There's always been a rare breed of musician who's able to string together a few choice words in addition to a chord progression. From Dylan and Jim Morrison to Tom Verlaine, Henry Rollins, Patti Smith and Richard Hell, the high calling of rock literati has seduced many of the finest musicians and songwriters. 2006 yielded new installments from the past masters, as well as fresh talents. So whether you find yourself in possession of a Barnes & Noble gift card from your uncle or just a few hours to kill in the aftermath of the holidays, any one of these should satisfy your craving for a little light, amplified reading.
Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews
By Jonathan Cott
Wenner Books, 464 pages, $23.95 (hardcover)
Now that we're in another cycle of fawning over Dylan's latest rejuvenation (Modern Times, etc.) it's a fitting time to look back at all the people -- both winners and losers -- he's been over his long, nonlinear career. With Chronicles, we saw how the great Bob would refurbish his life, given the chance; in Cott's anthology, we see it as it happened, in telling interviews from a 1963 radio chat to the pages of the Los Angeles Times in 2004. Along the way we glimpse Dylan's deep, ongoing ambivalence toward recording, and his frustrated dedication to the kaleidoscopic Renaldo & Clara film and his early Tarantula novel. Predictably, Dylan in his own words is Miracle-Gro for the mind.
Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, a Concert Tour by Motorcycle
By Neil Peart
Rounder Books, 380 pages, $27.95 (hardcover)
Whatever you surmise about Neil Peart's writing from his career as the ornate drummer and overwrought lyricist for Rush is probably woefully inaccurate. Throughout this travelogue built around Rush's 30th-anniversary tour, Peart uses spare, dynamic prose to explore human relationships in work and friendship, love and grief. Rush fans will find much to savor, though it's also nearly an advertisement for BMW (one of whose bikes Peart rides from gig to gig). A bonus for Pittsburgh readers: There's a section on Rush's most recent performance at Post-Gazette Pavilion, which I won't spoil. But the real story here is Peart's internal struggle between his very Canadian embarrassed humility and the fierce, arrogant pride that lies just beneath.
The Psychic Soviet
By Ian Svenonius
Drag City Books, 270 pages, $15.98 (paperback)
In this collection of essays from former Weird War member Ian Svenonius, critical theory and pop-cultural history collide with irreverent humor to create what he calls "faction." In his dialectical world, punk began as an exploitation of gay culture, and the DJ-as-artist worshipped today merely reflects the values of the DJ's crass, bourgeois masters -- us. Overall, Svenonius comes across like that joker in your graduate seminar who always faintly reeked of booze -- in other words, he's delightful. Best of all, this pocket-sized pamphlet comes with a bright-pink vinyl cover that smells like nail-polish remover.
Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand
By Alex Kapranos
Penguin, 144 pages, $13.00 (paperback)
In this book, Franz Ferdinand's anemic music is of minimal importance to frontman Alex Kapranos. What's really important about touring? The food. From bone marrow in New York to "primal eating" in Australia, his sensual experience of the world's cuisine shows a chef's appreciation for culinary detail and a college lecturer's appreciation for clear prose. He was both, we learn, before joining Franz Ferdinand in his 30s. Most of these brief entries (illustrated with drummer Andrew Knowles' charming line drawings) were previously published in the U.K. newspaper, The Guardian.
Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read
By Alan Goldsher
St. Martin's Griffin, 201 pages, $13.95 (paperback)
While Alan Goldsher's not a name musician himself, he's served tours of duty as a bassist in several groups, in addition to being a novelist and contributor to musicians' magazines. Ostensibly an unauthorized biography of Modest Mouse (or, rather, of Isaac Brock), Goldsher's book is most perceptive during interludes on subjects like side projects, and the anti-hero in American music. In his hands, the Modest Mouse story becomes an insightful meditation on the making and breaking of indie cred, the conflicted politics of hipster cool, and how dealing with all that could make anyone an alcoholic.