We asked some of our former guests what their favorite rock books were this year, and this is what they said:
We Got Power: Hardcore Punk Scenes From Southern California- David Markey and Jordan Schwartz
David Markey directed two of my all time favorite rock movies: Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984) and Lovedolls Superstar (1986).Now, with We Got Power, he has co-authored my all-time favorite book
about my all-time favorite mode of punk: early ’80s Black Flag-Redd Kross-Circle Jerk-Germs SoCal. It’s an invaluable artifact of “you-are-there” zine reprints and never-before seen photos, with wise,
weird, and rib-tickling reflections from those who endure.
My Cross to Bear- Greg Allman with Alan Light
In 2012, I grew my hair long, quit trimming my beard, upped my barbecue intake, and set my Spotify playlists to (more or less) full-time southern rock. I also read Gregg Allman’s My Cross to Bear
on a trip to North Carolina last spring. Coincidence? I reckon not.
Eddie Trunk—(author, Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal)
Peter Criss’s From Makeup to Breakup
I feel it’s the best book on Kiss yet. Peter wears it on his sleeve so it was no surprise he was this forthcoming and he is as hard on himself as others. A great read for Kiss and non Kiss fans.
Talent Is An Asset: The Story Of Sparks- Daryl Easlea
The music book I read this year that I most enjoyed was TALENT IS AN ASSET: THE STORY OF SPARKS by Daryl Easlea. I think the book was released in Europe prior to 2012, but it’s been pretty difficult to get over here, so when I was in the UK early this year, I made sure to head right to the music section at a Waterstone’s, and luckily, I found a copy. I’ve loved Sparks for many, many years, in every one of their forever-changing incarnations; being a Sparks fan is like being in an exclusive club for eccentrics, and reading this book made me feel even cozier within that club. Ron and Russell Mael have been making brilliant, weird, and thrilling music for over 40 years now, and the TALENT IS AN ASSET book helps give them a little bit of the recognition and respect they so deserve.
Caryn Rose—(author, Raise Your Hand: Adventures Of An American Springsteen Fan In Europe)
The One- RJ Smith
This is not only one of the best rock books of 2012, it’s one of the best rock books ever written, and is for some reason criminally ignored. This biography of James Brown is an astounding, lyrical piece of work that doesn’t just show and tell, it makes you feel the story. It candy colors nothing about Brown’s life, good or bad, but is still a story full of deep, deep respect for the man’s music, work and effect on history. It will not only teach you about James Brown, but about U.S. history, about early rock and roll, about the fledgling days of the music business, about the Civil Rights movement, and about rhythm and blues. If you consider yourself a serious fan of rock music you need to read this book.
Commando – The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone
At this point there are no secrets left in the Ramones camp, between all of the books, good and bad. I knew I had to read this but I was dreading doing so; it was bad enough that I already thought Johnny was a jerk, I wasn’t sure that I needed it confirmed by Johnny himself. I’m glad I persevered because this book helped me see him through different lenses. I still think he was more than a little bit of a jerk, but I also feel like he made no bones about that, ever. His life was fascinating and his perspective on life, rock and roll and his work was extraordinarily interesting. The other element is that Johnny is one of these figures in rock and roll who wrote everything down and kept track of absolutely everything. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what’s in the book as a result of that habit but you can imagine the results.
Bettye LaVette – A Woman Like Me
Singer Bettye LaVette pens the ultimate story of how it took her over 40 years to become an overnight sensation. Loaded with tales of sex, drugs, good times and bad (with or involving music’s biggest movers and shakers), ‘A Woman Like Me’ is THE rock n roll survivor’s tome. A must read.
Pete Townshend – Who I Am
The long awaited memoir by The Who frontman is everything you would expect: Insightful, colorful, brutally honest and meticulously detailed. This is a well rounded look at one of rock’s most beloved artists.
Marc Dolan—(author, Bruce Springsteen And The Promise Of Rock ‘N’ Roll)
How Music Works- David Byrne
Raise Your Hand:Adventures Of An American Springsteen Fan In Europe- Caryn Rose
So many great music books have come out this year, almost too many for one person to keep track of (except Kimberly, of course). Of the ones I have read, I would pick one from a performer’s perspective and one from an audience member’s perspective.The performer’s book is David Byrne’s How Music Works, which for me actually bags the brass ring after which Dylan, Richards, and Young were all grasping in their books. It’s not a book you read for the cameo appearances, the substance abuse, or the greatest hits. It uses the specifics of the author’s life to talk about music in general, which is a much harder trick to pull off than you’d think.
The audience member’s book is Caryn Rose’s Raise Your Hand. It’s an EP, not an LP, but it perfectly captures what intelligent fandom is like, how someone who may seem simply obsessed to an outsider is actually logical, critical, and just extremely well-informed. It also reminds me of Greil Marcus’ book on Van Morrison a few years back, about how ephemeral but glorious certain moments of art can be.
Both Byrne and Rose have strong points of view, and I don’t agree with either of them on everything, not by a longshot. But those two books do what all great works of criticism do–they make you want to pull the music down off the shelf and give it a fresh hearing.
Joe Bonomo—(editor, Conversations With Greil Marcus)
Every Day I Take A Wee: The Beastie Boys And The Untimely Death Of Suburban Folklore- Christopher R. Weingarten
Who I Am: A Memoir- Pete Townshend
Commando- The Autobiography Of Johnny Ramone
Every Day I Take A Wee: The Beastie Boys And The Untimely Death Of Suburban Folklore (Christopher R. Weingarten) and Who I Am: A Memoir (Pete Townshend). The former is part of Singles Notes, Rhino Records’ e-book series. Former SPIN editor Weingarten tells a funny tale of growing up white and suburban and navigating the sometimes tricky cultural landscape of hip-hop and geeky Beastie Boys fandom. Weingarten’s smart and doesn’t take himself too seriously, thoughtfully exploring NYC romance and the increasing divide between old-school record collectors and current downloading music fans. Townshend’s book sprawls, unsurprisingly from a man who speaks in paragraphs, but is a detailed, engrossing account of what it was like to be the cause of, and in many ways the victim of, the aural and cultural storm that was The Who. Townshend’s honest in the book about his shortcomings as a songwriter and a man, and at times his bafflement in the face of his own philandering and general ill behavior gets tiresome and predictable. But overall Who I Am is an idiosyncratic, valuable look at coming of age as a songwriter in the 1960s and 70s and of truly believing Rock’s promises for a better world.
Johnny Ramone’s autobiography Commando is exactly what I expected. His voice is dry and forthright (you can hear the Borough accent), lacking in self-interrogation but with the occasional self-criticism. Ramone’s not shy about exposing some bad decisions and poor judgement, especially in his reckless, aimless adolescence, but Commando is hardly his end-of-life mea culpa, an opportunity to sensitively, unsparingly essay his life for telling contradictions and graphic self-awareness. Essentially, what governs Commando is a late-life shrug: we did what we did as best we could. I’m a little surprised at—and a bit uneasy with—how appealing I find Ramone’s voice. I think that I would’ve loved talking to him; we could have discussed baseball and rock and roll all night long, and when the subject turned to politics I would’ve dodged the issues on which I knew we wouldn’t agree. But I would certainly have known where he stood. Our shared ground might have been broader than I would’ve guessed. Judging from people I’ve spoken with who knew Ramone, his stubbornness and narrow-mindedness could be wearing. Confined between book covers, his personality is appealing, if odious at times. Entertainingly predictable. I laughed a lot—you know what you’re getting, and what’s coming, with Ramone.