ROCK STARS STOLE MY LIFE!: A BIG BAD LOVE AFFAIR WITH MUSIC
BY MARK ELLEN
Mark Ellen is an award-winning editor, journalist and broadcaster. Rock Stars Stole My Life! are his very funny memoirs of a life and career devoted to music. There are so many ‘laugh out loud’ moments, knowing nods and toe-curling exchanges with rock royalty packed into this brilliant book. I’d highly recommend it to all you musos out there, my fellow gig-going, record-collecting, idol-worshiping music snobs. It’s full of stories, hilarious anecdotes, tour bus truths, heroes and egomaniacs. Absolutely great reading.
Ellen hails from Fleet in Hampshire “a town of skull-cracking tedium” according to him. But it was in this bubble of Southern counties boredom that his interest in music was sparked. He says; “the Ellen household was the perfect launchpad for a love affair with pop music – three elder sisters and parents who disapproved.” Indeed, his Dad took a particular dislike to his son’s firm favourites of the time – The Kinks. As they ambled foppishly onto their TV screen, Ellen senior roared; “what in TARNATION do we have here?”
Undeterred, Ellen threw himself into the music scene – falling in love to Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room, stomping about at muddy festivals trying to catch a glimpse of Wishbone Ash and even forming a university band with frontman and future PM, Tony Blair! The Blair chapter was incredulous and very amusing to read. I struggled, rightly so, to conjure up an image of the grinning warmonger with a bare midriff and “camp handclaps” belting out Honky Tonk Woman to his fellow students!Ellen soon realised he wasn’t cut out to be a bass player or any sort of musician, an instead set his sights on a job in the music press. His first assignment a baptism of fire at the hands of Elvis Costello and The Attractions in 1977.
I loved reading about his shambolic early days writing for the NME and New Music News but my envy reached explosive proportions when he moved to teen music mag, Smash Hits. This was a publication I devoured and whose contents papered my bedroom walls. It was pleasing to hear that it was as much fun to be writing it as it was to be reading it: “being there was like crawling into sunshine,” he writes.
Stories from this era include belters like Meatloaf wielding a baseball bat, Bono quoting from the Bible and Sheena Easten declaring her pet hates to be “lumpy custard and spiders in the bath.” Ha! And of course he did get to ask all the latest pop sensations that eternal question; “what colour is Tuesday?” [I’ve always had it down as yellow – ed.]
Moving on he finds himself on the airwaves sitting in for John Peel, presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test and broadcasting to billions worldwide as a presenter at Bob Geldof’s chaotic Live Aid in 1985. A ghastly encounter with Roy Harper, Jimmy Page and some sheep stands as further proof you should never meet your heroes [oh but Morrissey, you’d be different wouldn’t you? – ed.]
Q, Select and Mojo magazines were also either founded or edited by Mark Ellen until the digital age came creeping through the office doors like an information superhighway shaped Grim Reaper. His days at Q magazine drew to a close not long after a publishing executive suggested they could sell their 5 star reviews to record companies!! They didn’t, thankfully, but the writing was on the wall for the printed music press. For ten years Ellen, along with some old music journalist chums, then ran The Word music magazine. A publication much loved in this household and by many others but sadly not by enough and it soon stopped printing to be replaced by their very funny Word podcast.
The final chapters of this book leave some of the best bits for last. There’s the time he interviewed Lady Gaga whilst she was naked, the time he ordered foie gras and a rack of lamb at a literary dinner before realising he was seated next to animal rights activist and Pretender, Chrissie Hynde and finally the time he found himself on a plane with Rihanna and her enormous entourage as she did 7 concerts in 7 countries in 7 days!
What a mad and fabulous career to look back on. I feel he’s just the sort of bloke you want down the pub with you on a Friday night. Tell us the one about you meeting the bass player from Wishbone Ash at a year 7 parents evening, again Mark….
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 8/10
Notes on the author – Mark Ellen:
- He stood in for John Peel on Radio One
- He broadcasted to billions globally as a TV presenter for Live Aid
- Between 2002-2012 he edited the much-missed music magazine The Word