Good music

With apologies to Miriam for shamelessly ripping off her recent blogmy life has revolved around two things recently: work and music. As some of you might know, I used to sing and play guitar in a few bands back in the day, and I spent a couple of summers as a camp music counselor as well. Even majored in music in college, though I think that says more about my school’s lax curriculum than my musical abilities…

Anyway, my musical endeavors these days consist of screwing around on Garageband and playing for two boys who occasionally tolerate Daddy singing weird songs about bowling skinheads and some guy named Alex Chilton. But back in in December, a choice guest spot backing up the Manhattan School for Children’s winter hootenanny rekindled the performance itch, and so tomorrow I’ve got my first real gig in years–I’m playing 4 songs for my oldest’s kindergarten class. Needles to say, I’m terrified!

Okay, what does any of this have to do with books? Well, as I’ve written before, I do love rock bios and other books about music, and I’ve had the good fortune to place a few music-related titles as well. But it’s a tough market, especially for anything not written by or about an aging 60’s rock star. Yes, books about punk, jazz, classical, even hip-hop occasionally end up on the Big Six’s lists, but it’s hard to think of many that have broken out in recent years the way Keith Richard’s LIFE did–the numbers for PLEASE KILL ME, OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE or THE BIG PAYBACK pale in comparison.

So, like non-baseball sports books, is this a case of publishers not knowing or reaching their audience, or are 60s fans the only ones who buy books en masse? Of course the 60s inspire a lot of writers, but to the exclusion of other eras? Does gender play a role? Or is it simply that the music book category is so small that it takes a major celebrity to sell a book in serious numbers?

Well, I’d love to hear thoughts, because I do want to sign more music books across the board. What kinds of music books do you read and why? Are there any subjects, genres, or people you want to read about? What are your all-time favorites?

And if anyone wants to send good vibes my way tomorrow around 8:30 a.m., I’ll take them! I hear these kids today can be a pretty tough crowd…

4 Responses to Good music

  1. Simone says:

    Good luck with the gig! Just be enthusiastic. :) I don’t know how it sold but I love “Songbook” by Nick Hornby, and would like to read more like that: eloquent authors describing their favorite music and what it means to them.


    Other than that, I also enjoyed “Please Kill Me”, which you mention didn’t do well.

  2. My very favorite is “Gimme Something Better,” by Jack Boulware… It’s an oral history of Bay-area punk, from the earliest roots to the Green Day explosion. So many amazing characters, and stories about and by everyone from Black Flag, the Kennedys, Op Ivy… all the bands I grew up with.

  3. Annie says:

    As a former actor/singer who did a lot of kids’ theatre, I remember how completely terrifying it could be. Making them laugh was the trick; they’d love anything you did if you made them laugh before you played or sang the gig.

    As for music books, both my parents were classical musicians, yet neither one read any music books with the exception of biographies of musicians – KISS or Bowie or The Beatles.. aging celebrity rockers all. I think I’d rather just go hear great music.. with apologies to the genre. How about Oliver Saks on music? It’s fascinating stuff…

  4. Susanna says:

    Great topic. I’ve been discussing a related topic with an online friend — she’s writing a novel about a female musician, I’m writing a memoir about boys and music — why so few books about music’s impact on women? So my world really slants this direction, but there’s all of Nick Hornby except perhaps FEVER PITCH, and music-themed fiction such as GOON SQUAD and TEN THOUSAND SAINTS. it would take rave reviews to get me excited about a band bio, though, given the size of my reading stack.

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