It’s shaping up to be a good publishing year for women in music. Kim Gordon’s high-profile Girl in a Band, which spawned coverage everywhere from the New York Times and NPR to Esquire, pubbed in February and is 2015’s second-bestselling music memoir to date, according to Nielsen BookScan (Willie Nelson’s It’s a Long Story, which pubbed in May, is #1). In the wake of Gordon’s bio, the coming months bring an impressive number of books by and about women musicians.
In October, Patti Smith follows up 2010’s National Book Award–winning Just Kids with M Train (Knopf), which has an announced first printing of 200,000 copies. It’s structured as a journey, shifting from the present to the past, and from a café in Greenwich Village to Berlin, Mexico City, and beyond. PW’s starred review calls Smith “a phenomenal conductor along these elegant tours of the haunting places in her life.”
Also with an announced first printing of 200,000 copies, Reckless: My Life as a Pretender by Chrissie Hynde (Doubleday, Sept.) is one of the season’s most highly anticipated titles. The book’s first reviews were not favorable; PW said the autobiography “flames out just when it gets interesting.” The author also drew fire when, in a prepublication interview with Britain’s Sunday Times magazine, she said she takes “full responsibility” for being sexually assaulted when she was 21. “If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?”
In another major release, J. Randy Taraborrelli profiles a singer who entered the public eye two decades after Hynde in Becoming Beyoncé: The Untold Story (Grand Central, Oct.), which is embargoed until its pub date. Beyoncé’s fame has only increased in recent years, even as she’s stopped giving face-to-face interviews.
The Dream of the ’90s
Before cocreating and starring on the popular IFC show Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein was the guitarist for influential riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney. Now, in Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (Riverhead, Nov.; 75,000-copy first printing), she delves into her years with the band, which went on hiatus in 2006 but recently reunited to record No Cities to Love, released in January 2015.
Another 1990s icon, Jagged Little Pill recording artist Alanis Morissette, is releasing Perpetual Becoming (HarperOne, Feb. 2016), which discusses her musical career as well as her spiritual journey, offering tips on living “an authentic life.”
Like Morissette, pop singer Jewel hit the top of the charts in 1995 with her first album, Pieces of You. In Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story (Penguin/Blue Rider, Sept.), she writes candidly of formative experiences, “honestly sharing her painful journey,” according to PW’s review.
A few years before Jewel and Morissette broke through, Freda Love Smith had a quieter career, playing drums for indie bands Antenna and the Blake Babies. Her Red Velvet Underground: A Rock Memoir, with Recipes (Agate Midway, Oct.) offers just what the subtitle says.
Personal and Political
Artist, composer, and LGBTQ activist Lesley Gore died in February 2015, ending a career that began in 1963, when the then-16-year-old singer recorded “It’s My Party.” You Don’t Own Me: The Life and Times of Lesley Gore by Trevor Tolliver (Backbeat, Sept.), already in progress at the time of her death, assembles five years’ worth of research.
Grace Jones rose to prominence first as a model, then as a genre- and gender-bending musician. I’ll Never Write My Memoirs (S&S/Gallery, Oct.), coauthored by Paul Morely, takes its title from the first line of her 1981 song “Art Groupie.” In the book, she writes of finding “a different way to be black, lesbian, male, female, animal.”
Singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone is profiled in What Happened, Miss Simone? by Alan Light (Crown Archetype, Nov.). Inspired by the 2015 documentary of the same name, the book makes use of rare archival materials, including Simone’s private diaries.
Danyel Smith speaks to questions of race and gender politics in She’s Every Woman: The Power of Black Women in Pop Music (Morrow/Dey Street, Feb. 2016). Smith draws on hundreds of interviews and her personal experience with various artists to chart the evolution of African-American women in popular music from the 1950s to the present.
Longtime PW reviewer Henry L. Carrigan Jr. writes about music and music books for No Depression magazine.
Below, more on the subject of music books.More Music Books for 2015/2016