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Summer reading roundup of new music books

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Summer is reading time — so-called “beach books,” after all, have become an entire genre within the publishing industry.

Music material seldom gets on that list, but why not sit in the chaise lounge with some good tunes in the background, reading about a favorite performer or someone you’ve never heard of before or even tackling a heavier, more scholarly subject?

Feed your head as well as your ears, in other words.

It’s been a big year for music books already with best-selling autobiographies by Keith Richards, Sammy Hagar, Steven Tyler and Shania Twain. Here are a few of the latest musical offerings that may be worth dipping into on the patio, poolside or in the sand.

Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped by Dean Budnick and Josh Baron (ECW, 374 pages)

This detailed study of the concert and ticketing business is thorough and insightful — and downright frightening to anybody who’s seen the price of their ducat double, or more, because of service charges and all sorts of quasi-specified fees. Relix magazine editors Budnick and Baron peel back the curtain on one of the world’s most heavily cloaked industries, though they unfortunately offer little hope that things will get better in the future. You may not be happier when you see your final bill, but at least you’ll be smarter.

See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad (Little Brown, 404 pages)

With Hüsker Dü, Mould made some music history and is arguably one of the architects of the so-called grunge revolution that followed (not his favorite credential, by the way). His has been a rough-and-tumble life of purist passion, and this memoir packs the same punch as the music he’s made with Hüsker Dü, Sugar and on his own. Anecdotes abound, and it’s essential reading for young’uns wondering about that guy guesting on the latest Foo Fighters album.

Fever: Little Willie John — A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul by Susan Whitall with Kevin John (Titan Books, 210 pages)

A posthumous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1996 brought Little Willie John’s influence on popular music to the fore — and not just because he wrote the Peggy Lee-popularized “Fever.” The Arkansas native moved to Detroit with his family when he was 4 years old, and it’s here that he got his start and made his mark before he died in jail after a 1966 manslaughter conviction. Former Creem magazine editor Whitall, with the cooperation of John’s oldest son, tells the story of his short but eventful life and also captures a sense of the non-Motown Detroit music scene of the time that’s so often eclipsed by the label’s success.

Def Leppard: The Definitive Visual History by Ross Halfin (Chronicle Books, 230 pages)

Photographer Halfin was there for the “Photograph” band’s beginning and has shot Def Leppard ever since, and this coffee table collection of candid, live and posed images — many of late founding guitarist Steve Clarke — lives up to the proverbial pictures being worth a thousand words. And there are words. Frontman Joe Elliott wrote the foreword, and each of the current band members pour a little sugar on the project via their own remembrances to complement Halfin’s work.

Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip-Hop by Simon Reynolds (Soft Skull Press, 448 pages)

British native Reynolds, who’s now based in Los Angeles, has been one of music journalism’s sharpest provocateurs since he started a fanzine in 1984 at Oxford University. This compilation of interviews, reviews, essays and features includes pieces on the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Public Enemy, the Smiths, Nirvana, Miles Davis, Radiohead and more — hopping between disparate genres with a distinctive and uniform voice that conveys both authority and enthusiasm.

Prince: Chaos, Disorder and Revolution by Jason Draper (Backbeat, 272 pages)

Draper uses mostly secondary sources in telling Prince’s story, but he does a solid job of weaving them together for a solid overview and the occasional forgotten revelation. That Prince comes off as controlling and aloof is hardly a surprise, But Draper never loses sight of the musical brilliance that makes us care about the Minneapolis marvel in the first place.

Rock And Rollers: A Full-Throttle Memoir by Brian Johnson (It Books, 209 pages)

This breezy collection of anecdotes is nearly all about the AC/DC frontman’s automobile addiction rather than his time in the band, but it boasts the cheeky, good-humored bluster he displays in his music and a conversational, “matey” tone that makes for a light but enjoyable — and even insightful — drive down his personal memory lane.

So Much To Say: Dave Matthews Band — 20 Years on the Road by Nikki Van Noy (Touchstone, 220 pages)

The DMB is such a summer fixture that it’s surprising it’s taken this long for someone to turn out a book about its touring life. Van Noy approaches the weighty subject from a fan’s perspective, tapping fellow Daveheads for stories about their experiences and relationships with the band and also recounting key shows and moments — including a moving account of the unexpected death of saxophonist Leroi Moore and its aftermath.

Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good by Corey Taylor (Da Capo, 237 pages)

Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Taylor has always been an outspoken kind of guy, but not one to run at the mouth for his own gratuitous purposes. In this series of essays, based around the titular sins, Taylor espouses upon the lessons learned while going from “an absolute crazy person” into someone more in control and reflective — but not pulling any punches. He can be both self-effacing and self-aggrandizing, but he presents a more worthwhile and even illuminating “argument” than most of his peers could manage.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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