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Ann Powers makes an unexpected revelation early in her new book, Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell. In the second paragraph of the introduction, “Drawing the Maps,” Powers cuts to the chase, writing, “I’m not a biographer, in the usual definition of that term; something in me instinctively opposes the idea that one person can sort through all the facts of another’s life and come up with anything close to that stranger’s true story.”

While we may be unable to know Mitchell’s true story, Powers crafts a rich and textured portrait of the artist many consider to be America’s finest songwriter. Though she did not speak to Mitchell for the book, Powers did interview Mitchell’s friends and collaborators, including Wayne Shorter, Judy Collins, Taj Mahal and Brandi Carlile. She also draws from archival interviews and several other books about Mitchell, including David Yaffe’s 2017 biography, Reckless Daughter.

Traveling by Ann Powers

Powers says she knew she wanted to add something new to the canon of Joni studies, and she relied on her instincts as a critic to guide her to fresh territory. They’re well-honed instincts, as Powers is the lead music critic at NPR Music and has contributed to numerous outlets throughout her multidecade career, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

“With Joni, because there is so much writing about her, I wanted to seek the critical context around her as well,” Powers tells BookPage. “And I needed to confront her as a public figure, as that much-overused word ‘icon,’ or ‘legend.’ She’s a much-beloved figure. I wanted to think about how she became that way, what she and her music offered, at different points in history, to her audience as her audience grew and changed . . . I wanted to have that freedom to be more mobile, as my subject is mobile.”

Traveling follows Powers’ 2017 book, Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music. Where that book snaked its way through scenes and subcultures to interrogate sexuality and race in American music, Traveling maps out Mitchell’s life through place, eschewing a neat timeline in favor of curious sightseeing, hitting all the must-sees while taking fascinating and enlightening diversions. (Powers literally drew a map of Mitchell’s travels, though that, unfortunately, did not make it into the book.)

“I found spots that others hadn’t spent a lot of time in. Like Florida, for example,” Powers says, referring to Mitchell’s late ’60s idyll in folk enclave Coconut Grove. “That was really helpful—understanding her journeys, whether they were geographical or musical or personal. She went places the casual Joni fan isn’t as aware of, and I got really interested in that. I got interested in her byroads.”

Read our starred review of ‘Traveling’ by Ann Powers.

Powers says that she didn’t write the book in chronological order, instead beginning her writing journey by digging into the era Mitchell spent in Laurel Canyon, a music and counterculture enclave in the Hollywood Hills, where she was closely associated with acts like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. (“I just worked my butt off trying to be as good as she was,” David Crosby told Powers.) Powers attended Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration in 2018, where a bevy of artists performed Joni covers, and she spoke to James Taylor and Graham Nash about their work with Mitchell and her still-unfolding legacy. Nash shares that when he and Mitchell were romantically involved, he “tried to give her as much space as possible” to make room for her brilliance. Taylor muses on the development of Mitchell’s rich inner life, which he theorizes owes, in part, to the quiet of her rural childhood.

“Obviously, I knew Blue very well, as so many of us do,” Powers says. “That’s our entryway, for a lot of us, into Joni’s story. I knew I wanted to write about, for that chapter, her relationship to those collaborators and friends and lovers that she had, and I wanted to try to really understand that scene. There had been a lot written about it. So, that’s where I dove in.”

As that material developed, Powers “went backward and forward,” learning about Mitchell’s childhood while considering her spirituality as well as drawing connections to the American folk music revival of the mid-20th century. It was through this back-and-forth movement that Powers discovered the book’s structure.

“That’s really when the metaphor of traveling kind of took hold,” she explains. “And that helped me center the narrative, in a lot of ways, thinking about her literal life on the road and then, also, her spiritual life as a traveler, her artistic life as a traveler.”

Some pit stops include Mitchell’s childhood, of which Powers writes, “This girl was a real person, one who’d lain on prairie grass and gazed at the wide sky, an explorer in her own backyard who soon knew she’d have to flee far beyond it.” There’s Mitchell’s foray into jazz, on which Powers says she initially wrote 30,000 words and hopes one day to explore in greater depth. Then there was Mitchell’s 2015 aneurysm, which pulled her out of public life until her triumphant return to the stage in recent years.

 “I needed to confront her as a public figure, as that much-overused word ‘icon,’ or ‘legend.’” 

