In the past five years, there has been a distinct surge in the number of memoirs and autobiographies penned by rock musicians. Following a landmark publication in the genre, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Vol. 1 (2004), individuals such as Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Morrissey, Kristin Hersh and Carrie Brownstein have all authored commercially successful and critically acclaimed tomes. Unlike other rock or celebrity autobiographies which are usually co-written with professional journalists, the aforementioned memoirs purport to stand as direct, unmediated accounts of the artists’ life-stories. These books are not conventional autobiographies, however; they also function, variously, as critical commentaries on the artist’s musical output, as subjective music histories, and as creative statements in their own right.
Perhaps because these texts at present only constitute a small and relatively recent corpus, rock-musician memoirs have yet to receive sustained critical attention from music scholars. In this paper I propose some theoretical approaches to the rock memoir as a cultural artefact. I situate this musico-textual phenomenon as the product of a specific historical moment in contemporary popular music. Drawing on the recent wave of autobiography studies in literature, I further interpret the rock memoir in relation to the literary genre that Patrick Madden (2014) classifies as ‘the new memoir’. In both form and function, the ‘artistic’ rock memoir, I argue, represents a significant development in popular-music cultures.