Ian Hunter, Robin Green
First published in 1974, ian Hunter’s account of Mott the Hoople’s Us tour at the tail end of 1972 is a gripping, anti-glamour tract – road life reduced to its component parts. it’s hard not to warm to any memoir that sets a scene of departure thus: “i cleaned the flat up a bit – mopped the cat shit up from the kitchen floor, had a bath and washed my hair. i didn’t look too bad.”
Diary Of A Rock ’n’ Roll Star is being republished to include a short Japanese tour diary from 2015 and a fantastically awful foreword from Johnny Depp – “it will sear your brain with a most staggering residue” – which serves only to illustrate how skilfully Hunter negotiates the tricky conversion of everyday observations into engagingly conversational prose.
in his mid-thirties when success beckoned, he surveys his reward with a level gaze. the wonderfully unjaded descriptions of American hotels – “two double beds, air conditioning, two armchairs, full-length mirror…” – and aeroplane travel are leavened by fatherly advice to new bands on the vagaries of soundchecks, management, recording and publishing. true, his ungentlemanly appraisal of the ever-present “ladies of the lobby” hasn’t dated well, but part of the joy of the book is its unsanitised candour, whether it’s recounting a hotel freeze-out with Fleetwood Mac – “Fuck ’em if that’s the way they want to be” – or the repercussions when his “staid English gut” meets American food.
surfing the success of “All the Young Dudes”, Mott find themselves orbiting Bowie’s world. Ziggy is in the states, too, gigging and recording Aladdin Sane; in New York’s Warwick Hotel, Bowie plays Hunter the newly minted “Drive-in saturday”. “it’s Dylan-ish and it’s got a hell of chord run down,” our correspondent reckons, before offering a thoughtful pen portrait. “innocence, cruelty, the nearness yet the distance, all the qualities of the star he is – only he knows what he pays for the coveted title, but i’ve sometimes caught glimpses of the sadness.”
time is killed by poking around pawn shops haggling for cheap guitars, dodging groupies, battling bands backstage over running orders, drinking too much and taking the odd “Benzy” to come down after shows. the tour ends with a dreamlike visit to Graceland, the shropshire boy sneaking past the guard, buzzed at getting “within 50 feet” of the King.
Between it all, there are oddly poetic reflections that quietly illuminate the loneliness of life on the road. “the swimming pool’s iced over and there’s a light in the church across the street,” he writes from his hotel room in st Louis. “the other way a bridge spans something i can’t see, and a huge office block slowly goes to sleep, its windows like hundreds of eyelids shutting.” the distance between “out here” and home has rarely been captured so succinctly. At tHE beginning of the 1970s, robin Green joined a stable of writers at Rolling Stone that included Hunter s thompson, Ben-Fong torres and Joe Eszterhas. As the title of her unflinching, entertaining yet somewhat repetitive memoir states, she was The Only Girl in a lair of unreconstructed male ego. it’s a world where talented women are “chicks” and work is a carousel of sexual opportunity (“Everybody was sleeping with everybody”), chemical “contraband” and 10,000-word cover stories about Marvel. she makes her mark with a classic New Journalism evisceration of Dennis Hopper, holed up in taos editing The Last Movie, crazed on notions of his own genius and being “a complete and utter asshole”. Later, during an editorial conference held in a hot tub and fuelled by mescaline, she observes thompson up close. “strange. Guarded in the extreme. Jumpy. He didn’t make eye contact and he muttered. it looked like a big puton, Hunter’s act. to protect himself, i supposed, so he wouldn’t have to actually talk to anyone.”
there are lashings of sex and drugs, but curiously little rock’n’roll. As Green recalls it, the “boys” bagged all the worthy music for themselves, sending the token female to sneer at cannon fodder such as the Bee Gees and David Cassidy. she finally leaves Rolling Stone after “compromising her journalistic integrity” by sleeping with robert Kennedy Jr. You doubt her male colleagues were subject to such jurisdictions.
she lives miserably for a while in timothy Leary’s garage, before the third act delivers a happy ending. We know it’s coming because throughout the book Green takes great delight in telling us. “i had no inkling that one day i’d have a career in tV and my own house in the hills above sunset strip,” she writes early on, one of several instances in which she throws forward from messy present to settled future. By the time she becomes a writer on The Sopranos and wins an Emmy, The Only Girl has, sadly, become bogged down in petty score-settling and baby-boomer smugness.
All Mott cons: Ian Hunter and Mick Ralphs on the roof of The Continental Hyatt House in West Hollywood, November 1972