An incomplete and totally subjective list of books about music that I have enjoyed:
- Dixie Lullaby, Mark Kemp. I’m not sure this is actually, objectively, a good book — it’s a little sloppy and a little biased in the author’s own musical tastes, but it’s a book about the culture of white Southern music, focusing hard on the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it fell into my lap at precisely the right time — the spring of 2008, when I was in the first flush of obsessive love with the Drive-By Truckers, and this is a book, in a round about way, about what went before the Truckers, so that the Truckers could be the Truckers. It opens with an interview with David Hood, bassist for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who integrated music in Alabama mostly unbeknownst to the people listening to the soul and R&B records made at FAME, and father of Trucker Patterson Hood, and it closes with several pages of interview with Patterson himself, in the wake of the release of Southern Rock Opera. It’s a little dated (obviously, as SRO had just come out — almost ten years ago, now) and a little cringey in places, but it’s also clearly a labor of love and a weirdly compelling window into the Southern Rock genre.
- Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerad. Recommend to me by H., when I was searching out books on the history of the punk and DIY movements. Covering an era of music and a list of bands I was almost completely unfamiliar with (Husker Du and the Replacements being the exceptions, thanks to my Minnesota-college-education), I couldn’t put this down. Compelling and heartbreaking and a little delightfully nasty, this made me interested in the music of a genre and time period I had previously dismissed and ignored outright. I loved this so much I bought myself a copy.
- Who Shot Rock And Roll, ed. Gail Buckland. Sid gave this to me for Christmas, and it’s stunning. A photographic history of rock and roll, a history of rock and roll photography — gorgeous. I mean, absolutely breathtaking in some places. And super depressing, because holy crap, I’ll never be that good or that much in the right place at the right time. But something to strive for, I suppose.
- I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Stephanie Kuehnert. A novel! A young adult novel, even — the story of Emily Black, self-proclaimed rock goddess, using music to save herself from her family, her history, her small Wisconsin town, and herself, in the early 90s as Nirvana was breaking huge. I said to J. last year, I felt like this wasn’t a very good book but it was a great story, and I stand by that. It’s flawed, technically, as a novel, but I couldn’t put it down — I’ve re-read it several times since and I still feel that way. I love it for the story, and for the obvious love of music that went into it.
I’m reading one right now — The Year Before The Flood by Ned Sublette — that I’m very much enjoying, with some caveats. Part personal memoir and part memoir of New Orleans in the year before Katrina, part history of music in the States and part history of music of New Orleans, it’s compelling, impeccably researched, and it balances all the things it’s trying to be immaculately; it just happens to have some racial issues that are either the result of vague writing and poor editing, or thinly disguised unintentional racism. It’s not enough for me to dismiss the book outright, but someone else should read it and, particularly in the chapters on second lines and on the New Orleans rap and hip hop scene, tell me if I’m projecting unnecessary outrage.
Your favorite book about music?