The holidays, for many of us, are spent by indulging in lazy weekends indoors, next to a fireplace, with some sort of warm beverage in hand—an ideal opportunity to cozy up with a good book. Let’s face it, you’re going to add “read more” to your 2022 new year’s resolutions anyway, so why not get ahead? If you’re anything like me, you love music and memoirs. So, naturally, music memoirs just hit the right spot. Without further ado, here is your Winter ‘21-’22 Music Reading List.
Music Is History by Questlove
Music is a reflection of the times and overall, the human condition. Or at least that’s how Questlove—DJ, producer, podcast host, bandleader of the Roots, and one of today’s most informed musical experts—writes about it. He takes us on a musical journey from the year he was born—1971—until now, highlighting connections between music and American pop-culture, with his own experiences being an accessory. Pro Tip: read this and you can go dominate any music trivia bar night. Music Is History lacks the dullness of the typical history book. Instead, it is infused with fiery passion and raw humanity, making it one of the best music reads published in 2021.
Nina Simone’s Gum by Warren Ellis
“I hadn’t opened the towel that contained her gum since 2013. The last person to touch it was Nina Simone, her saliva and fingerprints unsullied.” On a Thursday night in July 1999, Nina Simone gave a performance during the Nick Cave Meltdown Festival. A young music devotee, Warren Ellis, crept on stage and pocketed Dr. Simone’s chewed gum off the piano, ultimately, bringing us to this moment. Unconventional? Perhaps. Understandable? I think so! I mean, it was Nina Simone, after all. Ellis is a natural storyteller, who speaks of Dr. Simone with such love and respect, making for one very moving book. I can only hope someone will care for me the way Warren Ellis did this piece of gum for twenty years.
Hip-Hop (And Other Things) by Shea Serrano
Brilliant and funny, Shea Serrano is a writer with rare gifts. If humour motivates your interest in reading, this is an optimal choice for you. Hip-Hop (And Other Things) gracefully blends music history with relatable personal anecdotes. Rather than just using unbiased data, Serrano infuses this book with his own individuality, making it feel like you’re talking to a good friend at a party. Caution: don’t read unless you are ready to dive into a hole of playlists you haven’t thought about in years, for hours on end. Yes, this book is that intoxicating.
Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes From A Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen
It came as zero surprises to me that Sesali Bowen’s funny and fearless Notes From A Trap Feminist obtained an accumulative 4.6/5 stars on GoodReads, the highest rating I’ve ever come across. This powerful and profound memoir combines a deep analysis of trap music and thought-provoking feminist theory, using her own life as the primary vehicle of her storytelling. She champions themes of queerness, fatness, and self-love within the context of hip-hop. Sesali writes from a place of genuine authenticity and bad-assery and it is truly unignorable.
Promise That You Will Sing About Me: The Power and Poetry of Kendrick Lamar by Miles Marshall Lewis
Calling all Kendrick Lamar fans! As someone who has been to every Kendrick Lamar tour, I knew I needed to get my hands on this book. Pop culture critic and music journalist Miles Marshall Lewis tackles a deep dive into the earnest complexities of Kendrick Lamar’s poetry, exploring his life and lyrics and ultimately, his influence on the music industry. Not only is this book rich in insights, but is also praised for being beautifully designed, doubling as a conversation-starting coffee table book. Miles Marshall Lewis puts a lot of himself into the book and it reads as a love letter to rap music.
A History of Music for Children by David Schweitzer and Mary Richards
If you’re looking for something great to distract your children this holiday season that simultaneously helps them develop into the cool kid they are, this book is it! A History of Music for Children takes you on a journey around the world tour guided by some of the greatest artists of all time. Beyond music history, it tackles some more philosophical questions about music, exploring what it means and why we make it. And as if we needed another reason to absolutely adore the book, it also includes an online playlist curated chapter by chapter to offer a complimentary listening experience. Okay, let’s face it—you don’t only want it for the kids, you really want it for yourself as well.
