Recently, we told you about singer/songwriter Josh Ritter entering new territory by penning a novel, and it got us thinking: which other singers have ventured onto literary soil? Turns out, quite a few, and — more often than not — they write about topics that are a bit unexpected. Here’s a compilation of some of the more off-the-beaten-path/noteworthy projects. (You’ll notice we left autobiographies off this list. After all, any old ghostwriter can crank out one of those.)
Who better to teach life lessons to children worldwide than the Material Girl herself? Madonna, first known in literary circles for books of a slightly racier genre (her 1992 coffee table book SEX was so popular it sold out of its entire first edition) has ventured onto more wholesome turf since becoming a mother. In 2003, the Grammy award winner released her first children’s book, The English Roses, which would eventually become a five-book series with each book drawing from inspiration Madonna found through the Kabbalah religion.
Along the childhood vein, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz released a book in 2004 called The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. The book, published by Wentz-owned Clandestine Industries and aimed at 5-9 year olds, is based on nightmares the punk rocker had as a child. Though its target audience begins with kindergarteners, the subject material gets dark and heavy quickly. (“This is not the kind of boy who deserves a story. He’s not the kind of boy that deserves to be remembered. He’s not the kind of boy who has a name,” the story begins.) Looks like we might need to start a shelf for emo kids’ books at Barnes & Noble.
Who says golf is restricted to polo-sporting, wealthy, retired guys? Shock rocker Alice Cooper — whose shows are legendary for their use of props like guillotines and electric chairs (and are typically devoid of polos) — also has a mean golf swing. In 2007, the musician released a book called Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock ‘n’ Roller’s 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict. The 12 step reference is quite intentional, as golf was a way for the rocker to stick with post-rehab commitments in the early ‘80s. There’s plenty of trivia and anecdotal bits in there for Cooper fanatics, with a dash of golf to keep things on topic.
This Canadian singer/songwriter is no newcomer to the literary scene. He’s released nine books of poetry and prose along with two novels since 1956. His first novel, The Favourite Game, continues to receive glowing reviews. In 2000, Canada’s Globe and Mail proclaimed, “Is there any Canadian novel as compelling and as good at capturing youthful anxieties as J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye? Absolutely.…Leonard Cohen’s first novel, The Favourite Game.” (Fun fact: All that writing practice has apparently paid off, since Cohen will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame this year.)
John Wesley Harding
John Wesley Harding is actually this British folk/pop singer’s stage name, and when he released two novels — one in 2005 and the next in 2007 — he chose to put his given name, Wesley Stace, on the covers. The name swap had zero effect on his books’ success, though. His first novel, Misfortune, was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award and named one of Amazon’s Ten Best Novels of 2005, among other awards. By George, released in 2007, was equally well-received, earning the title of one of New York Public Library’s Books to Remember 2007. It seems as though Harding/Stace is just whetting his writing whistle — he has a third book coming out in September of this year.
The reigning king of Margaritaville regularly takes on the role of author, and it’s one that has proved to be a lucrative branch of his island-touting empire. Three of his books have been No. 1 best sellers, and the fact that he’s occupied the No. 1 spot on both the non-fiction and fiction New York Times lists really sets him apart. Only six other authors — Hemingway and Steinbeck among them — have accomplished the same feat.
With all that record-making and songwriting, it’s a wonder Ryan Adams had time to devote to a book of prose. But, in April of 2009, Adams’ Infinity Blues was released, quickly followed by Hello Sunshine last December. And a third is supposedly in the works — seems Mr. Adams is just a prolific in the literary world as he’s proven to be in the musical one. Pretty impressive for a high school dropout (Adams quit school in the tenth grade to pursue a music career, eventually earning his GED.)
If poetry’s your thing, Jewel’s 1999 collection A Night Without Armor might be worth a read. Released at the height of the country singer’s fame (her 1995 Pieces of You stayed on the Billboard 200 for two years), the introspective book — largely about growing up in Alaska and learning to deal with fame — became a New York Times bestseller, although the critics’ reviews were mixed. (“Sure, there are too many prepositions and some cliched images; an attempt to be philosophical is laughable; and many “poems” are nothing more than fragments. But a lot of the material is also straightforward and deeply honest…and deserves serious attention from poetry lovers,” wrote Rochelle Ratner of Soho Weekly News.)
This rocker from Down Under is no stranger to the written word. He published his first book, a collection of lyrics and plays called King Ink, in 1988, quickly followed by his 1989 novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. A decade later, novel number two (The Death of Bunny Munro, chronicling the journey of a salesman after his wife’s suicide) hit bookstore shelves. Perhaps his most interesting contribution to the literary genre, though, was the foreward Cave wrote for the 1998 Canongate version of The Gospel of Mark. (“When I started reading the Bible, which was when I was about 20, it was the God of the Old Testament that I responded to quite strongly…I guess at some point over the years, things change as they do. You start to see the world in a different way. I guess the New Testament called to me, which was a much softer, sadder, more introverted voice. I guess you can see that going on in the songwriting as well,” Cave shared in a 1998 interview with Rolling Stone.)
There’s no question where country singer Steve Earle gleaned subject material for his 2002 collection of short stories. Doghouse Roses is made up of 11 tales largely focused around drug addiction, the Vietnam War and being a part of the music industry. (Sound familiar?) According to a Publisher’s Weekly review, some of the stories work while some miss the mark. (“Reading this uneven collection of 11 stories by underground country music legend Earle is like listening to an album that has been rushed into production to meet a deadline,” the reviewer remarks.) But they do say the best writing tends to come when you write about what you know, so kudos to Earle.
Robbie Fulks, Mary Gauthier, Cynthia Hopkins, Cam King, Damon Krukowski, Jon Langford, Patty Larkin, Maria McKee, Rhett Miller, David Olney, Zak Sally, Chris Smither, Rennie Sparks, Laura Veirs, Ben Weaver, Jim White:
In celebration of the world where fiction and music collide, Amplified: Fiction from Leading Alt-Country, Indie Rock, Blues and Folk Musicians was created as a collaborative venture in 2009. The book features 16 short stories, all written by young singer/songwriters. Ranging from heartbreaking to hilarious to haunting, these tales allow readers to “imagine what dimensions [stories] might take in something longer than a radio-friendly three-minute song,” commented Carolyn Kellogg of the L.A. Times.