Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Life (Keith Richards)

An eventful life that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable memoir


★★★★★★☆

Title: Life
Author/Narrator: Keith Richards Narrator: Johnny Depp/Joe Hurley
Genre: Non-Fiction/ Autobiography/Memoir/Music
First published: 2010
Edition: Audio book

With The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the songs that roused the world, and he lived the original rock and roll life. Now, at last, the man himself tells his story of life in the crossfire hurricane. Listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, learning guitar and forming a band with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones. The Rolling Stones’s first fame and the notorious drug busts that led to his enduring image as an outlaw folk hero. Creating immortal riffs like the ones in “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women.” His relationship with Anita Pallenberg and the death of Brian Jones. Tax exile in France, wildfire tours of the U.S., isolation and addiction. Falling in love with Patti Hansen. Estrangement from Jagger and subsequent reconciliation. Marriage, family, solo albums and Xpensive Winos, and the road that goes on forever.

I read this for a book club and although it took me a long time to listen to, I enjoyed the ride.

Rolling Stone Keith Richards is iconic, whether you like him or not, and I feel that in his memoir you find out exactly why. He tells his life story with flair and humour, without arrogance or grandure, and man, has he lived a life!

Whether everything told this is memoir is accurate remains the question, as he must have been under the influence for much of these events. However, he certainly tells his stories well and I do not really care how accurate they are.

Much as I enjoyed the glimpses into his eventful private life, the bits I enjoyed most were the bits where he talked about music. When he talks about chords and guitar techniques and the way some of the most famous songs in the world were written, I was glued to the words. I loved his passion and his pure understanding of music and what it means to him. Also, when he talks about other artists he has worked, you can feel his love and admiration for them.

It was interesting hearing him talk about the Stones and especially with the passing of Charlie Watts recently, when he talked about him it brought a smile to my face. Although he tells his side of the story of his difficulties with Mick Jagger and sometimes puts him in a bad light, he always seems to find excuses for him as well.

This autobiography was a bit too longwinded in places, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A note on the narration: The audio book is narrated partly by Johnny Depp, partly by Joe Hurley, going back to Johnny Depp and finished by Keith himself. Every time I found the swap of narrator a bit jarring for ten minutes or so, but I did get used to all of them. My favourite narrator was Keith himself, but although the American accent threw me at first, I really enjoyed Depp’s narration as well.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Your Song Changed My Life (Bob Boilen)

A book that inspires me to listen to new music is always worth reading

★★★★★★☆

Title: Your Song Changed My Life
Author: Bob Boilen
Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography/ Music
First published: 2016
Edition: Kindle e-book

NPR’s renowned music authority Bob Boilen posed this question to some of today’s best-loved musical legends and rising stars. In Your Song Changed My Life, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), St. Vincent, Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Cat Power, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Jenny Lewis, Carrie Brownstein (Portlandia, Sleater-Kinney), Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jackson Browne, Valerie June, Philip Glass, James Blake, and other artists reflect on pivotal moments that inspired their work.

🎸🎵🎷🎹📻

Having read a lot of music books in the last year, my expectations for this one were not actually that high. Maybe also because I had seen some rather mediocre reviews. However, this one was right up my street and I ended up loving it.

Bob Boilen is well-known for the podcast All Songs Considered (NPR), but for me he is best known for being the driving force behind Tiny Desk Concerts (just search YouTube), which I always enjoy watching. I had actually seen this book sitting on the shelf during Tiny Desk concerts and always meant to pick it up. I finally did and I’m a happy music fan.

I really liked the style in which this was written. Every chapter is centered around a particular, not necessarily famous, artist and delves into their background and ultimately the song that changed their lives. It is a combination of research and interviews and it feels very organic and conversational. Sprinkled in are tidbits of Boilen’s own experiences, which I actually really liked.

There were a whole host of artists mentioned in this book that I am familiar with such as Jimmy Page, Sharon van Etten, Leon Bridges, and my personal favourite, Jonsi. On a side note, talking about songs that have changed my own life, Hoppipolla by Jonsi’s band Sigur Ros is right up there. It means a lot.

There were also a bunch of artists I had not heard of and it led me to listen to some new music, some of which I really enjoyed, such as Cat Power and Regina Carter.

