From Johnny Cash to Slash: A Guide to Books on Musicians
To me, listening to music is like opening someone's diary to a random page, and taking a peak...
I am an avid reader of memoirs and biographies, but I tend to prefer those on regular, everyday people rather than celebrities, with one exception; I love books on musicians. If I had to choose a reason why I enjoy books about musicians over books about other celebrities, I would say it's because listening to music for many people is a kind of intimate thing. When you relate to a song, or it affects you emotionally, you feel like you are somehow relating to the artist as well. You feel like you are getting a tiny peak into the soul of the person who wrote it.
While I don't listen to *everything*, I have a pretty varied taste in music, I listen to many genres, from rock to the crooners, as the title says: I love everything from Johnny Cash to Slash (from Guns 'n Roses fame). I've chosen 12 of my favourite artists, and the best books that have been written about them, and shared them here with you in 4 categories; 'The Legends'; 'Icons', 'Fierce Females', and 'Rock Stars'.
Old Blue Eyes...
The Man in Black...
The Legends: Sinatra, Cash & Presley.
All legends in their own right, Old Blue Eyes,The Man in Black, and The King, all created amazing timeless music, and led absolutely fascinating lives.
Frank Sinatra: The Sinatra Treasures: Intimate Photos, Mementos, and Music from the Sinatra Family Collection by Charles Pignone
For any Frank Sinatra fan, this book is a must. Filled with wonderful stories about Frank, shared by his family and friends, you are sure to learn some things you didn't know about this legendary singer. The book also comes with many fabulous photos, beautifully reproduced Sinatra removable memorabilia, and CD that includes rare interviews, music, and some of his early radio appearances.
Johnny Cash: Cash: The Autobiography
The amazing story of Johnny Cash's life, straight from the horse's mouth. He writes candidly about his life, from his early days through to the writing of the book. From his drug addiction to his spirituality, he shares his innermost struggles and triumphs with an honest and humble voice. He also discusses his music, his failings as a parent and husband, and finding the love of his life, June Carter. At the core he was a private man who struggled with many inner demons, and conquered them. In his autobiography, he looks back on his life with a lot of introspection, a little humour, and a bit of wistfulness.
Elvis Presley: Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock n' Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley by George Klein
George Klein and Elvis Presley first met in the 8th grade, and would continue to remain his loyal and lifelong friend throughout Elvis' life, right until the end. George also ended up working in the music business, hosting rock shows on TV and radio, was there with Elvis when his career first started. George was there right from the beginning to witness it all, yet he writes it from his own perspective; though Elvis was a "King" to his fans, to George he was just a regular guy, his friend. It is this perspective that makes this story so unique, and gives readers insight into who Elvis really was as a person, not his imagine as a celebrity. This book is a must for any Elvis fan.
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Icons: Slash, Kurt Cobain & Gene Simmons
These different men all stand as icons for the same reason; even if you don't like their music, their impact on it can't be denied. They all contributed in one way or another to the evolution of Rock n' Roll.
Slash has led the epitome of the musician life; sex, drugs, and rock n' roll; it's all in his autobiography, and more. He discusses the early days of Guns n' Roses, their rise to fame, the touring, the girls, the recording, the drugs, the alcohol, and ultimately the collapse of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Some of the stories are are absolutely hilarious, while others are almost unbelievable (if you didn't know who was telling them). He really captures the excess of rock n' roll bands during the late 80's/early 90's era.
Kurt Cobain: Heavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross
There is no denying that Kurt Cobain had a huge impact on music, and on his many loyal fans. Kurt struggled a lot throughout his life, as a child, later on with horrid stomach pain, then later with depression, addiction, and fame. This book explores all of Kurt's struggles, and attempts to weave together the bits of his life story, in hopes that it could shed some light on what made Kurt ultimately decide to commit suicide. Charles Cross really tried to dig for the dirt, uncover what Kurt was really about, dispel the myths and misconceptions, and reveal the secrets and private life of the frontman of "Nirvana".
