Music memoirs tune in to Hendrix, Cash, others


Music lovers have a range of current musician memoirs, musician biographies, and music oriented books to choose from. Three years ago Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards published his memoir “Life.”

The success of that book opened the floodgates. A former trickle became a torrent, a surging cascade. Three years later the music books continue to pour forth. Aging music star memories engulf us.

Then there are the ones who are no longer with us. They still intrigue.

Publishers hope to monetize our obsessions with artists like Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash. Here are some new additions to a thundering horde of musical memories:

“Jimi Hendrix: Starting at Zero — His Own Story” by Jimi Hendrix (Bloomsbury, 256 pages, $26)

Since the tragic, untimely death of the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix 40+ years ago one can only imagine what sort of music he might have been making had he lived. If he was alive perhaps he would be writing his memoir now. But I doubt it. This “memoir” was assembled by a documentary filmmaker from interviews, letters, and scribblings Hendrix left behind on “hotel stationary, scraps of paper, cigarette cartons, napkins…” As such it doesn’t read like the mature musings of an aging icon but it could be of interest to hardcore Hendrix fans.

“Robert Plant: A Life” by Paul Rees (ItBooks, 360 pages, $28.99)

This biography of the Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant is all about rock star excess. Some of it could even be true. Supposedly when he was expelled from grammar school his headmaster declared that Plant would accomplish nothing in life. Years later the singer turned up at the school in his Rolls Royce. Even while living the high life Plant was reputed to be a miserly tightwad, rarely offering to cover the tab.

“Johnny Cash: The Life” by Robert Hilburn (Little, Brown, 680 pages, $32)

While the Hendrix book appears rather dubious and the Plant book arouses some slight scorn this Johnny Cash biography is the real deal.

The author dug deep into the past and he demonstrates how this artist’s music formed a vital transitory link between Woody Guthrie’s idealism and the revolutionary ethos of Bob Dylan’s early work.

“Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter” by Alyn Shipton (Oxford, 345 pages, $27.95)

This lovely scholarly biography of the mysterious and quirky Harry Nilsson was a pleasure to discover. Like so many geniuses Nilsson was deeply troubled. Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam put it well by saying:

“Harry was a lyrical Icarus who flew too close to the blazing sun of success. The purity of his voice and trajectory of his career may have tumbled into a sea of substances but he never lost his joy and sense of wonder.”

“Beatles vs. Stones” by John McMillian (Simon and Schuster, 304 pages, $26).

Were you around during 1960s, the heyday of The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones? In reality these bands were actually on friendly terms but they were rivals for airplay, record sales,etc. Mick Jagger was often asked if he thought the Stones were better than the Beatles?

Here’s one of his responses: “At what? You know, it’s not the same group, so we just do what we want and they do what they want, and there’s no point in going on comparing us.” If you asked this reviewer that question in 1967 the answer would have been; the Stones, no contest. This book takes a fun look back.


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