Anyone who can’t get a song out of his head or obsessively replays one is testament to the power music exerts in our lives. Favorite songs by favorite artists play like tape loops in our minds; we’re touched by both the lyrics and the music. It follows, then, that books about music, musicians, and the movements that shaped them are ever more popular.
We see a lot of signs that point to a healthy book market for music titles. The audience for these titles has always been very large, and it’s still growing,” says David Lutton, associate acquisitions editor for the Dummies series at Wiley. While this fall’s crop of music books illustrates the ongoing desire of fans to learn every detail about their favorite artists, the books cut a swath across diverse musical genres—from rock to classical to jazz.
In the past two years, rockers and pop musicians like Keith Richards, Gregg Allman, Neil Young, Carole King, Patti Smith, and Cyndi Lauper have opened up about their private lives, parading their character flaws, setting the record straight, and showing us that, in spite of their excessive or glamorous lifestyles, they’re plagued by the same doubts and overjoyed by the same triumphs that we experience in our lives. According to St. Martin’s executive editor Kathryn Huck, “Big-time memoirs have really staged a comeback, though it seems like the talent has to be A-list to get on and stay on the list.”
One year ago, rust-never-sleeps rocker Neil Young rambled on through his musical and personal journey, including his rocky, on-again-off-again relationship with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, in Waging Peace: A Hippy Dream (Blue Rider Press). Now, Graham Nash gets his turn to pull no punches in his memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life (Crown Archetype, Oct.), candidly discussing his upbringing and his family difficulties, the arrogance of Stephen Stills and Young, and his commitment to songwriting and making music in three-part harmony. Songbird Linda Ronstadt also came out of the California rock and folk scene out of which Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young grew. In Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir (S&S, Sept.), she artfully weaves together the story of her musical upbringing in Arizona, her rise to stardom in the Southern California music scene, and beyond, introducing figures as diverse as Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Nelson Riddle, and Kermit the Frog. About Simple Dreams, Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp says, “In these pages you’ll discover a woman who loves to sing and learns to express that love through an eclectic range of music.”
While Jimi Hendrix told his story through his songs, rock fans might wonder what kind of memoir Hendrix would have written had he lived. In Starting at Zero: His Own Story (Bloomsbury, Oct.), filmmaker Peter Neal, Hendrix’s producer and close friend, gathers Hendrix’s writings—on hotel stationery, napkins, cigarette cartons—to create a comprehensive account of his life, from birth to death. With a nod-and-a-wink attitude, Steely Dan cofounder Donald Fagen offers an autobiographical portrait that reveals the cultural figures that shaped his life, from Jean Shepherd to Henry Mancini to Blake Edwards, in Eminent Hipsters (Viking, Oct.).
Suzanne Ryan, Oxford University Press’s editor in chief, humanities, points out that “biographies are a perennial favorite, whether of individuals or of major groups, genre histories, or favorite works.” In recent years, Robert Plant, the Led Zeppelin frontman, has lent his distinctive voice to a number of musical projects, including collaboration with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and Americana artist Patty Griffin. Telling his biographer Paul Rees that he “had no intention of doing an autobiography as he felt it was too early in his career to do so,” Plant gave the green light to Rees to tell his story in the definitive Robert Plant: A Life (HarperCollins, Oct.), with a 100,000-copy print run. Rock writer Mick Wall unearths previously unheard stories in AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be (St. Martin’s, Nov.). Another metal rock band gets its due in Neil Daniels’s Reinventing Metal: The True Story of Pantera and the Tragically Short Life of Dimebag Darrell (Backbeat, Sept.), while Paul Branigan and Ian Winwood offer their first installment of the two-volume Birth School Metallica Death (Da Capo, Nov.). Finally, Stacy Brown and Michael Jackson’s former publicist Bob Jones take a look at the King of Pop in Michael Jackson: The Man Behind the Mask (SelectBooks, Oct.), and Ian Bell delves into Bob Dylan’s mystique in Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan (Pegasus, Oct.).