Writing about a monumental figure who is still living and working—Mitchell performed at this year’s Grammy Awards, to rapturous acclaim—had its intimidating moments, Powers says, and she found solace in Geoff Dyer’s 1997 Out of Sheer Rage, in which he records his struggle to write a book about the complicated life and legacy of D.H. Lawrence.

“I needed that, sort of like having a good friend tell you a story,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh, you know, I relate to your problem. And let me tell you a funny and rich story about how I went through that.’ So, that would unlock some things for me. And one thing that unlocked was that it showed me that I could and should foreground my own struggles.”

Accordingly, many of the book’s more potent moments come when Powers shares her own personal experiences, finding connections or contrasts between herself and the artist. Mitchell placed her child, Kilauren Gibb, up for adoption in 1965, and Powers is an adoptive mother. Though Powers writes she “felt hesitant to make any conjectures about this most intimate connection” (and she doesn’t), she shares the story of a brief encounter with Mitchell in 2004 that connects the dots between them.

Nine months after adopting her daughter, Powers traveled to Montreal to watch Mitchell receive an honorary degree from McGill University. “Adrift in the dream state of sleep-deprived early parenthood,” Powers shared thoughts on Blue during a panel discussion, becoming emotional when remarking on “Little Green,” which Mitchell wrote for Kilauren.

As Mitchell and Gibb had only reunited seven years earlier, Mitchell was relatively new to parenthood, too, and Powers felt a complicated kinship with her, one that is still revealing itself today.

“Twenty years later, I can see that Joni and I were, in that moment, in one version of the same boat,” Powers writes. “We were both newly visible mothers negotiating uncommon definitions of that term.”

Those anecdotes bring Mitchell’s story back down to earth, an impressive feat given her penchant for self-mythologizing. They remind us that Mitchell may have written “Both Sides Now,” but she’s still a human being, still imperfect and messy and seeking resolution to the same existential questions all of us have but none of us can answer.

It’s a point Powers makes early in the book, a few paragraphs after she shares her reluctance to write a straightforward biography. “Every legend is also one of us,” she writes, and in the following 10 chapters, she bears that out, bringing us into her complicated relationship with a complicated artist making complicated art in a complicated world.

With Traveling, Joni Mitchell becomes a little more “of us” than she’s ever been.

Ann Powers author photo by Emily April Allen.

By mapping Mitchell's geographical, musical and personal journeys, Powers frees the woman from the icon.

What comes to mind when you think of Joni Mitchell? Is it her landmark 1971 album, Blue, or her foray into jazz? Her paintings? Her 2015 aneurysm? Ask a handful of people that question and you’re bound to get a different answer each time. Mitchell long ago transcended the status of a mere musician and became an icon, someone larger than life whose body of work is a cultural touchstone.

Leave it to critic Ann Powers to untangle the intricate web that Mitchell, 80, is still weaving today. In Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell, Powers traces the artist’s life from childhood to the present day with curiosity, context and compassion, using Mitchell’s often nomadic existence as a template to try to understand her life and legacy.

She does this through interviews with those who know Mitchell best, like Graham Nash and Brandi Carlile, as well as through painstaking research into archival interviews and the myriad writings inspired by the “Both Sides Now” artist. Powers notably includes her own experiences with Mitchell throughout the book, too, as well as the difficulties and surprises she experienced while writing it. That real-time sense of grappling with Mitchell’s music and persona both grounds the book and offers food for thought, like when Powers tries to understand how Mitchell’s childhood bout with polio affected—or, crucially, didn’t affect—her artistry. Powers favors nuance over easy answers, and the book is better for it.

As always, Powers, a longtime critic most recently known for her work at NPR Music, writes with precision and a healthy dose of the poetic, a combination that makes for an immersive and enlightening read. This is no dry biography. Traveling is hardly the first book about Mitchell and won’t be the last, but it fills a necessary gap in the library of tomes dedicated to her work. Powers has crafted a travelogue of one of the greatest artistic journeys ever taken, and it’s a pleasure to go along for the ride.


Ann Powers’ biography of Joni Mitchell is a travelogue of one of the greatest artistic journeys ever taken, and it's a pleasure to go along for the ride.

Beyoncé’s new album, Cowboy Carter, has sparked a sometimes contentious debate about the nature and identity of country music. It’s an invigorating topic that has long been explored by writers and scholars. A number of excellent books, such as Charles L. Hughes’ Country Soul, Francesca Royster’s Black Country Music and Daphne Brooks’ Liner Notes for the Revolution, have contributed deeply to the conversation about race and country music. Now, acclaimed songwriter, producer and novelist Alice Randall (Black Bottom Saints, The Wind Done Gone) provides a detailed and far-reaching account in her mesmerizing My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music’s Black Past, Present, and Future

Part autobiography and part music history, Randall’s sprawling yet tightly controlled text uncovers the roots of Black country and reveals its future in the work of contemporary country artists such as Miko Marks, Rissi Palmer, Rhiannon Giddens, Mickey Guyton and Allison Russell. Randall reveals that Black country was born on December 10, 1927, when banjoist DeFord Bailey played “Pan American Blues” on “Barn Dance,” a radio show out of Nashville, Tennessee; Bailey became the first superstar of the Grand Ole Opry. In addition, as Randall points out, other Black performers stood at the forefront of country music. The eight-fingered Lesley Riddle, who created a new three-fingered picking technique for playing the guitar, taught songs to the folk group the Carter Family, and pianist Lil Hardin, who would marry Louis Armstrong, was the first Black woman to play on a hillbilly record—Jimmie Rodgers’ Blue Yodel No. 9, also known as Standin’ on the Corner

In Randall’s brilliant genealogy of country music, “DeFord Bailey is the papa, Lil Hardin Armstrong is the mama, Ray Charles is their genius child, Charley Pride is DeFord’s side child, and Herb Jeffries is Lil’s stepson.” As Randall reiterates, “Black Country is a big tent with many entry points.” For example, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner can be considered Black country because their songs meet some criteria on the generally accepted country checklist: influences of Evangelical Christianity, African music and English, Irish or Scottish ballad forms; “concerns with female legacy”; offering advice, using “banjo, fiddle, steel guitar, fife [and] yodeling voice,” to name just a few. Randall adds that these qualities aren’t a litmus test, but “a likeness test. It’s a way to educate your ears and your eyes. Is there Blackness you have refused to see and hear?”

Randall’s songs have been recorded by artists Glen Campbell, Radney Foster and Justin McBride. Trisha Yearwood scored a number one hit with Randall’s song, co-written with Matraca Berg, “XXX’s and OOO’s.” Yet, as she writes, “I had been so whitewashed out of [my songs], the racial identity of my living-in-song heroes and sheroes so often erased.” Randall devotes a portion of My Black Country to documenting the recording of an album released at the same time as the book, featuring Randall’s songs as reimagined by her “posse of Black Country genius,” which includes, among others, Marks, Giddens, Russell and Randall’s daughter, Caroline Randall Williams.

My Black Country is a landmark book and an essential starting point for conversations about the nature of country music. It is true that mainstream dialogue comes late in country’s history, but coupled with Cowboy Carter, My Black Country feels right on time.

Alice Randall’s brilliant genealogy of Black country music, My Black Country, is both long overdue and, thanks to Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter, right on time.

Our Top 10 books of December 2023

This month’s top titles include a chilling historical mystery from Ariel Lawhon and a ripsnorting true crime collection from Douglas Preston.
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Book jacket image for The Ferris Wheel by Tu¨lin Kozikoglu

A beautifully profound yet subtle story about refugees and global connection, The Ferris Wheel engages its text and illustrations in conversation, capturing the essence of

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Book jacket image for Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

Lex Croucher offers readers a quirky, queer Arthurian remix in which lighthearted, entertaining banter alternates with political machinations and intense battlefield scenes.

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Book jacket image for Happy by Celina Baljeet Basra

Happy’s unexpected climax is handled so masterfully that it seems, in retrospect, inevitable. The humanity underpinning this story will speak to anyone with a heart

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Book jacket image for The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

Atmospheric, unique and elegantly written, The Frozen River will satisfy mystery lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts alike.

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Book jacket image for The Other Half by Charlotte Vassell

Charlotte Vassell’s blisteringly funny The Other Half is a murder mystery written a la Kingsley Amis.

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Book jacket image for Here in the Dark by Alexis Soloski

Theater critic Alexis Soloski’s debut thriller, Here in the Dark, is flawless from curtain up to curtain call.

