Unsurprisingly, Rod Stewart has a few stories to tell.
Shockingly, given the man’s reputation as a lothario with a considerable dumb blond streak, the singer tells them in a charming, often humble and self-deprecating, and always eminently entertaining fashion throughout “Rod,” his autobiography.
Sure, “Rod” boasts its fair share of sex, drugs and debauchery.
None of this is what makes the book such a moving read, though.
Those bits come down to the affable tone Stewart displays throughout the book, whether he’s discussing his time with the Faces; recalling the gratitude he feels toward the man who gave him his start in the business as a wee lad, British blues-R&B-rock icon Long John Baldry; lamenting the long string of failed relationships his celebrity had a hand in concocting; or waxing genuinely joyous over the true love he miraculously managed to find with current wife Penny Lancaster, so late in the game.
“Rod” is bittersweet, much like the man’s career itself.
After all, Stewart hasn’t made a wholly satisfactory rock album since 1977’s “Footloose and Fancy Free”.
Though it’s likely that a healthy portion of the autobiography’s audience will be comprised of folks who find Stewart’s “Great American Songbook” albums worth listening to, or manage to avoid cringing whenever they hear “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” at a wedding reception, there will surely be many who tackle the book out of love for a Stewart who hasn’t existed in decades – the fantastic front man and Sam Cooke-inspired soul-rocker who helped lead the Jeff Beck Group to greatness, fronted the gloriously roughshod Faces, and released a string of killer solo albums before rather abruptly losing the plot.
Yes, much of the Rod Stewart story is a tale of failed promise, of a genuine talent gone horribly awry far too soon.
Throughout “Rod,” there are hints that Stewart knows this. He suggests in what seems to be a genuine voice that he would have loved to stay with the Faces forever, if his conflicting desire to run a simultaneous solo career hadn’t made the whole thing go belly-up. (Clearly, the drugs and prodigious drinking had something to do with the Faces’ demise, too.)
“Mac (Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan) wouldn’t believe it, but right to the end, right until it became clear that Woody (guitarist Ron Wood) was off, I wanted to be in the Faces – wanted to continue to be a part of it. I always had. I didn’t want to strike out on my own. Striking out on my own wasn’t really in my nature. If I could have been a member of the Faces for the rest of my life, I would’ve been happy.”
Whoa. Let that one sink in. And allow yourself to get misty-eyed while contemplating what might have been. I certainly did as much, after rereading this particular paragraph a dozen times, searching for a trace of sarcasm or a hint of the disingenuous. Sigh.
Of course, there’s the other Rod, too, and he sticks his rooster’s hairdo above the parapet from time to time to have his “I’ve no regrets, mate” say.
Here’s our hero defending himself for his ’80s-length lapse into self-parody:
“And, incidentally, I never thought in this period that the 'being a rock star’ aspect of being a rock star was beside the point, or even something I needed to apologize for. On the contrary, it seemed to me a) where an awful lot of the fun was, and b) exactly what one had signed up for in the first place. That was the deal, surely. If I hadn’t considered the drinking/shagging/carrying-on to be at least a part of my terms of employment – and if I hadn’t done my best to hold my end up as nobly as possible in those areas – I would have felt I was letting down the union.”
Cue the slideshow of the breathtakingly beautiful women Stewart has spent his time with (and his heart on) over the years here. Now tell yourself you’re not the least bit envious.
“Rod” offers many gifts, most of them fleeting, but all of them of the heart-warming, grin-inducing variety. wPrincipal among them, however, is the manner in which reading the book urges you to go back to those Faces, Jeff Beck Group and early solo albums for a fresh listen. And when you do, you find that, like the old raincoat that won’t ever let you down, they’re still there, still, frankly, as awesome as they were the first time you heard them.
Maybe Stewart served well and with dignity for a mere 10 years, and then spent 30 more squandering his credibility and having one hell of a good time while doing so.
While reading “Rod,” you’ll want to forgive him for it, and ask him if he fancies stopping down the pub for a jar or two.
Rod: The Autobiography
By Rod Stewart
380 pages, $27
Jeff Miers is The News’ Pop Music Critic.