There's an old adage that is often attributed to Frank Zappa but, according to QuoteInvestigator.com, actually originated with actor and musician Martin Mull. It goes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Despite the fact that it's meant as a slight, we've always liked the line because, when you find the right building, it's easy to dance about it like loons. Great music writing can be invigorating, and here are ten examples that hit home. Literally.
10. Colorado Rocks, by G. Brown “A half-century of music in Colorado” is the subhead of this highly rated volume, which features some of the world’s most beloved musicians waxing lyrical about their experiences in the Rocky Mountain state. From Bob Seger to the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix to David Bowie — the recollections are gratifying, reinforcing the impact that this place has had on some of the very best. The inclusion of Gary Glitter is regrettable in hindsight.
9. The Denver Folk Music Tradition, by Paul A. Malkoski Local music historian Paul Malkoski delves into the history of the Swallow Hill Music Association and the Denver Folklore Center, founded to bring together performers like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and our own Judy Collins. He gives credit to founder Harry Tuft (who wrote the foreword), and explores the last fifty-plus years of Denver folk music. Whether you’re a hardcore folkie or a music fan with a passing interest in the genre, there’s some fascinating local history here.
8. Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks, by Bob Rob Medina An anecdotal collection of stories from the 1980s Denver punk scene, this little gem is decorated with authentic art from fanzines of the day. Those who were there can revel in the joyful nostalgia, reliving the chaos that’s recounted in oh-so-vivid detail and the shows by bands like Frantix, Bum Kon, and Angel Hair. Those who weren’t can view it all vicariously through Medina’s wide eyes.
7. Ginger Baker: Hellraiser, by Ginger Baker Yes, the Cream drummer is English. But he lived in this part of the world, in Parker, for the majority of the 1990s, and still considers Colorado at least one of his homes. Gooba-gobble, we accept him, one of us. His autobiography is a tremendously honest and, in parts, gnarly read. Yes, he thinks he’s the best drummer in the world, but we’re not arguing.
6. The Glenn Miller Conspiracy: The Never-Before-Told Story of his Life — and Death, by Hunton Downs There will always be an audience for books about Glenn Miller because of the level of mystery surrounding his death. Pulitzer Prize nominee Hunton Downs, a retired military man himself, hints in this fascinating read that there might be a bit of a coverup still going on today. Did Miller really die over the English Channel in World War II? We might never know, but at least there are people like Downs who will keep digging.
Read on for five more of the best books on Colorado music.
5. On the Field from Denver, Colorado…The Blue Knights, by Gregory Kuzma This one’s a bit different. Kuzma takes us on a wild ride through the world of a competitive junior drum corps. Don’t expect sordid “this one time at band camp” stories, but Kuzma can still spin a fun tale about a world most of us don't know.
4. Spiritualized, by Victor Levine Levine’s book, which is actually part of a “Spec Time” trilogy, is a bit weird. Part fiction and part fact, Levine has written a story based around the years that real-life rocker Jon Cells was based in Boulder. So there are stories about the Tibetan Buddhists who came to town and the impact they had on the musicians, as well as much more. It blurs the lines of reality, but there's more than enough narrative to carry the reader along.
3. Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music, by Judy Collins Judy Collins has been quite the prolific author, particularly in the latter half of her career, and books like Sanity and Grace and Singing Lessons deserve a look. But Sweet Judy Blue Eyes is the pick of the bunch, not least because it highlights the 1960s, which was arguably the most fascinating period in Collins's musical life. The stories of her exchanges with Joan Baez, David Crosby and Leonard Cohen are worth the cover price alone.
2. Take Me Home: An Autobiography, by John Denver A list like this wouldn’t be complete without a book about the dear, departed country legend. Take Me Home is, but for some help from contributor Arthur Tobier, Denver recounting his incredible journey from growing up in a conservative military family to worldwide stardom and respect. He’s been gone for nineteen years now, so it’s great to have this journal readily available.
1. Telluride Bluegrass Festival: Forty Years of Festivation, by Dan Sadowsky It’s only a couple of years old, but this beautiful limited-edition book will set you back a pretty penny (around $50), partly because it’s hardbound in Spanish leather. There’s a full-page reproduction of each year’s poster, along with masses of gorgeous photos, and stories about the event by some of the performers.