As Pete Seeger reminds us in his now-iconic ballad, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” there’s a season for everything. This fall is the season for a cavalcade of music memoirs and biographies, books that will make music lovers weep, laugh and sing.
IT'S ONLY ROCK AND ROLL
This year the Rolling Stones will gather no moss but rake in the coin, as no fewer than four new books celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. In music critic Philip Norman’s admiring and adoring biography of rock’s legendary bad boy, Mick Jagger, we meet the entire cast of characters who’ve feasted at the Stones’ banquet over the years—from Marianne Faithfull and Brian Jones to Jagger’s first girlfriend, Chrissie Shrimpton, Ronnie Wood and many others. At the center of it all is the canny middle-class Jagger, who carefully controlled and orchestrated his rebellious image to distinguish himself and the band from the well-scrubbed lads from Liverpool. Gathering interviews from everyone in Jagger’s life except Jagger himself, Norman takes us for a revealing walk down the moonlight mile of Jagger’s life, from his youthful embrace of the blues through the controversies surrounding the Altamont Music Festival, the arguments with band mate Keith Richards, and Jagger’s own constant need to reinvent himself as performer. Wild horses can’t drag Stones fans away from this riveting tale of a rock legend who’s still trying to find satisfaction.
MY MAN'S GOT IT MADE
In the early 1970s, one of the frequent guests at the Stones’ banquet was a star-crossed lad from Waycross, Georgia. Gram Parsons’ story is well known to many: Charming, handsome and talented young man with a trust fund grows up in a dysfunctional family, leaves home to carry his crystal voice and brilliant songwriting to music circles, rises quickly to radiant stardom, dies young in 1973 and is immortalized as the founder of cosmic American music and country rock. Journalist Bob Kealing rehearses this familiar story in his mesmerizing Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock, but he also draws upon dozens of new interviews with Parsons’ family, friends and fellow musicians. Kealing offers a compulsively readable and intimate portrait of a young man who introduced the pure strains of country stars such as the Louvin Brothers and Merle Haggard to rock.
LIKE A BIRD ON A WIRE
When Leonard Cohen returned to the stage to much acclaim in 2007 after an extended absence, his fans embraced him as a long-lost pilgrim, and indeed he had been holed up in a Buddhist retreat center, looking for tranquility and order in his life. In I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, music critic Sylvie Simmons vividly chronicles the life of a musician whose song “Hallelujah,” affirming his faith in life and love, has become one of the most-recorded songs in pop history. Simmons draws extensively on Cohen’s private archives, unpublished writings and his vast store of published writings, as well as interviews with close friends, rabbis and Buddhist monks as she traces Cohen’s path from his early life in Montreal through his rise to fame as a raspy-voiced singer-songwriter in the 1960s and ’70s, his retreat from the public eye and his return. In this elegantly crafted biography, Simmons captures the artist who, in spite of all his highs and lows, is still sharp at the edges, a wise old monk, a trouper offering up himself and his songs.
AIN'T I A WOMAN
While Cohen has recently returned to the music scene, soul singer Bettye LaVette never left it, and she’s finally getting some long-overdue recognition for her powerful, heart-wrenching singing. Unflinchingly honest, LaVette, with writer David Ritz, shares the searing story of her struggle to gain recognition for her tremendous talent—praised by her friends Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and others—and the many obstacles along the way that kept her from stardom in A Woman Like Me. As a teenager, she hit the charts with “My Man—He’s a Lovin’ Man,” and though life continued to push her down, LaVette never lost hope. Her stunning rendition of the Who’s “Love Reign o’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors catapulted her back into the spotlight in 2008. Energetic and frank, LaVette’s unforgettable memoir spotlights a star that still shines.
On a train bound for nowhere, country legend Kenny Rogers met up with success. In his aw-shucks, sit-down-and-listen-for-a-spell memoir, Luck or Something Like It, the singer-songwriter who has sold tens of millions of records asks us onto his front porch as he reminisces in never-before-told stories about his upbringing in a poor part of Houston, his love for his parents and family, his love of music at an early age, his five marriages and his artistic partnerships with Dolly Parton and Barry Gibb, among others. With a twinkle in his eye and a song in his heart, Rogers gracefully recalls the ups and downs on his wild ride to fame, grateful to have had the good fortune to remain in the spotlight as an entertainer for more than 50 years.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE
Read a review of Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace.