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Old 09-26-2011, 08:38 AM   #1
Join Date: May 2000
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Default Canadian celebrity books
Neil Young’s book deal sparks hunt for Canadian celeb memoirs
Published On Mon Sep 26 2011
By Greg Quill
Entertainment Reporter
News that Neil Young has decided to write his own memoir has Canadian publishers scratching their heads over the possibility of more potential gold in the lives and secrets of the nation’s star entertainers and celebrities.

“In Canada it’s kind of hard to come up with star-power names whose books people will want to buy,” McClelland & Stewart president Doug Pepper confessed to the Star following the announcement Tuesday of Young’s deal with Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Books.

“And in the end, it’s not the size of the star that counts as much as his or her fearlessness. Can they be genuinely candid? Can they write about what people want to read?”

That question is particularly relevant in Young’s case. Young participated in an earlier biography written by James McDonough’s in 2002. But he later took it to task, and caused it to be bowdlerized after legal proceedings.

Given Young’s objections to McDonough’s biography, and his reputation as an eccentric and obsessive custodian of his own myth, others in Canada’s publishing industry, who asked to remain anonymous, are skeptical that the Canadian folk-rocker will be as candid as Rolling Stone Keith Richards is in his top-selling 2010 memoir, Life, though they agree the length and artistic scope of Young’s eventful career will likely fuel intense sales.

Among Canadian celebs with potentially golden memoirs, Young seems a popular favourite, though few publishers are willing to make public their actual wish lists, for fear of tipping off the competition.

Pepper’s first choice isn’t a popular performer in the conventional sense at all. His memoir du jour is by Canadian media tycoon, historian and celebrity convict Conrad Black, whose autobiography, A Matter of Principle, McClelland & Stewart published last month.

“It’s everything you’d want in a memoir,” Pepper said. “He dishes and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s both fascinating and very candid. He pulls no punches. Conrad takes you right into the boardrooms and the courtrooms, and engages you face-to-face with the people he has dealt with throughout his unusual life.”

Another problem facing Canadian publishers is that the field of likely candidates in the Canadian memoir stakes has been reduced in recent years by a plethora of “approved” biographies — ghost-written accounts sanctioned and vetted by the subjects — or less-than-candid, feel-good “vanity” autobiographies whose purpose is to squeeze extra juice from ailing or moribund careers. Among them are works “by” Stompin’ Tom Connors, Anne Murray, Ian Tyson, Tommy Hunter, Rush’s Neil Peart, Céline Dion and Shania Twain.

And two of Canada’s biggest stars — Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot, whose appearance at the 1972 Mariposa Folk Festival provides Dave Bidini with the material for the soon-to-be-published Writing Gordon Lightfoot (McClelland & Stewart), the Toronto writer/musician’s ruminative study of Canada’s beloved troubadour, his music and times — will likely never allow the details of their lives to be made public, most publishers agree, even though both artists are high on their wish lists.

“Gordon is just too private, too reclusive,” said one. “And his life has been tumultuous. I can’t see him ever allowing himself, or the people he cares about, to be exposed that way.

“And Leonard’s life is in his work, in all the details of his poetry. I doubt he would reduce it to something as prosaic as a memoir.”

Bidini added: “One of the reasons I wanted to write about Gord was because I feared his amazing story would not get told, and, as a musician, I wanted to write it, having been to many of the same emotional and spiritual places as he had been.”

Young’s and Lightfoot’s contemporary, songwriter Joni Mitchell, who apparently is still under contract to Random House for a memoir agreed to a decade ago, remains a serious threat in the high-stakes memoir race, however, if she can ever be persuaded to put pen to paper.

And so do actor/producer Kiefer Sutherland, rocker Bryan Adams, comedian/movie star Jim Carrey (the subject of the unofficial 1999 biography, Jim Carrey: The Joker is Wild: The Trials and Triumphs of Jim Carrey, by the Star’s Martin Knelman) and TV/movie producer Lorne Michaels, said HarperCollins president David Kent, one of few Canadian publishers willing to reveal their wish lists for this column.

If it’s true that too many of Canada’s star performers have already been overexposed in print, Pepper suggests there are plenty of off-stage movers and shakers — like Black — with compelling tales to tell.

McClelland & Stewart is preparing for the release of a memoir by Bernie Finklestein, founder of Canada’s folk-roots indie label True North Records, veteran music industry powerhouse and the life-long manager of Canadian folk music star, songwriter Bruce Cockburn (who, strangely, didn’t appear on any publisher’s, interviewed here, wish list).

“We don’t do enough books like this, memoirs by entertainment industry insiders,” Pepper said.

“Few of them are household names, but they have the best stories to tell, and they’re not often driven by what spoils most celebrity memoirs — ego, greed or revenge.”
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