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Book jacket image for Chasing Bright Medusas by Benjamin Taylor

Chasing Bright Medusas is an inspired biography of Willa Cather’s life and work that conveys the author’s complexity with affection and admiration.

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Book jacket image for Sonic Life by Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore’s long-awaited memoir offers a prismatic view on the sonic democracy that was Sonic Youth.

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Book jacket image for Gator Country by Rebecca Renner

Rebecca Renner’s Gator Country follows an undercover mission to expose alligator poachers in the Everglades, revealing the scraggly splendor of the region’s inhabitants.

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Book jacket image for The Lost Tomb by Douglas Preston

A haunting compendium of Douglas Preston’s true crime tales, The Lost Tomb delves into the shadowy uncertainty cloaking things that resist being brought to light.

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Recent Reviews

This month’s top titles include a chilling historical mystery from Ariel Lawhon and a ripsnorting true crime collection from Douglas Preston.
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Bob Dylan is an artist of many faces: poet, folk hero, rock genius, visual artist, writer, welder, songsmith, Nobel Prize winner. He is, perhaps, what we project onto him of ourselves and our world. Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine is a 605-page immaculately designed compendium that seemingly encompasses all possible sides of the legend. The book expands on the inaugural exhibits at the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which opened in 2022 and houses the complete Dylan archives. If you can’t get to Tulsa, Mixing Up the Medicine is the next best thing.

If you are expecting beautiful photos, art and memorabilia, you’ll find those here. If you want to read personal correspondence from Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Jack White and other luminaries, look no further. And if you’d like to attempt to decipher Dylan’s chicken-scratch handwriting, you have your work cut out for you. But what sets Mixing Up the Medicine apart from other books of its type is the writing. Authors, artists and musicians visited the Tusla archive and were asked to choose a single item that “enticed, beguiled, stirred, perplexed, or galvanized them,” and then write an essay about it.

Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo selects a painting of the first record that Dylan—as 15-year-old Robert Zimmerman—recorded, a breathless cascade of radio hits tracked in a music shop’s recording booth with two friends for $5. Ranaldo imagines that evening in the songwriter’s youth with aching specificity. Poet Gregory Pardlo uses a letter written to Dylan by Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton to explore Dylan’s relationship with Black activists and artists. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo chooses the Japanese album cover of Blood on the Tracks, lyrically riffing on “Tangled Up in Blue.” Author Tom Piazza takes inspiration from a typewritten draft of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” to pen a short play about a self-serious scholar who seeks the input of an exhausted, half-mad Dylanologist. And there’s more.

In the epilogue, Douglas Brinkley writes, “Dylan is an experience more like a meteorite than a mummified artifact of scholarly pursuit.” Mixing Up the Medicine, with all its heft and weight, keeps the man in motion—dazzling, beguiling and multidimensional. For Dylan acolytes, the joy of this tome is in combing its pages for the people we once were—our own changing faces, and those we will become.

Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine keeps the legendary artist in motion—dazzling, beguiling and multidimensional.
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There’s a subcategory of hardcore Beatles fans who, unprompted, will ardently opine that George Harrison—the humble writer of classics like “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—is in fact the best Beatle. Forget the saccharine songwriting of Paul, whose hubris was what ultimately led the group to implode, and heady John who left Earth’s orbit, taking only Yoko with him. And, um . . . Ringo who? It’s George, they argue, and you can look no further than Philip Norman’s new biography George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle for all the proof you need.

In Norman’s biography, these George-heads can get a full serving of Beatlemania through the specific lens of the group’s youngest member, though the book will undoubtedly be of interest to all Beatles fans. Because of Harrison’s unique position as the poorest and youngest of the group, the entire dynamic of The Beatles is on full display in these career-spanning chapters, showing how class, religion and maturity played a role in the functioning of the band both when they were together and long after they broke up.

Norman underscores the emotion and intensity of Harrison’s life, as the Beatle moved from a young rebel without a cause into a pious guitar guru. Norman highlights Harrison’s distinctly well-adapted family, who, despite having limited resources, nurtured Harrison into a passionate creative. In his school days, we see Harrison wriggle free of draconian English expectations and meet his soon-to-be bandmates who are both impressed by his precociousness and turned off by his inexperience. Eventually, Harrison becomes so talented at playing songs by ear, replicating the solos of Buddy Holly note for note, that the others have to let him join. From there, the group slowly ascends, working grueling yet colorful days in Germany, and shoots into stardom all at once.

