Can a person have a stable, loving upbringing, lack any major personal demons or trauma, keep their recreational drug use in check and still become a major rock star? At least if that person is Rod Stewart, the answer appears to be yes. Rod – The Autobiography is the first-person account of a regular working-class bloke from North London who rode a uniquely rough singing voice and large amounts of personal charm and charisma to massive success in the music business, and actually enjoyed it.
From the get-go, Stewart establishes that he considers himself an everyday chap who loves football, a good pint and pulling the occasional bird (though he has practiced monogamy since the early 1990s). This self-deprecating attitude flies in the face of Stewart’s pampered, pretty boy persona (which he mocks throughout) and reputation for having a massive ego. His presentation of himself as a nice, down-to-earth guy seems genuine, although in places it’s also obvious that Stewart is probably not aware of the size of his head.
For example, Stewart claims that the Jeff Beck Group was the first rock band to explore the dynamic between a lead singer and a single guitar player performing heavy, blues-based music, ignoring previous contributions in this area from performers such as The Who. And while it’s true the Jeff Beck Group did predate Led Zeppelin by about a year, Stewart’s assertion that Led Zep “took the nucleus of what we had and made it more commercial” seems a bit overdone.
Following a routine childhood as the doted upon youngest child of a Scottish plumber and his homemaker British wife where he was popular, excelled in sports and a poor student, Stewart dropped out of school in his mid-teens and quickly discovered that despite his working class roots, he hated manual labor. This launched a period of adolescent rebellion where Stewart attempted to become a beatnik, wearing rumpled old clothes, growing his hair long, playing folksongs for change at train stations and not bathing.
Stewart eventually followed the pleadings of his parents to upgrade his wardrobe and clean himself, but the long hair and music stayed put for the rest of his life. He devotes an entire “Digression” (mini-chapters that appear throughout the book) to the evolution of his world-famous spiky shag haircut and points out that his close friendship with Ron Wood really began with bonding over their similar hairstyles and prominent noses (Stewart pokes fun at his ample proboscis repeatedly).
While the tales of womanizing, drinking, drugging, trashing hotel rooms, etc. will sound familiar to anyone who has ever read this type of book, the motivation behind the decades of bad behavior is strikingly different than that of most tortured rock musicians. Stewart was basically a lad out “larking,” having fun and causing a little mayhem along the way. He says havoc wreaked on hotel rooms (a specialty of his early 1970s band The Faces) was always done with an eye toward artistic expression (such as reassembling an entire room in a hotel lobby), the drink and drug intake was heavy at times but he never felt addicted and voluntarily gave up cocaine in the early 2000s, and the womanizing was what any red-blooded lad would have done given the same opportunity.
Stewart is quite candid about his career as a legendary lothario. He is careful to never say a bad word about any of the many models, actresses and socialites he wooed over the years, although the level of intimate detail may not be to the liking of all the partners named. Perhaps in an example of karma, the first woman Stewart was ever faithful to, second wife Rachel Hunter, wound up leaving him.
Stewart actually never says a bad word about anyone, even taking pains to make excuses for the antisocial behavior of the notoriously mercurial Jeff Beck. Stewart does have a little fun with a vague non-denial of the longstanding rumor that Beck was the model for the Nigel Tufnel character in the This Is Spinal Tap mockumentary, pointing out the many similarities between Beck and his possible alter ego.
On the whole, Rod Stewart is a guy who had a hell of a lot of fun over the years and is willing to let the reader vicariously share the experience of someone who partied a lot, became world-famous and very wealthy and had his pick of beautiful women over the years. He freely admits that his goal is to produce hit songs and make money (although he is somewhat embarrassed by his disco superhit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which he insists has been misinterpreted by the public), and while this book lacks the depth of an autobiography from a more serious artist like the recent Pete Townshend memoir, reading it is like meeting up at the pub with an old friend who has endless colorful stories.