It’s no question that books and music are an unstoppable combination. While most people like to enjoy them separately, I think they’re even better when paired together. For instance, I have to listen to music when I read; I get such a kick out of picking the perfect tunes that will put me in the right mood to match the book I’m reading—like a literary soundtrack!
What’s cooler than books and music? Books about music. Books by musicians. There is nothing like a juicy rock ‘n’ roll memoir to rev up your weekend reading and inspire you to get out there and make some noise of your own! Lucky for us savvy readers, many legendary musician have put pen to paper and recorded their story. From scandalous backstage antics to artistic revelations and everything in between, these musical memoirs take readers behind-the-scenes like never before. Here are 10 of my top picks:
1. Kicking and Dreaming by Anne and Nancy Wilson
Anne and Nancy Wilson—the sisters who make up legendary rock group Heart—are finally telling their story. With their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, they broke onto the rock scene in a big way and opened for acts like Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Queen before becoming headliners themselves. With hits like “Barracuda”, “Magic Man”, “Crazy on You”, and “Alone”, Heart showed everybody that women could rock just as hard as men—harder, even! Kicking and Dreaming, which was co-written with Charles Cross (who also authored biographies on Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix), details the sisters’ rise to become one of the most formidable musical duos of the 80’s. As a huge Heart fan myself, I enjoyed learning more about this (often overlooked) amazing rock band.
2. Just Kids by Patti Smith
In this award-winning and atmospheric memoir (and one of my all-time favorites!), renowned art-rocker, poet, and professed “Godmother of Punk” Patti Smith tells her captivating life story, including the personal turmoil, extreme poverty, and the artistic struggle she went through during her first years in the big city. But New York in the seventies was an electric period, and Patti Smith was in the center of it. In her articulate, candid, and lyrical voice, she recounts her journey from starving artist to punk scene queen with wit, tenderness, and insight. But the heart and soul of this story is Smith’s on-and-off again relationship with controversial artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met shortly after moving to NYC. The two of them had a magnetic connection that lasted until Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989 at the age of 42. Their complex, tender, and turbulent relationship is at the center of this memoir, and it draws you in from the beginning.
3. Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis
Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis gives an unflinching and engaging account of life as a rock star and addict in this New York Times Bestseller. Even if you aren’t a fan of his band, this memoir will satisfy. Kiedis is thorough and candid when speaking about his harrowing experience as a heroin addict, including his relapses and recovery—it’s amazing he’s still alive to tell the tale! He is so endearing and thoughtful when discussing his past romance with actress Ione Sky (from Say Anything), and the many remarkable women who have been a strong presence in his life over the years. For me, this is what makes the book so unique. It is Kiedis’ passion for life and for music that really come through and makes this such an enjoyable page-turner.
4. Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die by Willie Nelson
What can one say about Willie Nelson? He is iconic, original, and unexpected. He is a legend of country music and isn’t shy about who is he and what he stands for. In what is sure to be a must-read memoir, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die (what a title!), should be on every Willie fan’s wish list this coming season.
5. The Dirt by Motley Crue
In what’s been described as “The most unputdownable rock book of the year, or, possibly, any year” (Q magazine), Motley Crue gives us “The Dirt” on life as one of the most debaucherous and notorious bands of all time. This book is pure entertainment; a roller-coaster ride of outrageous, hilarious, filthy, and crazy stories that you won’t be able to stop reading. Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, and Nikki Sixx teamed up with renowned music journalist Neil Strauss to capture all the grit, grime, grease, and hairspray that went into creating Motley Crue’s legendary music (and infamous reputation!) It’s a classic of its genre and a must-read for fans of 80’s hair bands.
6. Love, Janis by Laura Joplin
In Love, Janis, Laura Joplin tells the tragic story of her sister Janis through personal letters that Janis sent to her over the course of a too-short musical career. It is a rare thing for a family member to have the distance and clarity needed to give a truthful portrayal of someone so close to them, but Laura Joplin succeeds in this and more, making Love, Janis a fascinating and unique biography. Janis was a larger-than-life character who lived hard. She had one of the greatest blues voices of all time, but she struggled with insecurity, depression, constant heartbreak, and severe addiction to alcohol and heroin, the latter of which ultimately killed her in an overdose. Love, Janis is a book worthy of Joplin’s legendary rock-and-roll persona.
7. Who I Am by Pete Townsend
Many words spring to mind when someone says “The Who”: Legendary…pioneering…wild…loud. Well, Pete Townsend can attest to them all. As the guitar genius and renowned songwriter behind most of The Who’s classic hits, Townsend has seen and done it all, and he’s finally sharing his story in this highly anticipated memoir, Who I Am. The Who are considered one of the most influential bands of the 1960’s and 70’s, and Townsend himself has been through many ups and downs in his career and personal life. Apart from his work in music, Townsend has been involved in the literary world in many capacities, from screenwriting to editing; Who I Am is sure to be a beautifully-written and entertaining memoir.
8. Cash by Johnny Cash
Cash by Johnny Cash is easily one of the greatest musical memoirs of all time. If that sounds like a definitive statement, well, it is. Cash himself is a celebrated, almost mythical figure in music. He played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Kris Kristofferson, and his impact on music is immeasurable. He is a towering presence on the page, as well. Cash’s authenticity, combined with a candor and sincerity, is what makes this book so gratifying and interesting. If anyone has lived a life worthy of a book, it’s Johnny Cash. His budding love affair with June Carter is derailed time and again by a serious amphetamine addiction, and when he talks about hitting rock bottom, you feel it. Cash’s legacy transcends country music, and so does this memoir.
9. Neon Angel by Cherie Curry
There are some great all-girl rock groups in history, and The Runaways is one of them. The year was 1975, and Cherie Currie was only fifteen when she auditioned for the group, which featured a teenage Joan Jett on lead guitar. The girls were so impressed with her voice and stage presence that they wrote “Cherry Bomb” for her, on the spot. The group became a trailblazing success, and “Cherry Bomb” became a smash hit and controversial teenage anthem. In Neon Angel, Cherie talks about her formative years in The Runaways and her complex relationship with Joan Jett. She also details her descent into drug addiction, which ultimately got her kicked out of the band and prematurely ended her music career. This memoir was the inspiration behind the movie The Runaways, and it’s a thoughtful and eye-opening story of teenage-fame that only Cherie could tell.
10. Luck or Something Like It by Kenny Rogers
Another giant of country music, Kenny Rogers has had a career that’s spanned over five decades. He’s lived a fascinating life on the road and off, and he’s sung some of the most iconic country music ever made. Rogers’ voice is instantly recognizable, and his voice on the page is just as warm and intriguing. He’s a born story-teller. Luck or Something Like It is a definitive account of life on the road, and gives readers a feeling of what it’s like being one of the most beloved singers in music history. In my favorite line from the book’s description, this memoir is “a heartwarming testament to a time when country music wasn’t just a brand but a way of life.”
Rock on, Read on –