My younger sister, The Angel of Death, texted me yesterday that David Cassidy is battling dementia. I’d happily sign legislation that made it illegal for all artists to be mortal. Can someone please get on this?
Thinking about David Cassidy reminded me of a book I loved called I Think I Love You by Alison Pearson. If you love David Cassidy, or really if you’ve ever had a crush on a pop star this is a super fun read. From the Amazon description: Petra and Sharon, two thirteen-year-old girls, are both desperately in love with a world-famous pop star. Together they pore over his photos, read his fan club letters, and even enter a contest whose winners will meet him in person. Twenty years later, Petra is pushing forty, on the brink of divorce, and fighting with her own thirteen-year-old daughter when she is given the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to meet the teen idol she loved so long ago. A moving tale of friendship and celebrity that captures the intensity of first love—a love that never entirely goes away.
Re-reading Pearson’s book sent me down a rabbit hole of books about pop music. Here are some highlights.
The Commitments, by Roddy Doyle is absolutely hilarious, one of my all time favorite books (and movies.) (And soundtracks.) The Commitments are a group of fame-starved, working-class Irish youths with a paradoxical passion for the music of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding and a mission—to bring Soul to Dublin. Doyle captures all the shadings of the rock experience: ambition, greed, and egotism—ans the redeeming, exhilarating joy of making music. One of the most engaging and believable novels about rock’n’roll ever written, a book whose brashness and originality have won it mainstream acclaim and underground cachet.
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man’s Quest for True Love and A Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield The 1980s meant MTV and John Hughes movies, big dreams and bigger shoulder pads, and millions of teen girls who nursed crushes on the members of Duran Duran. As a solitary teenager stranded in the suburbs, Rob Sheffield had a lot to learn about women, love, music, and himself. And he was sure his radio had all the answers. But this book is not just about music. It’s about growing up and how every song is a snapshot of a moment that you’ll remember the rest of your life. Rob Sheffield is a Rolling Stone columnist, and I have always loved his writing. If you like this book, be sure to check out the heartbreaking Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss One Song at A Time, it’s sort-of-but-not-really sequel Turn Around Bright Eyes, and last year’s On Bowie.
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. Patti Smith. The Ramones. Punk rock is in Emily Black’s blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back. Now Emily’s all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn’t it lead her right back to Emily?
Songbook by Nick Hornby “All I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don’t like them as much as I do.” —Nick Hornby, from Songbook. A shrewd, funny, and completely unique collection of musings on pop music, why it’s good, what makes us listen and love it, and the ways in which it attaches itself to our lives—all with the beat of a perfectly mastered mix tape. I love this book even if I’m not cool enough to know some of the songs he writes about. Nick Hornby is one of my all time favorite writers, and he’s at his best when he writes about music. His best book, in case you haven’t already read it, is High Fidelity (and the movie is great, despite the fact that they inexplicably set it in America.) Another fun read is the novella Juliet, Naked, which is about an obsessed fan of a fictional rock band.
Your Favorite Band is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden Beatles vs. Stones. Biggie vs. Tupac. Kanye vs. Taylor. Who do you choose? And what does that say about you? Actually–what do these endlessly argued-about pop music rivalries say about us? Through Hendrix vs. Clapton, Hyden explores burning out and fading away, while his take on Miley vs. Sinead gives readers a glimpse into the perennial battle between old and young. Funny and accessible, Hyden’s writing combines cultural criticism, personal anecdotes, and music history–and just may prompt you to give your least favorite band another chance.
Party of One from former MTV VJ Dave Holmes is the hilarious memoir of a perpetual outsider fumbling towards self-acceptance, with the music of the ’80s, ’90s, and today as his soundtrack. Structured around a mix of hits and deep cuts from the last four decades—from Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind” to LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” and Bleachers’ “I Wanna Get Better”—and punctuated with interludes like “So You’ve Had Your Heart Broken in the 1990s: A Playlist” and “Notes on (Jesse) Camp,” this book is for anyone who’s ever felt like a square peg, especially those who have found their place in the world around a band, an album, or a song. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny, deeply nostalgic story about never fitting in, never giving up, and letting good music guide the way.
What are your favorite books about pop music?