This was a piece I complied for The Gryphon as part of our Christmas series
It’s that time of year again, and you’re struggling to find a gift for that person in your life who lives and breathes all things Music. You got them their favourite band’s tshirt last year, they already own every record they like on vinyl, and it’s far too risky getting them an album they might like. The solution? A book.
Biographies aren’t just tales of self-indulgent, egocentric and ageing musicians [NB: excluding Morrissey]. These works explore experiences of addiction, anxiety and inadequacy that we can all find comfort in, expressed by our most treasured icons. Here are 6 books to buy your music-loving loved ones this Christmas…
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Patti Smith, the godmother of punk, is famed for her fuck-it attitude and the iconoclastic poetry of her lyrics. Just Kids tells, in Patti’s own words, her meeting the most important influence on her musical career, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In the most beautiful prose, Smith traces their relationship from its origins to their total co-dependence in later life. Using a loose timeline, Smith interweaves this relationship with the story of her life and career that her fans have all been waiting for since Horses first exploded the New York music scene in 1975. She tells, with the mingled dark humour and dreamy imagination so typical of her songs, how she evolved from being a sickly bookish child, to a teenage mother, to the outspoken and tender-hearted artist she is today. Such a refreshing read, and essential for anyone who claims to know anything at all about music.
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
With intimacy and genuine introspection, Kim Gordon looks back on phases of her life in what feels like a therapeutic personal exploration. From her bohemian childhood in LA, to her artistic endeavours in New York and becoming the totemic bassist of Sonic Youth, Gordon divulges in intimate memories in thoughtful conversational prose. Named after Gordon’s most asked and most detested question, “what’s it like to be a…”, Girl in a Band paints a raw and honest picture of being in a band with your spouse, parenting alongside, battling disillusionment, and being bffs with Kurt Cobain. Gordon immerses the reader in charming details of her influential relationships and partnerships in an improvisatory stream of stories. A moving and all-consuming read, Girl in a Band is unapologetically rough around the edges, as Gordon shares deep and thought consuming memories of her past in a way that normalises otherwise stigmatised feelings of depression and identity struggles.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine
Written by Viv Albertine, songwriter and guitarist for the groundbreaking punk group The Slits, ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.’ is the tour-de-force that anyone with even a vague knowledge of the band would have come to expect. Albertine bares all in the memoir, giving a dearly needed female voice to counterbalance the male dominated canon of punk, mediating both historical dialogue of how the punk scene grew, alongside her personal experience of what it meant to be a woman and an individual from the 70’s to the present day.
Albertine sustains a writing style which matches her songwriting ability, developing a narrative voice which is simultaneously humorous, touching and razor sharp. Picking up awards from the Sunday Times, Mojo, Rough Trade and NME in 2014, whether you are a long-time fan of Viv and The Slits, or simply a passing listener, its well worth picking up a copy.
Scar Tissue by Anthony Keidis
Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, released his autobiography, ‘Scar Tissue’, in 2004. The book covers his entire life up to that point, detailing his relationship with his father, the formation of the band and his struggles with drug addiction.
Keidis’ account of his childhood describes the hedonistic, drug-fuelled world of early-70s California, where he lived with his father for much of his early years. Kiedis’ incredible honesty about his experiences with drug abuse is what gives this book its raw, uncensored appeal. There’s no sugar coating as Kiedis goes into detail on the emotional torment of addiction, yet Kiedis has said that he hopes that by addressing these issues in the book, he can provide hope for others as someone who overcame addiction and reached success and happiness.
The book is an unapologetic account of the glories and dangers of success in the music industry, told by one of its greatest stars.
Seven Deadly Sins by Corey Taylor
Seven Deadly Sins isn’t really intended as an autobiography, but more as an extended tirade against the issues of modern society, taking aim at the seven deadly sins and how people base parts of their lives on them. Autobiographical snippets are, however, sprinkled throughout the book – mainly as illustrative tools with which Taylor can make his points – and as one would expect from the lead singer of Slipknot, these stories range from the horrifying to the hilarious. Covering some of the ridiculous exploits that Taylor has gotten up to over the course of his career (as well as some of the hardships that he has endured), the book takes you on a journey across the emotional spectrum from laughing out loud, to coming close to tears, to reaching a state of inspiration. And this is all achieved with an unhealthy dose of dry humour and clarity of expression.
Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin by Myra Friedman
Myra Friedman’s 1973 Buried Alive is the definitive biography of rock’s most heartbreakingly troubled and poignantly gifted female star, Janis Joplin. The biography is world’s away from other musical biographies that frequently seek to portray their subject as other-worldly, beings existing only to be discussed in the public lens. Friedman approaches the delicate figure of Joplin with care and understanding, dissecting her prom-queen, small-town upbringing and adult battles with addiction to reflect on the life that spawned musical masterpieces such as 1969’s ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!’ and ‘Pearl’, released posthumously in 1971 and popularly considered Joplin’s most brilliant offering. Joplin struggled with alienation and bullying her entire life, and never fully managed to discover a compromise between her sexual, passionate on-stage persona and the introverted, vulnerable nature of her character. Friedman’s biography perfectly encapsulates the raw emotion of Joplin’s music, offering a heartbreaking insight to the ambiguity of Joplin’s life and career, each ended prematurely at the tender age of 27. The popular portrayal of Joplin in today’s media, as the ill-fated, ‘cool girl’ rockstar who met her early demise through just too much sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, ignores the bitter realities of a life filled with depression and earnest attempts to deliver perfect live performances and recordings. For any fan of Joplin’s music (or a perfect Christmas present for one!) who wishes to delve into her complicated background, to better understand the raw emotion in her seminal branch of rock music, I urge you to buy and read Friedman’s biography. Joplin, a victim of the hedonistic and nuanced hippie counterculture of the 1960s, is best immortalized in Friedman’s moving, knowledgeable, and constantly electrifying prose
And which book do you buy for that pretentious music know-it-all who you low-key hate?
Autobiography by Morrissey
We all have them: that person in the office, that friend who no one really understands, and that weird uncle who voted for Brexit. Yet, come Christmas, we all feel obliged to buy a present for these anomalies in our lives. Want to get them something on the cheap that subtly lets them know your distaste for them? Well then, look no further than Moz’s 2013 Autobiography.
With its convoluted and self-indulgent prose (its opening line reads: ‘my childhood is streets upon streets upon streets. Streets to define you and streets you confine you, with no sign of motorway, freeway or highway’), it’s amazing we didn’t predict Morrissey’s racist Brexit-supporting downfall from here. At 457 pages long, Morrissey has no mercy; this is a 457 page long bashing of every single person he has ever met, and why he is so much better then them. No one is left untouched by Moz’s wrath: from his school teachers to the producers of Friends, this is a book of the most savage variety.
Yet despite the book’s flaws (and there are a lot), Morrissey does provide you with a range of innovative insults to slam on the ones you hate: “non-human sewer-rats with missing eyes”; “the loudly insane with indecipherable speech patterns”; “the mad poor of Manchester’s armpit”. So, get passive aggressive and get that person Moz’s autobiography this Christmas.