So it’s pretty much a given that everyone in Seattle is on the hold’s list for Just Kids, Patti Smith’s new memoir about her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. And while that book is all sorts of amazing, there are several other musician memoirs that don’t have a huge holds ratio and just might tide you over until your hold comes in.
Smith’s book definitely isn’t your traditional artist memoir, and I wanted to create a list that wasn’t a collection of drug-fueled, arena-filling rock stars ranting about their exploits. My desire was to create a list of books by musicians that were a little more personal, and a little more intimate I think I was successful in creating a list of books that is probably the most accurate depiction of what it’s like to be young, broke and in a band.
When I Grow Up by Juliana Hatfield
Hatfield’s memoir is probably the most caustic of the bunch, which is perfect for her warts-and-all brand of music. Hatfield not only explores her career after a near-brush with fame, and her current life as a struggling musician nearing her forties, but also her life-long battle with depression and anorexia.
Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be by Jennifer Trynin
Trynin was to be a household name when she released her debut album Cockamamie in 1994, but even though she had the backing of a major label, success was elusive, especially for women in grunge not named Alanis Morissette. Her memoir is engaging, infuriating and funny, in an uncomfortable My So-Called Life kind of way.
Black Postcards by Dean Wareham
Wareham, the solo artist and former front man of both Galaxy 500 and Luna, gives us his on-the-road memory that chronicles the ups and downs of being in a band. Black Postcards reads as hypnotically as Wareham’s music, with descriptions of the constant drudgery of being on tour and performing taking a narcotic effect. Wareham doesn’t always come across as a great guy, but his book is an unflinching look inside the realities of being in a band.
Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh
Rat Girl is probably the most unique and the strangest memoir of the bunch, which should surprise absolutely no one considering the mercurial nature of her music and hallucinatory quality of her lyrics. The book is really just the diary Hersh kept for a year, 1984 to be exact. During that year, her band played a lot of shows, moved to Boston, Hersh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and she got pregnant. Rat Girl has sharp and scary passages where Hersh’s personal demons seem ready to slither off the page. But the truly affecting parts of the memoir are the funny and strange “freaks” Hersh surrounds herself with, from her band to the aged movie star she befriends at college. Hersh’s book, once again parallel to her music, is a heady experience that only gets more resonant and powerful the longer you are immersed.