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Relentless: The Memoir by Yngwie J. Malmsteen

The most intriguing parts of Yngwie J. Malmsteen's new memoir, Relentless, are his childhood and adolescence accounts of his musical maturation in Sweden.  Like most artistic geniuses, he was completely obsessed early on.  He'd forget to eat he was so consumed with his guitar.  When he saw Jimi Hendrix set fire to his stratocaster on one of the two television channels he could watch in Stockholm, he was hooked.  When he heard Deep Purple's Fireball album a year later, he was ablaze himself with an inimitable passion for the electric guitar that could keep him awake all night without the aid of amphetamines.  Had it not been for his mother's sacrifices and interest in classical music, Yngwie might have been just another dime-a-dozen hard rock guitarist to arrive on the scene in the early 1980s, soon to disappear.  But he listened repeatedly to his Mom's and older sister's records, and then one day he chanced on one of those two television channels, a documentary on the life of Paganini (he was twelve or thirteen at the time) and it instantly coalesced in him that what Paganini did on the violin he'd been striving to do on the electric guitar.  Faster faster!  And the metal icon was born.

The rest is neoclassical melodic hard rock and heavy metal history.  Yngwie justifiably stole the spotlight in his short-lived stints in the mediocre metal bands Steeler and Alcatrazz (circa 1983-84) that only hardcore metalheads barely remember.  His recollections of the culture shock coming from the relative safety of Sweden to the mean streets of East Los Angeles where he lived in a dilapidated and rat infested warehouse with his Steeler bandmates, is scary when it isn't so hysterical.  Imagine Mozart teaming up with street corner hobo musicians and the street corner hobo musicians roughing him up and then kicking him out of the band because he refused to be less creative and spontaneous -- refused to be less of who he was, the singular musical prodigy -- and wouldn't play-their-rote-music-by-numbers on stage or in the studio?  That was Yngwie: heavy metal's Mozart turning heads in the clubs on the Sunset Strip, upstaging his Steeler and Alcatrazz bandmates.

But Yngwie was much too much of a rising force to be kept down for long, and launched his successful and well documented solo career. Besides self-glorifying accounts of his godlike guitar virtuosity (granted, Yngwie's merely speaking the gospel truth about himself when he does) there's about half a dozen red Ferraris of his described in painstaking detail.  Rolexes galore.  A posh Miami mansion on the Atlantic.  A Jaguar crashing into a tree and his resultant coma / near death experience, that somehow did not get him off booze and other predictable rock star excesses.  After his first marriage failed, he married one of his devoted groupies, and by the sound of it, the world's finest psycho-bitch ever.  Hearing how he got duped twice by seedy managers who posed as his friends, and proceeded to embezzle millions of his earnings, is just so head shakingly sad.  How could such a genius in music be such an ignoramus with money?  Yngwie was near bankruptcy, but then he found the love of his life, his third wife who became his manager (and they're still happily married today) and he launched a comeback!  Had a kid he clearly dotes on and is so proud of.  Gave the universe "Arpeggios from Hell."  Performed with a world class orchestra in Japan.  Did I mention that Yngwie was the first metal musician from the States (he now considers the U.S. -- not Sweden -- his home) to perform live on stage behind the Iron Curtain, four years before the brouhaha of Bon Jovi, when the press falsely named them the first to do so?  Well, Yngwie is certainly relentless in reminding us of that feat of his in the former Soviet Union time and again.

I'll mention now, even though it's unrelated to the review, that Yngwie gave me the finest metal concert experience of my life -- twice so far in fact -- at House of Blues in Anaheim, California.

Yngwie's colloquial writing style is like yukking it up with him over a beer after work.  He's earthy in one breath and technical-guitar-jargon the next.  "By the time I hit eighth or ninth grade, I said to myself, 'I can't freaking do this shit anymore,' by which "shit" he meant "schoolwork".  "I was taken on at Tord's Guitar Verkstad, a very famous luthier shop ... That's where i first saw a guitar with a scalloped neck.  A scalloped neck has a fret board with concave depressions between the fret wires ... I was so intrigued by this that I tried it out on an old neck of mine, and I was pretty amazed at how you could control the notes with the left (fretting) hand.  So I started scalloping all my guitars."

So Yngwie gets repetitious at times in the telling, his stories are generally so good that hearing them again is like listening a second time to a live solo improvised just enough from the studio recording that the solo sounds almost new.  Even if his editor was out to lunch, Yngwie's fans won't mind much.


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