Andrew Marr's recent comments about the death of the novel and the supremacy of non-fiction were widely publicised, although as the BBC's political editor, Marr presumably spends his time dealing with fictions so convoluted that even the most experimental authors must seem a doddle in comparison.
He has a point, though. Fact and fiction are more closely entwined than ever. Take the works of James Ellroy, recreating and reinterpreting American history, or WG Sebald, whose deceptive digressions contain large chunks of complete invention presented as historical truth.
Then there's Mötley Crüe – The Dirt, subtitled "Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band", a magnificent collection of scurrilous tales involving drugs, booze, sex addiction, lady mud-wrestlers, internecine warfare and general stupidity.
But while enjoying yet another story of Vince Neil's serial shagging or Tommy Lee's, er, serial shagging, more sceptical readers may find their credulity stretched to breaking point. This isn't a criticism of this fine addition to the pantheon of sleazy rock memoirs, which is certainly far more entertaining than any of their records. It's just that one feels that in their eagerness to tell a good story, some episodes might have been somewhat embellished.
Were the Crüe really beaten up by redneck transvestites? Did one of them really nail someone's ear to a table? These sound more like Monty Python sketches watched on the tour bus. Anyone who saw the Seinfeld episode where Kramer sold his life story to pad out Elaine's boss's autobiography, and was then legally unable to hold court at the bar, will recognise the absurdity.
As the band's bassist Nikki Sixx says of the incomparable Ozzy Osbourne: "There was nothing Ozzy hadn't done and, as a result, there was nothing Ozzy could remember having done." A biographer of, say, Anthony Powell or TS Eliot does not face this problem, though of course all Ozzy stories are true, and Sixx tells some great ones.
It's always been thus when recounting tales of debauchery: the truth becomes completely lost over time. So Mötley Crüe's undeniably impressive drug consumption becomes truly monstrous, though appropriately vague, in the retelling.
It's nothing new. Supposedly, Charlie Parker's idea of a good night out started with eight or 10 sirloin steaks (big American ones, not your weedy British version), followed up with, oh, an ounce of heroin, all washed down with a gallon of cognac. Then he'd blow all night in a smoky bar, yadda yadda... you get the idea.
Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's oral history of punk, revealed that the music was entirely incidental to the real task – getting high on smack all the time, then 20 years later bitterly complaining that your career went down the pan. It transpires that New York bands wore skinny ties simply to ensure that they always had something handy to tie up with before injecting.
Taking into account that too much heroin stops the heart permanently, thus spoiling the high, and too much cocaine blocks the nasal passages, making it difficult to take any more, it's obvious that even drug abuse has practical limits. But no rock biog is complete without tales of truly heroic/moronic narcotic consumption. Why?
Either rock stars are getting bad drugs or – more likely in an age where drug-taking is, in Noel Gallagher's accurate phrase, like "having a cup of tea" – we have to believe that they have better highs on better gear all the time.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, speed is still £10 a gram, just as it was in John Lydon's day. And it's still bad for you. Pete McKenna's Nightshift, a memoir of the Northern Soul scene, summed up the true state of plebeian drug use when, on their way to Wigan Casino, our hero and his chum hide their amphetamine wraps from the Old Bill inside a couple of Burton's meat and potato pies ("they were the tops in pies, and if you were into pies, then Burton's were the one to be seen eating," he adds, quite brilliantly). Despite drooling, the rozzers fail to confiscate their pastry-based snacks. That would never make it into a book about the Stones.
Now, only a decade after it became the national drug over here, the US hip hop community has suddenly noticed the amiable effects of ecstasy, with Eminem being berated by the British tabloids for not really dropping an E onstage, the rotter, and Missy Elliot cunningly naming her recent album Miss E – So Fine. Wait until she hears The Shamen's 1992 number one "Ebenezer Goode". It'll blow her mind. Of course her Es will be better than ours, and so it goes, and so it goes...
'Mötley Crüe – The Dirt', published by HarperCollins (£18)Reuse content