Just for inspiring me to listen to something new, this book was worth picking up. I read this on e-book, but I will definitely pick up a physical copy, so I can leaf through and read particular chapters again.

I hope Mr Boilen will end up writing a sequel. Otherwise, I may just have to write my own.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Chronicles (Bob Dylan)

I have read too many memoirs lately that were better

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Chronicles, volume one
Author: Bob Dylan Narrator: Sean Penn
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2004
Edition: Audio book

Through Dylan’s eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan’s New York is a magical city of possibilities — smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book’s side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times.

🎸🎙🎵

Either I have memoir fatigue or this one is simply not as good as many other music biographies I have read over the last year or so. Either way, I enjoyed this one, but I doubt it will stick in my mind very long.

Bob Dylan is one of those characters in music that we all think we know, but actually know little about. That certainly was the case for me. I absolutely went in with a preconception of who this man was and I think during the reading (listening) of this book, a lot of those preconceptions went out of the window. I like that. I like it when you get something you did not expect, when you come out of a book with a better idea of who a person is. This did do that, kind of.

However, despite the fact that the author can write a bloody good sentence every now and then, overall I just did not love the style in which this was written. It felt disjointed and the flow did not suit me. It did not grab me in the way that other memoirs have done. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, and I still learned something, but it just did not move me in any way and it did not connect with me.

I do still think this is a good memoir. If you like Bob Dylan or you are just interested in what he has to say, this is worth reading and you will probably enjoy it as I did, but if you’re not that interested in him as a person, I doubt this one will do a ton to thrill you.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: How Music Works (David Byrne)

★★★★★★☆

Title: How Music Works
Author: David Byrne
Genre: Non-Fiction/Culture/Biography/Music
First published: 2012
Edition: Paperback, published by CanonGate in 2013

Best known as a founding member and principal songwriter of the iconic band Talking Heads, David Byrne has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the insightful How Music Works, Byrne offers his unique perspective on music – including how music is shaped by time, how recording technologies transform the listening experience, the evolution of the industry, and much more.

🎵🎵🎵🎸🎵🎵🎵🎷🎵🎵🎵🎹🎵🎵🎵

Wow, where to start with this book. This was such an expansive wave of information that I am not quite sure how to talk about it. Music for me is so important. It keeps me sane every day and listening to the right record at the right time can have a huge influence on my mental health.

David Byrne is best known for Talking Heads, but this book shows how much love he has for the simple subject of music. I say simple, but there is nothing simple about this book. Although he talks about some of his own experiences in the music business, from simply writing songs to selling music to the consumer, the book very much tries to look at music in general and how it came to be what it is today. What even is music?

Sometimes the book lacked a bit of focus and went off meandering, but I think I actually quite enjoyed that. It talked about music in ways I had not thought of before.However, it does also has some very focused chapters, like the one on contracts and ways of recording and distributing your music, which was very interesting (and honest!).

This is not a book you can read quickly. It takes a while for it to sink in, but I think it made me really think about what he was trying to say. It was interesting looking at my own relationship with music whilst reading this book. Music does not move everyone in the same way, which has always seemed fascinating to me. A song that makes me cry, may do nothing at all for someone else. And music that I don’t rate at all, could mean the world to someone else.

If you are interested in music, this will be a fascinating and enlightening read. If you are just ‘meh’ about music, this won’t be for you (but I also won’t understand you!).

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Just Around Midnight (Jack Hamilton)

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
Author:  Jack Hamilton – Narrator: Ron Butler
Genre: Non-Fiction / Culture / Music
First published: 2016
Edition: Audio Book

By the time Jimi Hendrix died in 1970, the idea of a black man playing lead guitar in a rock band seemed exotic. Yet a mere ten years earlier, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley had stood among the most influential rock and roll performers. Why did rock and roll become “white”?

I am not sure what I expected from this book and I am not sure what I got from it was as enlightening as I had hoped, but it was interesting for sure. This book was particularly interesting to me as I do tend to listen to a lot of rock music.

I thought the subject was endlessly fascinating. The fact that rock and roll was made popular by mostly black artists such as Chuck Berry, but is now an almost entirely white affair is a peculiar shift.

