What better way explore the history of popular music than through the words of those who experienced it first hand? Here’s eight great musician’s memoirs that allow singers, songwriters, and performers tell their own stories.
Cash by Johnny Cash
He was the “Man in Black,” a country music legend, and the quintessential American troubadour. He was an icon of rugged individualism who had been to hell and back, telling the tale as never before. In his unforgettable autobiography, Johnny Cash tells the truth about the highs and lows, the struggles and hard-won triumphs, and the people who shaped him.
In his own words, Cash set the record straight — and dispelled a few myths — as he looked unsparingly at his remarkable life: from the joys of his boyhood in Dyess, Arkansas to superstardom in Nashville, Tennessee, the road of Cash’s life has been anything but smooth. Cash writes of the thrill of playing with Elvis, the comfort of praying with Billy Graham; of his battles with addiction and of the devotion of his wife, June; of his gratitude for life, and of his thoughts on what the afterlife may bring. Here, too, are the friends of a lifetime, including Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Kris Kristofferson. As powerful and memorable as one of his classic songs, Cash is filled with the candor, wit, and wisdom of a man who truly “walked the line.”
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon, founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story-a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll, written with lyricism and haunting beauty.
Often described as aloof, Kim Gordon opens up as never before in Girl in a Band. Telling the story of her family, growing up in California in the ’60s and ’70s, her life in visual art, her move to New York City, the men in her life, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, her music, and her band. Gordon takes us back to the lost New York of the 1980s and ’90s that gave rise to Sonic Youth, and the Alternative revolution in popular music. The band helped build a vocabulary of music-paving the way for Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and many other acts. But at its core, Girl in a Band examines the route from girl to woman in uncharted territory, music, art career, what partnership means-and what happens when that identity dissolves.
Evocative and edgy, filled with the sights and sounds of a changing world and a transformative life, Girl in a Band is the fascinating chronicle of a remarkable journey and an extraordinary artist.
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Life by Keith Richards
With The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the songs that roused the world, and he lived the original rock and roll life. Now, at last, the man himself tells his story of life in the crossfire hurricane. Listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, learning guitar and forming a band with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones. The Rolling Stones’s first fame and the notorious drug busts that led to his enduring image as an outlaw folk hero. Creating immortal riffs like the ones in “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women.” His relationship with Anita Pallenberg and the death of Brian Jones. Tax exile in France, wildfire tours of the U.S., isolation and addiction. Falling in love with Patti Hansen. Estrangement from Jagger and subsequent reconciliation. Marriage, family, solo albums and Xpensive Winos, and the road that goes on forever.
With his trademark disarming honesty, Keith Richard brings us the story of a life we have all longed to know more of, unfettered, fearless, and true.
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Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag by Henry Rollins
As a member of the seminal punk band Black Flag, Henry Rollins kept detailed tour diaries that form the basis of Get in the Van. Rollins’s observations range from the wry to the raucous in this blistering account of a six-year career with the band – a time marked by crazed fans, vicious cops, near-starvation, substance abuse, and mind numbing all-night drives. Rollins decided to revise this edition by adding a wealth of new photographs, a new foreword, and an afterword to include some “where-are-they-now” information on the people featured in the book. Get in the Van perfectly embodies what one critic called the “secular gospel” of one of punk and post-punk’s most respected and controversial figures.
It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson
One of the most beloved popular musicians of our time tells the story of his extraordinary life.This is Willie Nelson’s complete, unvarnished story, told in his voice and leaving no significant moment or experience untold, from Texas, Nashville, Hawaii, and beyond. Having recently turned 80, Nelson is ready to shine a light on all aspects of his life, including his drive to write music, the women in his life, his collaborations, and his biggest lows and highs—from his bankruptcy to the founding of Farm Aid.An American icon who still tours constantly and headlines music festivals, Willie Nelson and his music have found their way into the hearts and minds of fans the world over, winning ten Grammys and receiving Kennedy Center Honors. Now it’s time to hear the last word about his life — from the man himself.
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Reckless: My Life as a Pretender by Chrissie Hynde
Few other rock stars have managed to combine her swagger, sexiness, stage presence, knack for putting words to music, gorgeous voice and just all-around kick-assedness into such a potent and alluring package. Her signature songs project a unique mixture of toughness and vulnerability that millions of men and women have related to. A kind of one- woman secret tunnel linking punk and new wave to classic guitar rock, she is one of the great luminaries in rock history.
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Blues All Around Me by B.B. King
B.B. King has the blues running through his blood. Growing up in the rural poverty of the Mississippi Delta, King first experienced the blues at nine years old, when his mother passed away. The man of the house before the end of his first decade, he used this strife as a source of inspiration and launched one of the most celebrated musical careers in American history.
King has led a remarkable life, and this riveting autobiography dramatizes his whirlwind adventures from the Memphis of the forties to the Moscow of the nineties with unflinching candor and sincerity. But most of all, B.B.’s story is the story of the blues—the evolution from country acoustic to urban electric, the birth and explosion of rock ‘n’ roll—and B.B.’s own long, but ultimately triumphant, struggle for crossover success, during which he remained unwaveringly true to the music of his heart.
Now, Chrissie Hynde tells, with all the fearless candor, sharp humor and depth of feeling we’ve come to expect, exactly where she came from and what her crooked, winding path to stardom entailed. Her All-American upbringing in Akron, Ohio, a child of postwar power and prosperity. Her soul capture, along with tens of millions of her generation, by the gods of sixties rock who came through Cleveland—Mitch Ryder, David Bowie, Jeff Back, Paul Butterfield and Iggy Pop among them. Her shocked witness in 1970 to the horrific shooting of student antiwar protesters at Kent State. Her weakness for the sorts of men she calls “the heavy bikers” and “the get-down boys.” Her flight from Ohio to London in 1973 essentially to escape the former and pursue the latter. Her scuffling years as a brash reviewer for New Musical Express, shop girl at the Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood boutique, first-hand witness to the birth of the punk movement, and serial band aspirant. And then ,at almost the last possible moment, her meeting of the three musicians who comprised the original line-up of The Pretenders and the rocket ride to stardom, with all the disorientation and hazards that involved. Because Chrissie Hynde is, among other things, one of rock’s great survivors.
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Mo’ Meta Blues by Questlove
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is many things: virtuoso drummer, producer, arranger, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon bandleader, DJ, composer, and tireless Tweeter. He is one of our most ubiquitous cultural tastemakers, and in this, his first book, he reveals his own formative experiences–from growing up in 1970s West Philly as the son of a 1950s doo-wop singer, to finding his own way through the music world and ultimately co-founding and rising up with the Roots, a.k.a., the last hip hop band on Earth. Mo’ Meta Blues also has some (many) random (or not) musings about the state of hip hop, the state of music criticism, the state of statements, as well as a plethora of run-ins with celebrities, idols, and fellow artists, from Stevie Wonder to KISS to D’Angelo to Jay-Z to Dave Chappelle to…you ever seen Prince roller-skate?!?
But Mo’ Meta Blues isn’t just a memoir. It’s a dialogue about the nature of memory and the idea of a post-modern black man saddled with some post-modern blues. It’s a book that questions what a book like Mo’ Meta Blues really is. It’s the side wind of a one-of-a-kind mind.