Last year, Paul Elie cast fresh light on Johann Sebastian Bach and his impact on the act of composing music in Reinventing Bach (FSG). This fall, a number of new books look at the lives of classical composers or explore the difficulty of learning to play classical music. Confident of the continued interest in Bach, Knopf’s 30,000-copy printing of Music in the Castle in Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach (Knopf, Oct.) by John Eliot Gardiner offers an in-depth look at the composer. Beethoven scholar John Suchet draws on newly available sources in Beethoven: The Man Revealed (Grove/Atlantic, Dec.); Martin Geck strives to strike a balance between the technical aspects of Wagner’s compositions and Wagner’s understanding of aesthetics in Richard Wagner: A Life in Music (Univ. of Chicago, Sept.). With Mozart: A Life (Viking, Nov.), cultural biographer Paul Johnson (Darwin) offers a concise but illuminating biography of Mozart, focusing on the composer’s uncanny gift for instrumentation, while Stephen Walsh offers a collective biography of Mussorgsky and the composers with whom he associated in Mussorgsky and His Circle: A Russian Musical Adventure (Knopf, Dec.). In Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music (Holt, Sept.), Neil Powell delivers a biography of the English composer for the centennial of his birth, and editor Nigel Simeone provides a revealing glimpse of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein in The Leonard Bernstein Letters (Yale, Oct.).
Two books take on the challenges and the obsession of learning to play classical music. In Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible (FSG, Sept.), Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger recounts his yearlong effort to master Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 in G Minor and how the project consumed him. With a 150,000-copy first printing, Hyperion has great hopes for the inspirational true tale of journalist Joanne Lipman, along with Melanie Kupchynsky, who wrote Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations (Oct.), the story of a violin teacher, Mr. K, who transforms his student, Lipman, and his own daughter, Kupchynsky, into top performers (Kupchynsky plays with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).
Honky Tonkin’ with Jazz and Soul
Ten years ago, Johnny Cash died. When Robert Hilburn asked Cash’s manager Lou Robins how much of Cash’s story had been told, Robins replied that “only about twenty percent” had been revealed—in spite of Cash’s own autobiography, Cash. Hilburn set out to cover the entire story in Johnny Cash: The Life (Little, Brown, Oct.), drawing on his personal experience with Cash and on a treasure trove of never-before-seen material from Cash’s inner circle. Little, Brown executive editor John Parsley says, “There’s always a readership for the best books on hallowed music icons. Johnny Cash’s life is so ripe for Bob Hilburn’s exhaustive, page-turning telling; it’s a book that only Bob Hilburn could have written and that Cash’s legacy deserves.” Country music critic David Cantwell, meanwhile, takes us on a revelatory journey through Merle Haggard’s music and the life and times out of which it came in Merle Haggard: The Running Kind (Univ. of Texas, Sept.). In a groundbreaking biographical and cultural history, banjo player and founder of Women in Bluegrass Murphy Hicks Henry offers the first-ever book about women pickers in Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass (Univ. of Illinois, Sept.).
Legendary bluegrass mandolin picker Ricky Skaggs tells his story of playing as a child with Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley and striving to bridge past and future with his music in Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music (IT/Harper, Sept.). In Buck ’Em: The Autobiography of Buck Owens (Backbeat, Nov.), the late Owens tells, with Randy Poe, his life story from the back roads of Texas to the streets of Bakersfield, Calif., where he helped shape the “Bakersfield Sound.”
