A Dream About Lightning Bugs
As the front man for Ben Folds Five and a successful solo artist, Ben Folds has been entertaining and moving audiences for more than two decades. Now, in A Dream About Lightning Bugs, Folds offers a glimpse behind the “normcore” icon, his classic songs, and the magnetic personality that animates them.
Lady Sings the Blues
Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues is a foundational text of musical autobiography. From her rough childhood in Baltimore to the racism that marred even her greatest successes to her tragic heroin addiction, Holiday’s frank and glorious remembrances and reckonings remain some of the most unforgettable and heartbreaking in all of music lit. A must, must read.
No Walls and the Recurring Dream
Ani DiFranco has been putting out albums for nearly 30 years (more than 20 of them!) and has become an important voice for now multiple generations. Her memoir is DiFranco’s own story of ambition, creativity, feminism, activism, and autonomy, a narrative of artistic independence (DiFranco has released all her albums through her own label) and personal struggle, iconoclasm and triumph.
My Own Devices
Rapper, singer, and member of Doomtree, Dessa is a gifted artist with a polymath’s eclecticism. Her memoir features writing on subjects as diverse as neuroscience, model airplanes, and romance, all the while tracing the development of a particularly fascinating human being.
'Til Wrong Feels Right
Iggy Pop’s musical career—a rollicking romp of rock and rowdiness, from The Stooges to his successful solo outings—is long and winding, characterized by outrageous punk and peopled by some of the most influential singers and songwriters of our time. Thus, his collection of lyrics and other writings is itself a tour through contemporary punk, from its origins to its eclectic present.
Creator of the seminal feminist album Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair’s bracing honesty and deeply personal music has touched the lives of countless fans over the past 25 years. Horror Stories offers us the chance to see even deeper into the life and experiences of an important icon of openness and truth.
Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)
Despite Wilco’s cult following, main songwriter and singer Jeff Tweedy usually remains mum on the meaning and depths of his compositions. In Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), Tweedy finally opens up about his contributions to Wilco’s catalogue and to the world of music as a whole, resulting in a rare glimpse into the complex art of one of the most elusive bands.
Fight the Power
Hands down one of the most versatile and talented lyricists of the past 30 years, Chuck D, along with Public Enemy, has thrown brilliant light on race and inequality with a fierce and unwavering seriousness and exuberance. His memoir, Fight the Power, is nothing less than a passionate call to arms toward activism and the celebration of Black greatness.
Beastie Boys Book
Positively stuffed with everything—photos, notes, illustrations, recipes, even a graphic novel—Beastie Boys Book is not your typical music memoir. It is, though, exactly the kind of book you’d expect from the seminal rap-rock group whose influence on contemporary culture is immeasurable—that is, it’s completely unique, idiosyncratic, and fun as hell.
Her first memoir, Just Kids, became an instant classic, but Patti Smith’s follow-up is just as richly poignant and full of personal meditations. If anything, M Train might even be a deeper exploration of self, as Smith reflects on many of her passions, big and small, culminating in a complicated portrait of a multifaceted mind.
Bound for Glory
You can’t have a list of music memoirs and not include Bound for Glory, which is inarguably one of the greats of the genre. Guthrie was the real deal: hitchhiking and train-hopping his way around America with his fascist-killing guitar in tow, witnessing as much as he could and then singing about it. His memoir collects the observations he made and combines them into a single, seminal, and one-of-a-kind literary experience.
How to Ruin Everything
The essays in George Watsky’s How to Ruin Everything are as whip-smart and wit-funny as his raps—full of intricate wordplay, hilarious observations, and dead-on self-deprecation. Though the ostensible premise of these works is the presumption of failure, anyone who reads Watsky’s writing will come out feeling inspired to achieve and strive, on their own terms.
The beauty of music is perhaps inexplicable. To try to explain the machinations behind its creation, the step-by-step process of its composition, is to solidify something that should remain fluid. But the stories of these creators—their lives, their loves, their losses—can provide insight into the art those stories lead to, because while a musician may never be able to satisfyingly narrate the inspiration behind a single song, they absolutely can lay the foundations for why they made the kind of work they did. And anyway, the explanations for most songs are disappointing, but the revelations that come in learning about someone’s life—that can enrich an artist’s entire repertoire. Here are some excellent memoirs by musicians of every genre and from multiple eras that grant us rare access to the murky, malleable, amazing process of music-making.
Featured Image: @zuzerphotoart/Twenty20