Me by Elton John; Face It by Debbie Harry; Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith - review by Richard Canning

Richard Canning

Still Standing



Macmillian 384pp £25 order from our bookshop

Face It


HarperCollins 368pp £20 order from our bookshop

Year of the Monkey


Bloomsbury 192pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The greatest line in the film Beaches comes from Bette Midler, playing the narcissistic Broadway performer C C Bloom: ‘But enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?’ Both Elton John’s and Debbie Harry’s long-awaited memoirs deliver in spades stories of the kind of self-regard, solipsism and opportunism that run riot in the pop music industry, though the authors themselves appear far more down to earth. Patti Smith’s third sort-of autobiography, Year of the Monkey, reflects it too, albeit in accidental ways. Harry, lead singer of Blondie, mentions at one point her regard for Smith, but at another coolly recalls how Smith interrupted an audition for a new guitarist for Blondie, seeking to find one for her own band.

Me, John’s memoir, has been subject to a huge promotional push, including serialisation on BBC Radio 4 and in the Daily Mail. Yet John himself is done with self-promotion. In fact what distinguishes the book is its author’s self-awareness, self-mockery and generosity towards the talents of others. A lot of credit should go to ghostwriter Alexis Petridis. Time and again, John’s anecdotes glisten – rather more impressively than some of his Seventies regalia. Petridis has mined just the right kinds of stories from hundreds of hours of interviews. Unlike so many celebrity memoirs, Me is never repetitive, always pertinent and delivers zingers, home truths and social and political commentary in equal measures. It also, remarkably, serves up homilies on the joys of parenting and domestic simplicity. It’s a fast and rewarding read as well. How could it not be, with all this material?

From the outset, Reginald Dwight, born in Pinner, knew that physically and temperamentally he ‘clearly wasn’t pop star material’, and was repeatedly told so. But one part of him refused to listen. Harry seems superficially quite different: from her earliest appearances, her inimitable timing, presence and cool blew everyone

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

OUP Niven

Follow Literary Review on Twitter