7 Memoirs That Go Behind the Music

Music and words are inextricably intertwined. While music’s subjectivity makes it transcendent, the creators’ personalized injections make it good. Music and storytelling breathe new life into songs, lyrics, or whole albums. That intersection is best understood in the musician’s memoir.

Good music makes listeners want to know more about its creation. From humble beginnings to run-ins with drugs, alcohol, and more, these 7 memoirs (in no particular order) give listeners access to the foundation of the artists’ careers.

7. Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll – Ann and Nancy Wilson

Kicking and Dreaming is an earnest recounting of how two sisters created the force that is Heart. It contains poignant stories spanning from childhood to its release in 2012 that give a complete picture of the band and its members. The text alternates between Ann and Nancy’s voices, giving readers a well-rounded sense of their story.

While there’s no denying the rock & roll essence of the memoir, readers also find themselves experiencing the sisters’ hearts and souls. Some of the topics they touch on include love, identity, and growing up. Fans of Heart’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie, will find the memoir especially fascinating as the duo expounds on its creation and influence on themselves and the music culture of the 70s.

6. High School – Tegan and Sara Quin

Written by twins Tegan and Sara Quin, this memoir is a quiet snowball of artistic expression. The sisters’ prose is exciting, with an almost novel-esque quality. Less comprehensive than other memoirs, High School focuses on the band’s early years in the industry. Tegan and Sara’s alternating voices give the book a healthy dose of authenticity.

High School is set mostly in 90s-era Calgary, Alberta, and follows the teenage musicians through, well…high school. Fans of Tegan and Sara will also appreciate the unreleased songs from that era on their album Hey, I’m Just Like You.

5. Scar Tissue – Anthony Kiedis

This gritty, exhibitionist-style autobiography recounts the painful experiences of Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis. Kiedis’ story is raw and unnerving at times in its honesty, exposing his darkest moments. Readers really get a sense of what happened in Kiedis’s life and its effect on his music at large.

In early 2024, Universal Pictures optioned the memoir and announced plans for a biopic with Brian Glazer slated to produce. This memoir appeals to readers who are interested in the sense-making of pain, recovery stories, and the late 80s or 90s music era.

4. Life – Keith Richards

This one’s for old-school rock and roll lovers. Keith Richards co-wrote Life over 5 years with journalist James Fox, with the latter interviewing Richards and distilling it into prose. Life recounts the juicy bits of being a rockstar with a delicious focus on the music and the musician as Richards rockets to stardom with The Rolling Stones.

Keith Richards was 66 when the book was published, and the 22.5-hour audiobook covers a vast majority of it. While readers may find the insider’s account of what it’s like to work with Mick Jagger (he didn’t have the best time), any reader who loves music will relate to the craft this book portrays. His introspection spoons in just the right kind of genuineness needed to make this more than celebrity fluff.

3. Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway – Cherie Currie

Set in the grit of the post-glam era, Neon Angel tackles the darkest parts of the music industry. Cherie Currie’s past as a Runaway is a fascinating look behind the veil. Though some parts are tough to get through, her insider stories about The Runaways add another layer to their music.

The Memoir of a Runaway version of Neon Angel is a longer, more mature version of The Cherie Currie Story version first published in the 80s. At the time of that publication, Currie was fresh out of the Runaways, and the vitriol she has for some of her bandmates is reminiscent of her teenage years. While this isn’t the perfect book for every musical bibliophile, fans of The Runaways and those interested in seeing behind the veil will find this read worthwhile.

2. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

Anyone looking for inspiration should pick up Born to Run and turn to any given chapter. Even those who aren’t fans of Springsteen can get a lot from this passionate memoir that chronicles his rise to fame. He has a similar start as most talented artists, practicing for pennies and waiting for a break, but his evolution is lyrically laid before readers in a digestible form.

He covers his emotional landscape in such a way that readers feel it as he did and are left with a better understanding of things beyond Springsteen the man. Though the 500 pages may seem daunting, this page-turner is one of his greatest works. Born to Run synthesizes talent, humanity, perseverance, and the profound effect of music.

1. Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors – Ray Manzarek

Light My Fire is a love letter from Ray Manzarek to the band he founded. The Doors were shrouded in secrecy which was increased by the death of frontman Jim Morrison. Yes, Manzarek looks further into the dark side of the band, but breathes new life into the past.

The Doors’ influence changed the music of the 60s and tested the limits of what music can be; this is thoughtfully detailed in the memoir. There are almost as many memoirs about The Doors as there are members, so it’s worth comparing them to get a fully rounded picture. Light My Fire is a perfect read for music fans looking for a lighter perspective of the music industry.

-Kaitlyn Hall

Photo: Ann and Nancy Wilson, 1998 (John Mathew Smith & from Laurel Maryland, USA via Wikimedia Commons)

5 comments on “7 Memoirs That Go Behind the Music

  1. Les Fender

    I just finished reading Who I Am, Pete Townshend’s autobiography, it was excellent. A must for Who fans.

  2. David S.

    I just listened to the audiobook version of the Heart book. Ann and Nancy themselves read it. You’re right, they spend as much time talking about their lives and heartaches as about the industry and music. It was a fun listen!

  3. Mark Hudson

    Great picks. I would add “The Lives of Brian” by Brian Johnson, an account of the singer’s hardscrabble upbringing in Newcastle up to joining AC/DC, and “One Train Later”, a self deprecating and humorous bio by Police guitarist Andy Summers.

  4. Mona Hall

    Enjoyable read. Brought back some memories. Especially Heart.

  5. Please don’t forget David Crosby’s “If Only I could Remember My Name”

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