Reviewed: November, 2020
Released: 2020, WunderWurld
I was very excited to read the new autobiography of Snowy Shaw. At one point I stopped and wondered why I was looking forward to this book so much. I mean, after all it is ‘just’ another autobiography from a Metal dude. I’ve read dozens and dozens of them so why the enthusiasm to read his life story? Then it hit me; because he is European! It suddenly dawned on me that there are actually very few Hard Rock and/or Heavy Metal autobiographies written by Europeans. I ran the numbers to be sure. As if time of writing this review, late 2020 there are about 80 Metal autobiographies that have been published. I know because I have about 70 of them sitting in my book shelf. I’m a Metal nerd, I track this stuff.
Of those 80 or so books only about 20 were written by Europeans and/or British performers. That is a 4:1 ratio. The vast majority of Metal autobiographies are written by Americans and maybe a couple of Canadians. Indulge me while I look at some figures.
Let’s break it down even further. There are several Metal performers who have written their autobiography who were born in Britain or Europe but due to their careers live in America, for decades even. Guys like Halford, Lemmy, Ozzy and Yngwie for example. Yngwie moved to America in ‘83 or so and lives in Florida and collects Ferrari’s. That does not seem very ‘Swedish’ to me, nor did his book. It was great, but if ‘felt’ American and there is nothing wrong with that, even though technically he was the first Swedish Metal guy to write an autobiography.
Let’s keep going. Let’s use an even more pure definition of the term European. Let’s focus on the mainland. Of the roughly twenty Euro/British Metal autobiographies that have been published to date, about 15 of them are written by Brits. That eliminates books by Ian Gillian, KK Downing, Glenn Hughes, Al Atkins, Tony Iommi, Paul Di’Anno, Bruce Dickinson, Phil Colleen, Micky Moody, Pete Way, Biff Byford and the aforementioned, Halford, Ozzy and Lemmy.
Which Metal performers from mainland Europe have written an autobiography? There are so few we can easily list them almost on one hand. They are (listed alphabetically by band) Nergal (Behemoth), Joerg Diesinger (Bonfire), Tomas Fisher (Celtic Frost), Herman Rarebell (Scorpions) and I think Alexi Laiho of Children Of Bodom but I don’t think that one has been translated into English yet. And now, most recently, Snowy Shaw.
There might have been one or two I missed but the point is the same, European Metal autographies are extremely rare. It is almost a ratio of 18:1 at this point. I do realize there are a (very) few band-authorized biographies that sort of double as autobiographies (Epica, Moonspell, Opeth, etc) but overall I’m talking ‘pure’ autobiographies. It just doesn’t happen often.
That also begs the question, why? Why do American guys like the drummer for Vinnie Vincent (Bobby Rock) and the guitarist of Roxx Gang (Stacey Blades) have autobiographies published (no offense to those fine gentlemen) but not European titans like Michael Schenker, Hoffman (Accept), Udo Dirkschneider, Meine (Scorpions), Angelripper (Sodom), Mille (Kreator), Von Arb (Krokus), Edling (Candlemass), Schmeir (Destruction), Holopainen (Nightwish), Kakko (Sonata Arctica), Weikath (Helloween), Kursh (Blind Guardian) Abbath (Immortal) and another two dozen people you can name off the top of your head. All of those dudes need an autobiography.
But we must save that topic for another day because I’ve already wasted an enormous amount of time setting up this book review. To summarize, Snowy Shaw’s new autobiography THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL is very cool because it is very rare but that is far from the only reason why this book is so good!
The book itself is magnificent. It is a big hard cover with an attractive dust jacket and it comes with an a couple extra little goodies such as a sticker and flyer. It is also autographed and numbered, actually hand-autographed, not a stamp or print, in silver ink on black, which looks totally cool. There are a number of neat touches for example, the edges of the pages are black. 99.9% of the books you see are white but the time and attention that was paid to this little detail are superb. It is after THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL and is has to be black! Don’t forget the embossed pentagram on the front of the hard cover!
The book is a huge, almost 450 pages long so it will take you a while to read it. It has an eye-catching black/white/silver colour motif that Mr. Shaw has adopted over the years. There are 16 pages of glossy full-colur plates with dozens and dozens of photos from over the years. What is also cool is that pretty much in the middle of the book is a two-page spread of all the albums (almost 50!) that Shaw has appeared on. I knew he was busy but I didn’t realize it was that many, I would have guessed about 30 albums. It serves a neat defacto visual discography, which is preferable to just a printed list in an appendix.
This book is an independent publication, on Shaw’s own WunderWurld Productions and I can tell you right now, more, attention and details were put into the actually physical presentation of the is book than 99% of independent publications I have ever read. 100% professional. I haven’t even talked about the contents yet and I’m blown away by this book.
