Bach in Hardbach

Bach in Hardbach

When the dustjacket of your autobiography reverses to present a large colour poster of your semi-naked self, you KNOW you're hot.

The wild, irrepressible Bahamian-born rock singer Sebastian Bach has written an autobiography. 18 and Life on Skid Row charts his life so far - and what a life it is.

From a traumatic childhood incident that resembles a scene from Macbeth, through an egg fight - live on stage - with Bon Jovi's road crew, to setting his pubes alight in a Florida nightclub - it's not exactly what Robert Frost had in mind when he talked about "The road less travelled". But in this collection of memories and musings, the former Skid Row front man's honesty has made all the difference.

The book's overture is "The Bottle Incident". An interesting choice for an opener. Bach's account of the unfortunate night where his retaliation to a hostile member of the crowd ended with an innocent bystander getting smashed in the face with glass throws you straight into the crazed rock 'n' roll fray. But it also tells you you're probably going to get the truth.

The reader often wonders, with music autobiographies, just how much of it was written by the star. After only a few paragraphs it becomes fairly clear that the text comes straight from the horse's tattooed wrist.

Bach gives us his earliest memories. A stranded starfish. A rat gnawing his hand. A satanic ritual performed by an elderly babysitter. You know, the usual.

The tone is set and Bach's universe remains alarmingly consistent. From a truly tender age he trains up for the Grand Prix of rock 'n' roll excess. Intensely spirited, hyper-energised, and crazed to the point of rupture, the six-foot-four hair-metal bomb throws you around his history like Bill and Ted in that remarkably resilient phone booth.

Bach, now 48, is best known for his work fronting the successful New Jersey five-piece Skid Row, but he also found that his extraordinary presence and stunning voice made his skills transferable to musical theatre as well as a recurring role in the US TV series Gilmore Girls.

I was once told, in a screenwriting class, that if what you're writing about is not the most amazing thing that ever happened to you, then it's not worth writing about. 18 and Life on Skid Row certainly passes that test.

Reading comics and graphic novels from an early age habituated Bach's young mind to the vast, the hyper-real. And this fantasy/reality blur has seemingly imbued within him his own superpower: Unstoppability. He tells countless stories but the overwhelming impression you receive as a reader, as an observer even, is of a man breaking through walls to meet his destiny, and it's quite impressive. With this in mind, there is deep symbolism in Bach's incredible, Gogolian story of how he strode, noseless, through a hospital in the middle of an operation, destroying everything in his path.

It would be both simple and churlish to criticise Bach's writing. Granted, some of it is arch, some of it poorly phrased and it can be repetitive. But this is the pay off when you have an account of a rock star's life told to you, as if over a few beers, by the rock star himself. But that's not to say there is an absence of wit. The conclusion to one bus-mooning yarn is: "The students ass was mine, dear reader," which betrays a well-developed and, dare I say, cheeky sense of humour.

The spirited and unreconstructed storytelling can be directionless and sprawling. A thread gets lost here, and picked up there. The narrative in places is a structural nightmare. But it works. Rollercoaster rides aren't supposed to be smooth. It's a little bit like a choose your own adventure book from the 80s, but without throwing any dice. What room do you want to go into now? The wet one with the blindfolded hookers or the blood-spattered one with a toilet and former Guns N' Roses drummer, Steven Adler? There are a lot of rooms in this book, and you get to see all of them, sometimes in random order.

I particularly enjoyed the feeling of wonder and intense joy that Bach transmits when recounting his youthful discovery of rock music and live performance. Hearing singer Sammy Hagar curse on stage genuinely excited the young Bach. And you can see that experience directly shape his later behaviour. Indeed I can trace the cause and effect from the Hagar concert in Toronto in 1978 to Wembley Stadium in August 1991 when Bach defied Brent Council by singing a song that they had expressly prohibited due to swearing in the lyrics, much to the delight of the packed out crowd, of which I was one. Bach was amazing that day.

The book also captures the strange dialectic of a rock band at the height of their excess touring with bands whose own excess has forced them to calm down. Bach relates the frustration of playing shows with his heroes Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith but not being allowed to 'party' with them afterwards as they were strictly sober. In this vein there are fascinating insights into fellow rock superstars such as David Lee Roth and Axl Rose - not to mention some unorthodox dieting tips from Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora.

There is also sorrow. The explosive effect of Bach's parents' marriage break-up (beautifully put on hold for a KISS concert) and the deaths of family and friends are felt deeply, demonstrating that one can live intensely across the entire emotional spectrum.

Overall, the sensation I get from this memoir is that of a maelstrom - the hazardous journey of a man who did what he was born to do.

18 and Life on Skid Row is released in the UK on Friday 16 December from Dey Sreet Books, and you can download it as an audiobook, enthusiastically narrated by the man himself which is recommended on account of the 'Bonus Material'.


What's Hot