Whether you’re planning ahead for Desert Trip, getting in the mood for the summer festival season, or just looking for that perfect beach book, here are 10 books that all crack open the backstage door to give you an intimate, first hand look at what lies within. And you don’t even need a pass. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to read Judith Willis’ Keith Moon Stole My Lipstick.
By Rich Cohen
Not quite Cameron Crowe-ian, but close, Rich Cohen had a few years on the one-time cub reporter for Rolling Stone when he was assigned to cover The Rolling Stone’s Voodoo Lounge tour in 1994. And like his predecessor, he saw things that are invisible to the naked eye 50 rows back, and uncovered new, taller tales and Stones’ lore. Along the way Mick Jagger made fun of his hair, but introduced him to Bruce Springsteen as “my good friend,” Keith Richards was staggered when he found out Cohen was born in 1968, asking the young wag: “What’s it like to live in a world where the Stones were always there? For you, there’s always been the sun and the moon and The Rolling Stones,” hence christening the hard-to-put down tome. Accused of being a “Keith man,” Cohen confesses that’s not exactly true: Jagger has always scared him. Thankfully he got over it, and was asked by the singer to help him co-create the HBO series Vinyl. This is a wild bird’s-eye view into music that Cohen claims made him “feel grown up and mean and suggested a dangerous world of drugs and booze and all manner of sin I looked forward to trying myself.” Very few of us get our biggest wishes granted. See what that feels like.
*2. Porcelain: A Memoir*(Penguin Press)
There is almost no other artist as self aware and captivating as Moby, and the fact that he’s a descendant of Herman Melville is perhaps the least interesting thing about him. While his publisher calls this memoir the “portrait of an artist” it’s clearly so much more than that. Self-effacing, hilarious, tender and sometimes downright terrifying, Moby tells the story of a singular time in a singular place, tracing his bumpy journey from the suburbs of Connecticut to New York’s Lower Manhattan, moving from vegan straight edge to alcoholic vegan, from anonymity to fame. And in the space of 10 years there are stories of him returning cans and bottles in order to get money for food, living in a derelict factory without a toilet or running water and how he was just about to give up his dream of being a musician the week before Play came out, which became one of the most successful electronica albums of all time.
By Philip Norman
Written by the critically acclaimed biographer of The Beatles (Shout!), The Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly and Elton John, Philip Norman also did individual studies of Mick Jagger and more recently John Lennon: The Life. This time he turned his attention to McCartney in an exhaustive 864-page tome. Told with McCartney’s consent, he also allowed Norman access to family members and friends who have never talked on the record before. There are few corners where light isn’t shed, from his competitive, troubled relationship with Lennon, the psychic toll of The Beatle’s break-up, his near murder in Africa, his imprisonment in Tokyo for nine days and his marriage to Linda Eastman, including her much maligned musical contributions to Wings. If you think you’ve heard all the stories, Normal shows you certainly have not.
4. Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk(DeCapo Press)
By John Doe
As a founding members of X, the most important band to emerge from the L.A. punk scene, John Doe became a prickly icon, penning brainy ruminations with former wife Exene Cervenkova on life, love, sex and the death of art with a serrated pen, alternatively delivered in a confounding mix of punk fury and slick rockabilly. But Doe never felt that outfit got its rightful due, and decided to set the record straight by writing Under the Big Black Sun. Named for X’s third album, this is a truly a memoir masquerading as history and is better for it. After all, Doe can really write. Not only does he have a degree in poetry from Antioch, he is the poetry editor at Bluerailroad. But that’s not to say it’s short on the particulars about the birth and ascendancy of the L.A. scene. Doe calls on co-conspirators and fellow artists like Henry Rollins, his X band mate and ex-wife, Mike Watt, and Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Gos to give evidence. Plus, Doe got third wave California punk, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, to write the intro, codifying the sometimes-overlooked music that slithered out of Los Angeles from 1977-1982.
5. Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year That Rock Exploded(Henry Holt and Co.)
By David Hepworth
Often times the 1970s get overshadowed by the pink glow of the 1960s, or the taint of Altamont, but in David Hepworth’s new book they finally get their due. The book traces its origins from the writ Paul McCartney had his lawyers issue at the High Court in London on New Year’s Eve, 1970. That document effectively and brutally ended The Beatles, and the end of pop music, according to Hepworth. The next day, he believed was just as propitious. It marked the beginning of the rock era. Hepworth, a well regarded British rock critic, who helped launch Smash Hits, Q, Mojo and The Word took a look at the rest of the days in that watershed year, and takes us through the heady times that weren’t marked by Jim Morrison’s death in a bathtub in Paris but instead the hegemony of such rock luminaries as Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Why was there such a flowering of creativity that could bring Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven,” The Stones “Brown Sugar,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” as well as hot pants, Malibu Barbie and The Andromeda Strain? The questions are as enticing as the answer.