Elvis: The Graphic Novel by Chris Miskiewicz
It’s safe to say that Elvis is a star in a lot of the soundtracks of people’s lives. Chris Miskiewicz and Marvel Comic artist Michael Shelfer take you on a visual journey through The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s life. From his modest genesis in Memphis, well into his history-making sets around the globe. This is one of those classic aspirational come-up stories that we all treasure, materialized in graphic detail.
Amy Winehouse: Beyond Black by Naomi Parry
An intimate archive of the forever-queen Amy Winehouse, Beyond Black is a touching visual commemoration of her life, reminding us that there is always life after loss. The book includes unseen photographs, memorabilia, and personal reflections of Amy’s life told by close friends, colleagues, and fans. Naomi Parry paints a detailed and alluring portrait of Amy Winehouse that feels more real than anything I’ve ever read about her. Capturing someone’s character in full picture—especially Amy—is no easy feat, and this book makes it seem so effortless and genuine. It’s an understatement to say this book captures the essence of humanity and is deeply inspiring.
The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Sir Paul McCartney
I’ve always wondered if Paul McCartney would ever get tired of the fact that so much of his life is defined by being a Beatle. His book served as relieving reassurance that he does not! In fact, he says “a lot of the Beatles stuff is amazingly timely, so I’m happy to bathe in it.” He’s acutely aware of his legacy. So much so that he offers us 800-something pages dedicated to walking us through the last 65 years in lyrics. In this two-part box set, Sir Paul McCartney dives into the lyrics of 154 songs that span across his early life, The Beatles, Wings, and his solo career which still thrives. My favourite part of the book is how his deep love and respect for both John Lennon and Linda McCartney become so evident throughout all of his lyrics—a clear driving force of his creativity. I also feel obligated to mention that this is another beautiful coffee table book that anyone would enjoy coming across. Keep your phone close, because I bet you won’t be able to fight the urge to listen to each song as you read about it.
Led Zeppelin: The Biography by Bob Spitz
Let me start by saying that I genuinely feel nervous to tell my dad about this book because I’m not ready for the in-depth walk down memory lane that he will inevitably try to take me on. Led Zeppelin is arguably the trailblazing group that created the image we see when we think of the word ‘Rockstar’. Bob Spitz is notorious for writing memoirs on other iconic bands, such as The Beatles, so it’s natural that we’d trust him writing the story of Led Zeppelin. And he does not disappoint! The book is rich in context of the music, the business, the studios, and the touring life. He writes a comprehensive and balanced retelling of the band’s highs and lows, appropriate for forever fans and newcomers alike.
The Marathon Don’t Stop: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle by Rob Kenner
You can’t anticipate how this book manages to pull on your heartstrings until it does. Rob Kenner writes the first in-depth biography on artist and activist Nipsey Hussle who inspired a generation. The biography explores the intimacies of Nipsey Hussle’s personal life, as well as the general landscape of LA and its origins of systemic racism. I don’t say this often—realizing everyone has their own tastes and interests—everyone should read this book. It is deeply important for reasons every reader should find out on their own. The Marathon Don’t Stop has the capacity to make you deeply emotional—a hallmark of a good book—and greatly does justice to Nipsey Hussle’s legacy. Long live Nipsey Hussle.
Billie Eilish by Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is taking control of her narrative, releasing a biography on her still young life, before anyone else gets the chance. She reflects on her life with her loyal fanbase, through unseen photographs and untold stories. The absolutely stunning quality of this book makes for yet another—yes, I’m going to say it—coffee table book that I am dying to show off. I might need to buy another coffee table. I don’t know Billie personally, but I’d like to imagine her presence is just as sensational and radiant. If reading her words (don’t worry, it’s mostly photographs) isn’t enough for you, it was published simultaneously with a standalone audiobook. It becomes increasingly easier to understand the phenomenon of Billie Eilish’s fame.
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