Music Memoirs

Musician Biographies for Every Taste

Have you signed up for the OPL “Read to the Rhythm” Adult Summer Reading Program, yet? All you have to do is:

  1. Pick up a raffle card from any library location.
  2. Either read a book and write a short description/review OR complete three different activities listed on the card.
  3. Turn in your completed card at the library.
  4. Do it again!

Sure, reading is its own reward, but our Summer Reading prizes this year include a variety of gift cards and a Kindle Fire HD, so get those raffle cards in by the program end date of August 8th!

Among the listed activities, in keeping with the musical theme, is to read a book about a musician. To further that goal, here is an annotated list of 10 of the best musician biographies and Music Memoirs we have on our shelves:

Beneath the underdog: his world as composed by Mingus by Charles Mingus; edited by Nel King (1991)

The legendary jazzman recounts his life and career, from his childhood in Watts and his apprenticeship with jazz musicians, to his recordings with Duke Ellington and others, and more.


A broken hallelujah : rock and roll, redemption, and the life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz (2014)

A meditation on the life of the Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist discusses his performing career, which began despite his crippling stage fright, to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


 Girl in a band: a memoir by Kim Gordon (2015)

A founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story--a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll.


George Frideric Handel: a life with friends by Ellen T. Harris (2014)

An intimate portrait of Handel'€™s life and inner circle... a tale that reveals an ambitious, generous, brilliant, and flawed man who hid behind his public persona.


Just kids by Patti Smith (2010)

An artist and musician recounts her romance, lifetime friendship, and shared love of art with Robert Mapplethorpe, in an illustrated memoir that includes a colorful cast of characters, including Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and William Burroughs.


Life by Keith Richards, with James Fox (2010)

The lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones recounts his life, from a youth obsessed with Chuck Berry to the formation of the Stones and their subsequent stardom, and discusses his problems with drugs, the death of Brian Jones, and his relationship with Mick Jagger.


Mo' meta blues: the world according to Questlove by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman (2013)

A punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone's Favorite Questlove (The Roots, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture. 


Possibilities by Herbie Hancock, with Lisa Dickey (2014)

The legendary jazz musician and composer reflects on his seven decades in music, tracing his early years as a musical prodigy and work in Miles Davis' second quintet to his multigenre explorations and collaborations with fellow artists. 


Spirit rising: my life, my music by Angélique Kidjo, with Rachel Wenrick (2014)

Dubbed Africa's Premier Diva by Time Magazine, the singer/songwriter/activist shares her compelling story of escape from Africa where her voice was censored by the Communist regime to become a Grammy Award-winning, Billboard-topping musician and UNICEF Ambassador.


Words without music by Philip Glass (2015)

The world-renowned composer traces the story of his life and career and his professional collaborations with such peers as Allen Ginsberg and Martin Scorsese while sharing evocative insights into his creative process.


This is but a small sampling of the wealth of musician biographies and music memoirs spanning numerous genres. To get a personalized list of books based on your music and literature interests, try Book Me!, our new online Readers' Advisory Service. Go on and "Read to the Ryhthm".


Get Ready to Rock for Record Store Day

Record Store DayIt’s almost Record Store Day!  Per their website: “This is a day for the people who make up the world of the record store—the staff, the customers, and the artists—to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.” In the spirit of Record Store Day this coming April 18, I am sharing some of my favorite music memoirs as well as a few documentaries.


Published at the end of 2014, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is a memoir by Viv Albertine - the guitarist of the seminal punk band The Slits. Albertine grew up in England and she spent formative young adult years with Mick Jones (of the Clash) and John Simon Ritchie (Sid Vicious). Through sheer self-determination and incredible will in a completely male-dominated industry, she taught herself to play guitar and joined a band. I love that she is unapologetic in some of the forces that drove her to do what she does: her love of clothes, music, and boys.


Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk is an incredible history of punk music told from the mouths of those who were in New York City at the beginning. It doesn’t speak much to the happenings in the U.K., Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. but it is a great document of a time and place. 




If you are looking for the history of punk a little closer to home then We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk*  is a great place to start. It includes many interviews and tells the stories of The Runaways, The Germs, X, and Black Flag among many other bands as well.  Look for it in our catalog soon, or borrow it from Link Plus.



Speaking of The Runaways, singer Cherie Currie wrote a memoir of her own: Neon Angel. Currie was a teenager when she joined the band. Her story includes struggles with drugs and alcohol as many rock memoirs do. Happily though she got herself to the other side of addiction and is now a wood-carving artist with a chainsaw! Her memoir was inspiration for The Runaways movie.



The Dirt
, telling the story of Mötley Crüe, is full of sex, drugs, and rock & roll; and it is a guilty good time. But one would expect nothing less from the Crüe. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart!



Another metal memoir, I Am Ozzy is truly unbelievable. It is amazing that Osborne is still alive when you take into account all of the insane things he has done. You can be astounded too and really it’s funny!



There is no denying the huge impact of hip hop on the world of music. Ed Piskor created Hip Hop Family Tree as a large format graphic novel in 3 volumes to tell the story of hip hop’s roots.




And here are some great documentaries that I have enjoyed:

Two fans of cult singer and songwriter Rodriquez go searching for their idol in Searching for Sugar Man. I love to cry watching movies and this one fit that bill. I can’t say enough good things about it; if you haven’t watched it do so now!



Most rock memoirs are about big stars with lots of fans, but what about all the background people who make music happen? 20 Feet from Stardom tells the story of some of the often overlooked women who are back-up singers for some of the biggest names in music.



Some of the other background people who make musicians who they are include the people who record the music. Muscle Shoals is an ode to Rick Hall, the founder of FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones are some of the musicians who recorded at FAME.



When lots of musicians get together to play a festival is born, and Soul Power documents one that occurred in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974. James Brown, Celia Cruz, The Spinners, Sister Sledge, and B.B. King are all featured.



Music fans are just as important in the music scene as the musicians. Fan and fellow musician Ry Cooder brought together Cuban musicians, whose music had virtually been forgotten after Castro’s rise to power, to record an album. Buena Vista Social Club tells how Cooder made the album happen and how he was able to get them to perform together two times in Amsterdam and the U.S. 



And then there is Christopher Guest’s mockumentary This is Spinal Tap because really it’s just music, right?




Comment below and let others know your favorite music memoirs and documentaries. See you at the Record Stores Saturday!

Susy is a teen librarian at the Cesar E. Chavez branch library in Fruitvale. She enjoys reading, motorcycling, and traveling in her free time.

*This item will be in the Oakland Public Library catalog and available for holds in early May. If you'd like to borrow it from Link Plus and need more information, read this