The dark moments of rock history fascinate and tantalize like the pathos of Greek tragedy. The bottom sinks lower, the air seems colder, the bad endings—whent they are bad—seem beyond bad. The unlucky practitioners of our most thriving form of communal experience seem to hit rock bottom in ways only the most glamorous among us can—publicly. The stories remain obscure, half-seen in the shadowlands. In her familiar style, Pamela Des Barres shines light on the people whose art remains the background music to our popular culture.
Des Barres asks, "What comes first, the addiction or the rock and roll?" The first apparent rock-and-roll death occured on Christmas Eve in 1959, when Johnny Ace blew his head off in a game of Russian Roulette between shows. Buddy Holly's four-seater plane crashes. Marvin Gaye's father shoots his son. Kurt Cobain puts a gun to his head. The headlines tell it all: ROCK SINGER FACES MANSLAUGHTER CHARGE, JAMES BROWN ADDICTED TO PCP, BASSIST FOR BAND HOLE FOUND DEAD. The messed-up lives, the burned-out golden boys and girls, the violence, the route toward rock bottom—Des Barres has a line on the souls of the public figures who lived desperate private lives to entertain us all.