A Freewheelin' Time
Suze Rotolo is the woman pictured walking arm-in-arm with Dylan in the iconic album cover image of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The quiet girl from Queens met Dylan in 1961 when she was seventeen and he was twenty. Folk music was moments away from exploding onto the scene and Rotolo and Dylan spent the tumultuous years of the early 1960s in Greenwich Village, steeped in creativity, as well as activism. Rotolo had an immense impact on Dylan’s songwriting; it was only after they met that Dylan began to address issues of civil rights and nuclear safety. A Freewheelin’ Time is filled with Rotolo’s memories of that turbulent time—the political unrest, the women’s lib movement, and her love affair with the Nobel-prizewinning songwriter as he rose to fame.
The Snapchat sensation, business mogul, coconut water devotee, producer and recording artist reveals his rules for greatness in his new memoir The Keys. The self-made man preaches how to stay away from “They” (the people that want you to fail), reveals why staying true to yourself is your greatest power and outlines the reasons why you should glorify your success. In the introduction, he tells readers “as long as you stay out of trouble, learn the business, and dedicate yourself to your hustle, you can accomplish anything.” Sounds pretty smart to us.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
Carrie Brownstein charts the punk rock and grunge scene in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s with honesty, humor and heart in her memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, now out in paperback. As the guitarist of the pioneering band Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein takes readers on a journey that starts with her turbulent childhood and shows how music served as a method of self-expression for her, as well as the history of indie music subculture and underground feminist punk-rock—all told in her signature witty voice.
A contemporary of Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson, Graham Nash founded Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968 along with David Crosby and Stephen Stills and later, with the addition of David Crosby, became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. During his legendary career, Nash wrote over 200 songs, including “Teach Your Children” and “Our House.” Wild Tales is Nash’s revealing look back at his career, from his early days in the British Invasion group The Hollies to his relationship with Joni Mitchell and friendship with Cass Elliot, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix during those drug-fueled and booze-soaked days in a defining era of music.
Sweet Judy Blue Eyes
Another folk legend from Laurel Canyon, Judy Collins was launched into superstardom in 1968 with her hit “Both Sides, Now,” which was written for her by Joni Mitchell, who was inspired by the Saul Bellow novel Henderson the Rain King. From there, Collins covered many hits by other great songwriters, including The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, who prompted Collins to begin experimenting with songs she penned herself. Judy Collins and Stephen Stills collaborated on her 1968 album Who Knows Where the Time Goes and were romantically involved at the time (Collins was the inspiration for the CSN song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), which she reflects on in Sweet Judy Blue Eyes. The memoir brings readers into the recording studio, details Collins’ deep friendship with Joan Baez, and helps define the folk music revolution in 1960s and 70s America.
Singer, songwriter, guitarist and founding member of the rock band The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde has always been inspired by counterculture. While attending Kent State, one of her friends was killed in the 1970 shootings (later immortalized in the song “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) and the injustice was the catalyst for Hynde leaving school for London, where the punk rock scene was just beginning. After befriending Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, Hynde assembled a quartet in 1978, dubbing the group The Pretenders, and wrote nearly every one of their chart-topping hits. She also pursued other projects, dueting with Frank Sinatra and Cher and covering Judy Collins’ original song “My Father” on a tribute album. In her memoir Reckless, Hynde reminisces about the early influences of Iggy Pop, blending New Wave, rock and punk to achieve a wholly original sound and the earth-shattering loss of two Pretenders members to drug addiction, all told in her signature bold voice.
While this isn’t a memoir, it’s impossible to talk about rock ‘n’ roll and incredible songwriting without mentioning Lennon & McCartney. In his trilogy The Beatles: All These Years, the world’s leading Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn is committed to telling the band’s completely and accurately. The first volume, Tune In, looks at the Fab Four before the fame, when they were mere teenagers in Liverpool. Even then, John Lennon and Paul McCartney possessed something magical when it came to penning lyrics and melodies. Lewisohn writes: “John and Paul didn’t know anyone else who did it […] and yet somehow, by nothing more than fate or fluke, they’d found each other, discovered they both wrote songs and decided to try it together.” The legacy of Lennon and McCartney’s joint efforts can be felt in nearly every melody since then and Tune In tells the examines their lives before celebrity when raw ambition and talent fused together and changed music forever.
The Pieces of You singer was eighteen and homeless when a radio DJ played a bootleg version of one of her songs. Instantly, it was requested into the top ten, something unheard of for an unsigned artist. In Never Broken, Jewel looks back on her journey, from her upbringing in Alaska in a house without indoor plumbing, to yodeling in her parents’ entertainment act, to her striking out on her own at fifteen, to her eventual multiplatinum debut at twenty-one. This memoir is as gorgeous and heart-wrenching as her songs.
Not Dead Yet
Phil Collins started playing drums at the age of five and was influenced by The Beatles drummer and fellow Brit Ringo Starr and the evolving music of The Yardbirds, who eventually became Led Zeppelin. His career has been one of longevity, first with Genesis, and followed by a long solo career, which included more U.S. top 40 singles than any other performing artist in the 1980s. The seven-time Grammy winner opens up for the first time about his experiences over the last fifty years, proving that he is far from dead—he is witty, raw and like my favorite song from the Tarzan soundtrack says, he’ll be in our hearts for a long time to come.
Ah, rock ’n’ roll—the poetry of lyrics, the wailing guitars, the screaming fans, the endless stretches on a tour bus, the collaborations with other artists, the anecdotes from the road. Each musician who has achieved international notoriety hasn’t done so without embarking on a massive journey, overcoming plenty of obstacles along the way. These musical memoirs and reported works of nonfiction combine a little bit of all of my favorite things: a voyeuristic peek behind the scenes, the tenacious tales of hardscrabble experiences on their way to the top, and the glitz and glamour of superstardom. No matter who’s on shuffle on your favorite playlist, there’s a memoir here that you’ll find melodious.
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