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Rock & Roll Reads

Updated: January 11, 2020

Biographies, nonfiction, memoirs, and fiction about musicians and the music industry.

Springsteen, Bruce,
Call Number: 789.14 S769-2

In this candid memoir, Springsteen discusses his life as New Jersey’s favorite son, his Catholic upbringing, troubled relationship with his working class father, the musical influences of his youth, a failed marriage, and the rise of his political consciousness.  Extensive passages are devoted to well-known E Street Band Members: Vocalist  Patti Scialfa (Springsteen’s life partner), saxophonist  Clarence  Clemons,  guitarist Stevie Van Zandt, and drummer Max Weinberg. His writing style is a lyrical match to his songs.


Doyle, Roddy, 1958-
Roddy Doyle's funny and lovable debut about a group of working class Dublin kids who form a soul band.

Call Number: 789.14 M919Mo

In one of the wildest, most over the top rock memoirs ever written, the members of Motley Crue talk about sex, substance abuse, excess, arrests, and near-death experiences...but surprisingly little about their music.

Ritz, David.
Call Number: 789.14 G286Ri 1991
Though there have been several good biographies of the troubled singer, Ritz's benefits from the many interviews and conversations he had with Gaye in the years just before his death.

Guralnick, Peter.
Call Number: 789.14 C773Gu
In his 33 short years, Sam Cooke managed to do an astounding amount of living. In addition to being one of the most popular performers of his era, he had his own record label, wrote many of his own songs, and mentored a young Aretha Franklin. Acclaimed music journalist and biographer Peter Guralnick examines Cooke's genius as well as his many demons.

Yarm, Mark.
Call Number: 781.99 Y28
Yarm conducted hundreds of interviews with the personalities who made the Seattle music scene of the late 80s and early 90s, and comes away with a story of a pop culture movement done in by its own success.

Masino, Susan, 1955-
Call Number: 789.14 W723Ma
This may not be "Rock and Roll," but man did these guys live it. This book traces back three generations of Williams men (and a few women) in an electrifying read that will have you hoping that something good will happen to someone. Starting with Hank Sr., you learn how his musical career lasted only a few short years, but left a huge legacy. Next is Hank Jr., who probably almost died three times before he actually became famous. Then finally Hank the Third, who has been broke since he was born, and has never been on the good side of the law or his father. And since Hank3 has a son, I'm sure he'll carry the family tradition.

Gordon, Kim, 1953-
Call Number: 789.14 G663
Kim Gordon comes out from behind her remote bangs and delivers a deeply personal account of a youth spent gravitating toward art, eventually merging her art with music as a founding member of New York indie rock icons, Sonic Youth.

Sullivan, James, 1965 Nov. 7-
Call Number: 789.14 B8777Su
At the heart of this biography is Brown's legendary show at Boston Garden the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the role Brown played in keeping the peace even as violence broke out in hundreds of other U.S. cities.

Ro, Ronin.
Call Number: 788.99 D285Ro
In addition to chronicling the scandal-ridden record label, Ro also looks into the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud and the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

Cross, Charles R.
Call Number: 789.14 C652Cr
Cross conducted hundreds of interviews and gained access to Cobain's journals for this intimate, painful biography of the rock star, who committed suicide in 1994.

Tosches, Nick.
Call Number: 789.14 L6745To 1998
Rolling Stone called Tosches's account of Jerry Lee Lewis and the many scandals that surrounded his career "the best rock and roll biography ever written."

Hornby, Nick.
Call Number: Ed.b
"What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?" Record store owner Rob Fleming has just been dumped, and finds himself torn between a life built around pop music, top 5 lists, and his vinyl collection, and something more... grown-up.

Brownstein, Carrie, 1974-
Call Number: 789.14 B8853
Rock goddess and Portlandia Actress-Writer-Producer Carrie Brownstein returns to her childhood and musical beginnings in the Riot Grrrl feminist movement of the 1990s when she co-founded the iconic musical group Sleater-Kinney. Brownstein describes contending with how she was perceived by journalists and audiences being a woman in a rock band in this heartfelt and honest exploration of her professional and personal lives.

Smith, Patti.
Call Number: 789.14 S656-1
In 1969, a budding songwriter named Patti Smith and a young photographer named Robert Mapplethorpe met at the Hotel Chelsea, and the rest is history.

Klosterman, Chuck, 1972-
Call Number: 781.99 K66-1
Klosterman goes on a coast-to-coast road trip, ostensibly to visit the sites of famous rock and roll deaths, but spends as much time musing and cracking wise about his love life, neuroses, and pop culture touchstones.

Portman, Frank.
A hilarious story about a music-obsessed teen outcast who forms a band while trying to uncover the mystery of his father's disappearance using clues found in The Catcher in the Rye.

Greenfield, Robert.
Call Number: 788.99 E73Gr
Ahmet Ertegun was a least likely guy to become involved in the world of rock, R&B, and jazz. Born to an affluent Turkish family of diplomats, Ertegun and his brother Nesuhi were passionate about jazz. Ertegun started Atlantic Records and parlayed it into one of the most successful record companies. Elegant and earthy, this man worked and played hard.

Guralnick, Peter.
Call Number: 789.14 P934Gu
Quite simply the most authoritative, readable biography of Elvis Presley ever written. Here, Guralnick follows Presley's career through 1958, when he was drafted into the Army. The rest of the story is told in the equally good, if more depressing follow-up, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.

