Snowshoes: And Other Canadian Film Phenomena, delves deeply into Joni Mitchell’s life, art and personal philosophy and presents a useful portrait of the iconic but elusive Canadian artist and singer-songwriter, with emphasis on her life-informing loves and heartbreaks.
The Biography, by Marc Shapiro, St. Martin’s Griffin, 202 pages, $14.99
A must-read for fans of the English singer-songwriter whose album 21 was the longest-running No. 1 hit by a woman in the history of Billboard magazine. Celebrity biographer Marc Shapiro discusses Adele’s life as the child of a single teenaged mother, her musical influences, her vocal-cord injury and more.
Far From Over
The Music and Life of Drake, by Dalton Higgins, ECW, 223 pages, $16.95
Music writer Dalton Higgins combines original interviews and extensive research to tell the story of Aubrey Drake Graham, raised by his mother in Toronto’s upscale Forest Hill area, one-time star of teen TV drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, and platinum-album-producing rapper.