Gene Simmons: Kiss and Makeup
Gene Simmons did not lead the typical rock star lifestyle of drinking, and drugs. He kept true to the sex and rock n' roll part though. In this autobiography, Gene writes about his childhood, as well as chronicles the formation and rise to fame of Kiss. Oh yeah, and he talks about the legend of his sexual escapades, and his famous tongue. It really is a fascinating read about his humble beginnings, and how he grew from a young Jewish boy to a make-up wearing, fire blowing rock star. At some points, Gene comes across as endearing, at other times, as a bit of a cocky rock star. This is a must read for a true Kiss fan.
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The Fierce Rock Starlet
The Goddess of Grunge
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Fierce Females: Grace Slick, Courtney Love & Jewel Kilcher
My choices for fierce females may not be what you expected, especially Jewel. She was not an obvious choice. Some people forget that she was homeless and living out of her car when she was discovered. She definitely has some fierceness in her.
Grace Slick: Somebody to Love
I'm not a huge Jefferson Airplane fan, but a friend lent me this autobiography, and I loved it! Grace Slick is an amazing woman, and definitely fierce. One of the few females who took the "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" lifestyle as seriously as the men, her autobiography is full of stories about the 60's sexual revolution and drug culture, and all the crazy things she saw and did. From her sexual experience with Jim Morrison, to her plan to slip drugs into Nixon, to shoving her fingers up an audience members nose; Grace tells it all.
Courtney Love: Dirty Blonde: The Diaries of Courtney Love
Though it's been described as less "diary" and more "scrapbook", nonetheless, grunge goddess Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain's widow and the frontwoman of Hole, has bared some of her soul in this memoir. It's not a straight forward read, but a weird glimpse into pieces of Courtney and her life; full of photos, drawings, random writings and pieces of lyrics, and other random documents.
Jewel Kilcher - Chasing Down the Dawn: Stories From the Road
Jewel is a lot more fierce than many people realize. She grew up on a homestead in Alaska with no running water or electricity. She started out as a young girl singing in bars with her father. She then ended up homeless, and living out of her car when she was discovered singing in a coffee house. She now lives on a ranch in Texas with her champion bull-riding husband Ty. She's not the pampered blonde pop princess many think she is. This book is an very personal look at Jewel's life, through essays, stories, and anecdotes, Jewel talks about her childhood, her family, her life on the road and in the music business.
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Rock Stars: Nikki Sixx, Anthony Kiedis, Shannon Hoon
One thing besides Rock n' Roll ties these three men together; they all struggled with drug problems. Three very different stories, about three men thrown into fame, who all experienced the struggle of the their lifestyles. Shannon Hoon didn't overcome his addiction, and subsequently died of a drug overdose at the age of 28.
Nikki Sixx: The Heroin Diaries
I really loved how this book was written and put together. It's a year of in the life of Nikki Sixx, in the form of his journal entries, as well as written commentary by the people who were there to witness it. It chronicles a time in Nikki's life where he was spiraling out of control, using cocaine and heroin constantly. From his highs (no pun intended) to his lows, Nikki bears his soul on the pages within, and shows a glimpse into the life of an addict near rock bottom.
Anthony Kiedis: Scar Tissue
Anthony Kiedis has a crazy life story. His drug-dealing father introduced him to drugs at a very young age, and Anthony spent more than half of his life either drunk or high. After dropping out of college, it seemed that he was destined to go down the wrong path. Then the Red Hot Chili Peppers took off, and his life changed. Anthony writes about his drug use as a child, his music, his girlfriends, his addictions, and 'life in the fast lane', and his recovery. It is an honest, introspective account woven with the hope of redemption.
Shannon Hoon: A Devil on One Shoulder and An Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon by Greg Prato
One thing I am thankful to this book for is introducing to me some of Blind Melon's music that I was unaware of. Everyone knows about their hit "No Rain", but they really had some other incredible music that many people missed out on. It was reading Slash's autobiography, strangely enough, that made me interested in Shannon Hoon. Until that point, I had no idea of his connection to Guns n' Roses. This book is really interesting, because it is a bunch of interviews spliced into coherent sections with Shannon Hoon, and various people who knew him throughout his life. It really was a very interesting look at someone who could have made a big impact on music, if he hadn't lost his battle with addiction so early on in his life.