(Alisa Snow is a reference librarian at Boone County Public Library)
I was seven years old when MTV first came into existence and made an indelible mark on pop culture, forever changing the way we think about and experience music. I remember thinking Joan Jett was the absolute coolest, belting out “I Love Rock and Roll” decked out in head-to-toe black leather. I was also probably the only kid in my second grade class who had a poster of Rick Springfield on my wall and knew all of the words to “Jesse’s Girl”. Ever since those days, I’ve been fascinated by stories of musicians and the people who surround them. That fascination carried over into my reading habits. Here are my top 5 favorite musical memoirs/ biographies:
As their only authorized biographer, Hunter Davies produced the first definitive book on the Fab Four. He spent eighteen months with the band – between 1967 and 1968 – and had enviable unparalleled access to them and their inner circle. If you feel like you’ve heard all of these stories before, it’s because this is the book that most subsequent biographers have turned to. This title was originally published in 1968, and there have been a couple of updated editions since then, the most recent in 2010.
I first saw this book on a Waldenbooks shelf when I was 13. Being fascinated by anything having to do with rock stars, I was immediately drawn to it. I asked my mom if I could buy it. She picked it up, skimmed through a few passages, and promptly said no. My open-minded mother never objected to much, so I knew it must’ve been pretty steamy. Flash forward to adulthood. I had one of those “I’m really a grown-up now!” moments when I saw the book again on another bookstore shelf and was able to buy it with no parental objections.
Miss Pamela has a truly endearing voice. She makes you feel like you’re right there with her, strolling the Sunset Strip during the heyday of rock and roll. Along the way she encounters everyone from Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and a couple of Beatles. This book also details her marriage to Michael Des Barres of the Power Station. Her intimate conversational tone makes you feel like you’re listening to her share stories of her fascinating life over a cup of tea on a breezy California afternoon. This book definitely needed to be written!
Rick Springfield is not quite a “Behind the Music” cliché. His biggest issues weren’t drugs and alcohol, although he did dabble in them. The lyric from his signature song “And I’m looking in the mirror all the time/ Wondering what she don’t see in me” merely hints at a deep well of insecurity that he tried to alleviate with other self-destructive behaviors. He is also very candid about his lifelong battle with depression, something that plagued him even as a young child growing up in Australia. His father was in the military, so his family moved around a lot, causing a young Rick to always feel like an outsider, the new kid in school. Due to some language and content, this book is not for the easily offended. As with a lot of rock music biographies, it shows that fame and fortune isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
- Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller
This is an intriguing and well-informed biography of three musical icons – Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon. The author Sheila Weller did an amazing amount of research into the careers of her subjects and how their personal lives influenced their songwriting. She also provides a lot of background on many people who were key players and instrumental figures in their careers. The author also puts their stories into historical and social context, emphasizing the point of how these three artists pushed the boundaries of what was expected and socially acceptable for women at the time. The book has just the right mix of Hollywood “dish” and scholarly analysis. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in pop culture history.
I’m including this one on the list because I’ve always been curious about the woman who inspired some of the most beautiful and iconic songs in rock history. – the Beatles’ “Something, as well as Eric Clapton’s “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight.” This book does much to remove the veil of myth surrounding her. Her writing style is highly readable. The accounts of her early modeling career are mercifully short. She knew the main reason why people would be buying her book, and she delivers the goods by dishing the dirt on her two high-profile marriages. (She famously left George Harrison for Eric Clapton, one of his closest friends.) That being said, I’m starting to think it’s not a good idea to read books about people I admire that were written by people who actually knew them. They can be cast in a very unflattering light. George is my favorite Beatle, but Pattie Boyd’s book makes him sound like not such a nice person. He could be cold and distant, and Boyd is candid about his infidelity. All in all, this book is an interesting look at a pivotal time in rock history from someone who was there in the middle of it all.
Alisa Snow is a reference librarian at the Main Library. She has been with BCPL for almost nine years. When not enjoying live music or listening to music at home, she’s usually reading about it.