Books That Ought to Be, Part 2
These days, every artist has a story to tell, and our shelves are groaning with autobiographies of everyone from the not-so-well-known, such as the drummer in the garage band down the street — what’s his name again? — to the famous and infamous, such as Wayne Kramer’s The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 & My Life of Impossibilities (Da Capo). This fall, we’ll be offered intimate details of the lives of everyone from Tina Turner and Roger Daltrey to Steve Forbert and Jeff Tweedy.
Such books whet our appetites for more stories from artists and band we love. We’ll never get books from every artist, of course; some have told me they’re not writing a book because they think no one would really be interested in their lives; others have said they’re contemplating writing a book one of these days; others simply have no interest in writing a memoir, though they might write a book about songwriting or about the music industry or about the energy and creativity it takes to hold a band together.
Some artists — like many authors — have been talking about writing a book, and while we know they are working on the book, we do wish they would move the process a little closer to publication. Stephen Stills tells us he’s still working on his memoir, so we can hope that it will be published before he almost cuts his hair; Rita Coolidge told me recently that her good friend Bonnie Bramlett is still working on her memoir, too, so we’ll hope that we’ll see that book before we’re goin’ down the road feelin’ bad. I’m writing my own book, and I’ve missed one deadline already, so I can’t be too hard on these folks, but we’ll be reading theirs long after mine has been recycled.
A couple of years ago, I wrote my column on the books we’d like to read by our favorite — or even not-so-favorite — artists. Some of them clearly didn’t read the column, since we’re still waiting for their book. Others, Loudon Wainwright III, in particular, has since published his memoir, Liner Notes (Blue Rider). Here’s my second installment of books that ought to be, including one or two gentle reminders to folks on the last list.
Jeff Hanna, Fishin’ in the Dark — Okay, Jeff. John McEuen has now written his account of life in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, up to and including the split after the 50th anniversary of the band. He tells his life story, too, in The Life I’ve Picked (Chicago Review Press), so now it’s time for you to share your story and your side of the story of the band.
Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now — Late last year, David Yaffe published his now-controversial biography of Mitchell, Reckless Daughter (FSG). Although he drew on his interviews with Mitchell and on her own writings, the book was no substitute for her own voice. We know she keeps journals and that she is probably our best living songwriter, so it would be a beautiful gift to receive the story of her life told by her. Given the state of her health, though, this one might just stay on our wish list for a long time.
Johnny Winter, Still Alive and Well — This Texas bluesman and fiery rocker died two years ago this week — July 16, 2014 — and he left a hell of a legacy of down-and-mean blues and some blistering rock and roll, along with some sardonic ballads (“Ain’t Nothing to Me”). He lived a hell of a life, too, and we’d love to hear his tales of wretched excess and musical virtuosity. We’ll never get that memoir, which is too bad, though Mary Lou Sullivan spent hours recording interviews with Winter that ended up in her bio of him, Raisin’ Cain; The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter (Backbeat Books).
Alvin Lee, I’m Goin’ Home — Lee, the leader of Ten Years After, is one of the top ten guitarists of all time. His blazing fretwork at Woodstock is even more memorable than Jimi Hendrix’s, but he never left us with his stories. He descended into heroin abuse early in his career, but then he famously recorded On the Road to Freedom with gospel rock guitarist Mylon Lefevre, and George Harrison joined them for a few tracks. Lee could tell us some great stories about moving from the darkness of some of the early albums to the brightness of Positive Vibrations and “I’d Love to Change the World.”
Barbara Lynn, I’ve Taken All I’m Gonna Take — Lynn never really received the recognition she should have. She has a way with a guitar that anticipated the great guitarists June Millington and Rosie Flores, and her bluesy, soulful vocals on her song “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” are classic. She had her own challenges, and we’d love to hear her tell her own stories about growing up in Texas and playing blues and soul as she tried to move her own career upward.
Dave Cobb, I’m with the Band — One day Cobb will write his memoir, and we’ll get to hear his stories of working with Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, the Oak Ridge Boys, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Mandy Barnett, among many others. For now, he’s content to sit behind the boards, or his guitar, and to let other artists tell us the stories he’s helped them fashion. Still, we don’t have enough memoirs of producers, so we’re looking forward to hearing his stories.
Brian Smith, Someday Soon — Brian has many, many great stories to tell. I had coffee with him one day, and over the course of an hour, I didn’t say more than about 20 words because I was listening so closely to his stories. He’s also a great storyteller and knows how to capture your attention with humor and drama. He’s busy managing some of the best voices in bluegrass right now — Darin and Brooke Aldridge — but one day he’s gonna sit down and write his life story about managing music acts, as well as running a record store.
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stones in the Road — We all know how Carpenter entrances with her songs, from the raucous “I Feel Lucky” to the tender “Something of a Dreamer.” She’s a voracious reader, and her writing grows out of her acquaintance with a variety of styles; she’s also a dynamic storyteller. Carpenter has been through some dark phases in her life — her own medical challenges, her bouts of depression, and the death of her long-time friend and guitarist, John Jennings — and she could weave these periods of her life into a stunning memoir. Let’s hope she has time to pick up a pen soon.
Alison Krauss, When You Say Nothing at All — Krauss is famously quiet, until you see her perform; then she’s full of stories and fills a few moments between songs regaling her audiences with them. She’s likely reluctant to take up her pen, but she can tell stories with a comedic timing, and she’s been through enough rough times in her life that she’s searched for the silver lining. Besides, we all want to know what really went on with her and Robert Plant and if they were doing more than raising sand.
Nanci Griffith, From a Distance — Griffith said a few years ago, “I’ve had a hard life, and I write it down.” She has influenced many, many singers and songwriters, but she’s been very quiet over the past few years, in part due to illness. She has many stories to tell, and she’s played with some other great storytellers, such as John Prine, and we’d love to read the book full of her stories.
And, when is John Prine going to write his memoir? And Jackson Browne? And Don Henley? And Rosie Flores?
This is a short list of books that we’d love to read. Readers may have their own wish list that they wish to share here.