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Ten Reads By Musicians Who You May Not Know Wrote Books, Too

On November 24, 2020

I love when people dare to try new things that they aren’t known for ever having done before. Like when Elle Woods went to law school or Jonathan Van Ness chased his ice skating dreams, or, say, when a musician writes a book.

With another possible shutdown looming ahead [insert heavy sigh], I was determined to find a way to cozy up with a reading list full of new writers this time around. “But where to look for inspo?” I mindlessly asked my houseplants. I began scrolling through my playlists to set the mood for the Goodreads spiral I was about to embark on when it struck me: was it possible some of these artists could fulfill my literary quest, too?

Here are 10 reads by musicians who — in some cases surprisingly — also wrote books. To kick us off, we have a book by both the same title and musician behind VMP’s December ROTM Lady Sings The Blues.

Lady Sings The Blues by Billie Holiday with William Dufty

“She wrote it for the same reason she sang — to express emotion,” David Ritz shares in the foreword of the 50th Anniversary Edition of this memoir. And packed with emotion it is. Billie Holiday’s life was anything but easy. Written in the first person, you feel the depth of each punch and raw deal dealt her way. Holiday maintains her distinct voice and edgy humor throughout, bringing her lyrics to life: “Lady sings the blues, she tells her side, nothing to hide.”

This account offers a glimpse into Lady Day’s life, lifting the veil to the challenges she faced as well as her deep complexity that shines through in the legacy of her magnificent voice. You can even give your December VMP Essentials release of the remastered 1956 record of the same name an even deeper listen by experiencing the book and the album in tandem.

Actual Air by David Berman

This book of poetry cuts the same way Silver Jews’ lyrics do. I received it as a gift from a friend shortly after David Berman’s death last year, and it was strangely therapeutic to feel reconnected to the lyricist through a new medium. The poems didn’t always make perfect sense to me, but like most art, that’s just what I was craving.

Resistance by Tori Amos

If you think 2020’s been a dumpster fire, pick up a copy of this book. Part memoir, part call-to-action, Resistance is the timely, fired-up advice we all need to pull ourselves together and get through the waning weeks of the year. Tori Amos graces us with her wisdom, calling artists of all mediums to recognize the sacred space they hold in society. She has the distinct knack for making you remember that a special part of resilience is learning how to use art in a way that propels not just yourself, but our collective society, forward.

Supermarket by Logic

You may have given Logic’s 2019 album, Supermarket, a listen, but did you know that it’s actually the soundtrack to his debut fiction novel of the same name? This story opens up with murder; the first three sentences are about the “dude who works at a grocery store” catching a glimpse of his reflection in a puddle of blood — spooky. As Logic’s first novel, this book is… well, a lot. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it, but one thing we can all agree on? 10/10 on cover design.

Pleasures: The Meals of an Album by Leslie Feist and Adrienne Amato

IT’S. A. COOKBOOK. Give your eyes a break and treat your tastebuds with this one. Forty vegetarian recipes, meant to be cooked or enjoyed while listening to Feist’s 2017 album, Pleasure. According to Feist’s Instagram, “The Meals of an Album is a song-by-song, day-by-day account of the meals chef Adrienne Amato prepared while Feist was recording Pleasure. The 122-page lushly illustrated book contains 11 songs worth of meals—over 40 recipes.” Plus, 100 percent of the proceeds supports Community Food Centres Canada!

Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis with Larry Sloman

This New York Times bestseller is here to remind you that the life of a rock star is, well, exactly what you thought it to be. Sex and drugs, baby. Would you expect anything less from a three-time Grammy winner with an album called Californication? Escape into a world of debauchery (and stunning resilience) in the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 2004 tell-all.

The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur

Several years after Tupac Shakur’s death, his former manager, Leila Steinberg, bound together and released 72 of his poems she had held onto. Each poem includes a photocopy of Shakur’s original handwritten version, offering an intimate peek into his personal life, almost like a diary. Seeing Shakur’s doodles and drawings paired with his heartfelt hints of timeless wisdom reminded me just how dynamic we are as humans — somehow able to be both soft and tough at the same time.

Grapefruit by Yoko Ono

This experimental book is just like Yoko Ono’s music, style, and activism: unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Thumbing through the different illustrations and short bursts of writing can be used almost like prompts or meditations to usher in creativity. This is a great pick-me-up if you’re facing a roadblock in your creative practice, as Ono pushes the boundaries of conceptual art with each page. Perhaps in reading this one, we can also take on her muse through osmosis.

Miles, The Autobiography by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe

If you’re looking to up your trivia game on Miles Davis (Q. Who is Full Nelson named for? A. Nelson Mandela) then this national bestseller is for you. There are lots of biographies about the late jazz icon, but only one written by the man himself. With this one, dive in to learn all the deets: what gave Davis his hallmark raspy voice, the grit behind his backstory, and the community that helped make his rise to fame possible.

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

Our beloved punk poet laureate is back at it. You may have been entranced by Patti Smith’s intoxicating words in Just Kids or Woolgathering and, if so, you will not be let down by her latest book. Here, Smith details the mystery of grief and other transformative events that happened to her in 2016. She weaves in luscious threads of dreamlike fantasy alongside Polaroid documentation, proving once again that creativity comes together in many forms.

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Erika Oakvik

Erika Oakvik is a Denver-based freelance writer and occasional poet. She's got a weekly newsletter you can subscribe to here.

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