The “rock star” is pretty much dead. With the TV-out-the-window lifestyle that dominated pop culture between the 70s and 00s out of favour, you’re more likely to see the term – and all the recklessness and charisma it represents – applied to a chef or a tech-bro than a musician. But there are still some who fit the epithet perfectly. Enter Shaun Ryder a figure for whom rock’n’roll cannot die because it’s not what he does, it’s who he is. Ryder’s reputation doesn’t just precede him, it holds the door open and chucks him through by the scruff of the neck. Possibly the only man in England to be compared to WB Yeats and then busted smoking crack in a wardrobe, the Happy Mondays and Black Grape frontman was always an unlikely icon. Shy on stage and a pain in the arse everywhere else, he was an addict in a polo shirt and a pair of flares who, even during his rise to fame in the “Madchester” era, reputedly earned more money selling Es than records.
Now 59 and 17 years clean, his reputation as “the poster boy for caning it” has proved impossible to shake. To this day, fans will still approach him in TK Maxx and offer him a line.
In How to Be a Rock Star, Ryder looks back at more than three decades of debauchery from a place of sobriety. Unlike his bestselling 2011 memoir, Twisting My Melon, it’s framed as a how-to (and sometimes how-not-to) guide for dealing with fame and fortune, with the book split into short chapters covering everything from lyrics to haircuts, riders to rehab. The title is obviously a bit of a joke: Ryder says himself that there is no guidebook; that rock’n’roll is “such a weird fucking existence that nothing can really prepare you for it”. And while there is some valuable advice in there (never correct a good rumour; embrace your own mythology; don’t hire a manager who parties even harder than the band), it’s mainly an opportunity for him to reflect on the experience of going from a postie who didn’t know the alphabet to performing for 198,000 people in Rio.
Die-hard fans will find a lot here that’s been said before. But he immortalises those around him with characteristic Salford wit – Oasis, the Stone Roses, Primal Scream and Tony Wilson make multiple appearances – as well as offering insights into the wider music industry, Madchester, and his more recent experiences with reality TV (he and his bandmate Bez are regulars on Celebrity Gogglebox). While the funny stories are undoubtedly the highlights, – there’s a good one where Ryder is accused of shitting himself after projectile vomiting hot chocolate over a hotel room – there are moments of real poignancy when he turns the lens inward. “You have to process what happens to you eventually, mentally,” he writes. “Everyone does.”
Candid and brilliant, touching if occasionally a bit repetitive, How to Be a Rock Star is a collection of stories so bizarre you’d be more likely hear them from some rogue bloke down the pub than a celebrity. But that’s the thing about Ryder: he is some rogue bloke down the pub. His mythology is less “Mick Jagger” and more “local drunk who everyone remembers for the time he stole a horse and rode it home”.
His only ambition was to be himself, but bigger. To that end the book might as well be called “How to Be Shaun Ryder” – which you can’t, obviously, but then most of us can’t be rock stars either. What you might absorb is some of the good humour that has steered Ryder through one of the maddest lives anyone has ever had. Well, except for Bez.
• This article was amended on 2 October 2021. An earlier version misspelled the name of WB Yeats as “Yates”.
• How to Be a Rockstar by Shaun Ryder is published by Atlantic Books (£20). To support the Guardian and the Observer, buy a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.