Much as he did in his popular biography of Louis Armstrong (Pops), culture critic Terry Teachout draws on candid unpublished interviews with Duke Ellington for Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (Gotham, Oct.). Gotham vice-president and editorial director Lauren Marino says, “Duke is really about a major American musical figure; his compositions had a powerful impact on popular culture and the artists and music of the 20th century.” Several books focus on Charlie Parker: Chuck Haddix’s Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker (Univ. of Illinois, Sept.) weaves firsthand accounts from Parker’s associates with new information about his life and career. The University of Minnesota Press adds to the Parker conversation with a revised and definitive edition of Gary Giddins’s Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker (Sept.). And in the long-awaited first installment of his life of Charlie Parker, Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker (HarperCollins/It, Oct.), acclaimed jazz critic Stanley Crouch brings Parker’s early years and his rise to fame to life (Crouch is profiled in this issue, p. 26). Quincy Jones: His Life in Music (Mississippi, Oct.) by Clarence Bernard Henry, traces the story of Jones’s work as a composer and producer. From the streets of New Orleans, Matt Sakakeeny provides a firsthand account of the lives of the city’s brass band musicians in Roll with It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans (Duke, Nov.). And for the first timer, Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion (Scarecrow Press, Oct.) offers advice and direction.
We can thank the record labels who signed up the artists, pressed the vinyl, and marketed their music for our favorite sounds. Stax Records, an iconic American recording studio, gave the world Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Booker T and the MGs, and Steve Cropper. In his definitive history of the label, Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Bloomsbury, Nov.), Robert Gordon looks behind the scenes at the studio responsible for soul music. At first, fans laughed at the late-night commercials advertising collections of hits by various artists, but Rhino Records took the music world by storm, with access to previously unheard versions of iconic recordings; Rhino cofounder Harold Bronson tells the tale of this small independent label in The Rhino Records Story (SelectBooks, Oct.).
This rich harvest of fall music books goes beyond the liner notes and the grooves of favorite albums to reveal the musicians behind the music, as well as the powerful cultural history of a wide variety of musical forms.
A New Spin on Books: The 33 1/3 Series
For many music fans, reading the liner notes of an album simply isn’t enough; they want to know every little idiosyncrasy of the recording process. What recording equipment were the musicians using? What kinds of instruments were they using? How did the band really feel about each other in that villa in France? What if there were a series of pocket-sized books that allowed fans to find the answers to these questions and more?
In 2003, Continuum, now a part of Bloomsbury, launched 33 1/3, a series of books offering fans of seminal albums closer, more intimate looks at their favorites. David Barker, publishing director, education, at Bloomsbury, brought the series to light: “I’d started a series called Continuum Contemporaries, short critical guides to contemporary fiction. It occurred to me that it might be equally—okay, perhaps even more—fun to try a similar series with albums; I’d find authors from many other fields and give them as much freedom as possible to approach their subject.”
33 1/3 kicked out the jams that year with books on five classic albums: Dusty in Memphis (Dusty Springfield’s fifth studio album); Love’s Forever Changes (a 1967 Summer of Love classic); Neil Young’s Harvest; The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society; and The Smiths’ Meat is Murder. Between 2003 and 2012, 86 books appeared in the series, covering albums by artists ranging from James Brown, Bob Dylan, and Prince to the Pixies, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and Céline Dion. Continuum decided to allow the series to wind down in 2012. The last volume was Jonathan Lethem’s take on the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music.
When Bloomsbury purchased Continuum in 2011, Barker and commissioning editor for popular music Ally Jane Grossan, proposed a plan to revive the series. “Bloomsbury loved the idea,” she says, “and we issued an open call for new proposals in early 2012.” The response to that call clearly demonstrated the immense popularity of 33 1/3: 471 proposals.
An important aspect of the series is the involvement of the fans. As Grossan says, “33 1/3 is one of the most democratic publishing imprints in the world. The editorial process is very visible on the blog [www.333sound.com], even though David and I do the actual selecting. We carefully whittled down the 471 proposals to 94, and we posted the list on the blog, which serves as an open forum for the series. We welcomed input from fans and haters alike.” Out of that 94, 33 1/3 will publish 18 titles over the next year.
This fall, the series features Darran Anderson on Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson (Oct.) and S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer on They Might Be Giants’ Flood (Nov.). The series will cover albums ranging from the Beach Boys’ Smile and Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.
