Guess what? These drug-addled loons who make the music you love so much? They have great stories! Which means the books about them and the music they play often make for exciting reads. Like, for instance, just off the cuff here, the story in the opening pages of Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga, in which guitarist Jimmy Page fucks a groupie with a baby shark he’s just fished out of a river. Or, I don’t know, the story in Motley Crue’s The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, where drummer Tommy Lee sticks his dick in an egg burrito to mask the scent of the woman he’s just bedded before the lady paying his bills and subsidizing his life gets home.
Of course, not all the stories are so crass. (Only the fun ones.) You’ll also find some that offer actual insight into an artist’s writing process, the inner workings of their business deals and band-member dynamics.
There are a number of relatively recent books about music on the market right now. Here are a few we’d recommend; all of them egg-burrito free.
SOULACOASTER: The Diary of Me By R. Kelly with David Ritz
If you’ve followed Kelly over the years, you know he’s a troubled, very strange man with a unique gift for storytelling and songwriting. (See: “Trapped in the Closet.”) Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me is every bit as wild as you imagine it would be, and includes stories of Kelly getting shot, being molested at an early age by an older woman, and, yes, the charges that led him to trial and made him a pariah to many. It’s textbook-thick too, an impressive book from a man who admits early on in its pages that he can’t read or write.
THE BOY IN THE SONG: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics By Michael Heatley and Frank Hopkinson
Ever wonder who the guy was who broke Adele’s heart or who Debbie Harry was trying so desperately to get in the Blondie hit “One Way or Another?” The Boy in the Song is your book. Since you’re looking anyway, pick up The Girl in the Song, the 2010 book by the same British authors. That’s right: ladies first.
THE ONE: The Life and Music of James Brown By R.J. Smith
They didn’t call him the hardest- working man in showbiz for nothin’. In The One, it’s revealed that, at his peak, James Brown performed 350 live shows a year. Brown’s musical influence and cultural significance is unquestionably huge, and The One gets his incredible story from those who knew him personally and worked with him professionally. It chronicles Brown’s life from abject poverty in segregated Georgia to his rise as the Godfather of Soul, all along adding depth and dimension to the rhythm revolution Brown was responsible for.
FREDDIE MERCURY: The Great Pretender By Sean O’Hagan
It’s been more than 20 years since Freddie Mercury shuffled off this mortal coil. The Great Pretender tells you everything you need to know about the man behind the mustache.
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD: David Bowie and the 1970s By Peter Doggett
It’s David Bowie’s most inventive and influential decade that gets a good once-over in The Man Who Sold the World, from the writing of his first hit, “Space Oddity,” in ’69 to the release of his Scary Monsters LP in 1980. Musician, singer, composer, lyricist, actor, visual artist, Martian: Every bit of Bowie’s fascinating decade gets put under the microscope here.
PW's Music Issue 2014