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Music

Book Club: five music books to read right now

@SamWKemp

It’s been a brilliant couple of years for musical bookworms. 2021 saw the release of Michelle Zauner’s stunning memoir Crying in H Mart, Kelefa Sanneh’s all-encompassing A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, and Meg Remy’s (U.S Girls) crushing encapsulation of adolescence in Begin By Telling. And, judging from what we’ve seen so far, 2022 looks set to be even more bountiful.

With the summer well and truly here, holidays approaching, and the days’ at their balmiest, now is the time to catch up on some reading. To aid you in that effort, we’ve put together a list of the five best music memoirs of 2022 so far. From Vashti Bunyan’s continually surprising Wayward to Pete Doherty’s gloriously cringeworthy A Likely Lad, these five books are essential reading for anyone with an interest in music.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a die-hard fan, a new listener looking for a guide, or just a curious reader, these books are bound to keep you captivated. So, let’s get browsing. These are the five best music books of the year so far.

Five music books to read right now:

‘Wayward: Just Another Way to Live’ – Vashti Bunyan

Vashti Bunyan is one of the few hippies for whom the hippie dream was a reality. This stunning new memoir, tracing the cult singer-songwriter’s journey from London to Scotland by horse and cart, offers an insight into the experiences that informed her revered folk album Just Another Diamond Day, her upbringing, and the changing face of the British landscape at a moment of cultural upheaval and urban expansion.

In 1968, joined by her then-partner, Bunyan set off for the Scottish home of folk singer Donovan. Their ride was a horse and cart pulled by Bess, their companion a faithful dog called Blue. Writing songs as she went, Bunyan made the long journey towards an elusive “Hebridean Sun, to build a white tower.” These songs, infused with the heartbreak, wonderment, and general drudgery of her travels, would eventually find their way onto Just Another Diamond Day, an album Bunyan believed to have been an abject failure until the 2000s when she discovered that it was treasured by millions. From her childhood in bombed-out London to mixing with Bob Dylan in New York and writing songs with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Wayward gives life and nuance to the mythology of the 1960s counterculture movement.

‘Good Pop, Bad Pop’ – Jarvis Cocker

Focusing on the 20 years before the release of ‘Common People’, ‘Good Pop Bad Pop’ begins with a simple premise. Former Pulp frontman, solo artist, writer, and radio broadcaster Jarvis Cocker is clearing out his loft. As he ponders whether to toss out 20-year-old packs of Lemsip and moth-eaten t-shirts, he finds himself asking increasingly unanswerable questions, questions like: ‘Who do you think you are?’ ‘Are clothes important?’ and ‘Why are there so many pairs of broken glasses up here?’

Good Pop, Bad Bad gradually morphs into both an autobiography and an exploration of pop music, with each item he finds in his over-stuffed London home unlocking another story. Touching on everything from his early attempts to write songs and his life with Pulp to tips on musicianship, performance, and stagecraft, this loft-bound memoir is one of the most unique and endearing reads of the year.

‘Came the Lightening, Came the Light: Twenty Poems for George’ – Olivia Harrison

Released to mark 20 years since the passing of her husband George Harrison, ‘Came The Lightening’ sees Olivia Harrison offer up a selection of words, poetry and photographs about life, death, love, and our “journey to the end”. Comprised of 20 poems dedicated to George, the collection sees Olivia reflect upon her time with George, exploring their intimate relationship in a series of poignant vignettes.

As well as an introduction written by director Martin Scorsese, Came The Lightening includes a selection of photographs and mementos curated by Olivia herself. These include pictures of herself and George, as well as rare and previously unseen work by photographers such as Henry Grossman and wildlife photographer Sue Flood. The collection also features photos from reportage photographer Mary McCartney; filmmaker, photographer, and artist Marcus Tomlinson; and a drawing by artist and musician Klaus Voorman. Came The Lightening is published by Genesis and is available now.

‘A Likely Lad’ – Pete Doherty & Peter Spence

At the height of his fame, Pete Doherty was the swaggering embodiment of scandal and controversy. Since the early 2000s, when his band The Libertines were at the height of their powers, the frontman’s talents as a songwriter and performer have been largely overlooked. The Libertines defined what it meant to be young and careless in early 2000s Britain. And yet all anyone has been able to talk about for the last 20 years are Doherty’s drunken antics, drug addiction, and high-profile romantic endeavours.

These days, Doherty lives in Normandy with his wife and seems to have settled down a bit. With his Camden days behind him, the Libertine lifts the lid on some of the darkest and most decadent moments of his life so far. Talking us through his childhood years as an army brat, his pre-fame days in London, and his complex relationship with bandmate Carl Barât, A Likely Lad is a defiant and humorous look at one of the most infamous rockers of the 21st century.

‘This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music’ – Kim Gordon & Sinéad Gleeson

Edited by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Irish Booker Prize-winning writer Sinéad Gleeson, this stunning collection of writings on music and identity sees a selection of female writers explore the power of music to unlock memories, rekindle friendships, and turn us into piles of quivering mush. Featuring contributions by Anne Enright, Fatima Bhutto, Jenn Pelly, Rachel Kushner, Juliana Huxtable, Leslie Jamison, Liz Pelly, Maggie Nelson, Margo Jefferson, Megan Jasper, Ottessa Moshfegh, Simone White, Yiyun Li, and Zakia Sewell, This Woman’s Work seeks to readdress an imbalance that has plagued the world of music writing from the get-go: that conversations surrounding music tend to be led by men, for men.

What this collection makes clear is that the misogyny at the heart of music culture is damaging to everyone involved, largely because it limits the various ways music can be used as an interrogative tool. In the hands of Zakia Sewell, cassette recordings become time capsules; for Margo Jefferson, the music of Ella Fitzgerald becomes a way of exploring the persecution of black performers. As well as writings on the experimentalists, overlooked female composers, and the woman of folk and country music, there’s a good deal to make you laugh in This Woman’s Work. Anne Enright’s Fan Girl, for example, sees the writer recalls a gloriously awkward meeting with Laurie Anderson on the streets of New York, during which she was only able to master “a single gloop of word-sentence-blurt.” This Woman’s Work is essential reading, there’s no question about that.