I've never had any urge to write a memoir or autobiography, but I've read a good many. Most of them leave something to be desired, often because the author succumbs to the temptation to write in a self-serving way. But there are some good ones around, including Time to be in Earnest, by P.D. James, which is (of course) very readable indeed. And I quite liked Agatha Christie's autobiography. Even there, though, one wonders about what has been left out, for instance because the author found it too difficult to write about.
Memoirs of showbiz stars and politicians are especially dodgy. I am a huge fan of Dionne Warwick, whose voice at its best was almost unequalled in its power, range and sensitivity. Yet her memoirs were very disappointing as far as I was concerned. I learned little of interest and felt that she was too anxious to present herself positively.
Accordingly, I approached the brand new autobiography of Burt Bacharach, Anyone Who Had a Heart: my life and music (published by Atlantic Books in the UK) with trepidation. I admire the composer enormously, but I've heard all his anecdotes before. Or so I thought. I wasn't prepared for a book that was far from an exercise in self-justification. Bizarrely, it's more like an exercise in self-flagellation. There's a great deal about his failed marriages and other relationships (he was the perfect choice to write a movie song called Wives and Lovers, that's for sure) and a huge amount about the tragic life and eventual suicide of his daughter Nikki, If I had three ex-wives, I am fairly sure I wouldn't have the courage to invite them to express their views about me in my autobiography, but that's what we have in this book, and it sometimes makes for very bleak reading.
The ghost writer is Robert Greenfield, a long-time journalist for Rolling Stone, and in many ways he has done a very good job. It's an extremely readable book, with many witty and unexpected stories (I specially liked the one about Elizabeth Taylor's dining habits). More importantly, it casts light on what it is like to be an obsessive, someone so ferociously devoted to perfectionism in his craft that he allows other things to happen in his life that are a long way short of perfect. It's an extraordinarily human, warts and all portrait. For a novelist like me, this makes riveting reading, and it would do even if I had not loved the man's music for as long as I can remember.
I do, however, think that Greenfield could have produced an even better book with a bit more work. There's not enough analysis of the people, the fascinating world that Bacharach has moved in, or of the music. It's very interesting and entertaining, there's plenty of scope to read between the lines, and it must be one of the best showbiz memoirs for many a long year. But I still wish Greenfield had shown some of the perfectionsm of his subject. Had he done so, he'd have contributed to an even better book.