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Magwood on Books

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Reviewed: Rod – The Autobiography by Rod Stewart, Century

RodWhen Rod Stewart was playing with The Faces in the early 70s they had a full bar onstage, complete with a liveried waiter who served them drinks throughout concerts. “It saved the time and energy wasted hopping into the wings for refreshments. It also gave us somewhere to go during Kenney’s interminable drum solos. We could sit there while Kenney blatted himself into oblivion. One of us would say, ‘Do you think we should be getting back on?’ And another would say, ‘Let’s just have one more.’”

This is a marvellous rock memoir, way funnier than Eric Clapton and Keith Richards’. Stewart writes with a mirth that is catching, about his working-class childhood , his first forays into music after being discovered playing the harmonica at a train station, the manic pranks on tour, the endless blondes, The Hair. Yes, he devotes an entire chapter to his famous coif, or “bouff” as he calls it. In the days before hair gel, he would run around to his sister’s house to use her hairdryer, then set his incipient beehive with sugar and water. The nights would see him and his mates cowering on the Tube platforms with their arms over their heads trying to protect their bouffs from the train backdrafts. He and Ronnie Wood – later of the Rolling Stones – would spend hours doing each other’s hair at their parents’ homes.

He writes about the hilarious, life-long rivalry between him and Elton John (John once hired a sniper to shoot down the huge pneumatic footballs flying above one of Stewart’s concert venues), the night Gary Glitter’s wig floated away in a swimming pool “like some sort of upturned duck”, the First Class cabins decorated with mustard.

It is not a facile collection of japes, though. Stewart is honest about the breakdown of his relationships, his serial infidelity, and about the child he fathered when he was still a teenager whom he has only recently met. He readily admits to behaving “like an arsehole” in several breakups, but he remains on good terms with all of his exes, except for Britt Ekland, and he is crazy about his eight children.

And then there is the music, the songs, the stagecraft. Stewart didn’t have the gift of someone like Eric Clapton or Pete Townsend, but he made up for it with an instinct for blues and soul which he married with great lyrics, belted out in his inimitable voice. He learned to work a crowd, pump a song and dominate the stage.

Despite the drugs and alcohol – and there was a lot – he never succumbed to the crippling dependency that has seen the demise of so many rock stars. Despite the surreal wealth and success – he holds the Guinness World Record for the largest audience, 3.5 million on Copacabana, and has sold 200 million records – he remained an ordinary bloke. Sensible with money, close to his Scottish family, devoted to football and equally devoted to building model railroads. He was even awarded a CBE in 2006. Not bad for the son of a Scottish plumber.

It’s been one hell of a life, and at 67 Rod Stewart is still going strong – having rediscovered the writing muse last year, we can look forward to a new album in 2013. “I haven’t felt so confident about a new set of recordings, as a writer and producer, since Gasoline Alley.”

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