Jennifer Egan's best-selling novel A Visit From the Goon Squad, which chronicles post-punk, rave music scenes, recently won a Pulitzer for Fiction. Although the book's characters are both vivid and believable, there are plenty of rock autobiographies that follow the lives of real musicians that are just as award-worthy in our book. Listed below are our favorite tales of death, addiction, overdose, pain, love, sex and, of course, rock and roll.
Fact is, nothing is more captivating than the true story of very real struggle. We all have these little musical fantasies, strumming our Fenders in the dark of our apartments, listening to a little Miles Davis or Johnny Cash. These books will inspire you to take it just a little further. Aim for the stars; find a great love, a strong addiction and an agent.
5. Bound for Glory - Woody Guthrie With the Woody Guthrie Centennial celebration announcement, we deemed it absolutely imperative to put his autobiography on the list. This outspoken, hard-travelin' Oklahoman rocked the music world's ears with his twangy, down-home sound. Often criticized for being too country, Guthrie was convinced in 1943 that his life was worth writing about. Woody's fans agreed. The book, which was made into a movie in 1976, follows the story of a true guitar-over-the-shouldered free-spirited founder of modern American folk music. The language has been criticized as simple and "hickish," but we think it's beautiful, creative and a hell of a read.
4. Things the Grandchildren Should Know - Mark Oliver Everett This 2008 memoir follows Eels frontman Mark Everett through several devastating and intriguing life experiences, including discovering his father's dead body and the deaths of his sister and mother (within months of one another). Perhaps most intriguing of all is the story of his travels through the depths of a suburban upbringing into his journey to Los Angeles, all the while recording songs on a four-track tape recorder. This book isn't what you'd call a feel-good read, but we find it to be a wicked page-turner: gritty and shockingly relatable. For a bird's-eye view of how it is to be in the music business, crack the spine of this under-the-radar bio.
3. Scar Tissue - Anthony Keidis and Larry Sloman The Red Hot Chili Peppers' lead singer is more than just some missing teeth and great abs; this rocker can write. In his 2004 autobiography, he pulls no punches while telling the story of his various drug addictions. With his father's help, Anthony became addicted to narcotics at the age of twelve. This was in the '80s, and those addictions plagued his relationships and career until 2000. If you are looking for insight into his music, look elsewhere. This book doesn't spend much time at all delving into the genius that is the Peppers, but it will take you on a journey of an interesting drug-addicted musician who fights his battles one needle at a time.
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2. Just Kids - Patti Smith Where else can you read about an artistic and musical journey through Detroit, Paris and New York? Smith's autobiography received wide critical acclaim, culminating with winning the National Book Award. This coming-of-age story follows the lives of two creative and passionate individuals, Smith and her photographer-love Robert Mapplethorpe, through the 1960s and '70s. Known for writing spirited and lively music and poetry, Smith takes us on a heartbreaking and fascinating literary ride. It's one of those books that encourages you to live life in the moment because it can all change in the blink of an eye. If you need an inspiring book to lead you into a vast revelation, this is the one for you.
1. Cash - Johnny Cash You'd be hard-pressed to find another musician as cool as Johnny Cash. This bigger-than-life country star regales us with tales of his intense spirituality, abandonment by the country-music community, and addictions to amphetamines. We like that it's not a book about blaming the industry or his parents for his womanizing and addictions; he takes responsibility for it all, and credits his religion for helping the man to come around. Although the writing itself won't win any awards and the book itself is rather short to fully recount the life and work of such a massively influential musical icon, Cash's story is nonetheless captivating and real. It takes readers into the soul of Johnny Cash, and that alone makes it worthwhile.