It’s the annual Reading Festival this weekend, and as a bunch of bookworms we at 4th Estate are very excited to… sorry, what? Oh, it’s Reading as in Reading, the town in Berkshire? Right. So there are no author panels? No writing seminars? Just a ‘limp bizkit’? Hmm. Well, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pack a book or two alongside the tent and wellies…
As Festival Season reaches its peak, we have reams of musically minded material on our bookshelves just waiting for you to discover. Just promise not to read our books on the campsite toilets. And keep them away from the mud:
Adventures on the Wheels of Steel: The Rise of the Superstar DJs by Dave Haslam
Dave Haslam DJ’d over 450 times at the Haçienda nightclub in the 80s and 90s, so it’s a miracle he retains a fully functional cerebellum, let alone the ability to write an erudite and comprehensive cultural history. But he’s done the latter several times – most notably in his expansive love letter to his hometown’s contribution to pop, Manchester, England, and in this remarkable paean to the turntable cult he helped found. Haslam’s connections ensure that this chronicle of needle-dropping is narrated by its creators, from the mods of the 60s to the Northern Soul spinners of the 1970s, from the rare groove experts of the 80s to the modern DJ in all its multifarious forms. Best read on a baking Balearic beach, as you recover from a euphoric night of jumping up and down in a bucket hat.
Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle by Lauren St. John
At 4th Estate we’ve published the memoirs and biographies of a raft of rock & roll rapscallions – Carl Barât and Vivian Stanshall among them. But one looms over all the others in both his contribution to musical history and his contribution to the worldwide narcotic economy – Mr Stephen Fain ‘Steve’ Earle. This meticulously researched tome boasts intimate access to the ‘Hardcore Troubadour’ himself, and doubles up as a handy history of the alternative country genre he helped to shape. Mr Earle’s colourful existence (married seven times, including twice to the same woman; arrested several times, for possession of heroin, cocaine and weapons) would make his story compulsive no matter who was telling it, but St. John’s unflinching portrait ensures that this book transcends mere biography. It’s testament to Earle’s talent and charisma that you’re rooting for him right up to the final page – this devastating yet inspirational cautionary tale could persuade even Pete Doherty to put down his crack pipe and pick up his guitar.
The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross
A night in an arson-threatened tent surrounded by ululating teenagers isn’t for everyone. For those who enjoy a large-scale summer musical event but are held back by a nervous disposition, there are always the BBC Proms. If you’re a classical neophyte, Alex Ross’s concert grand-sized book is by far and away the best introduction to this often seemingly impenetrable bastion of culture. His writing should be annotated ‘allegro’ – it gallops along, joyfully jumping from 18th Century German drawing rooms to studio lofts in 60s New York with a wealth of diverting anecdotes and easily accessible elucidations. Relating the adventures of composers from Allegri to Zorn, this makes a sometimes daunting and seemingly sober tradition as tangible and thrilling as a three-minute pop single.
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Proving that fiction can be just as rock ‘n roll as fact, Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue is the perfect companion for festival goers of a novel-reading nature. The story of Archy and Nat – owners of the titular street’s Brokeland Records – it captures the cosmic purpose of the brick-and-mortar record shop as community centre, as font of inspiration, as hallowed hall of teenage self-discovery. Chabon’s connoisseur-level appreciation of black acetate informs every page, and his virtuosic writing makes every sentence pop and click like a much-loved 7”. Wise, wistful and epically proportioned, it’ll have you racing for the nearest record shop as soon as you’ve left the festival site. Well, as soon as you’ve had a shower, that is…
Words by Tom Killingbeck
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