Norman layers the story with fascinating and intimate details about The Beatles’ complex relationships. John and Ringo, for example, were on vacation during Harrison’s wedding, which the groom apparently brushed off with a laugh. And, “have a laugh,” in the band’s joking vernacular, meant smoking marijuana, which they did frequently after Bob Dylan famously introduced them to it. With these anecdotes and many more, any Beatles fan will be enthralled page after page.

Philip Norman’s new biography George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle only adds to the case that George was lowkey the best Beatle.
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At age 65, she is still one of the most recognizable women in America, making news with every appearance and regularly posting to her 19.1 million Instagram followers. But Madonna in the 1980s and 1990s? It’s impossible to describe how thoroughly she dominated pop culture: groundbreaking videos like the sleek black-and-white “Vogue” and the gorgeously provocative “Like a Prayer”; the “Like a Virgin” wedding cake performance at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards; the infamous coffee table book, Sex.

In this vivid and memorable biography, journalist Mary Gabriel draws on previous interviews and reporting to paint a satisfyingly full picture of the life of Madonna Louise Ciccone. Born in 1958 to devout Catholic parents in Michigan, Madonna’s earliest years were spent in a boisterous and loving family. But her mother died of breast cancer when Madonna was only 5, and her remaining childhood was marked by deep sadness and chaos. Madonna escaped through performance—she was a serious dancer and immersed herself in the Detroit music scene.

She chased her dreams to New York City, living in apartments crawling with roaches and working dead-end jobs while pursuing music and acting. Gabriel brings 1980s New York to life: the gritty city where young talents went to find fame, and where gay men (including many of Madonna’s dear friends) were getting sick and dying of a mysterious new disease. The biography deftly sets Madonna’s story against the backdrop of the times, reflecting on how her art was influenced by religion, race, sex and women’s rights.

The artist is such a provocateur that her philanthropic work has sometimes been overshadowed. Gabriel provides a reminder of Madonna’s efforts to raise money for AIDS research and other causes. While Madonna: A Rebel Life can occasionally smack of research paper (it is chock-full of footnotes), it is still a thoroughly entertaining and deeply nostalgic look at one of the true icons of our time. Gabriel manages to tell a fresh story, even with a subject as scrutinized as Madonna. As the star once said, “There’s a lot more to me than can possibly be perceived in the beginning.”

Mary Gabriel’s vivid, memorable biography of Madonna takes a fresh look at a true icon of our time.

Intellectual noise-rocker Thurston Moore’s long-awaited memoir offers much more than a recounting of his 30-year tenure in the band Sonic Youth. Encyclopedic and capacious, Sonic Life is no less than a history of U.S. underground arts and culture, from ’70s punk to ’80s hardcore, from college rock to grunge and beyond, told through the prism of one band.

Moore’s sentimental education took place in late 1970s New York City, when suburban teenagers could educate themselves by hanging around record shops and bookstores or venturing out to nightclubs like Max’s Kansas City or the Mudd Club. Musician-poets like Patti Smith offered a gateway drug to what Moore calls “rock ’n’ roll transcendence,” a mystical devotion to sonic creativity.

Sonic Youth’s influences were eclectic, rooted in the apocalyptic noise of No Wave, but also inspired by free improv jazz, poetry and the visual arts. The early section of Sonic Life tracks these influences in exquisite detail, evoking a lost era of New York’s then-gritty downtown music scene. Once Kim Gordon enters the picture, the narrative zooms in to vivid descriptions of the off-kilter tunings and experimental musical chemistry between Moore, Gordon and Lee Ranaldo, the creative nucleus of Sonic Youth.

Sonic Youth’s 30-year passage through the music scene sees the band move through record labels and music festivals, evolving from noisy enfants terribles to influential elder statespeople. When the band broke up in 2011, along with Moore and Gordon’s marriage, a generation of fans were devastated.

Any band’s story is a collective story. Sonic Life offers Moore’s perspective on rock music as a quasi-religious vocation; it belongs on the shelf next to Kim Gordon’s own 2015 memoir Girl in a Band. Both books offer a prismatic view on the musical democracy that was Sonic Youth.

