Carol Miller: Up All Night: My Life And Times In Rock Radio 

Carol Miller: Up All Night: My Life And Times In Rock Radio 

In this memoir, New York radio DJ Carol Miller comes across as a pleasant, fairly discreet person, which turns out to be a negative quality when it comes to sharing stories about a life lived at the edges of rock ’n’ roll for more than 40 years. Miller used to date Steven Tyler, and it’s typical of her approach to her own story that this book opens with her first visit to his hotel room, when they both fell asleep in the same bed, but nothing untoward happened. (“See,” Tyler says, “I told ya you wouldn’t have to do anything!”) A rock book can be more than steamy gossip and accounts of staggering away from the site of the latest orgy, but the promise of juicy details about some of the legends she’s met along the way is the only thing Miller might have to contribute to the history of the music; her sensibility and viewpoint just aren’t strong or distinctive enough to justify a book by themselves. (It’s a measure of how nicey-nice Miller’s book is that her adjective of choice for Tyler is “childlike.” Based on some of the details she gives—like the Lou Reed of Lester Bangs’ acquaintance, he can barely be trusted to take a walk around the block without getting lost—that must be her euphemism for “three bricks shy of a load.”)

The arc of Miller’s career reads like a TV show designed to encapsulate the importance of rock music to the yuppiefied denizens of Boomer Nation. After reacting with nothing more than polite appreciation to the work of Elvis Presley—“Elvis didn’t look very intelligent to me,” she notes—she catches a bad case of Beatlemania, especially after a school friend arranges for her to attend a preshow rehearsal of one of their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. She falls in love with spinning records on the air during a stint with her campus radio station, and by 1973, she’s in New York, witnessing the ascent of Bruce Springsteen—and by her account, maintaining a vague, politely disinterested attitude toward the cultural ferment going on around her. Meeting Gloria Steinem, she says, “Thanks for what you’re doing for us.” Then she adds, “I was not actually sure what it was she was doing except that it involved plenty of strident feminist flag-waving—but even if I didn’t agree with everything about the women’s movement, I knew she was doing important things for my gender.” (Steinem expresses interest about coming on Miller’s show, and Miller blows her off: “I probably should have followed up on her request, but I just assumed she was being polite,” she explains. This is not how successful, high-profile New York media careers are supposed to be made.)

The great surprise of Miller’s book is how dispassionately she describes her love affair with rock. For all the excitement she conveys about her favorites and near-favorites, it might as well just be aural wallpaper. She doesn’t make up for it with the eccentricity or sharpness of her taste, either. At one point, she meets Joe Strummer—an “ornery little fellow”—and responds to his complaint that her station doesn’t play The Clash with the withering comeback that she might “if you could write a song half as good as Bruce.” She also disses KC And The Sunshine Band as “impossibly platform-shoed lightweights”—big words from someone who boasts that the first record she ever played as a professional DJ was by Jethro Tull.

It isn’t that the music isn’t important to her; she’s just as dispassionate when writing about her encounters with workplace sexism, her battles against cancer, and her feeling that her choice of career made her a disappointment to her parents. Actually, the material about her family is the most entertaining part of the book, maybe because it at least covers ground not already dealt with in any Rolling Stone cover story. This is the rare celebrity autobiography that peaks before the author does whatever made her famous enough to land a book contract.

Join the discussion...