Isn’t it starting to seem like we live a world where we expect everyone to be able to do everything? Let’s call it Childish Gambino syndrome in reference,to the writer, stand-up comic, actor, rapper, producer about whom it’s virtually impossible to utter a critical word. From high art to low art, your Kardashians to your Nick Caves, it seems like nobody in the entertainment world is satisfied just doing one thing. Either that or it’s a reflection of the zeitgeist, a response to living in an age where everything accessible. There was a time when only the rich had access to books. Later on, only the rich had access to higher learning. Now, a precocious 10-year-old can access declassified FBI files via the Freedom of Information Act. Kids can access the schematics to create water guns, paint guns, real guns, and Taylor Swift can learn film editing during her off time via Final Cut (if so chooses.) Everyone has the capability to learn everything and so they should. Right?
Everyone dreams of being a rock star. A great rock band makes your daydream about being up on stage with them. But does a great rocker make a great writer? great stories are endemic to the lifestyle but do most rockers have the skill set (or the brain cells left) to tell them? Patti Smith proved it was possible in 2010 with Just Kids. Here are three must-read recent books written by musicians.
Whispering Bodies: A Roy Belkin Disaster by Jesse Michaels
For anyone who doesn’t know, Jesse Michaels is the singer of the East Bay punk band Operation Ivy. Despite lasting for only two years, Op Ivy was arguably one of the most influential punk rock bands of all time and a rare gem in the world of music: a band that did one perfect thing and then disappeared never to re-emerge. Members of the band went on to start other projects, but the band’s singer Jesse Michaels, son of the extremely influential Jewish fiction writer Leonard Michaels, dropped out of the limelight. Rumors abound about Michaels’ whereabouts but he re-emerged during the late-aughts with a new band called Common Rider and more recently Classics of Love.
For Michaels, an autobiography would have been the obvious choice for a book, the interest is surely there, but he’s never really made the obvious choice. Whispering Bodies tells the story Roy Bellkin, a hapless, sometimes bumbling, self-appointed detective who suffers from aspects of any number of mental abnormalities: a touch of Aspergers here, some OCD there. He spends his days trolling Christian Internet message boards until arson strikes his apartment building forcing him to face the world and himself in order to clear his name. Whispering Bodies is literary fiction meets mystery for the digital age. (For more on Michaels’ music career, check out my interview with him, and my Soundtrack Series story about the band’s effect on my formative years.)
HNIC by Albert Johnson aka Prodigy and Steven Saville
We’ve expressed our appreciation for Akashic Books many times here at Booklyn, most recently via our interview with Akashic’s founder Johnny Temple. If you care about great fiction, you need to care about Akashic. Similarly, if you cared about great hip-hop during the 90’s, you need to care about Mobb Deep. If you’ve never “Quiet Storm” in a car with the bass turned up as high as it can go, then, find a car and an mp3 immediately.
H.N.I.C is written by Prodigy himself and shows the extent to which good rappers can make good storytellers. The novel represents the launch of Infamous Books, Akashic’s urban crime imprint headed up by Prodigy himself, and is destined to be a crossover success with potential to de-homogenize the genre.
I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell
Richard Hell didn’t move to New York City to become the punk rock legend who penned “Chinese Rocks.” He moved here to become a great poet, like Rimbaud. He even dressed like Rimbaud with his messy hair and off-kilter, white button-down shirts. However, his great success came from his work with The Voidoids and Television as opposed to his writing. Sometimes, people are brilliant, just not in the ways they want to be.
Nonetheless, Hell eventually moved on to pursue his original dream and published two novels Go Now and God Like. Since then he’s famously avoided talking about his music career or status as a punk legend. This memoir breaks that silence, dealing with his move to the city, his bands and his creation of the punk rock style arechtype itself.