6. Every Little Step: My Story(Dey Street Books)
By Bobby Brown, with Nick Chiles
Like John Doe, Bobby Brown’s motivation to write Every Little Step also came from needing to set the record straight, principally about his marriage to Whitney Houston. Which is exactly what fans are curious about. But he is more than the tragedies that befell him. As the former frontman of New Edition, Brown was one of the most brutally talented and compelling frontmen in the late 1980s, having his first hit at 14, and hurtling across genres, winning awards and scaling to the top of the Billboard charts with stick-in-your-mind songs such as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “My Prerogative” and “Every Little Step.” A fodder for tabloids even before he met and married Whitney Houston, he was known as the “The Bad Boy of R&B.” Marrying the most famous singer in America just didn’t seem in the cards, but there was just as much a Romeo and Juliet as a Sid and Nancy aspect to their chemistry. Cast as the villain who got Houston addicted to drugs, Brown, with the help of co-writer Nick Chiles attempts to dispel the rumors and tells his side of the story about the physical violence, the lies and the infidelity, and perhaps most painful of all, the death of his daughter Bobbi Kristina. Redeemed? Perhaps? Unbowed? I don’t think so.
7. I’ll Never Write My Memoirs(Simon & Schuster)
By Grace Jones and Paul Morley
It’s good practice to believe when someone tells you something. And in the case of Grace Jones, as good as her word, she didn’t write her memoirs but got Paul Morley, one of the finest rock journalists around, to do it for her. It’s worth the price of the book just to read his crisp, poetic, eviscerating prose describing those heady, excessive ‘70s. But Jones provided Morley with ample evidence of a life lived at the edge of acceptability. Raised in a religious home as a Pentecostal in Jamaica in the 1950s, she escaped her pious upbringing and invented herself as a bigger than life character. She’s led a fascinating yet turbulent life, as a disco star, a model, actress and a gay icon — always at the right place at a propitious time, whether it’s having her baby shower for her son Paulo thrown by Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry at Studio 54, taking ecstasy for the first time under the watchful eye of Timothy Leary, or hitting the catwalks of Paris with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange. She holds little back, and takes the reader right into the vortex of the music and drug fueled world of excess, debauchery and celebrity, cataloging her foibles from pathological lateness to behaving very, very badly, including her performance rider as proof. But there is a warmth and honesty there too, and you can’t help like her in all her full-blown candor.
8. Substance: New Order: Coming Up and Coming Down(Simon and Schuster UK)
By Peter Hook
October 6, 2016
Maybe the best rock books aren’t really a narrative version of Behind the Music, but instead true mystery stories. Like every other card carrying rock fan, Joy Division founding member Peter Hook is still mystified by Ian Curtis’ death on the eve of the band’s first U.S. tour, but unlike the rest of us, he has more context for it and revisits that tragic time and his formation of New Order, a band that would change the face of music, kicking off the 1980’s dance music explosion, with head-snapping speed. “We didn’t really think about it afterwards. It just sort of happened. One day we were Joy Division, then our lead singer killed himself and the next time we got together, we were a new band,” he writes. While the band is having something of a renaissance, Hook quit in 2007 and sued vocalist Bernard Sumner and the rest of the group for continuing without him. New Order has always been a minefield of tensions, overlaid by pure transcendence and Hook details both, saying the book “reads like an indie Mötley Crüe. It’s a wonder any of us are still here: the fact we were friends with Happy Mondays should have been enough to kill us, never mind what we did on our own.”
9. Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of the First Guitar Hero (Chicago Review Press)
By Ed Ward; foreword by Billy F. Gibbons
September 1, 2016
One of the top rock journalists working today, you might recognize Ed Ward’s name as NPR’s Fresh Air rock historian. An early contributor to Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone, as well as one of the original founders of South By Southwest, Ward had a bird’s-eye view of the genius of Michael Bloomfield, each of them rambling around the San Francisco music scene in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Bloomfield was a member of Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band, founded the Electric Flag with Barry Goldberg and Buddy Miles, and backed Janis Joplin. He was a fluid, intuitive guitarist who inspired a generation of players. Dylan recruited him to play on “Like a Rolling Stone,” and it was there that he bonded with iconic organ player Al Kooper, who had blagged his way onto the session. The two became fast friends and Kooper convinced him to record Super Sessions with him. The trouble was, he was so bedeviled by drugs and demons that he bailed on the project halfway through, and Kooper got Stephen Stills to fill in. Ward’s scrupulously detailed book reads like Greek tragedy and you only wished that the outcome was different: Bloomfield was found dead in car in San Francisco, on February 15, 1981 at the age of 37 with an empty bottle of Valium in his jacket pocket.
By Judith Wills
What’s Britain’s best selling diet, food and health writer doing writing about one of rock’s biggest wild men? And what ever did the Who’s drummer do with the purloined lipstick? In 256 breathless pages, Wills takes you on a whirlwind ride through Swinging London where she gets a dream job working at Fabulous, the U.K.’s first pop magazine. Not only did Moon take her make-up but she sang with Freddie Mercury, got inebriated with Jim Morrison, had a strange encounter with David Bowie — were there any other kind? — and had the Book of Mormon read to her by an Osmond. Never mind which one!