When I received this book I excitedly showed a buddy of mine and his reaction was along the lines of mild confusion or disbelief and he said something along the lines of, ‘Why Shaw? What has he done to warrant a book? It seems like a strange guy to have such a big book, you know as compared to a ‘big’ name ROCK STAR!!! in capital letters with exclamation points. Well as excited as I am, you, dear reader, might be wondering the same thing as my aforementioned, skeptical friend was. Why Shaw? Well let me tell you, even if you don’t know his exact name, you know who is. Shaw has been involved in, played with, toured with, done sessions with, recorded with, photographed, stage managed, got drunk with and been a member of the following bands;
King Diamond, Memento Mori, Mercyful Fate, Illwill, Notre Dame, Dream Evil, Kee Marcello, Loud ‘n’ Nasty, Therion, XXX, Eyes Of Noctum, Dimmu Borgir, Scheepers, Opera Diabolicus, Mad Architect, Theatres Des Vampires, Denner/Sherman, Mary-Ann Cotton (a very cool band), Dark Embrace, Poison Pill and his own solo stuff. Did that get your attention? I cannot think of a guy who could have a more interesting story to tell.
Shaw’s biological father was a North American Indian (or First Nations or aboriginal or indigenous person…I can’t tell what the politically correct term is anymore, it changes every week) and he was born to a Swedish mother in a moment of free love in the USA in the 60’s so that explains Shaw’s striking appearance, (native features with the long blond hair) even without the makeup! Growing up in Sweden he drifted early in life, didn’t like school but had a good head, avoided drugs, booze, and the drama of the local community scene, and felt he was destined for something greater. He clicked with comics, music, art, design and rock and roll rebellion giving him a skill set which would serve him later in life. Based in Sweden but a man of the world, Shaw seems comfortable and uncomplicated where he is, following his dream and working damn hard to get it, even to the point of mental breakdown and relationship failures.
Shaw takes us a very non-linear life-adventure, which is a nice change from your standard chronological presentations. He skips around but leaves notes in the margin saying, ‘We will come back to this!. He writes in a sort of kind of semi-manic, ‘almost’ off-the-rails, train of consciousness style which his appealing. Mistakes? Yeah, there might be a couple but who cares, it’s Metal, not a spelling bee or grammar rodeo!
There are tons of footnotes, anecdotes, sidebars, jokes and photos scattered all through the book to keep it loose and lethal. His style, like his entire life, is unconventional which so what makes it so appealing. The book is almost 450-pages long so I can’t even begin to fully describe the entire contents. Where to begin? Photo shoots in the forest with Dimmu Borgir? Getting lost in Japan? Touring Mexico with Therion? Getting evicted while on tour? Working a job in the insane asylum? Temporarily abandoning his wife in Sweden and moving to New York? Meeting ABBA on a plane? Getting a tour bus stuck under a bridge in rural Belgium? This guy has lived 10 lifetimes. The stories are incredible but not even that insane in terms of debauchery or bad behaviour, but real life scenarios like lawsuits, failed gigs, dirty promoters, incompetent hired help, or when he had his passport and visa stolen at a Taco Bell during the middle of tour and the lengths that people have to go to travel internationally. These are the real tales of the road and a working performer, not just piles of cocaine and naked groupies on private planes like so many other books would have you believe.
The reason this autobiography speaks to me so much is that it relates a bit more to my age and tastes. Let me give you an example. Many aging rockers, guys from Kiss, Motley Crue, Black Sabbath, etc. have written their autobiographies and they are all very cool in their own right, but many of those guys are just 10-20 years older than me so there is a very slight musical disconnect.
For example, I cannot tell you how many autobiographies of Metal dudes that I have read where they tell the story of a pivotal point in their life being when The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV show in New York City in 1964. Their young minds were totally captivated by Beatlemania and they got inspired to be musicians. I’ve read that Ed Sullivan story in Metal autobiographies probably 20 times. I get it. I’ve seen the footage, my parents talked about it, all that stuff. It’s a cool moment in time, but it is not MY cool. You know what my cool pivotal moment was in the mid-70’s? Discovering Kiss. You know what Shaw’s cool pivotal moment was in the mid-70’s? Discovering Kiss. We are cut from the same cloth in a sense, so THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL and Shaw’s life story in general spoke to me in a way that those other older dudes just can’t. I shared that same awe and inspiration based on Kiss as well. The only other book I’ve felt a similar kinship to was Devin Townsend’s superb autobiography ONLY HALF THERE who grew up in very similar circumstances to me just by virtue of age, demographics, cultural experiences and geography.
To summarize THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL; you have a superb physical presentation, a likeable yet flawed working-class musician with similar experiences and tastes to me, an exciting, off-beat tale of Heavy Metal globe trotting mayhem that doesn’t always just focus on sensationalism… how could you not enjoy this book? Very often I give Metal autobiographies quite high marks because who am I to judge some persons life story? However very often those other books fall short because they have a ghost writer who thinks we just want a standard sex, drugs rock and roll tale or, even worse (and unfortunately more commonly) the book skip massive parts of the subjects career. THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL has neither of those flaws so it gets a 100% score. This could be a bench-mark how a REAL metal autobiography could be and should be done and if you know the old cliché, if you are only going to but one autobiography you might as well sign a contract with the devil and buy THE BOOK OF HEAVY METAL.