Thurston Moore’s long-awaited memoir offers a prismatic view on the sonic democracy that was Sonic Youth.
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December 9, 2023

Poppin’, rockin’ reads for the music lovers in your life

Get cozy with Bob Dylan, Thurston Moore, Madonna and George Harrison in biographies that reveal the men and women behind the music.

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Book jacket image for Sonic Life by Thurston Moore

Sonic Life

Thurston Moore’s long-awaited memoir offers a prismatic view on the sonic democracy that was Sonic Youth.

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Book jacket image for Madonna by


Mary Gabriel’s vivid, memorable biography of Madonna takes a fresh look at a true icon of our time.

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Book jacket image for George Harrison by Philip Norman

George Harrison

Philip Norman’s new biography George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle only adds to the case that George was lowkey the best Beatle.

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Get cozy with Bob Dylan, Thurston Moore, Madonna and George Harrison in biographies that reveal the men and women behind the music.
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The word “listen” can function both as a noun —“Give a listen”—and as a verb: “Are you listening?” In Michel Faber’s first work of nonfiction, Listen: On Music, Sound and Us, he gives both uses a workout. Known for category-resistant fiction like 2002’s The Crimson Petal and the White and 2014’s The Book of Strange New Things, Faber promises that this book, which was decades in the making and exhaustively examines genres, their artists and their respective audiences, “will change the way you listen.” True enough. In doing so, it also broadens the act of listening in directions that are surprising, sometimes unsettling and ultimately endearing.

Faber has his opinions, and he doesn’t hold back. He thinks composing and playing classical music is often more a test of musical skill than true creative work. Rock is still too Anglocentric, its audiences unreceptive to listening to songs sung in languages other than English; the loss is ours, he notes. Today’s multimedia-infused performances are a “synergy of illusions.” He weighs in on the vinyl versus digital debate and the practice of lip-syncing. His thoughts on The Beatles and their albums are included, along with those on David Bowie, The Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones. It would be easier to point out his omissions than the many artists he includes, but let’s give it a try: He opines about Beyoncé, Beethoven, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Marvin Gaye, among others. It’s a sprawling survey that sometimes feels unwieldy, but Faber covers miles of ground with knowledgeable panache.

Music needs audiences, and Faber spotlights joyful children first introduced to rhythm and the elderly keeping their memories alive in the tunes embedded in their minds. Music is known for its healing properties as well, and Faber gives special attention to and heartfelt praise for caregivers who use it to benefit people with Parkinson’s disease, dementia and other conditions.

Exploring the act of listening through the prisms of history, culture and his own troubled childhood, Faber—who has chronic tinnitus—dances through chapters titled “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Let’s Hear It One More Time for Ludwig!” In “The Tracks of My Tears,” he arrives at what it is about music that makes some people cry. With that, he brings his listeners to common ground where music thrives: our humanity.

In his compelling nonfiction debut, award-winning novelist Michel Faber vows to change the way you listen to music.

At the height of their fame, Sly and the Family Stone carried audiences higher and higher with electrifying funk-rock performances. In Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), Sly Stone invites readers to join him on a rollicking ride and regales them with the ups and downs of his own rock and roll life.

Born Sylvester Stewart in 1943 Denton, Texas, Stone grew up surrounded by music, soaking in the gospel of Mahalia Jackson, The Soul Stirrers and The Swan Silvertones. Not long after he was born, his family moved to Vallejo, California, where he started singing solos in church when he was 5. Always with an instrument in his hand, Stone put together a singing group called The Viscaynes that eventually gained enough popularity on a local TV show to be offered a record deal. Stone learned his first lesson in the music business when he discovered that the rights to the song he’s written for the group are kept by the label head. After high school, Stone became a DJ at KSOL, and then started producing songs for a number of artists, including Grace Slick and the Great Society and Billy Preston. 

But more than anything else, Stone wanted a band. After a few years, Sly and the Family Stone was born. “The band had a concept—white and black together, male and female both, women not just singing but playing instruments.” After “Dance to the Music” rocketed to the top of the charts in 1968, Sly and the Family Stone released one album after another, riding high with their music and live performances until the mid-1970s. During this time, The Roots drummer and frontman (and author, filmmaker, actor and record producer) Questlove writes in the book’s foreword, Sly was “cooler than anything around him by a factor of infinity.” (Thank You is also the inaugural title of Questlove’s new imprint, AUWA.) 

