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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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