Ben Myers: My top 10 music books

06 October 2010

by Ben Myers

My novel Richard is just as inspired by works of fiction as it is fact, yet it is impossible to spend years working as a music critic and not become obsessed with books about the subject. Rock writing is a modern form of myth-making and here are some of the best examples...

 

Head On / Repossessed by Julian Cope

These two hilarious accounts trace Julian Cope's journey from polite small town boy to pin-up of the post-punk era with The Teardrop Explodes and then onto the acid-tripping adventurer of his solo years. He survives mid 80s psychosis and then against all odds emerges as the UK's foremost Druidian jester and Neolithic expert. Cope is that rare thing: a musician who writes better than any music journalist, and a national treasure. 

The Psychic Soviet by Ian F. Svenonius

A collection of tongue-in-cheek essays that dissect and disseminate pop culture, from a true hero of the alternative American underground. Svenonius manages to weave together theories on vampirism, cold war paranoia, communism, Engels, Dylan, NATO, Swedish girls and, improbably, why Alan Greenspan is "the godfather / midwife of electro-clash." Again - another musician who shows the critics how it is really done.

Hellfire by Nick Tosches

In which the story of Jerry Lee Lewis is given the full Faulkner-esque fictionalised treatment. It features fire, brimstone, evangelists, burning pianos and a lot of whisky.

Hard Core Logo by Michael Turner

This oddity tells the story of a fictional Canadian punk band who reform for one final tour. What makes it unique is that it is told entirely via poetic verse. It translated to a great film too; a sort of darker-hearted, sub-zero This Is Spinal Tap.

Lexicon Devil by Don Bolles, Brendan Mullen and Adam Parfrey

By overdosing the day before John Lennon was shot, Germs singer Darby Crash failed to impact on the world quite as much as he had hoped. Nevertheless this book is a fascinating account of what happens when Californian hippies let their nihilistic kids run amok in Hollywood's late 70s sleazy underbelly. The result: heroin, blood, sex, destruction, mind control games and lots of Nietzsche quotes from Crash, the then- emerging punk scene's figurehead.

Diary of a Rock 'N' Roll Star by Ian Hunter

Every band should be forced to read Hunter's detailed documentation of a US tour playing mid-level venues with his band Mott The Hoople. Details range from the banal to the bizarre, with Hunter a dry, intelligent and often incredulous host living the far from glamourous life so that you don't have to.

Kill Your Friends by John Niven

The music business is a place of extremes, a world where broke starving artists rub shoulders with cynical Simon Cowell-types. Kill Your Friends explores the greed at the heart of the industry via a loathsome and murderous A&R man during the late 90s post-Britpop years. It's extremely dark and very funny. And - most worryingly - believable.

The Truth About Rock Music by Hugh Pyle

This is an obscure mid-80s treatise on the evils of rock music by a US minister. It's full of anecdotal evidence about how the devil's music physically impacts on "the sex organs", makes youngsters carve their names in each other's backs with broken whisky bottles, and why all disco fans are sodomites. Pyle's argument is weakened somewhat by those artists he cites as truly evil: Alice Cooper, The Beatles and Meat Loaf.

The Manual by KLF

Q: "How do I become a pop star?" A: Don't go on X-Factor. Read this instead and learn how to earn - and then later burn - a million pounds. Bill Drummond should probably be offered a knighthood for services to pop theory and all-round mischievousness.

Electric Eden by Rob Young

I was as surprised as anyone to find myself suddenly drawn, at the age of 30, to what could loosely be termed the indigenous music of Britain: folk. Rob Young's expansive overview spans decades of music from Vaughan Williams to Ewan MacColl, and Incredible String Band to Nick Drake and on to Kate Bush, and documents the careers of true eccentrics and outsiders; artists who show today's rock and pop stars to be painfully conformist by comparison. 

Ben Myers blogs at Man of Letters

 

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