The Music Espionage

Music biographies: Their affect on the modern songwriter

Over 2013 I have read a fair few books, and a number of those have included music biographies. There is no better way of revising for the test of being a musician than reading about those who are already living the dream.

They reveal the trials and tribulations of musicians and how they affect the song writing; a true musician buries their problems into songs.

Take “Cash” for example, one of the last autobiographies by the legendary Johnny Cash. It’s a truly fascinating insight into his life, written in first person as if he was reading aloud to you; the words really connect to the reader.  Though it doesn’t emphasise his earlier recording life as much as the other books, it does touch on the death of his brother as a child, and his time working on his fathers depleting fields.  He talks of how his mother pushed him into music, while his father held him back.  Eventually the book leads to his career and the damages fame brings, it is a tearful view of a true rock and roll life.  They say when you live fast you either crash and burn or fade away.  Cash did neither, he kept recording and he kept living and this book goes over his exciting journey. Even for those who don’t like country music “Cash” will thrill you.

Bob Dylan, another musical icon also released his own autobiography, around the same time “Cash” came out. 2004.
On the first chapter I was excited, Dylan is a master of lies and tall tales, I had hardly any knowledge of his early music life and the first chapter seemed to start revealing it. However as chapters progressed he switched to different areas of his career, often talking of his lowest points, his type casting in the anti-establishment era being a main talking point. Though he kept dropping hints about his early career he always managed to hide it through his writing, which got to be quite annoying. Yet just as I was about to put the book down and give up he hit me with a chapter on Woody Guthrie, his influential icon. This chapter was a real insight to how he formed his music at the start; he played Guthrie songs as his own, up till the point he was found out by another Woody aficionado. In total this book is a good read for any future songwriters out there, yet probably not to the same extent as “Cash”.

Straying out of the territory of autobiographies, Lou Reed never wrote one.  He was too Rock and Roll to write a book about himself. However Mick Walls biography on Reed, entitled Lou Reed: The Life, reveals a fascinating overview of his life.  The book encompasses his entire career from his early days at Syracuse University looking up to his English teacher, through to his last gigs.  Lou Reeds life is incredible, from Electro-shock therapy to his bi-sexual tendencies, he did it all and he saw it all. A story of a musician whose talent was left under looked for so long, even with help from a prominent and famous artist (Warhol), money never seemed to come in hoards for Reed.  For any new musicians looking for influences let Reed be a testimony, money doesn’t matter it hinders; critics don’t matter they hinder.  Reed was a man who kept at it through thick and thin and came out the other side a legend for it.  It’s almost fictional, a story of struggle and a phoenix like figure rising out of it.  A must read for any music fan, this book will tune you into the velvet underground if you weren’t already plugged in.

Now not all music acts are based solely around one figure, for a band looking to read up on a successful group The Stone Roses: War and Peace is perfect.  Written By Simon Spence, a music journalist for magazines such as the NME and Face the journey through the group’s progression from dreary Manchester streets to tours of Swedish clubs to Spike Island and Heaton Park.  The book really details The Stone Roses rise to fame in a unique and insightful way.   Going over changes in the bands early line-up till they arrived at the perfect four, detailing the managerial problems that they faced, a lesson to all new bands out there.  Read what you’re signing!

War and peace is a fascinating read for any newbie band, and I’m sure any oldie band as well. Like the previous three books any up and coming musicians would be wise to learn from both the mistakes and the successes of these musicians. All four books reveal a perfect overview of the ride through the music industry, not all of them coming out on top, yet all making it in their own way.