“Each book tells a story about an album that is beloved but not always necessarily well known,” says Grossan. This approach to music books has won critical praise, a loyal fan base, and steady sales—each volume has sold over 3,000 copies—and Bloomsbury will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the series throughout 2014, culminating with publication of the 100th volume in fall 2014.
With a Little Help from Their Friends: Celebrating the Beatles’ 50th Anniversary
It was 50 years ago this year that the raucous, bluesy, rock ’n’ roll of John, Paul, George, and Ringo climbed up American record charts, leaving millions of teenage girls swooning and parents concerned about the obsession these four mop-heads inspired.
Over the next 10 years, the Beatles altered the course of rock history, growing musically from a band whose original sound came out of American blues, soul music, and British skiffle, into a group famous for ingenious songwriting, experimental music, ferocious infighting, as well as now-iconic album covers and a farewell rooftop concert.
Last fall featured a crop of books hailing the 50th anniversary of that other British band, the Rolling Stones; this fall is all about the Fab Four.
Before they arrived in America, the Beatles plunged into a rough and tumble Liverpool music scene, eventually rising to the top of the heap of talent there that also included, among others, the Hollies and the Animals. Former Beatles book manager Joe Flannery “witnessed the Beatles” rise to prominence in the early ’60s and tells about it in his warts-and-all account, Standing in the Wings: The Beatles, Brian Epstein, and Me (Nov.), according to the History Press commissioning editor, Mark Benyon.
“We’ve had great success with two Beatles books in the past [100 Beatles Songs and The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics], so we know well that books about the Beatles and their music still excite the public,” says Black Dog & Leventhal editor Dinah Dunn. With a print run of 40,000 copies, Black Dog & Leventhal has high hopes for All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Philippe Margotin, Jean-Michel Guesdon, and Scott Freiman (Oct.), which dissects every album and every song ever recorded by the Beatles—from “Please Please Me” to “The Long and Winding Road.” Ten years out of print, Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962–1970 is being brought back by Sterling; it is the definitive guide to the every Beatles recording session at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios (Oct.)
Lewisohn, one of the leading authorities on the Beatles, also delivers the 10-years-in-the-making first volume of his trilogy, Tune In: The Beatles—All These Years (Crown Archetype, Oct.), which draws on new interviews and never-before-seen material to look into the band’s pre-Fab years in Liverpool and Hamburg and the way that everything came together for the Beatles during that time.
Forty years after the Beatles broke up, the band continues to exert its fascination over fans, who pore over posters, photographs, and other objects, in addition to the records. Mat Snow’s beautiful four-book set, Beatles Solo: The Illustrated Chronicles of John, Paul, George, and Ringo after the Beatles (Quayside, Oct. 2), examines their individual triumphs and tragedies in a post-Beatles world. Mark Hayward’s The Beatles in America Poster Book (Sterling, Oct.) captures the band’s lasting influence on music, culture, and fashion in a collection of 20 frameable posters detailing the careers of the Beatles in the U.S., while Brian Southall’s The Beatles in 100 Objects (Sterling, Oct.) portrays the career of the Beatles and their influence through photos of the most famous objects associated with the band.
Beatles or Stones? In a groundbreaking approach to this question, John McMillian reveals in Beatles vs. Stones (S&S, Oct.) that the rivalry between the bands has long been misconstrued and is the product of savvy marketing managers.
When Penelope Rowlands reconnected with one of the screaming teenagers with whom she was photographed in a 1964 New York Times article about the Beatles’ arrival in America, she realized how deeply that experience had changed her and others. The Beatles Are Here! 50 Years After the Band Arrived in America, Writers and Other Fans Remember (Algonquin, Jan.) contains memories of those who were there, including Cyndi Lauper, Gay Talese, Lisa See, and Fran Lebowitz.
Fifty years on, the legends from Liverpool continue to get by.