Celebrities tell stories that sell

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Tran Lap (center) sings with former members of famous rock band Buc Tuong at the release of his memoir in Hanoi on August 2, 2013. Photo by Phuong Thuy

When Grammy-Award winning rock "˜n' roll icon Steven Tyler released his memoir in May 2011, he was sending out "all the unexpurgated, brain-jangling tales of debauchery, sex & drugs, and transcendence you will ever want to hear."

"Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?" goes through the highs and lows experienced by the Aerosmith lead singer and shows how he tests incoherence and loudness, it was said.

Now, Vietnamese rock singer and songwriter Tran Lap is trying to share and make others understand the "noise" he has created.

Lap, 39, was born to a poor family in Nam Dinh Province. He went on to become the frontman of Buc Tuong (Wall), which was the first rock band and also one with the biggest fan base in Vietnam, from 1994 to 2006. He also founded Vietnam's biggest rock tour, Rockstorm.

His memoir, telling a musical journey since 1990s when rock was far from popular in Vietnam and one that he had embarked on even after his music teachers decried his hoarse vocals, was released on August 2.

"Bên kia Bức Tường" (On the other side of the wall) is on sale in Hanoi and will be released in Ho Chi Minh City on August 10.

"Everyone grows up learning from those who used to be young and passionate," Lap said, explaining that his book was a result of the desire to pass on what he'd learnt to coming generations.

He told The Thao & Van Hoa (Sports and Culture) newspaper that he had been keeping a journal about the band since its first days.

"It was one of the most amateurish and weakest bands in the country at the time, and I was writing about daily activities of the band, and about plans to make it grow." 

Parts of the journal, dealing with the time when the band started to become famous and its live shows attracted big crowds, have been carried on the band's official website.

"But that was this side of the Wall. People have not seen the other side, about the years of sweat and tears, of miseries and failures," Lap said.

He said the band's efforts only paid dividends after many years.

The 340-page paperback, costing VND100,000 (US$4.73), tells of experiences some, who have been or are in the same boat, can relate to, and could encourage those with dreams, he said.

"It's not about passion, which is not something to boast about as everyone has it. It's about reality.

"I don't wish that my story is able to change the life or thoughts of many young people, but it can make them be more confident about any flickering dream they have," said the singer, famous for the song "Duong den dinh vinh quang" (The road to glory) that he wrote himself.

Lap saves many pages for talking about rock music and sharing his opinions over poor development of the genre in Vietnam, of how rockers do not put all their heart into their music.

The book also mentions his many tattoos. "They are my song titles, and there will be more of them," he said.

A singer with a clean profile, Lap said he knows many people would expect personal backstage stories, but his memoir is not about negative things like showbiz wars, or cheesy stories like his love affairs.

There's one short love story of him bringing flowers from a show to a neighbor, now his wife.

It's too early now to say if the rock star's hope-delivering book is a success, but Hanoi bookstore owners said it has been eagerly awaited.

"Artists' life stories always sell well," one said.

That has been true in most cases so far.

"Chuyện nghề của Thủy" (Story of Thuy's career) by Tran Van Thuy, Vietnam's first documentary director with international awards for many of more than 20 works, drew enough public attention for its pirated version to be distributed soon after it was published last May.

The book tells the filmmaking journey of the 73-year-old director from the very first days, including the time when he had to work under wartime pressures like hunger and bombings.

Critics said the book was not just about a person, but a period.

It narrates many bittersweet incidents around his films, including overseas screening bans, before they won international acclaim.

The book is co-authored by his scientist friend Le Thanh Dung, making it read more interesting and truthful, according to critics.

"It's an autobiography that has honest and objective writing," critic Pham Xuan Nguyen said.

But opinion was divided over dancer and actress Le Van's biography in 2006 that bared her love stories as well as her family troubles, with parts of it having bitter words for her father, drama artist Tran Tien.

Van said in "Lê Vân Yêu và sống" (Le Van Love and live) that her father succeeded in playing many roles as an artist, but not in the real life roles of a husband and a father.

She later apologized publicly for what she said, but Tien said the two of them never really talked about it, and that he would make no criticism of her though he was sad, according to a VnExpress report.

Tien and his wife, actress Le Mai, were separated more than 40 years ago.

Some people criticized Van for her harshness, but others complimented her for being truthful, for the way she followed her own values in love and challenged traditional prejudices.

Van had three affairs, according to her book, all with married men. The first two divorced to marry her, but their marriages failed as she had fallen in love with the next one.

Van's son with her current lover, a Dutch diplomat, was born when she was living with her second husband.

While it was not as forthright as Van's memoir, "Mặt nạ Treo gương trong phòng ngủ" (Mask Hanging a mirror in the bedroom) by alternative rock singer, songwriter, model and actress Tinna Tinh was far more successful with the third edition printed recently. The first one was published last December.

It was said to be a novel about a young girl born in Eastern Europe looking for a music career in her father's hometown Hanoi and surviving many sex and money scams in the showbiz industry. Critics, however, called the book a memoir in disguise. Tinna Tinh was born in the Czech Republic, and her father is Vietnamese.

The description of her characters had readers suspecting that the rich man hunting young singers in the story is actually Ha Dung, a former airlines investor and popular songwriter.

The main character's love story with a married man also raised questions about her close relationship with Viet kieu director Charlie Nguyen, who has a wife in the US and a 17-year-old daughter.

Critics said all the speculation has proved beneficial for the book.

"The number of printed copies indicates the public's curiosity, though a rather negative one," a critic said.

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