In the rock world, there are a lot of colorful people, and they’re always on the move. There’s also a lot of twists and turns in the stories, so it seems like they’re going to be amazing. We haven’t named the “best 13” rock biographies because there are so many more that are worth your time. Rather, we’ve chosen 13 of the best rock music books you should read right now.
The Dirt: Confessions Of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band (Mötley Crüe with Neil Strauss, 2001)
The best. The Dirt has a title that’s become synonymous with bad-boy rock biographies. It’s the ultimate record of the ’80s excess of the genre. The idea that Mötley Crüe classics like Wild Side and Girls, Girls, Girls only scratched the surface of their unhindered debauchery now seems almost outlandish. They were just the beginning. There are groupies, dealers, cops, tour buses, strip clubs, and car accidents in this book. You have to read it in order to believe it! If you only buy one rock biography today, it might be a good idea to get this one. If you’re a fan, be sure to pick up Nikki Sixx’s darker but just as important follow-up, The Heroin Diaries, in 2007.
Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout (Laura Jane Grace, 2016)
During the writing process, the autobiography from Against MeLaura !’s Jane Grace was called “Killing Me Loudly.” It draws a lot from the journals Grace had been writing since third grade. Its title, “Tranny,” is something the singer doesn’t like, but it’s a way for her to take ownership of a personal struggle in which she said the punk community was “more closed-minded than the church.” People find this book insightful, poignant, and inspirational It’s important reading for people who can’t come to terms with themselves and people who can’t understand.
White Line Fever: The Autobiography (Lemmy Kilmister, 2002)
Lemmy had a godlike aura that few other people had. Even for those of us who were lucky enough to meet him, he seemed like an icon that was hard to get close to. As a result, this book about Ian Fraser Kilmister, the son of an RAF chaplain from Stoke-on-Trent, was a great way to get to know the real man behind the myth. With Jimi Hendrix and Hawkwind, to Motörhead, the man had a life that most people could only dream about. The man had a life that most people could only dream about. At one point, a legend says, “It’s not true that I taught him how to drink.” “I taught him how to throw up, and that’s what he did, all over himself.” When he tried to follow older people’s habits, he got this as a reward.
Girl In A Band (Kim Gordon, 2015)
Sonic Youth was never a band that stayed away from unpleasant things in their relentless search for beauty and truth. Kim Gordon’s book about her breakup with Thurston Moore and the breakup of their seminal indie-rock band isn’t just about heartbreak. It’s also about the sporadic mundanity, unpredictability, and seat-of-your-pants adventure of being on the alt.rock roundabout for the better part of three decades. A Girl in a Band proves to be a must-read for anyone who even has a passing interest in the New York noisemakers or the scene they helped shape.
Hammer Of The Gods (Stephen Davis, 1985)
Another one of the old ones. When the band is Led Zeppelin, it’s probably not that hard to write a fast-paced account of their rocky journey. Quaaludes, baked beans, and even a taxidermied shark are just a few of the stories that have made their way into rock and roll folklore, but this book brings them all together in one place. People should not be spoiled any more here. Let’s just say this is a must-read for rockers and anyone else with a pulse.
This Is A Call: The Life And Times Of Dave Grohl (Paul Brannigan, 2011)
It can be hard, at times, to get a real sense of what’s going on beneath the surface with The Nicest Man In Rock. With a dexterous grasp on the scenes Dave Grohl has been through, Kown !’s Paul Brannigan tells a fascinating story. He also has a great sense of the fun he’s had on his way. Dave’s life has been full of highs and lows. He started out as a kid from the D.C. suburbs who dropped out of school to go on tour with Scream, then became a drummer for Nirvana, then a frontman for the Foo Fighters.
Slash (Slash, 2007)
Most rock bios are about the hard work that goes into making a band and then the glitzy show. It’s safe to say that the Slash bio is mostly worth it. A white British graphic artist father and a black American costume designer mother, Saul Hudson was born in 1965 in England. Slash’s story was never going to be like the typical guitarist’s, but it was still very interesting. Mom: David Bowie and Joni Mitchell were friends of his mom’s when he was growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970s. She told him that “being a rock star is about finding the intersection between who you are and who you want to be.” As the story of Guns N’ Roses’ rise to fame and fall from grace (their later reconciliation is not included in this 2007 volume) is told, it looks like they are just the next steps in one of music’s most dramatic life stories.
Lords Of Chaos (Michael Moynihan, 1998)
Before you go to the movie, read the book first. Lords of Chaos is a book that pokes fun at the adolescent, corpse-painted pomposity of the 1990s Norwegian black metal scene and the suicides, church burnings, and murders that followed. Many of the people who were involved at the time have questioned the accuracy of the book. So no matter how you feel about this, it’s a fascinating look into metal’s most evil sub-genre and a chilling reminder of what can happen when the lines between theater and real life blur. It’s also worth mentioning Evolution of the Cult (2013) and The Cult Never Dies (2015) by Dayal Patterson, which helped to break down the scene even more.
Heavier Than Heaven (Charles R. Cross, 2001)
There’s been a lot written about Kurt Cobain’s life and death. It might be too much. He was a musically talented slacker from the lower middle class of North Seattle. This first long-form retelling of his life story does a great job of dispelling the rumors about him. This book is even better, because it shows Nirvana’s three-year burst of international success with a unique mix of cool analysis and awe. Heavier Than Heaven comes into its own in a chilling forensic analysis of Kurt’s self-destructive streak, though. The book challenges the reader to put aside the music and mythos and judge the person in the light of the facts.
Smash: Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX And The ’90s Punk Explosion (Ian Winwood, 2018)
It’s weird how the story of skate-punk from the 1990s has been distorted through the lens of the past two-and-a-half decades. The lineage of the pop-punk genre it helped to create has been mixed up with that of skate-punk. Ian Winwood, a longtime K! contributor, has written a book that shatters those ideas. It brings us back to the poverty, addiction, and unhinged chaos of the era that spawned so many of our favorite bands. Noodles, Tim Armstrong, and Billie Joe Armstrong were all found working as janitors, living in Salvation Army shelters, and having body lice on their first European tour. This is a fascinating look at the underground grit and shit before the platinum-rated sheen that came later.
Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag (Henry Rollins, 1994)
Get In The Van is the gritty yin to The Dirt’s glamorous yang. It’s a great, no-bullshit account of life on the road with LA hardcore legends Black Flag. Rollins, the best-known storyteller in punk, was the frontman of the band from 1981 to 1986. He saw hardcore’s early days through the eyes of someone who was in charge of the band at the time. It’s a dirt-under-the-fingernails classic that shows the dark side of being in a touring band, but with a happy ending. Roadies are forced to eat dog food, cops are hard-nuts, and fans are borderline psychotic. It’s a good idea for any want tobe rock stars to read this first.