Essential Rock and Roll Literature for Budding Music Writers
Right about now young, budding rock writers and nerds are sitting on gift cards and credit from the holidays, and may need to know what books to pick up at the local bookstore or Amazon to further their education.
It's not enough to just read every new music blog or (gasp!) pick up a few music magazines whenever the mood strikes. At least it wasn't for this writer. It was spending hours at used-book stores and finding fellow nerds' leftovers. Rolling Stone, Nick Kent and Lester Bangs compilations, stuff like that.
A healthy dose of Chuck Klosterman ushered me along the path, too.
I still owe my local library a chunk of change for "relieving" them of a cool Stones book in 2003. I also acquired a handful of reference books, popular music guides, and encyclopedias from bookstores and garage sales.
So, what should you aspiring rock writers have in your personal curriculums? Well, stop aspiring and start being, for one thing. Start a blog. Make us sweat.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain This book made me a card-carryin', leather boot-wearin', dark-eyed, Stooges-lovin' and MC5-reppin' rock 'n roll idiot. As far as oral histories go, you can't get much more hilarious and heartbreaking.
All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman Might as well know what the hell you are writing about.
Cash: The Autobiography, by Johnny Cash Sure, these days Johnny Cash's good name gets widely thrown around as a bastion of cool, but wouldn't you rather read the story written by the man himself? Go a step further and seek out 1975's Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words, written by Cash just a few years out of his wildest periods.
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad Yeah, punk and grunge helped change the world, but what actually happened in between those movements? Too much to mention, but this book tried to distill it into a decade and 528 pages.
A Good, Thick, Boring Reference Guide The older, sturdier and more worn the better. I have a great one (about two inches thick) that VH1 put out when the cable channel was still in the music business. It takes you through each year, month and even day of a musician's career. Did you know that Al Green's Let's Stay Together went gold in the U.S. on May 24, 1972? Bonus points if you find a book with plenty of written notations from the person who had it before you.
Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis The parties, the excess, the occult, and the scary/amazing manager Peter Grant. Read all about Zeppelin's rise to rock deities, and try to decipher fact from fiction.
How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, by Elijah Wald Become the bad guy in any situation by quoting Elijah Wald's honest 2011 look at the evolution of popular music. Not a lot of Beatles hate, but it does dive into a few of the traditions in the music industry that the band helped pummel.
Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan & Didrik Soderlind Even if you fancy yourself the next Shea Serrano, you should take a look at this chronicle of Norway's deadly black-metal scene in the '80s and '90s.
Life, by Keith Richards Read all about Keith Richards's swashbuckling tales of sailing the treacherous high seas of rock and roll. Be sure to also visit Stephen Davis's 2001 Stones book Old Gods Almost Dead for some extra background.
The Dirt, by Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee The Crüe's biblical autobiography will make any supposed tale of decadence you hear from a local band sound like child's play.
BONUS American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush, George Petros Relax, get set, and dive into the pit that was hardcore punk in the United States in the late '70s and '80s. This book and the book above are the only two on this list that I literally reread immediately after finishing. Dig the Texas and Houston chapters too, and the documentary made after the book's release is recommended viewing as well.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.