In the category of ass-kicking memoirs written by some of our favorite musicians, 2015 proved to be full of riches. Of course, we already recommended Patti Smith’s M Train and Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl in our 2015 Gift Guide For Music Lovers. But for those in a pinch for what to buy any musically inclined kin, or for those just out to prove the necessity and gift of female musicians-turned-authors, we’ve put together a list of stellar new and beloved crowd pleasers.
Firebrand extraordinaire, Grace Jones broke every rule in the book, including her own, which was to “never tell.” Thankfully for us, she did. Jones sprang free from her devout Christian upbringing in Jamaica after immigrating to New York with her parents in the ‘60s. A sonic rebirth soon followed, as she experimented with rocking afros, roller skates, neon makeup, androgynous haircuts, and barely anything at all long before it was considered cool. Pop icons playing at being subversive? Jones throws solid side-eye,
“Rihanna… she does the body-painting thing I did with Keith Haring, but where he painted directly on my body, she wears a painted bodysuit. That’s the difference. Mine is on skin; she puts a barrier between the paint and her skin. I don’t even know if she knows that what she’s doing comes from me, but I bet you the people styling her know. They know the history.”
A cheeky lass and cocksure dabbler in London’s punk scene in the ‘70s, Viv Albertine’s youth was the stuff of dreams. When her band with a pre-Sex Pistols Sid Vicious fizzled, Albertine took up the role of guitarist with dour sweethearts The Slits. But beyond chronicling her neon youth, Albertine offers equal playing time to her life post-Slits, and explores the traumas of in vitro fertilization, motherhood, divorce, cancer, and her decision to return to music after a decades long hiatus. An added bonus is Albertine’s index of the clothes, music, and boys she coveted from her youth to now. She offers a sneak peak at 1976-79: customized fringe tights, pink patent boots, and mohair jumper were de rigeur. Dionne Warwick Sings Burt Bacharach, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and suicide reggae were favored beats; Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, and Sid Vicious were heartbreakers of choice. Rock stars, they’re just like us!
On the cover of her sensitive, forthright memoir, Jewel sits regally atop a black horse with a white face; she is every bit the ethereal, elfin poetess who once drew the tired and grunged up masses to appreciate romantic lyricism. Reflecting a lifetime of extreme highs (going from obscurity to signing with Atlantic Records, recording numerous well-received multi-platinum albums, and celebrating the birth of her son) and bottomed out lows (her childhood spent singing in bars with an alcoholic, abusive father, her momager’s spending that left her in debt, and her divorce) it’s clear that her harrowing journey has been one of perpetual rebirth. Through it all, Jewel continued to pursue her writing and music. She writes, “Be bold. Name what you want. Give it voice and then give it action. Success is not guaranteed but commitment and courage are the only insurance we have.”
Long before Taylor Swift wrote about her exes, Carly Simon penned a little diddy called, “You’re So Vain,” about a mystery man that a since been revealed as none other than noted lady killer Warren Beatty. But Simon was no victim to his advances, and enjoyed her own fecund, and turbulent romantic life. Spotlighting her relationships with men, Simon’s eloquent new memoir, Boys in the Trees largely focuses on her storied, stormy marriage to James Taylor, whom she had met years earlier when they were children. Gorgeous black and white photos throughout offer a glimpse of a life that appeared to be anything but troubled, including a sexy picture of Simon, in bikini bottoms and leis of white flowers standing astride next to a white-suited Taylor.
Humble polymath, enigmatic cool girl, and all-around bad bitch Kim Gordon speaks up in her revelatory memoir, Girl in a Band. From her sunny SoCal upbringing and art school in Los Angeles to the gritty scenes of playing gigs in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s, from the the infidelities of her husband and fellow bandmate, Thurston Moore to her friendship with Kurt Cobain, Girl In A Band tells it all. Of course, her experience of being the lone female in one of the most influential post-punk indie rock bands is one of these many gems. Never one to grandstand, Gordon asserts the credo that many have read for aloofness instead of as an astute awareness of the beast: “The rock star thing always felt dishonest to me—stylized and gestural, even goofy. I’ve always felt uncomfortable giving people what they want or expect.”
With her skyscraping beehive, raven-black cat eyes, and legs for days, Ronnie Spector and The Ronettes epitomized not only the look, but also the iconic sound of ‘60s girl bands. A teenaged trio from Spanish Harlem, Ronnie and her sister Estelle, along with their cousin Nedra, had sung and performed together for years. But, it wasn’t until they signed with mastermind and madman, Phil Spector, that the group achieved chart-topping success with “Be My Baby.” Alas the euphoric high of superstardom soon dissipated after her marriage to Spector. Imprisoned by Spector behind the gilded gates of their Beverly Hills mansion, she languished in isolation and spiraled into alcoholism. But Ronnie’s memoir isn’t meant to be a cautionary one, rather it’s a clear-eyed reflection of an extraordinary life and a testament to her resilience.
Fan girl turned industrious zine wizkid, Jessica Hopper got her start writing and reviewing music as a punky teen in Minnesota. Flash forward 20 years and her career of astute, pulsating essays, reviews, and interviews has lead her to cover some of the greatest and most iconic bands and albums of the past decade. Whether fleshing out the background of Hole’s album Live Through This, or authoring a take down of an entire genre (Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t from Punk Planet #56, July 2013) or a pop star’s anticlimactic album (Miley Cyrus: Bangerz from SPIN Magazine, October 2013), Hopper’s unwavering voice is a vivacious, gritty addition to music criticism that is both wise and necessary.