Books about Music – Part 2
by Cathy Brown
Lockdown has changed our lives beyond measure and has seen many industries adapt and engage with this new normal. It has not been an easy time for the music industry and as live performance seems as far away as ever, we have pulled together a list of ten great books that capture the sheer joy, power and unifying nature of the music industry. From bands to producers, record shops to composers, you’ll find something here to pass the time until live music makes its welcome comeback. Part 1 is available here.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Bennie is an ageing former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. A Visit from the Goon Squad is neither a novel nor a collection of short stories, but something in between, a series of chapters featuring interlocking characters at different points in their lives, whose individual voices combine in harmony to create their own polyphonic exploration of human interconnectedness. Music pulses on every page, making A Visit from the Goon Squad an exhilarating read.
Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn
In Gorgon Burn’s audacious debut novel, he takes Britain’s biggest selling vocalist of the 1950s and turns her story into an exploration of celebrity and murder, mixing fictional characters with real-life stars such as John Lennon and Doris Day, Burn imagines a life for Alma Cogan if she had lived past her early death in 1966 an on into obscurity. Alongside Alma’s life is the search for the body of Keith Bennett, a victim of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and Burn adeptly explores the dark underside of fame and the public’s voracious need to know everything about anyone in the public eye.
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
The Commitments has taken on a life of its own as a blockbuster movie, a best-selling album and a stage show. However, it began life in 1987 as a self-published book by a young Irish author, Roddy Doyle. Set in Northside Dublin, the book follows the efforts of music fanatic Jimmy Rabbitte and his two friends as they go about setting up a band by placing an ad in a local paper that reads, “Have You Got Soul? Then Dublin’s hardest working band is looking for you.” Never has a book so perfectly captured the joys and the pain of forming a band with your mates and experiencing the (brief) success you have always dreamed of!
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones and the Six was a critical and commercial darling on its release last year. The tale of a Fleetwood Mac-esque rock band in 1970s LA it explores the stratospheric rise of a band whose sound defined an era and whose sudden, cataclysmic split left a trail of unanswered questions in its wake. Written from the narrative viewpoint of the different members of the band, their family and their entourage, it is a nostalgia-fuelled evocation of the seductive world of 70’s L.A. at its hedonistic peak. While some of the narrative strands work better than others, Jenkins writes incredibly well about the process of creating and performing music and deserves kudos for writing all the lyrics to the imaginary songs. Keep an eye out for the movie adaptation next year, starring none other than Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough.
This is Memorial Device by David Keenan
This Is Memorial Device, the debut novel by David Keenan, is a paean to the sense of hope and possibility that came to small towns in Scotland with the rise of punk rock in the late 1970s and early 80s.
It follows a dizzying cast of misfits, drop-outs, small town visionaries and would-be artists and musicians through a period of time where anything seemed possible, a moment where art and the demands it made were as serious as your life. At the heart of the book is the story of Memorial Device, a mythic post-punk group that could have gone all the way were it not for their bloody-minded wish to remain underground legends.
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