It should come as no surprise that members of our songwriting community are also proficient in prose. Still, the number of current books by songwriters is impressive. Here are just a few of them.
ROBERT BURKE WARREN
Perfectly Broken (The Story Plant)
The songs of Robert Burke Warren have been recorded by Rosanne Cash, Wanda Jackson and The Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Band. He starred in the title role in the musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story and was formerly in The Fleshtones.
Warren’s debut novel is the tale of three couples who are survivors of the ‘90s rock scene in New York. Betrayals, breakups, child rearing, depression, grief and forgiveness are woven through their lives.
I completely believed all of these characters, and the book is a real page turner. The author has a real gift for captivating dialogue and vivid scenarios. The flooding episode and drowning death are as gripping as the childhood vignettes and sex scenes. Heartily recommended.
Robert Burke Warren will read from his “sex, dads and rock & roll” book and perform songs this evening at 6:30 p.m. at Parnassus Books in Green Hills.
Chinaberry Sidewalks: A Memoir (Alfred A. Knopf)
While you’re at Parnassus, you would do well to pick up Crowell’s 2011 memoir, which is newly stocked there in paperback. This Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member is doubly blessed by having a stunning childhood story and a breathtaking gift as a prose stylist to tell it.
It is a real testament to the power of music that Crowell emerged from such a crazy, violence-punctuated family circumstance to become a songwriter of such grace and dignity. That he finds love, humor, gentility and redemption from such a harrowing background is truly inspiring. This is a jaw-droppingly good read.
JESSE F. McRAE
My Four-Minute Life: The Journey of a Very Human Songwriter (MFML Publishing)
You won’t find McRae’s name on any big Nashville hits. He is a lifelong singer-songwriter who spent many years “in the trenches” on Music Row, but never achieved major success. And maybe that’s why his autobiography is so compelling. This is not a tale of celebrity name-dropping or glamorous living. Rather, it is the eloquently related story of a man’s struggle to achieve wisdom and maturity.
McRae survives boyhood sexual abuse, a distant father and loneliness. He endures numerous health problems throughout his life that should have killed him. He screws up several marriages. Yet at each juncture, he writes songs. In between the book’s chapters, he quotes lyrics from his works that fit the episodes.
I found this surprisingly evocative and completely enthralling. So I guess the take-away is that it’s not just “star” songwriters who have the best stories to tell.
The book is self published. MFML Publishing is at P.O. Box 4326, Bellingham, WA 98227-4326.
A Life on Nashville’s Music Row (CMF/Vanderbilt University)
To know him is to love him. If you don’t know Bobby Braddock, here’s an excellent way to meet him. Like most of those gathered here, he writes prose that’s as vivid as his songwriting.
In the book, he looks back at his personal life as well as his professional one with great insight and gentle humor. There is heartbreak, self-revelation, intelligence and remarkable perspective in these pages. Most of all, there is heart.
Perhaps even more gripping is the first volume of Braddock’s autobiography, Down in Orburndale: A Songwriter’s Youth in Old Florida. Both books are enthusiastically recommended.
Someday I’m Gonna Rent This Town (Heritage Builders)
Songwriters Hall of Fame member Stevens has a slim volume that is a breezy and enjoyable read. But do not look for any deep insights in its pages. In fact, you won’t even find his real name or his age.
He sails through his hits “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “Suspicions,” “Love Will Turn You Around,” “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman” and the like. He deals with his encounters with stars, publishers, producers and record companies in light brush strokes.
He deals with everything via self-deprecating humor. Along the way, you’ll learn the music-business lessons he has learned.
RITA COOLIDGE with MICHAEL WALKER
Delta Lady: A Memoir (HarperCollins)
To many, it will come as a revelation that Rita Coolidge co-wrote such gigantic successes as “Superstar” (The Carpenters) and “Layla” (Derek & The Dominos), but was cheated out of her writing credits. These tales are told in her book without rancor or recrimination. Her languid, liquid delivery is serene throughout these pages. Even when the love of her life, Kris Kristofferson, is breaking her heart, she tells her tale with calm resignation.
Her girlhood in Nashville is written quickly, with a nod to her years as a cheerleader at Maplewood High alongside Brenda Lee. Tall Coolidge and diminutive Lee were called “Mutt and Jeff” by their classmates. Coolidge seems to feel instinctively that readers really want to read about her star-making years in L.A.
So her affairs with Leon Russell, Steven Stills and Graham Nash are dealt with at length, as his her marriage and performing career with Kristofferson. As the marriage was disintegrating, her solo career took off with “Higher and Higher,” “We’re All Alone” and “All Time High.” But she does not dwell at length on her own successes.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this tome is that it pretty much ends when the Kristofferson years do. By this time, you’ve become so enthralled with her writing voice, that you don’t want the book to end.
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