9 Books To Read If You Secretly (Or, OK, Not-So-Secretly) Want To Be A Rockstar
Something I will forever be grateful to my parents for is their musical influence. I distinctly remember my dad forcing me to watch a Beatles documentary that aired on TV when I was about ten, listening to my mom talk about the Rolling Stones were better. One of my first real concerts was Peter, Paul, and Mary — which I was definitely a brat about then (I would have much rather seen the Backstreet Boys), but would be so excited about going to see now.
Then, the summer before high school started, I went to my first-ever outdoor music festival with my friend/crush who was obsessed with The Pixies. I didn’t know any of their songs or anything about them, and was so blown away by their stage presence and just overall “cool” factor that I still tell people how that show in 2004 remains one of my favorite concerts of all time. From that point on, I paid a lot more attention to what I thought was good (versus just popular) music, and became sort of obsessed with the stories behind the bands.
There’s a moment in the movie Almost Famous that describes this fascination perfectly. When Willian, an aspiring rock journalist asks Penny Lane, resident Band-Aide (but don’t call her a groupie), why she doesn’t have any regular friends, she responds with, “Famous people are just more interesting.” Books about music, whether their memoirs of famous musicians or fictional stories of teenagers forming a garage band, are the perfect outlet for any rockstar-obsessed person. Here are 9 books for you to add to your rock 'n' roll library:
Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon
As a founding member of Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon helped shape Alternative rock and '80s and '90s. But no matter how cool she always looked doing it, her memoir tells us that it's not easy being the girl in the band. In this book, Gordon opens up for the first time about her family, her early life and career as a visual artist, her dramatic move from California to New York City, her complicated relationships (both with men and with her daughter), and, of course, her music.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A Brief History of Seven Killings is the rock 'n' roll version of True Detective. In short, it's a crime novel that centers on the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley. What it really is, though, is as an entry into culture, poverty, race, class, and domestic and international Jamaican politics, as told by a wide range of characters. Brief History isn’t narrated by “The Singer,” but by the people around him — everyone from a Rolling Stone journalist to CIA operators to former members of the Cuban Bay of Pigs.
Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen
In 2012, five neon-wearing women entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow to perform a "punk prayer" calling upon the "Mother of God" to get rid of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They were shut down, and three of them were arrested and tried while the other two were sentenced to a remote prison colony. Their story went viral, spreading their message and this daring, brave message of freedom of speech across the world. In Words Will Break Cement, Masha Gessen speaks to the Pussy Riot and their families, recounting the story of how this group of women, all with a shared vision, found each other and discovered their collective courage to make a groundbreaking political statement.
Groupie by Jenny Fabien
First published in 1969, Groupie remains a cult classic to this day. Though categorized as fiction, much of Jenny Fabian’s stories of sexual encounters and heavy drug use with the rock and roll community are quite true, which caused quite the controversy as readers tried to put the puzzle pieces together to figure out the true identities of the book’s main characters. And that’s what’s great about this book — it’s a genuine depiction of underground rock culture in the 1960s.
There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson
Lisa Robinson is the definition of who I wanted to be when I grew up — not the musician, but the one who writes about the music and the cultural movements. She's the real and female and more hardcore version of William from Almost Famous. Her memoir There Goes Gravity tells her history as a rock journalist over four decades, during which she toured with the Rolling Stones and interviewed everyone from John Lennon too Kanye West. Fun fact: she once lent Freddy Mercury her perfume.
Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
In Reservation Blues, Sherman Alexie puts a new spin on the historical tale of Robert Johnson, the legendary blues musician who allegedly sold his soul to the devil to become the best blues guitarist around, and who died mysteriously at the age of 27. A combination of cultural history and fictional whimsy (full of ghosts and magical guitars) make this novel truly unique — but still very rock and roll.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
One of the leading influences in New York City's punk rock scene in the 1970s and often referred to as the "punk poet laureate," Patti Smith blew everyone away with her fusion of rock n' roll and poetry. In her 2010 memoir Just Kids, Smith opens up about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (best known for his large-scale, highly stylized black and white photography and celebrity portraits) during the days of the Chelsea Hotel. Just Kids offers a different part of life as a rock star, and it's one everyone can relate to: friendship, youth, and self-discovery.
House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
House of Tomorrow begins in a geodesic dome in the middle-of-nowhere Iowa and ends with a punk rock show at a Methodist Church. This eccentric and charming novel follows two misfit characters: Sebastian Predergast, who lives in the roadside attraction with his futurist-obsessed grandmother, and Jared Whitcomb, a cigarette-smoking heart-transplant recipient who introduces Sebastian about all of the things he's been missing in the dome — including punk music. Together, they form The Rash: the latest act on the program at the Methodist Church Talent Show.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
High Fidelity's narrator, Rob, is far from a rockstar. He's a cynical record store owner and pop music lover whose girlfriend leaves him for the guy upstairs. Still, wanna-be-rockstars will appreciate Rob's method for processing everything happened in his thirtysomething life: by creating top five lists, playlists, and dating a really cool (probably too-cool) indie singer. For Rob, though, everything always comes back to music, making this the perfect read for rock lovers.