Musicians with Books As Good as Their Albums

It comes as no surprise that musicians and writers are of a similar breed. For artists of language mining emotion, penning songs and music is just a step away from poems, stories, and memoirs. Below we’ve rounded up our favorite books by musicians, so put on a record, crack open a book, and fall in love with these artists all over again.

Take a ride with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne as he shares his observations and insights from biking through cities around the world. He also has cool thoughts on music innovation in How Music Works.

Patti Smith, iconic punk poet, singer, and songwriter with some pretty stellar experiences behind her has several books of poems and memoirs to her name. One of her best, Woolgathering, published in 2011, is filled with poems about emerging as an artist. And her first prose book, Just Kids, documenting her time in the 60s and 70s New York City punk art scene and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, won her a National Book Award.

Last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Dylan is nothing if not one of the most distinctive American voices. Best known for his music (he’s published 36 albums selling over 120 million copies), his literary recognition proves how versatile and influential his work has been across genres. He wrote through times of massive civil unrest in America which resonates with social and political issues still relevant today.

Before becoming the legendary musical icon he is today, Leonard Cohen actually started out as a writer, publishing his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956 while still an undergrad at McGill University. Beautiful Losers was the last novel he published before embarking on his music career. Filled with folklore and heartbreak, it wasn’t until much later in his career that the book won a cult following and recognition as one of the first postmodernist Canadian works.

From the frontman of the Decemberists, this young readers series is beautifully illustrated by the author’s wife Carson Ellis and follows two kids through magical adventures in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. It’s as imaginative and playful as his music, with a signature hint of Portland melancholia.

Lead singer of the indie folk rock band the Mountain Goats, John Darnielle writes meticulous, arcing narratives in both song and prose. So it’s little surprise that his first book Wolf in the White Van exploring fiction, fantasy, and trauma was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2014. His most recent book, Universal Harvester, published earlier this year, is equally adept and chilling, about a creepy Iowa town and a disturbed video store clerk.

Australian artist, musician and performance artist, Nick Cave is known for his dark aesthetic and pioneering influence of “gothic rock” in Australia’s post-punk scene. He’s even been called rock music’s “Prince of Darkness”. The Death of Bunny Munro, Cave’s second novel, earned him solid literary cred and follows in step with his musical influences of death, love, and violence as a sleazy salesman and his son take to the open road after his wife’s suicide.

The midwestern singer/songwriter Josh Ritter has been compared to greats like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and is highly praised for his narrative lyric and song writing. Themes of Americana and parable carry over into his debut novel Bright’s Passage, about a WWI soldier guided by an angel, haunted by his wife’s ghost, and followed by his wife’s family as he tries to protect his young son. Stephen King for the NYT even compared Ritter’s style to Ray Bradbury in his prime.

Questlove is a musical virtuoso, a force to be reckoned with, and a cultural icon. Rocking for years with his band The Roots (now nightly on Jimmy Fallon), Mo Meta Blues is a memoir of sorts where Questlove ruminates on formative experiences growing up in Philly as the son of a doo-wop singer, the state of hip hop, music criticism, memory, and living as a “post-modern black man with post-modern blues.” This man knows everyone and his take on the world is breathtaking.

Sonic Youth was a pioneer in alternative post-punk music in the 80s and 90s, paving the way for bands like Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins, and Kim Gordon was at the center of it all. Detailing her life from her childhood in California, through her artistic endeavors, to her move to New York City and starting Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore, and their storied relationship, Girl in a Band marked a new level of vulnerability for a very popular but very private rock star. Much like her music, fierce and honest, Gordon chronicles the evolution of an artist, solidifying her place in rock history.

One third of the 90s Pacific Northwest grunge riot grrrl band Sleater Kinney, and the writer and actress in the hit TV comedy Portlandia with Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein is an articulate, fearless author and general badass human being. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is a personal account of her rise with Sleater Kinney and the feminist punk movements happening across the globe. Emotionally raw with astute observations, this book is a great meditation on how to follow your bliss in the face of uncertainty.

Not only is the lovable goof from the heyday of SNL a talented musician, he’s also a great writer. Yep, he acts, he sings, he plays a mean banjo, AND he writes. Who knew? His most recent novel, An Object of Beauty, is a smart and serious satire about the New York art world at the turn of the millennium and the dangers of empty greed.

Before becoming a pop/bluegrass/country crossover sensation, Jewel spent her days scribbling poems and songs filled with emotional acuity. The poems in A Night Without Armor are taken from her personal notebooks about love, heartbreak, and vulnerability and remind us of why we fell in love with her in the first place.

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