As quickly as the band ascended into the rock stratosphere, it descended into a stasis marked by drug addiction and internal disharmony. By 1975, the Family Stone was over. Despite Stone’s personal struggles holding him back from attaining the level of stardom he had reached with the Family Stone, he nevertheless continued to have one goal: He wanted his music to “elevate whoever heard it.” Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) takes fans on the tour of Stone’s life they’ve been waiting for.

The long-awaited memoir from the frontman of Sly and the Family Stone is a rollicking ride about a rock life well lived.

Following on the success of his 2017 memoir, Cured, Lol Tolhurst returns with what he calls a “memoir of a subculture.” Goth: A History is Tolhurst’s compendious exploration of the music, art, literature and fashion that made up the dark side of post-punk. The Cure—which he co-founded as drummer with Robert Smith and Michael Dempsey—is often seen as one of the instigators of the movement, alongside bands like Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Joy Division. Richly illustrated with flyers and photos from Tolhurst’s private collection, Goth is a coffee table book for the discriminating vampire.

Goth was always more than black eyeliner and black clothes; in Tolhurst’s reading, it reflects the bleak social and political context of Margaret Thatcher’s England. As a philosophy, it suggests a melancholic point of view and a willingness to contemplate obsessive love, madness and death. In Goth, Tolhurst catalogs the poets and artists whose work appeals to those who also love goth music. Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar was a massive influence on Tolhurst, as were the poets T.S. Eliot and Anne Sexton. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is obviously goth, as are the death- and madness-drenched poems of Charles Baudelaire. David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Marc Bolan of T. Rex each have goth elements and were also early influences on Tolhurst.

Inevitably, a good part of this book focuses on Tolhurst’s time with The Cure as the drummer and later keyboardist. (He left the band in 1989). He dwells on The Cure’s three early albums, culminating in the magisterial fourth, “Pornography,” as exemplary goth music. But he is also generous in his assessment of other bands, tracing the continuation of goth music from the post-punk era in England to the Los Angeles goth scene and beyond. Structured as mini essays, Goth can feel disjointed, and Tolhurst at times is repetitive. But fans will find themselves immersed. It’s a beautiful book, full of concert photos, portraits and band flyers. Tolhurst is a passionate storyteller and an elder goth statesman worth listening to.

The Cure’s Lol Tolhurst explores the influences and impact of goth music and culture in an immersive new coffee table book.

Jeff Tweedy’s 2020 book, How to Write One Song, offered a practical guide to songwriting—a map of creative processes, daily habits and attitudes that have long sustained the Wilco frontman. It’s only fitting that Tweedy, one of contemporary rock’s most prominent figures, now turns his attention to what happens when he encounters the work of other songwriters and performers. In World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music, Tweedy shares an eclectic and admittedly idiosyncratic catalog of 50 popular tunes that reflect “how songs absorb and enhance our own experiences and store our memories.”

Although icons like Bob Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”), Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and the Beatles (take your pick) are on the list, Tweedy grants an equally prominent place to a song by a “weird little band” called Souled American, and to one by the late Diane Izzo that doesn’t exist in recorded form. In that sense, World Within a Song isn’t a playlist of greatest hits, or even ones Tweedy considers mandatory listening. As a mildly misfit kid growing up in 1970s Belleville, Illinois, Tweedy knew at an early age he was destined for a music career. He discovered artists like Patti Smith, The Clash and The Replacements, whose songs helped him understand that, while he might have been lonely, he wasn’t ever alone.

Interspersed with Tweedy’s musical picks are bits of memoir he calls “rememories,” mini essays he considers “dreamlike passages recounting specific events in my life.” Some touch on aspects of his musical career, among them a hostile encounter with Timothy B. Schmit, the longtime Eagles vocalist. Most interesting are the deeply personal ones, like his reflections on his close relationship with his late mother. 

Tweedy is a smart, witty and empathetic writer. His unabashed joy in introducing readers to the music that delights him is infectious and will unleash a flood of associations and memories for anyone who shares that passion. More than anything, he wants people to realize that music is as much about how we relate to it as it is about the music itself, and “how much we all can bring to a song as listeners.” World Within a Song will expand your musical horizons and radically increase your enjoyment the next time you tune in.

In World Within a Song, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy introduces readers to the music he loves with unabashed joy.

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