8 Essential Musical Memoirs and Biographies
Frank Sinatra. Bob Dylan. Loretta Lynn. These are just some of the names that appear on our list of essential musical memoirs and biographies for you and your book club to enjoy. Our list includes some of the legendary musicians who have been immortalized in the pages of books. These works provide readers with a unique opportunity to get to know their idols on a more personal level. Some of their stories are tales of triumph and overcoming great odds, while others provide an insider’s perspective on the music of their times. No matter how they found their paths to stardom, these artists and their stories will keep you and your book club captivated.
What Is It All but Luminous by Art Garfunkel
“Perfect. . . . A glimpse into the life of one of the most important singers of the last sixty years.” —San Francisco Book Review
From the golden-haired, curly-headed half of Simon & Garfunkel, a memoir (of sorts)—moving, lyrical impressions, interspersed throughout a narrative, punctuated by poetry, musings, lists of resonant books loved and admired, revealing a life and the making of a musician, that show us, as well, the evolution of a man, a portrait of a life-long friendship and of a collaboration that became the most successful singing duo in the roiling age that embraced, and was defined by, their pathfinding folk-rock music.
“Heartfelt and beautifully written.” —The Huffington Post
Chrissie Hynde, leader of the Pretenders, is a groundbreaking songwriter and performer. In Reckless, we follow her from her all-American 1950s childhood in Ohio to London, where she takes a job with a music magazine, and makes her way into the churning ’70s London punk scene, meeting the likes of Lemmy, Sid Vicious, and Iggy Pop. Her later work with the Pretenders would catapult her to instant stardom. Through it all is Chrissie’s unmistakable voice, ringing with fearless emotional honesty, a razor-sharp wit, and an enduring belief in the power of rock ’n’ roll.
“An exhilarating match-up of author and subject makes Shakey a great, gripping read. . . . A must-read for anyone who cares about Neil Young.” —Rolling Stone
Neil Young is a rock ‘n’ roll legend who is still hugely influential today. Based on six years of interviews with Young and more than three hundred of his associates, Shakey is a fascinating, prodigious account of the singer’s life and career. Jimmy McDonough follows Young from his childhood in Canada to his cofounding of Buffalo Springfield, to the huge success of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and to his comeback in the nineties. Filled with never-before-published words directly from the artist himself, Shakey is an essential addition to the top shelf of rock biographies.
“An eloquent—and a deeply moving—elegy for what she has ‘lost and cannot find’ but can remember in words.” —The New York Times
M Train is an unforgettable odyssey of a legendary artist, told through the cafés and rendezvous she has worked in around the world. Through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, we travel to Smith’s haunts all around the world. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft and on artistic creation. Braiding despair with hope and consolation, M Train is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable multiplatform artists at work today.
Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz
“Not just another biography of the chameleon folkie-rock-star-poet-troubadour. . . . At once deeply felt and historically layered.” —The Washington Post Book World
Sean Wilentz discovered Bob Dylan’s music as a teenager growing up in Greenwich Village. In Bob Dylan in America he revisits the artist’s work with the skills of an eminent American historian as well as the passion of a fan. Beginning with Dylan’s explosion onto the scene in 1961, Wilentz follows the emerging artist as he develops a body of work unique in America’s cultural history. Using his unprecedented access to studio tapes, recording notes, and rare photographs, he places Dylan’s music in the context of its time and offers a stunning critical appreciation of Dylan both as a songwriter and performer.
Days That I’ll Remember by Jonathan Cott
“A lovingly assembled and beautifully written collection of conversations, observations, and memories of music, friendship, and days gone by.” —Martin Scorsese
Jonathan Cott met John Lennon in 1968 and remained friends with him and Yoko Ono until John’s death in 1980. He has kept in touch with Yoko since that time, and is one of the small group of writers who understands her profoundly positive influence on Lennon. This deeply personal book recounts the course of those friendships over the decades and provides an intimate look at two of the most astonishing cultural figures of our time.
“A biography that reads like a novel. . . . Kaplan does a nimble, brightly evocative job of tracing the development of Sinatra’s art, and his remarkable rise and fall and rise again.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times (Top Ten Books of 2010)
Frank Sinatra was the best-known entertainer of the twentieth century—infinitely charismatic, lionized, and notorious in equal measure. But despite his mammoth fame, Sinatra the man has remained an enigma. Now James Kaplan brings deeper insight than ever before to the complex psyche and turbulent life behind that incomparable voice, from Sinatra’s humble beginning in Hoboken to his fall from grace and Oscar-winning return in From Here to Eternity.
Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter by Loretta Lynn & George Vecsey
“The queen of country music.” —The New York Times
Loretta Lynn’s classic memoir tells the story of her early life in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, and her amazing rise to the top of the music industry. Born into deep poverty, married at thirteen, mother of six, and a grandmother by the time she was twenty-nine, Loretta Lynn went on to become one of the most prolific and influential songwriters and singers in modern country music. Here we see the determination and talent that led to her trailblazing career.