As far as books on culture and music go, this one leans towards the academic side. In fact, at times it reads like a long research paper. It basically looks at the rock and roll music of the 1960s and juxtaposes black and white artists active at the same time. For example it looks at Bob Dylan in relation to Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin to Dusty Springfield and Janis Joplin.

The author talks a lot about authenticity and how authenticity for white artists is different from what it means for black artists. The author claims that for a white artist authenticity is writing your own songs and being original as an individual. For a black artist authenticity means being true to your roots, so to their race and not an individual. I thought this was such an interesting point, because it does ring true to this day.

However, I felt like the book told me a lot without actually making real inroads into what it was trying to say. I felt just taking the 60s was not quite enough to really make the point properly. I understand that during time this shift was most prominent, but there is so much to say on this subject and I felt the author may have made a better point if he had included a longer time period. I also felt like the author could have expanded on race in relation to gender much more and I was disappointed that the book did not go into that more.

So, in short, I did enjoy this book. It made some interesting points and I learned a lot about black and white musical culture at that time, but I felt so much was left unexplored that I simply wanted it do more. I definitely want to read more on this subject, as I feel there is so much left to talk about, but I am happy to have read this book.

I would encourage you to read this book if it sounds interesting to you. It is definitely worth reading, but it is not the definitive book on the subject.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Set The Boy Free (Johnny Marr)

Marr, Johnny - Set The Boy Free

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Set The Boy Free
Author / Narrator: Johnny Marr
Genre: Non-Fiction / Autobiography / Music
First published: 2016 by Dey Street Books
Edition: Audio book

Although I knew about Johnny Marr, I really became aware of him when he was playing with The Cribs on their album Ignore The Ignorant. Of course I had listened to The Smiths and knew some of their songs, but they were before my time (just). What I have come to realise over the years is how well respected Johnny Marr is as a guitarist and as a person and I have been wanting to read his autobiography for a while.

It took me a little while to get used to Johnny Marr’s writing and narrating style, but now I have listened to him tell his journey through life and music, I feel I have come to know him bette and I have a whole new appreciation for him. His style is very matter-a-fact, quite dry and yet drenched in passion for what he does. Passion is a wonderful characteristic to have and he has it in spades.

This book won’t be for everyone and if you were expecting digs at former bandmates (Morrissey anyone?), you will be disappointed, as Johnny is far too much of a gentleman to go down to that level. If you expect rock ‘n’ roll excess, there is little of that here. He met the love of his life at fifteen and never looked back. How beautiful is that?!

If there is one thing I took away from this audio book it is how humble Johnny Marr and at the same time how aware he is of the legacy that he has created as a guitarist in The Smiths and all the other bands he played with. The passion and love he has for music and playing the guitar shines through and you can not help but warm up to him as a person.

If you love music, like me, and want to know more about Johnny Marr and the bands he played with, it is worth picking up this book. I think it worked well as an audio book. I found Johnny Marr’s voice quite soothing,  even if not very dynamic.

5 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Reckless Daughter (David Yaffe)

Yaffe, David - Reckless Daughter

★★★★★★☆

Title: Reckless Daughter, A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
Author: David Yaffe
Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography / Music
First published: 17 October 2017
Edition: ARC e-book, courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley

Of course everyone knows Joni Mitchell, but how much do we actually know about her? In my case, I knew some of her songs, but I was not that familiar with her albums or her personal life and I jumped at the chance to find out more about her. I am glad I did. This is a really well written biography, which is hung on the skeleton of her excellent discography and fleshed out from there.

David Yaffe does an excellent job bringing Joni to life; her music is disected with passion and her personal life is told with compassion and honesty, not holding back on the sadness and anger life sometimes brought her. The book is written based on interviews conducted with Joni herself and many of her lovers and fellow musicians. It gives various perspectives on certain situations, which definitely gives it more integrity.

I really enjoyed reading this tale of a prairie girl who dreamed of another life and made it big. She may not have become quite the star she had envisioned she would become, she may have become out of tune with the changing world around her,  but she remains a 70s icon and her music is still loved by millions.

This biography paints a vivid portrait of brilliant songwriter, who still deserves to be listened to. I will.

6 out of 7 stars