At this point there’s a pretty set template for writing rock memoirs (with a few exceptions, of course). Most roll out like a version of VH1’s Behind the Music: future rock star has dreams of making it big, so he practices all the time, stopping only for the occasional drug and drink binge; he/she hooks up with future band mates, they sign a really shitty record contract but end up touring the globe and spending big. The third act is realizing they are drinking/drugging too much and the fans start to move on; the closing chapters are all about starting over, settling into a normal life and writing the best music of his/her life. Thomas Dolby, thankfully manages to tear up the template for the most part in his memoir (he keeps the part about the shitty one-sided music contract, though).
Dolby was always an outsider when it came to music. His 1982, electronic-heavy single “She Blinded Me With Science” sounded unlike everyone else at the time, thanks in part to his obsession with synthesizers (he built his first one with parts from other electronics after finding a broken one in a trash bin outside a synth store). It’s Dolby’s obsession with electronics and music that makes this book such a fascinating read. Much like his life, this memoir is split into two sections, his career in music and his second career in Silicon Valley as a tech exec and a TED speaker. In the early ’90s, he put music on hold and moved his family to northern California where he started the tech company Headspace, which developed a new richer downloadable music file. His company even focused on high-quality ringtones for a while. Oddly enough, he discovered the tech and Venture Capitalist world to be filled with just as many weasels as the music industry.
Though mainly stripped of the standard lurid gossip that seems to be the hallmark of most rock memoirs (though there are some funny run-ins with Michael Jackson detailed throughout), “The Speed of Sound” is a wildly fascinating read, regardless of what industry Dolby is discussing.