Essential Rock and Roll Literature for Budding Music Writers

Right about now young, budding rock writers and nerds are sitting on gift cards and credit from the holidays, and may need to know what books to pick up at the local bookstore or Amazon to further their education.

It's not enough to just read every new music blog or (gasp!) pick up a few music magazines whenever the mood strikes. At least it wasn't for this writer. It was spending hours at used-book stores and finding fellow nerds' leftovers. Rolling Stone, Nick Kent and Lester Bangs compilations, stuff like that.

A healthy dose of Chuck Klosterman ushered me along the path, too.

I still owe my local library a chunk of change for "relieving" them of a cool Stones book in 2003. I also acquired a handful of reference books, popular music guides, and encyclopedias from bookstores and garage sales.

So, what should you aspiring rock writers have in your personal curriculums? Well, stop aspiring and start being, for one thing. Start a blog. Make us sweat.

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
This book made me a card-carryin', leather boot-wearin', dark-eyed, Stooges-lovin' and MC5-reppin' rock 'n roll idiot. As far as oral histories go, you can't get much more hilarious and heartbreaking.

All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman
Might as well know what the hell you are writing about.

Cash: The Autobiography, by Johnny Cash

Sure, these days Johnny Cash's good name gets widely thrown around as a bastion of cool, but wouldn't you rather read the story written by the man himself? Go a step further and seek out 1975's Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words, written by Cash just a few years out of his wildest periods.

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad
Yeah, punk and grunge helped change the world, but what actually happened in between those movements? Too much to mention, but this book tried to distill it into a decade and 528 pages.

A Good, Thick, Boring Reference Guide
The older, sturdier and more worn the better. I have a great one (about two inches thick) that VH1 put out when the cable channel was still in the music business. It takes you through each year, month and even day of a musician's career. Did you know that Al Green's Let's Stay Together went gold in the U.S. on May 24, 1972? Bonus points if you find a book with plenty of written notations from the person who had it before you.

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JefWithOneF topcommenter

Though it's fiction, I would also recommend Michael Shilling's Rock Bottom. Fantastic look at the end of a promising music career. Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked is another excellent rock and roll story. 

Michael Depland
Michael Depland

Somehow I knew Please Kill Me would be up top. But why such a sausage fest? What about Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus or Rock She Wrote by Ann Powers and Evelyn Mcdonnell? Both feature superbly written rock and roll writing.


The 'other side' of Hammer of the Gods:   Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound  by Paul Drummond.  

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