Chances are, the MUSIC section of your local bookstore is stuffed to the gills with books you’ve never heard of. In an effort to break that stalemate, here are five good reads that I’ve recently enjoyed, and recommend without hesitation:
So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star | by Jacob Slichter – The ex-drummer for Semisonic (I hadn’t heard of them either), Slichter recounts his group’s crawl through the slime pit of the music industry. Part Catch-22, part Spinal Tap, this hilarious memoir reveals the bufoonery that runs rampant in every corner of the industry, and acts as a first-rate primer on why the music business finds itself in the dumps. Chapter 7, entitled ‘The Band Looks Stunning’, details the group’s efforts to shoot a video for MTV, and reduced me to a puddle of laughter. This book absolutely, positively needs to be turned into a feature film.
Telling passage: “In the autograph booth after a show, it wasn’t unusual for a fan to smile and say, ‘Hey, I threw that bottle at you!'”
Love Is A Mix Tape | by Rob Sheffield – Using a box of mix tapes and a pile of memories, Sheffield tells the story of Renee, his late-wife who died in his arms after only five years of marriage. This story of love lost is so vividly and heart-achingly rendered that by its end you’ll feel like you knew this girl, and you’ll miss her too.
Telling passage: “I was lucky I got to be her guy for awhile.”
One Train Later | by Andy Summers – The title refers to a chance encounter on the metro with Stewart Copeland during the formation of The Police (one train later, and he may not have been in the band), but this musical autobiography covers Summers’ entire journey through music. Charming, self-effacing, and funny, Summers tells his story with a joy that’s contagious.
Telling passage: “I begin having expensive cloaks and trousers made in places like Thea Porter. One of my more memorable pieces is a stunning bell-sleeved wizard’s coat in brilliant reds and greens with gold stitching around the cuffs. I play onstage with this beautiful coat, feeling like Merlin. We all want to feel like wizards now, have magical powers, transform and subvert people’s minds. The coat helps.”
Black Monk Time | by Thomas Edward Shaw and Anita Klemke – Shaw isn’t the most gifted writer, but his story is so good that it hardly matters. As the bass player for pre-punk heroes The Monks, he had a front-row seat for the creation of their volcanic sound and strange look, and their many trials with the music industry. In spite of a healthy following in Europe, the group released just one album before their label dropped them and they broke up. This musical autobiography isn’t just stranger than fiction – it also rocks a lot harder.
Telling passage: “The idea that Americans were dying for a questionable reason was the catalyst that had caused us to sing ‘Monk Time’. It was a screaming incomprehension caused by the growing suspicion that a government may not reflect the real interests of its people.”
Egotrip’s Book Of Rap Lists | by various authors – Featuring hundreds of lists that cover every facet of hip-hop past and present, this book is a must-have for anyone with even a glimmer of interest in the genre.
Telling passage: [From 'Sir Mix-A-Lot's 10 Signs That You're Being Player Hated] “2. You drive a Benz. You love soul food. The four niggas standin’ in the doorway at the restaurant key your shit while you’re eatin’.”
And one very discouraging read:
The 100 Best Selling Albums Of The 90s | by various authors – Viewed strictly through the prism of record sales, the 90’s looks like a cataclysmic stew of Rap-Metal, bad Country, boy bands, and Hootie & The Blowfish. Of the Top 20 selling albums of that decade, only Metallica’s self-titled “black album” (#12) and Pearl Jam’s Ten (#18) have endured artistically – the rest will make you hold your nose. If you keep the 90’s close to your heart musically, run screaming from this one.
Telling passage: [From Garth Brooks' Ropin' The Wind, the #9 selling album of the decade] “Garth Brooks was a great admirer of Billy Joel. The inclusion of ‘Shameless’, on Ropin’ The Wind illuminates the links between the two artists’ brand of blue collar balladry, as well as illustrating Brooks’ easy ability to straddle the country-pop divide.”