When you love music, it’s not always enough just to listen to great recording artists– sometimes you need to read about them too. From emotionally moving memoirs to intellectually stimulating analyses, here are ten remarkable books about remarkable musicians.
Acid for the Children – Flea
This memoir, by one of music’s best bassists ever, only chronicles his youth, and ends just as he and his friends form the world-famous Red Hot Chili Peppers. In spite of that, Flea’s fascinating, adventurous childhood and punk-funk prose make this an unforgettable read. (Audiobook version available for download on Overdrive)
Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism – Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley
Tinsley, known for teaching the course “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism” at the University of Texas, offers a scholarly yet highly personal examination of black women’s sexuality and gender through the lens of Beyoncé’s monumental video-album Lemonade.
JAY-Z : Made in America – Michael Eric Dyson
The other half of pop music’s most powerful couple gets his own academic assessment here. Georgetown’s Michael Eric Dyson passionately dissects the iconic rapper’s epic and complex career, and the footprints it has left on American culture along the way.
Just Kids – Patti Smith
Patti Smith was instrumental in bridging the gap between beatniks & punks, and her National Book Award-winning memoir recounts her impoverished yet romantic coming-of-age with poetic soul and stark beauty. (Audiobook available on CD through the Livingston Library)
Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) : A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, etc. – Jeff Tweedy
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is a rare musician who has built a successful career upon solid, accessible songwriting as well as bold experimentation. His book is also an outstanding achievement: a musical memoir that is honest, unpretentious, insightful, and deeply affecting. (Audiobook version available for download on Overdrive)
Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001 – 2011 – Lizzy Goodman
Early 21st-Century NYC was both an exciting and unsettling place to live, a rock n’ roll Shangri-La in the shadows of post-9/11 malaise. This oral history starring The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, and dozens more of the scene’s most prominent musicians, captures that era in consummate detail.
Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain – Danny Goldberg
Much has been written about Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and because of his uncanny talent, meteoric stardom, and early death, much of that writing tends to mythologize him. This book by Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg revisits Cobain’s brief but seminal career in a refreshingly humanizing way.
Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded – Jason Heller
Bowie’s in the title and on the cover, and is certainly the most frequently-mentioned musician in this book. But he’s still only one star in a galaxy of artists (including Parliament-Funkadelic, Pink Floyd, and Kraftwerk) explored in this revelatory look at the fusion of science fiction and pop music that peaked in the 1970s.
What Happened, Miss Simone? – Alan Light
There may never be another musician like Nina Simone, who crossed genres and broke barriers with her unique voice, classically-trained skills, and fiery spirit. This thorough biography spotlights her many accomplishments on the stage and in the civil rights arena. (Audiobook version available for download on Overdrive ; the Netflix documentary that inspired this book is available on DVD)
You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes – Nathan Rabin
Few bands have been negatively pre-judged based on their fans alone more than Phish and the Insane Clown Posse. Pop culture expert Nathan Rabin takes a deeper look at these two artists, as well as the communities they inspired– and discovers some important things about himself in the process.
– Joe O’Brien, Adult Services Librarian