Some of the most exciting releases for music lovers this fall aren’t new albums but in-depth biographies and revealing memoirs from their favorite artists and bands. Whether you worship at the altar of the blues, know every guitar riff in the Led Zeppelin catalogue, or have seen The Boss countless times, these books have you covered.
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl
“Though I have never been one to collect ‘stuff,’ I do collect moments,” writes the Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman, 52, in the introduction to his entertaining new memoir that’s a must for rock fans. Here Grohl details the many moments that led a punk-loving kid in the Virginia suburbs (with a “Wonder Bread existence”) to his current status as a rock elder statesman with 16 Grammys under his belt — with all the ups and downs in between, including heading out on tour for the first time at 18 and his heartbreak over Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide. Grohl’s now on his way to a second Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, this time for his work with Foo Fighters (the first was for his role in Nirvana) later this month.
King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King by Daniel de Visé
As Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Daniel de Visé tells it, the biography of B.B. King isn’t just the story of a genre-defining musician, it’s a full-blown hero’s journey — the tale of one man’s triumphs over every obstacle (economic, racial, societal) the world threw in his way. “In those forty-five years, Riley B. King had risen from penniless sharecropper to sidewalk busker to Memphis deejay to chart-topping singer to King of the Blues,” de Visé writes, describing the music legend as “the first guitar hero.” Filled with interviews with King’s relatives, band members and managers, the resulting biography feels at once intimate and encyclopedic, offering a full picture of the man behind the myth.
Led Zeppelin: The Biography by Bob Spitz
How do you encapsulate the musical legacy of one of the greatest bands in rock history? If you’re Bob Spitz, the best-selling author of books on the Beatles and Julia Child, you start talking — to everyone. For this definitive biography, Spitz conducted more than 150 interviews with friends, record executives and even groupies, and he offers insight into not only their artistic genius but also the controversies brought about by what he calls their “heedless hedonism.” At nearly 700 pages, the exhaustively researched tome is clearly pitched toward superfans, but Spitz fills the book with enough debauchery and trashed hotel rooms and bad decision-making that even a casual Led Zeppelin listener won't be able to look away. Spitz, it turns out, knows a thing or two about the music business: Before turning to book writing, he managed Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. (Nov. 9)
Eruption: Conversations With Eddie Van Halen by Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill
Guitar god Eddie Van Halen died of cancer last October, but he left behind more than 50 hours of unreleased interviews with rock journalists Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill. Need proof that you’re in good hands? Tolinski and Gill are the former editors of Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado, respectively. While the book of course covers Van Halen’s rise to fame and his nearly unparalleled skill as a technical musician, the authors also dive deep into his complicated backstory. The musician has shared, for instance, that his childhood as a Dutch immigrant who couldn’t speak English led to decades of social anxiety and substance abuse. As you might expect from these writers, the book is also filled with obsessive details about Eddie’s guitars, his custom modifications, and the unusual and rare instruments he played throughout his career.
Unrequited Infatuations: A Memoir by Stevie Van Zandt
You probably know the bandana-wearing Little Steven, 70, from his decades as a charismatic member of the E Street Band or his role as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos. But his new memoir illustrates just how seminal he’s been in the past five decades of American popular music. An anti-apartheid activist who wrote the protest song “Sun City,” he’s spent years celebrating and advocating for rock ’n’ roll as an art form: He hosts a weekly syndicated radio show focused on garage rock, created two music channels on SiriusXM, founded an indie record label, and even helped develop an arts education initiative that incorporates music history — from classical to reggae — into K-12 curricula. While some rock stars hide behind a veil of detached coolness, Van Zandt is a man marked by genuine enthusiasm, and his memoir reads like a love letter to the people and places and music that made him, with a healthy dose of nostalgia and good-natured humor.
Mellencamp by Paul Rees
Veteran journalist Paul Rees covers all the greatest hits of the Indiana rocker’s life, including his youth in the heartland with a father who was “a tyrant,” in Mellencamp’s words; his rise to fame in the 1980s; his cofounding of Farm Aid; and his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But what really makes this biography sing is how far it takes us inside John Mellencamp (he dropped the Cougar long ago), 69: his inspirations, motivations, struggles, obsessions and fears. He comes across as a complicated artist, who says in the book — which was written with the musician’s cooperation — “I like being the underdog. I’m like Sisyphus. I like rolling the rock up the hill.”
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Also of Note
Set the Night on Fire: Living, Dying, and Playing Guitar With the Doors by Robby Krieger. The Doors guitarist describes the band’s wild existence with Jim Morrison at the helm. (Oct. 12)
My Life in Dire Straits: The Inside Story of One of the Biggest Bands in Rock History by John Illsley. The bassist and founding member of Dire Straits tells all about the the band behind “Sultans of Swing.” (Nov. 9)
Rock Concert: An Oral History as Told by the Artists, Backstage Insiders, and Fans Who Were There by Marc Myers. Myers takes readers back to the heyday of live rock with stories from Alice Cooper, Joan Baez and many more. (Nov. 9)
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines Hemispheres magazine, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.