Reader’s Advisory: Books About Music

November is American Music Month, so we decided to take the opportunity to walk you through some of our music books about American musicians and movements. Though the Music and Performing Arts Library holds all the actual music the libraries have to offer, the UGL does have a pretty eclectic collection of books about music. Whether you’re into Broadway or Grunge, we like to think our collection has at least a little something for everyone. Take this opportunity to find a new favorite genre or simply to learn a bit more about your favorite band with the suggestions below.

No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead by Peter Richardson

With the band playing what are supposed to be their final shows together back in July for their Fare Thee Well series, there has been resurgence in interest for the Deadhead world and in the great American rock band those fans follow. This 2015 book attempts to find out why the Grateful Dead were so popular and spin the band and their fans not as the hippie burn-outs the mainstream media has portrayed them, but as a cultural tour de force and one of the most influential and talented bands to tour the world.

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth by John F. Szwed

Billie Holiday is one of the most influential and remarkable individuals to ever grace this Earth with their presence. If you like Adele or Amy Winehouse, you are indebted to the work that Billie Holiday did in her lifetime. In fact, if you like popular music at all, reading this book will help you recognize the huge impact Billie Holiday has had on the musical world of today. Szwed is also an accomplished author who has unraveled the mystery around many other great American musicians and music industry giants such as Alan Lomax, Sun Ra, and Miles Davis.

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

If you’re into the history of indie rock at all, find out about its ins and outs via this unique and personal book by Kim Gordon. Saying that Gordon is cool is an understatement. Kim Gordon was a founding member and bassist/guitarist/vocalist of Sonic Youth, one of the biggest punk bands of the 80s and 90s and one of the most influential bands to ever make music. Gordon details her life in this book from her days growing up in California to the aftermath of her divorce from Sonic Youth cofounder Thurston Moore.

The Riot Grrrl Collection edited by Lisa Darms and Johana Fateman

Punk rock has always been strongly associated with DIY ethics and strong personal identities and the 1990s Riot Grrrl movement was one of the most well known and documented of these sorts of movements. This collection of zines, personally produced and published magazines, shows how so many people during this era found their way to feminism and found their own voices through a kind of music and culture that finally represented them. This collection does a great job of showing just how easy it is for someone to take part in a movement bigger than themselves and celebrates the voices of the many fans and fighters of a historic and interesting cultural movement.

The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song by Ben Yagoda

The American songbook is rich and deep and it all started with Tin Pan Alley. This book tells the end of the Tin Pan Alley era as rock n’ roll reared its tumultuous and tide-changing head. The intertwining stories told in this book are ones that shaped the entire landscape of American music, giving readers a better, deeper understanding of the reasons things played out the way they did. Frank Sinatra had it his way and rock n’ roll had its own and this book breaks down the very difference between those contrasting ideas.

How are you celebrating American Music Month? Did we miss any of your favorite books about music? Tweet at us (@askundergrad) or contact us on Facebook (Undergraduate Library at UIUC)!

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