There’s this famous quote that’s been attributed to various people over the years (Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Thelonius Monk, Clara Schumann, Miles Davis, George Carlin, to name a few), but was probably coined by Martin Mull; ”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
While I can see the point the quote is making, I’m inclined to disagree somewhat. It is true that the experience of music does not really transfer into writing, but there is still a lot one can learn about music through reading. I am a passionate reader of biographies and musical literature, and it’s been a constant source of insight and knowledge to me.
Usually, my favorites are the ones that take you inside the creative process of an artist, let you inside the recording studios, the rehearsal rooms, the philosophy and the inspiration. The more gossipy ones that focus mainly on the private lives, addictions, divorces and scandals of the artists are generally less interesting to me, but of course there are exceptions. I mean, ’The Dirt’ is obviously a highly entertaining read.
In the Billy Momo mini-documentary ’The dirt road to Seven Rivers Wild’ Orren jokingly refers to me as a ”human encyclopedia”, which is quite an exaggeration of course, but I do enjoy collecting little nuggets of musical trivia, connecting dots, and discovering context. So it was with great pleasure I came home the other day to find a new book in my mailbox, Andrew Greenaway’s ’Frank talk: The inside stories of Zappa’s other people’. Basically it’s a collection of interviews with various FZ alumni, and I’m devouring it like a dog attacks a sausage.
I usually share a list of ”recommended listening” in my posts, but today I thought I’d share some of my favorite books about music, so that you may also have the pleasure of reading them.
SOUL MINING: A MUSICAL LIFE – DANIEL LANOIS A beautiful memoir by the legendary producer/musician/artist Daniel Lanois. It has atmosphere dripping from every page, much like the man’s music.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME: MUSIC, RACE & THE SOUL OF AMERICA – CRAIG WERNER
A thorough analysis of how music has been part of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Deeply fascinating, should be required reading in school.
ONE TRAIN LATER: A MEMOIR – ANDY SUMMERS
The Police guitarist writes poetically and beautifully, he could easily have pursued a career as an author instead of playing with one of the biggest acts in the history of popular music.
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE: THE BAND AND AMERICA – BARNEY HOSKYNS The story of one of the most influential music groups of all time, written by one of the best music writers around. Very insightful and revealing.
BODY AND SOUL – FRANK CONROY This is a novel, unlike the others, but it is by far the most beautifully written book about the experience of being a musician I’ve ever come across. This one actually manages to dance about architecture! Warning: You will cry. A lot.
DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON – TONY FLETCHER Speaks for itself, really. A crazy ride through a life lived in the fast lane. Entertaining, legendary, and also surprisingly moving.
TRAVELING MUSIC: THE SOUNDTRACK TO MY LIFE AND TIMES – NEIL PEART The drummer/lyricist of Rush literally takes a road trip as well as a trip down memory lane as he listens to various albums along the way. A combined travel book and memoir.
IN COLD SWEAT: INTERVIEWS WITH REALLY SCARY MUSICIANS -THOMAS WICTOR
Exactly what it says on the tin. Gene Simmons, Peter Hook, Jerry Casale and especially the truly one of a kind Scott Thunes in personal portraits of a lifetime in music.
LORDS OF CHAOS: THE BLOODY RISE OF THE SATANIC METAL UNDERGROUND – MICHAEL MOYNIHAN AND DIDRIK SODERLIND A modern classic, investigating one of the most truly bizarre subcultures to ever emerge in music. Remember the early 90s, people?
REDNECKS AND BLUENECKS: THE POLITICS OF COUNTRY MUSIC – CHRIS WILLMAN
The political landscape of the U.S. viewed through the Country music industry. An often surprising read, tremendously insightful and educational.
THE REAL FRANK ZAPPA BOOK – FRANK ZAPPA AND PETER OCCHIOGROSSO
Not exactly a memoir, but rather part behind the scenes revelations, part political manifesto and part pure entertainment. Funny as shit.
BILL BRUFORD: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – BILL BRUFORD
Typically British dry wit and a generous dose of sarcasm make Bruford’s recollections bitingly funny, while at the same time displaying a never-ending quest for musical discovery and progress. Inspiring!
CHRONICLES – BOB DYLAN Beautifully written, as one would expect, a real treasure chest of musical history, and language that flows like wine. Supremely good.
FARGO ROCK CITY – CHUCK KLOSTERMAN Hysterically funny and strangely clever writing about being a metalhead back in the 80s. You will laugh your ass off while being nostalgic for an era you thought you despised. Possibly the funniest book you’ll ever read.
There should be something here for everyone. Enjoy!