For an unfiltered literary account of all-out rock ‘n roll debauchery, it’s hard to beat Motley Crue’s salacious tell-all “The Dirt.” Ian Gillan’s new autobiography Highway Star (Lesser Gods) doesn’t quite rise to the same level of sleaze and drug-fueled mayhem as that infamous tome. Still, if it was ever turned into a movie, the iconic Deep Purple singer’s life story would garner at least an R-rating.
Political correctness is tossed out the window, like a TV dropped from the heights of a five-star hotel, as Gillan shamelessly writes of uninhibited groupies—including the exploits of one “Dirty Doreen”—and drunken escapades. In graphic detail, Highway Star details and celebrates the wild times Gillan experienced as a rock star in the ‘70s, when it was understood that excess and self-indulgent behavior were just part of the lifestyle. And if that was all Highway Star had going for it, the tale would languish in shallow sensationalism.
Open and honest about everything that went on, as well as his own faults and weaknesses, Gillan pulls no punches in Highway Star, recounting his determined rise to fame with Deep Purple and rocky interpersonal relationships with Ritchie Blackmore and others—as well as his battles with alcoholism and other substances—with remarkable candor. It’s a fast-paced narrative, told with a mixture of playful humor and cheeky arrogance, interspersed with Gillan’s poetry and lyrical reflections.
Revelations about how classic songs were made and the tense inner workings of bands he was in make Highway Star must reading for died-in-the-wool fans. The re-telling of cringe-worthy pranks and dangerous stunts will both horrify and amuse those more interested in what happens behind the scenes. In this era of Harvey Weinstein and shining a light on sexual misconduct throughout society, Highway Star may come off as tone deaf about such things. That’s something Gillan could later regret.