Part of the reason I’ve struggled keeping this blog updated regularly is I am a compulsive reader. If 24 hours pass and I haven’t read a page or two of something other than what I’m teaching my students, The Week, The Columbia Tribune, or liner notes, I feel as if I have committed a venality. I’m such a dork, I have my Goodreads blogroll on the opening page of this site, plus I have challenged myself to read 105 books this year, up four from 2013, and I am at 91 as of today. I have even bet my literacy class a pizza party that, as a class of 15, they cannot outread me by the end of the semester (we are currently tied–you have to remember these are kids who struggle with reading, whom I only see every other day, and who have serious difficulty reading at home). I don’t read music tomes exclusively; in fact, they are usually in the minority–except for recently, which accounts for what follows, although I regret that I haven’t yet cracked the weirdly-authored and -titled Jerry Lee Lewis: My Own Story, by Rick Bragg.
Todd Snider: I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales) (Da Capo, 2014)
If your a Snider adept, like me, you might ask yourself, “Do I need to read this?” Answer: unequivocally, yes. Yes, you do get many stories you already know from concerts and records, but you also get the stories behind the stories, which, when they involve Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Buffet, Billy Joe Shaver and a host of less immortal rounders, are a serious trip. You also will get inspired, page by page, to live life while you’re living, even if Snider himself may be dead before he hits 50 (fucker will probably live to 90). If you don’t know the man, you can actually read this, enjoy the hell out of it, and go straight to those records you missed. Note: His compassion for outside-the-law dudes is well-documented, but he’s equally compassionate when it comes to outside-the-law babes. Props, buddy.
Frank M. Young and David Lasky (illustrations): The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song (Abrams Comicarts, 2012)
Things to recommend this GREAT graphic novel: a) the illustrations and text match the deadpan beauty of Carter Family music; b) the chapter titles (Carter Family song titles) wittily match the stories that follow; c) it doesn’t shirk on the black influence on the Carter Thing, and it certainly ain’t romanticized; d) it’s written and illustrated to show how much ASS these Carter women kicked; e) it comes with a CD of rareties; and f) I got it cheap at an Osage Beach outlet store. What else do you want?
Charles Cross: Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix (Hyperion, 2006)
A huge fan of Cross’ Cobain bio, Heavier Than Heaven, in which he just puts its head down, does a shitload of research, conducts a million interviews, and undermines miles of bullshit conspiracy theories, I wanted to read this immediately when it came out, but was vexed by middling reviews by folks I trusted. Children, a lesson: fuck reviews. If it’s a subject or writer you dig, go ahead with your bad self. Goosed by my love for the film Jimi: All is By My Side and curious about its degree of factual accuracy, I picked this up eight years after it came out, and within 100 pages quietly paid penance for not trusting my instincts. A Pacific Northwesterner himself, Cross is interested in his subjects beyond their celebrity, and works his ass off to get the story right. Most moving here is the long-time influence of Hendrix’s mother, whose funeral Jimi’s dad forbade him to attend (the bastard) and whose Seattle grave (in the same cemetery as Hendrix and his dad’s elaborate tomb) is still uncommemorated, and the similarities between Hendrix’s and Cobain’s sad goodbyes: they could not exit the grind, and had no one handy who knew how to facilitate it. I was also blown away to learn that, by Cross’ account, Hendrix spent more days hungry than Elvis–and, you know, Elvis had his mom behind him as he penetrated into cultural acclaim. BTW: that movie nobody went to, Jimi: All is By My Side? With a few exceptions, it’s pretty damned factually accurate, and, affectively, as they say, it’s spot-on.
George Clinton (with Ben Greenman): Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir (Atria, 2014)
If you’re like me, you have got to be saying, “How can this NOT be a thrill-ride?” If Greenman just captured the voice that once uttered, “With the rhythm that makes [us] dance to what we have to live through/You can dance underwater and not get wet, OH!” the plot points would be immaterial. Well, the book’s only boring when, in the latest music memoir fashion, it lapses into attorneys and addiction in its final quarter, but for the other three-fourths, George gives us precious little detail regarding what P-Funk sessions were really like, and, come on, isn’t that what you were hoping for? As far as the voice is concerned, Greenman dries out Uncle Jam’s naturally funky delivery, though it does raise up when barbering and fishing are under discussion. Really, it’s a pretty funny read, but not revelatory–for that, I am afraid you must still go to the much slimmer (159 pages!) but much stankier George Clinton and P-Funk: An Oral History (For the Record), a David Mills-written and Dave Marsh-edited oral history that lets it all hang out. Also: Blipp needs to get its shit figured out–the cover trigger doesn’t deliver 1/20th of what it promises.