It’s the middle of winter, and there’s not much going on. Television will be preempted by the Olympics. Opportunities to get outside are scarce. That makes it the perfect time to delve into the newest books about music and the artists who make it. This is my list of the best new books about music to check out next time you have a snow day.
Did you have a Sony Walkman? If so, you probably remember the excitement of having portable music for the very first time. Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow has written the definitive history of portable music, starting with 1979’s launch of the iconic Walkman. She explains how the Walkman changed the possibilities inherent in music, and how initially the music establishment was not that impressed. They never dreamed that such a device would lead to the day when millions of songs could be played on a small telephone. The author describes the legal battles over who actually invented the device, and the way it transformed public space and how music is consumed and made.
NPR critic Ann Powers has written the definitive account of the “sex” part of “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.” Her book explores race, music and eroticisim and the way that they intersect in pop music. She doesn’t just focus on the musicians, instead examining phenomenon such as groupies and discussing how “erotic desire” is manifested in teen pop in ways that would surprise us. The book is wide-ranging, starting with the Atlantic Slave Trade, which carried African slaves to America who brought their own traditions of rhythm. It ends with Beyonce’s Lemonade. Powers’ book offers a history that hasn’t been told before.
If you miss Prince (and who doesn’t), then you’ll love Mayte Garcia’s memoir about her life as Prince’s first wife. This is no tea-spilling tome. Instead, it’s a thoughtful remembrance of their relationship and love story, which continued until Prince died in 2016. Garcia brings readers the most intimate description yet of life with Prince. Although Prince was famously reclusive and reluctant to share personal details, Garcia’s book does not make the reader feel as if they’ve invaded his privacy. There are hilarious stories, romantic ones, and an exploration of deep grief since Garcia discusses the birth and death of the couple’s son Amiir.
Many books have been written by men discussing how music has impacted their lives. Holly Gleason has now edited a book featuring female writers and musicians describing what country music has meant to them. The personal essays are all about the power of female artists to inspire. Rosanne Cash writes about her mother, June Carter Cash that “She was like a spiritual detective: she saw into all of your dark corners and deep recesses, saw your potential and your possible future, and the gifts you didn’t even know you possessed . . .” Writer Caryn Rose talks about how librarians helped her learn more about Maybelle Carter. “It wouldn’t be the last time that I learned that other women will help you if you need to find something out, but it was one of the first conscious moments of solidarity for me.”