Fiction, nonfiction, autobiographical — all of these reads come from a musician’s mind and mouth. Here’s what we’re reading right now to get our minds in a musical state.
Letters to Emma Bowlcut, Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan has such a striking narrative voice in his songs and videos, it’s no surprise his literary musicality carries into his fiction. With 62 letters from a nameless protagonist to a woman named Emma he sees at a party, the novel is, like Callahan’s songs, defined by lyrical brevity.
It’s full of loose details of daily life and images that stick. Fans of Callahan looking to find revelations about his personal life — or his famously private romances with women like Joanna Newsom and Cat Power — will be disappointed. That said, there is certainly something more vulnerable here than you find on his records.
Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story, Laurie Lindeen
Set in the indie-rock world of the 1980s and 1990s, Lindeen — co-founder of all-girl rock band ZuZu’s Petals — writes candidly, sharply and often hilariously about launching her rock ’n’ roll dreams in a male-dominated arena, all while struggling with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Lindeen takes us along the exhilarating path of living her rock-star fantasy life, which includes DIY-style tours and meeting (and ultimately marrying) The Replacements rocker Paul Westerberg.
Her illness gives the memoir a deepness and sensitivity, and reading about Lindeen’s disillusionment with the indie-rock scene is just as compelling as her passion for it.
Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle
Back in 2012, someone launched a petition to name Mountain Goats’ vocalist John Darnielle the United States Poet Laureate, calling him “an American institution ... a unique voice in modern word and music.” We kind of loved it, because it’s true — the guy can seriously write.
Though he is not yet Poet Laureate (the petition sadly expired), Darnielle did release a debut novel last year to critical praise, including being long-listed for the 2014 National Book Award in fiction. Wolf in White Van is a brilliantly constructed, impressive feat of storytelling about a deeply injured teenage boy inventing and playing a post-apocalyptic role-playing game. Most of us already knew about Darnielle’s masterful imagination and talent for powerfully capturing a wide range of human emotions, but it’s a total treat to see those skills on display in this new-to-him art form.
Life, Keith Richards
“This is the life,” Keith Richards writes on the cover flap of his hefty, 500-page autobiography, “Believe it or not, I haven’t forgotten any of it.” Although celebrity autobiographies can be disappointing, Life is honest, electrifying and remarkable. It’s a portrait of a particular man, band and era, but it also connects across generations and speaks to the timelessness and raw energy of live music.
Woolgathering, Patti Smith
Yes, we know we recently recommended Smith’s book Just Kids to you, but it felt wrong to leave the rock/literary/poetic goddess off this list. Woolgathering is full of ethereal, radiant prose, weaving together childhood truths and memories to paint a beautiful, autobiographical picture of what it feels like to become an artist.
“The writing of it drew me from my strange torpor,” Smith writes in a new introduction. (The book was first published in 1992.) “I hope that in some measure it will fill the reader with a vague and curious joy.”
How Music Works, David Byrne
You probably recognize the eccentric David Byrne as the Talking Heads front man. But you might not know him as an author (or as a poet, photographer, filmmaker or record producer). In this sprawling celebration of music, Byrne gives us part memoir, part personal ode to the power of music. “We don’t make music — it makes us,” he writes, “which is maybe the point of this whole book.”