Cherry Vanilla.
Call Number: 789.14 C5228
Notorious underground scenester and sometime singer Cherry Vanilla regales us with her xxxploits in 1960s and '70s NYC. She hobnobbed with a string of notables, including Warhol, Bowie and Sting. Her tales of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll are frank and sometimes graphic, but somehow Cherry manages to emerge as a feisty, endearing survivor.

Richards, Keith, 1943-
Call Number: 789.24 R512-1
In his memoir, the legendary guitarist confesses that he once considered becoming a librarian. How could we NOT include his book here?

Smith, Patti,
Call Number: 789.14 S656-3

In unsurprisingly poetic prose, both beautiful and personal, Patti Smith recounts memories plucked from various adventures in her life, from visiting a South American prison with her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, to surveying a Coney Island devastated by a storm, to holing up in a European hotel to binge-watch detective shows. 


John, Elton,
Call Number: 789.24 J65-1

Sir Elton himself takes us through the fantastical journey that is his life.  From small town England to topping the music charts, year after year, Elton brings the excesses of 1970s and '80s pop stardom to the light of day in a disarming, self-deprecating and always entertaining way.  An honest, raucous autobiography by a legend, who has no need to tell tales other than his own.

Fletcher, Tony.
Call Number: 789.24 M818Fle
Fletcher posits that the notorious Who drummer likely struggled with undiagnosed mental illness, and presents a man who could be impish and charming one moment, abusive and self-destructive the next.

Currie, Cherie, 1959-
Call Number: 789.14 C976-1
Cherie Currie's account of spending her teen years as the lead singer of The Runaways is brutal and unflinching.

Young, James 1952-
Call Number: 789.34 N633Yo
Unsettling account of the final years of a dreary, once-beautiful girl. Nico, the German-born model and ex-singer for the Velvet Underground was, by the 1980s, on a ramshackle European tour to fund a heroin habit that she (ickily) shared with her son. Like its subject, the book is a riveting bummer.

Hopkins, Jerry.
Call Number: 789.14 M879Ho 2006
Over 30 years after it was first published, it's still in print, and still the definitive biography on Doors frontman Jim Morrison.

Smith, R. J., 1959-
Call Number: 789.14 B8777Sm
As much as Aretha Franklin is The Queen, James Brown is known as The One. That "one" refers to more than his being the one and only, it refers to a certain type of beat/rhythm/philosophy. His roots were in South Carolina, the culture of black slaves and white racism. This new biography delves into the life of a very complex man and musician.

Freeman, Scott, 1958-
Call Number: 789.14 R313Fr
Before his untimely death at the age of 26, Otis Redding had established himself as the heart of Stax Records and one of the finest vocalists and performers of his, or any, era.

Azerrad, Michael.
Call Number: 781.99 A993 2002
Azerrad looks at bands that thrived in the 80s underground scene, and built their followings with independent record labels and a DIY aesthetic. Includes chapters on The Replacements, Sonic Youth, the Minutemen, Black Flag, and many others.

Call Number: 781.99 P7245 1997
This gritty, raucous account of the punk scene from the late 60s through the early 80s includes interviews with everyone from Lou Reed to Iggy Pop to Joey Ramone.

Ro, Ronin.
Call Number: 789.14 D627Ro
A look at the hip-hop pioneers, their influence and legacy, and the still-unsolved 2002 murder of Jam Master Jay.

Hagar, Sammy.
Call Number: 789.24 H141
Montrose, UFOs, and Van Halen... oh my! Sammy Hagar takes you on a long and strange trip of a music career spreading over 40 years. From his beginnings to recent years with super group Chickenfoot, Sammy details all the rock 'n roll that one person can handle in one lifetime. Insider information to the numerous Van Halen breakups and crazy Eddie's behavior leaves the reader wanting more with every page. Let's hope that this isn't the last book Sammy Hagar will write.

Salewicz, Chris.
Call Number: 789.24 S927Sa
When punk legend Joe Strummer died unexpectedly in 2002, he left behind a musical legacy much bigger than The Clash. Salewicz paints a clear-eyed, unsentimental portrait of a complicated man.

Cross, Charles R.
Call Number: 789.14 H498Cr
This landmark biography, published on the 35th anniversary of Hendrix's death, does a particularly good job of describing the musician's difficult childhood, and includes many new interviews with Hendrix's surviving family members and others who knew him.

Wald, Gayle, 1965-
Call Number: 789.14 T367Wa

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is well-known as the godmother of rock 'n roll who mixed religious and secular styles which angered gospel singers in more conservative churches. In the 1920s she sang at The Cotton Club and Café Society. Despite the efforts of singers like Eric Clapton, B. B. King, and Johnny Cash, she has yet to be inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.  Here are some examples of her style from YouTube:

"That's All!"

"Precious Memories" 


Helm, Levon.
Call Number: 789.14 H478
Levon Helm's stories about The Band and the feud with Robbie Robertson might be the big draw, but some of the best stories in this engaging memoir come from the early years when he and other Band members played with Ronnie Hawkins.

Spitz, Marc.
Call Number: 781.99 S761

The Southern California punk scene gets the Please Kill Me treatment in this oral history, which covers the rise of notable and notorious L.A. acts like The Germs, X, Los Lobos, and The Runaways.

Boyd, Pattie, 1944-
Call Number: 789.24 H319Bo

Pattie Boyd, one-time model, wife of George Harrison then wife of Eric Clapton, reveals what life was really like during the swinging music scene of the 1960s and beyond. As a muse to both Harrison and Clapton, Pattie Boyd was the inspiration for "Something" and for "Layla" which became all-time classics.