10 Great Books About L.A. Music
So much great music has come out of the Los Angeles area, created by geniuses, cartoon characters and everything in between, that it's no surprise there are just as many great books chronicling that music's history.
Whether it be Laurel Canyon in the 1960s, Sunset Strip through the decades, or straight biographies and memoirs from important figures in the scene, a multitude of words have been written about the many and varied musical happenings in this region by many talented writers. Here are 10 of the best, alphabetized by title.
Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin
The thing about John C. Reilly’s portrayal of the fictional rocker Dewey Cox in the film Walk Hard is that, when Cox went through his Brian Wilson stage, “an army of didgeridoos” and all, it was only mildly exaggerated. Wilson's abuse from his father, his descent into depression, his swan-dive into drugs, the turmoil he caused within The Beach Boys as he tried to make his increasingly ambitious and eccentric visions into reality — it all happened, and Ames Carlin details it wonderfully here, with the colorful L.A. of the 1960s (and later) serving as a glorious backdrop.
The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Mötley Crüe and Neil Strauss
The textbook for debauchery, decadence and general bad behavior, The Dirt succeeds because, while it does revel in every gory detail of the craziness that surrounded the Crüe, particularly in the 1980s, it also doesn’t pull any punches. Anybody claiming that The Dirt glorifies drug abuse, the objectification of women or any of the other numerous examples of bad behavior contained within didn’t read it properly. It’s an often bleak experience, and the sections about Vince Neil’s jail time and Nikki Sixx being declared dead as a result of an overdose make for heavy reading. Yes, there’s fun to be had, too. The glory days of the Crüe were not without their magical if maniacal moments, but those anecdotes are expected. It’s the intensity of feelings the boys can mine that makes the book so special. (Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries is an excellent follow-up. Tommy Lee’s Tommyland should be avoided at all costs.)
St. Martin's Press
The Ice Opinion by Ice-T and Heidi Siegmund
Ice-T: the man who went from incurring the wrath of the nation’s parents and politicians thanks to a song about killing cops, to winning the same people over by playing a cop on TV. The man has lived a life that nobody could call dull — and that, plus his razor-sharp wit and way with words (alongside co-author Heidi Siegmund), make The Ice Opinion a great read. His exploration of rap, gang culture and how the two have been intertwined in L.A. over the years is fascinating, as are his rants on freedom of speech and the record industry in general.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood by Michael Walker
From the mid-1960s through the early ’70s, the Laurel Canyon section of the Hollywood Hills became rock’s answer to jazz-age Paris, attracting legendary singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Walker was living there and saw it all, a scene that was taking the rock music of the day in a mellower, more introspective direction before The Eagles swooped in and added a layer of commercial gloss to it. Regardless, while chaos was being encouraged on the Strip below, something more delicate but equally lasting was going on in Laurel Canyon, and Walker describes it beautifully.
Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir by Lita Ford
While The Runaways were together, much of the focus was on Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. But by the time the hair-metal scene of the 1980s was in full effect, everyone knew who Lita Ford was. Hits like “Kiss Me Deadly” and her Ozzy Osbourne duet, “Close My Eyes Forever,” helped crown her the Queen of Metal, able to shred as hard as all the boys. Then she went away to focus on her marriage, one that we now know was abusive. Thankfully, she’s dusted herself off and is back, this book and an album with the same name proving she’s still a force to be reckoned with. Her teen years with The Runaways, the ’80s metal days, the lost years — all are detailed here.
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