The five best jail-inspired musician memoirs
Pop culture incrementally improved the chances that books would outlive CDs when news spread that Lil Wayne had inked a deal to write a memoir about the eight months he spent locked up on gun charges. Titled Gone 'Til November, the book is scheduled to be released in May. While the hip-hop blogosphere closely followed incidents like the confiscation of Weezy's iPod while he was still locked up, the book is being pushed as a tell all about the rapper's harrowing experiences -- because hopefully there's something more than just the iPod story and it's less graphic than the second season of OZ.
Wayne's not the first in the music world to turn a stay in the pokey into prose. Plenty of musicians before him cooled their heels in the clink and went on to spin literary gold in autobiographies. Step aside Dostoevsky, some of them even used jail as a de facto writer's residency. The Dewey decimal system might not have a specific designation for musicians' prison stories yet, but soon there will be too many to ignore. To help you sift through the stacks -- or round out your summer reading list -- here's a few of the Renaissance men who've conquered music, done time and then gone on to write about it.
5. Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash There are few artists more often associated with prisons than Johnny Cash, whether it was concerts at Folsom and San Quentin, or doing a bid for a picking flowers in Starkville, Mississippi. He immortalized the tiny town in the song "Starkville City Jail" and its citizens honored him 42 years later with a posthumous pardon of the charges and an annual flower picking festival that bears his name. Although Cash published another memoir in 1986, The Man in Black, outlining his early successes along with his struggles with amphetamines. Cash's later attempt at the story of his life, the autobiography published in 2003, is more comprehensive than its predecessors.
4. The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Superfreak by Rick James The musical mastermind who taught squares the value of "Bustin' Out" left an autobiography behind when he departed the mortal world in 2004. Posthumously published in '07, Confessions was penned while James was serving time at the infamous Folsom County Correctional Facility on drug and assault charges. The book validates his expertise in asserting that "cocaine is a helluva drug," detailing some wild binges with '70s luminaries like Herbie Hancock and Jack Nicholson. Although the book was critically panned for its lack of grammatical editing, James explains his life in his own words, a journey that takes readers from a humble upbringing in Buffalo, NY, through his meteoric rise to fame as a purveyor of mainstream funk, and ending with an eventual collapse that included his stint in prison.
3. Just For the Record by David Allan Coe Coe, who's best known for honky-tonk standards like "Take This Job and Shove It," helped put the 'outlaw' in outlaw country by spending some time on death row. In his self-published 1978 autobiography, Coe goes into some detail about his time in the big house, attempting to clarify an investigation into the murder of a prison inmate who Coe claimed made inappropriate sexual advances toward him. The singer was placed on death row after the incident, not because he was given the death penalty, but just to separate him from the rest of the prison population. Despite his run-ins with the law, Coe claimed to be a Mormon and was known to keep several wives. Although the book is an interesting window into the life of the Texas-born country singer, like Rick James's autobiography, the quality suffered from a lack of editing.
2. Tha Doggfather: The Times, Trials, and Hardcore Truths of Snoop Dogg by Snoop Dogg If you're looking for a recounting of Snoop's long and successful career in hip hop and Hollywood, you'll have to skip to the end of his autobiography, published in 2000. The bulk of the book is spent discussing his years in Long Beach, running with the Crips, hustling, getting locked up and then building himself into one of the West Coast's most iconic rappers and weed smokers. While historians might one day discover that Snoop painted a less than objective portrait of himself, what shines through is his indelible way with words and some incredible stories about his transformation from Calvin Broadus to Snoop Dogg. From hit records to murder trials, it's a straight shooting memoir that, if nothing else, keeps it realer than his reality show.
1. The World Don't Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards by David "Honeyboy" Edwards Having achieved the ripe old age of 82, an itinerant blues musician who spent six decades on the road finally sat down and looked back on the life he'd lived. Edwards recounts walking, hitching and hopping on freight trains to make gigs, as well as several stints behind bars in the Jim Crow South on charges of vagrancy, among other alleged crimes. Born to a family of Delta sharecroppers in 1915, Edwards wound up playing with Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and a laundry list of blues greats. His firsthand accounts of those gigs, along with anecdotes spanning the majority of the 20th century, make his memoir a compelling read.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.