A Thousand Lives
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A Thousand Lives

4 Books to Read If You Love Rock Music

Get a backstage pass to the world of rock ’n’ roll with these 4 books

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Something is intoxicating and glamourous about the world of rock ’n’ roll. Maybe it’s the aesthetic attraction, luring you into the darkness before dazzling you with bright lights.

Or perhaps it’s the feeling you get when you put on your headphones and hear your favourite song roar to life or the excitement of seeing the band walk out on stage. Whatever draws you in, it’s no surprise that there’s a massive crossover between the world of rock music and books. So here are four authors, in fiction and non-fiction, who have used their words to give you a backstage pass to the world of rock and roll.

Whether you want the gritty lowdown on your favourite bands, an analysis of modern fan culture, or you want to see your own experience with music reflected in fictional characters, this list has something for everyone.

1. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Non-fiction

If it weren’t for the famous names among the interviewees in this book, you’d think it was pure fiction. In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain collect years-worth of interviews with classic punk musicians from the start and sometimes to the tragic end of their career. It tells the stories of all the biggest bands from the birth of the punk movement, including but not limited to The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, The Sex Pistols and Ramones.

Instead of highlighting the darkest side of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, it doesn't glamourise the genre. As a result, please Kill Me is a pretty difficult read at times, with a relentless intensity that captures the seedy underbelly of New York in the 1970s, stopping off in London along the way. But be warned, it isn’t a PR-friendly profile of your favourite musicians, and you won’t always see them in the best light.

The interview style of the book captures the urgency and DIY attitude of the genre’s beginnings, shedding light on not just the musicians who made it big but the background characters and key players in the industry who helped them get there. It’s not based on guesswork or interpretation; the story comes from the people who were there. So expect sex, scandal, and a whole lot of good music.

For fans of: The Doors, The Sex Pistols, The Velvet Underground, The Runaways.

2. Daisy Jones & The Six — Taylor Jenkins Reid

General Fiction

Like the fictional band in the novel, Daisy Jones & The Six took the world by storm when released in 2019. The format is similar to that of Please Kill Me with its oral history, interview format, telling the story of a fictional band in the ’70s and the slow journey towards disintegration. Although the characters aren’t real, it’s a very authentic story that gives you insights into the often-fragile group dynamics of a rock band and what happens to make them split up for good.

The interview format weaves together the threads of each band member, demonstrating both the intense impact they had on each other and the unreliability of memory. As a result, two people can experience the same thing in different ways. There is an obvious influence from bands like The Velvet Underground & Nico and Fleetwood Mac, but Reid's characters each have their own distinct voices. Most importantly, it shows several strong women who find their own ways to navigate a male-dominated industry.

And we’ll soon have a chance to hear the music about which Reid writes so beautifully — Reese Witherspoon quickly optioned the TV rights, and we’ll be seeing a series coming to Amazon soon.

For fans of: The Velvet Underground & Nico, Fleetwood Mac.

Fangirls: Scenes from Modern Music Culture — Hannah Ewens

Non-fiction

This one is for the real fans. In Fangirls, Hannah analyses the emergence of fandoms of multiple genres in modern music, from Beatlemania to the One Direction craze of the 2010s. It’s not a new topic, but Ewens looks at it in a completely new way: one which is free of judgement. Others before her have used fandom culture to make sensationalist content with documentaries and articles creating the image of the hysterical teenage girl, bordering on dangerous but never to be taken seriously.

Instead, Ewens looks at fan culture through the lens of her own experience. She doesn’t ignore toxic behaviours, but she never succumbs to sensationalism.

Of the rock-oriented chapters, the most fascinating looked at the My Chemical Romance fan protest against The Daily Mail’s exaggerated depiction of the band as a suicide cult in 2008, the sexualisation of male rock stars on social media, and Courtney Love’s ageing fandom. Every chapter sheds new light on the image of the fangirl that the media has presented to us.

For fans of: My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Amy Winehouse, Hole

Ziggy, Stardust & Me — James Brandon

YA Fiction

Ziggy, Stardust & Me is a YA queer love story set in 1973, at the height of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars era. The main character, Jonathan, finds meaning in the androgynous rock icon as he struggles with his own identity, juxtaposing the harsh conversion therapy he has undergone with the sexually free escapism he finds in rock music.

What I found most interesting about this story because it didn’t try to glamourise the 1970s instead of focusing on the escapism of its more glamorous elements.

While David Bowie lived freely as a rock star, things were very different in small-town America. The book depicts the pain of conversion therapy through Jonathan’s experiences. Through his love interest, Web, we see the violence that Native American communities were facing. The writing style is rife with ’70s slang, which allows you to get inside Jonathan’s head, chaos and all while grating for some reviewers. It isn’t always an easy read, but it makes perfect sense to anyone who’s found meaning in the music they listen to.

For fans of: David Bowie, ’70s glam rock.

Rock ’n’ roll isn’t dead, certainly not in the literary world. With more and more fans, artists and experts documenting their experiences and observations of alternative music culture, we can expect more great reads to come.

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