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A GOOD READ: Tune into music bio books
For those who enjoy a good read through the life journeys of a well-known, seasoned pop music artist, this fall has seen several great ones, including:
Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life in Music by Burt Bacharach is a whimsical and highly detailed autobiography by one the past century’s must accomplished songwriters. Bacharach and the late lyricist Hal David wrote countless classics for the likes of Jackie DeShannon, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and, most notably, Dionne Warwick. Bacharach starts with a pivotal moment in his life, when his only daughter was born prematurely and struggled through her first few weeks alive. He then describes his family’s history and his own childhood aversion to playing piano. Bacharach’s writing gets into high gear just as his career does, around the early 1960s, when he and David settle into their Brill Building office and begin to pound out hit after hit. His personal life is shown as being just as tumultuous. Anyone Who Had a Heart is a bittersweet and ultimately rewarding book.
With the recent news that singer-songwriter Linda Ronstadt is struggling with Parkinson’s, her lovingly written autobiography Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir arrives at an auspicious moment. Readers can get overview of a musically prolific life. As with Bacharach’s book, to set the stage, Simple Dreams recounts some family history amidst the picturesque (Ronstadt describes it as “exotic”) southwestern American desert. The singer, a key part of the West Coast country rock boom of the late 1960s and ’70s, then recounts her career, including the early days fronting the Stone Poneys (a few members of whom went on the form the Eagles) and her hit solo albums, namely 1977’s Simple Dreams, after which this book was titled.
Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, an autobiography by rock musician and singer-songwriter Graham Nash, is also a trip through the ’60s and ’70s. Nash’s career began as one of the founding members of the British Invasion group The Hollies, and he left the group to help form Crosby, Stills and Nash. Additionally, he was, and is, a solo artist, activist and photographer (as the book cover illustrates) continuing to perform into the present day. Wild Tales will take you on a wild ride through London, Los Angeles and beyond with plenty of those halcyon days of rock and roll anecdotes to boot.
There are also two great jazz bios out now; one of those is Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout (author of 2009’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong). Teachout brings the same exhaustive approach to storytelling that he brought to Pops. Duke is packed with a great deal of musical and anecdotal detail. Like one of Ellington’s extended compositions (and there were many), this is not a book that can be absorbed quickly. Ellington was an enigmatic individual who often made enigmatic music but readers will come away from Duke with a clearer sense of the man and his work.
The other jazz book is Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch. This book focuses on “Bird’s” early life in Kansas City learning his craft, often painfully (drummer Joe Jones apparently once threw a cymbal at him for playing poorly), and then growing to jam with various local musicians, eventually playing saxophone for the Jay McShann Orchestra. Then, there was his trip with the band to Harlem in 1939, when his playing reached a whole new level entirely. His playing was sublime, his personal life was decidedly less than that and Kansas City Lightning, the first in what will be a multi-volume biography on Parker, explores that side as well.
Jam with one of these music bios at your library today.
A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Vanessa Colantonio is information services librarian at Coquitlam Public Library.