First aired on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (04/05/12)
Roman-style orgies. Dwarves carrying bowls of cocaine. Whether those details are exactly accurate or not, one thing's for sure: 1970s rock stars threw some crazy parties. And when those rock stars die (or just get too old to remember their youthful shenanigans), the gossipmongers will be grateful for Stephen Davis, who was the guy backstage writing it all down. Davis was on tour with Led Zeppelin in 1975, and his book about Zeppelin, Hammer of the Gods, is one of the best known rock biographies. Davis also hung out with Bob Marley in Jamaica, and Aerosmith, and he was the ghostwriter of Michael Jackson's memoirs. The legendary rock biographer, who started out as a music journalist for Rolling Stone, spoke with George Stroumboulopoulos earlier this week about his latest book, More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon, which happens to be his first ever book about the life of a woman.
It proved to be a welcome break from the constant testosterone of travelling with bands like Zeppelin, Guns and Roses, Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. It was Davis's wife who suggested that he seemed bored of the machismo and should think about writing a book about a woman. Simon seemed the perfect candidate: Davis has known her since they were both teenagers and has followed her career from the beginning. "I thought it would be a great story, all the James Taylor material and that stuff," said Davis. The biography is unauthorized by Simon, but "she did help me out quite a bit," he said. According to Davis, It's an "unusually revealing" book, in part because of his personal relationship with Simon and her family. "[Simon] feels exposed, even a little over-exposed, and I regret that," he said. "But I would much more regret writing a boring book about Carly Simon."
Davis has been privy to many musicians' secrets over the years. As the ghostwriter of Michael Jackson's memoir Moonwalk, Davis spent a year with Jackson and his chimpanzee Bubbles. His favourite story is about the time his family had lunch with Jackson and Davis's daughter asked to meet Bubbles. "Michael pressed a button and Bubbles came out with his handler, and the chimp takes one look at my daughter — the monkey didn't have much interface with children — and he grabs her and starts dragging her out of the room," said Davis. "And Michael goes, 'Hey, Bubbles, where're you going with my girlfriend?'" Jackson and Davis obviously won the tug-of-war over Davis's daughter, and Davis maintains that Jackson was completely innocent of any of the accusations against him. Davis is proud of Moonwalk, and says there are things Jackson told him that he deemed "too personal" to put into the book, such as detailed accounts of his father's abuse.
But books like Davis's might be an endangered species, since the era of the "great rock and roller" seems to be gone. "Thank god for that," he said. "Because we had our gods. Like Jim Morrison — you're not going to find anybody like Jim Morrison because there's already been Jim Morrison." Not only that, but rock mythology is changing because of social media, as present-day rock stars Tweet their lives moment by moment — and they get immediate fan feedback if they do or Tweet something that doesn't go over so well. "Led Zeppelin couldn't do what they did back then because everyone is watching now," said Davis. "And if they aren't watching, the bands are annoyed!"