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Monday, 22 October 2012 08:34

Top 10 must-read music books

Top 10 must-read music books commons.wikimedia.org / Daigo Oliva
Written by Erin Frank
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I recently moved, which is expensive enough even if you don't hire movers to haul your things with minimal complaint. Like most people who aren't quadrillionaires these days, I didn't hire movers.

I hired my friends, and shelled out more than usual in thank you sandwiches and beer not because of the weight of my furniture, but because of all of the boxes of books.

Now that the boxes are unpacked and the books are on the shelf and only barely organized by genre/author/anything but cover color, here's a list of my top five-turned-top ten favorite books about music.

 

1. "Life," Keith Richards

At first, "Life" looks like a bloated, self-congratulatory account of badassery, and in some ways, it is. But Richards has always been a lot smarter than most people have given him credit for, and "Life" is also very funny, sweet and full of the kind of anecdotes that Stones nerds will be getting off on for the next 50 years...at which point Richards may still be alive.

 

2. "The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band," Mötley Crüe with Neil Strauss

If "The Dirt" were written about any other band, I might doubt half of what happens in its pages. Of course, this time we're talking about Mötley Crüe, a band no one should underestimate in regards to their capacity for horrifyingly repellent (ahem, rock 'n' roll) behavior. By some sort of trickery, Strauss is able to make each band member seem at least partially human for a time. And then they go back to shooting heroin and sticking their dicks in burritos. As they should. Because they're Mötley Crüe.

 

3. "Killing Yourself to Live," Chuck Klosterman

In 2005 (or perhaps earlier; in "Killing Yourself to Live" the print is bold but the dates aren't specific), Chuck Klosterman rented a white Ford Taurus he named the "Ford Tauntaun" and drove it across the country to visit some of America's most famous rock 'n' roll deaths. He did it for the book deal, of course, but also because Klosterman is more than a fan; he's a disciple of rock 'n' roll, one who could see his odyssey as equal parts work trip and pilgrimage. "Killing Yourself to Live" is full of interesting facts about the practitioners of rock 'n' roll who sacrificed themselves for their art (or were accidentally burned to death in a Rhode Island club), but it's also about loving this thing and paying proper respects to it.

 

4. "Cash," Johnny Cash

No Top Five (or Top Ten, see below) list can be made without a nod to Nick Hornby, and it's doubly appropriate that Rob Gordon of "High Fidelity" agrees about this selection. Johnny Cash sounds exactly how you think he might: dry, plainspoken and mostly unapologetic about his life that began as the son of sharecroppers and eventually ended as the deservedly legendary Man in Black.

 

5. "Just Kids," Patti Smith

While myself and other fans my age have always looked to Patti Smith as an elder stateswoman of punk rock and poetry, there was a time when she was, well, just a kid, bouncing around the Chelsea Hotel with Robert Mapplethorpe and hustling used books for money. Written with a blush of youthful naïveté and the wisdom gained from her experience, "Just Kids" is the journal you wish you'd written in another time and with far more talent than you could ever hope to possess.

Honorable Mentions (a short list that became long):

 

"Get In the Van: On the Road with Black Flag," Henry Rollins

Rollins' later books (published by his own company, 2.13.61) are more introspective and fueled by slightly less anger, but "Get In the Van" is a seminal book about touring as a member of one of the most influential punk bands of all time.

 

"Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984," Simon Reynolds

Like Lester Bangs without amphetamines (just as many brilliant tangents, only this time they actually make sense). The US version will suffice but the UK version is allegedly more cerebral, so look for the pink and yellow cover.

 

"Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra," George Jacobs with William Stadiem

George Jacobs was hired as Frank Sinatra's valet in 1953 and fired after a mistaken dalliance with Mia Farrow in 1968. Although his career with Sinatra didn't end well, Jacobs does not seek to drag a legend down; instead, he speaks almost lovingly of Sinatra as a friend, employer and complicated human being in what was then considered to be the twilight of his career.

 

"The Sound and the Fury: 40 Years of Classic Rock Journalism," edited by Barney Hoskins

A collection of pieces from Rock's Backpages, exhaustively researched and wonderfully catalogued. Includes pieces from Greil Marcus, Nick Hornby, Simon Reynolds and others.

 

"Rebel Heart," Bebe Buell with Victor Bockris

Perhaps a more obvious groupie/Band Aid-penned selection would be Pamela Des Barres' "I'm With the Band," but Zappa/GTO's association aside, I'm more East Coast than West Coast. For this reason, Buell's relationships (mostly romantic, some platonic) with Todd Rundgren, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler, Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Joey Ramone seem far more legitimate and entertaining to me than whatever was happening on the Sunset Strip.

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