Six Musicians' Memoirs that Sing
Updated: Jul 25
I'm a biiiig memoir fan, and I love behind-the-scenes peeks. These six memoirs from musicians offer stories about the authors' lives, loves, and work, and they each kept me hooked.
01 Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Parton shares the background and context for 175 of her songs, frankly discussing her inspiration, life, and the formerly untouchable topics she dove into headfirst through songs.
What's better than listening to Dolly talk about her inspirations, her artistic journey, her joys and her silliness, those who have influenced her, and her motivations--along with short musical snippets?
This is a fast-paced book, as Dolly talks about various thoughts as related to 175 of her songs, while country music author Robert K. Oermann intersperses short introductions to add structure and background.
I adored listening to Dolly laugh and ponder and reminisce and reflect. Through decades of straight-talking song lyrics, she has instinctively and repeatedly offered sympathetic points of view of the persecuted, disrespected, and dismissed: prostitutes, the poor, unwed teenage mothers, and more.
Dolly's offhanded mentions of endless projects, ideas, collaborations, and plans make clear she's one of the hardest working women in show business.
For my full review, please see Songteller.
02 Blood by Allison Moorer
"I'm still trying not to be the daughter of a murderer. I'm still trying to redeem [my parents]. I carry the structure of their bones around my insides...and try to tell the world, '...They were more than that.'"
Allison Moorer is a Grammy- and Academy Award- nominated singer-songwriter whose father killed her mother when Allison and her sister, recording artist Shelby Lynne, were young.
A longtime musical storyteller, Moorer examines her parents, her youth, and that pivotal tragedy, considering how it has shaped her into her adult self and how much of her identity is (and how much can be) separate from that horrifying event and its endless repercussions.
There's a lot of pain here. But Blood doesn't read as though Moorer is flogging her significant sorrow and anger or highlighting dramatic events for memoir or record sales. I felt like I was witnessing her step-by-step movement toward something that more closely resembles peace.
Moorer's love of music (including her passion to write, sing, and harmonize) links many of these memories and pages. I listened to Lynne and Moorer's joint album, Not Dark Yet, while reading this book, and it was a beautiful backdrop.
For my full review, please see Blood.
03 Broken Horses by Brandi Carlisle
In Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile shares a beautifully open, poignant, tough, rich, gorgeous account of her life and career so far. The audiobook includes over thirty songs, and I highly recommend it.
I often feel torn when I read celebrity memoirs, because while I understand that people must keep some of themselves for themselves, I often find myself greedily wanting more more more vulnerability, detailed experiences, specific inspirations, an exhaustive exhuming of pivotal moments--and also a panoramic view of a person and a career. If I'm getting a peek at a person, I also want it all, however unreasonable that may be.
In Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile shares a beautifully open, poignant, tough, rich, gorgeous account of her life and career so far. She is thoughtful, humble, and so gracefully fluid and curious, I treasured each moment she shared here.
I listened to Broken Horses as an audiobook. Carlile intersperses songs with stories about their impact on her or the influences that led her to write and create them. The songs are all included again at the very end of the book, by which point the listener understands their import. They felt incredibly powerful as a closure to her story.
For my full review of this book, please see Broken Horses.
04 Open Book by Jessica Simpson
A mostly guileless look at stardom, motherhood, alcohol abuse, and finding herself. In Open Book, Jessica Simpson--who I don't know from her musical career, but from her life-on-display during early reality television days--explores her life, her ups and downs, her drinking-related missteps, and her failed loves.
Interestingly, she spends far more page time on her relationship with John Mayer than on her life and reality television adventure with ex-husband Nick Lachey. (She also offers what ultimately amounts to a take down of Mayer that explores his extensive emotional manipulation, his elaborate interview accounts of his sexual escapades with her and others, and, incredibly, his use of the N-word during an interview).
Simpson tracks her scrappy and determined rise to stardom, her religious faith, her reliance on and love for her friends, her deep familial attachments and conflicts, and her path to therapy, sobriety, and a happy marriage and parenthood.
For my full review, check out Open Book.
05 The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl
Grohl is funny, self-deprecating, and irresistibly tender-hearted as he recounts his musical influences, the twists and turns of his life, and his enthusiasm for music and musicians.
I listened to Dave Grohl's memoir, in which he tracks his youth in Springfield, Virginia; through his stint in the band Scream; his incredible rise to fame as the drummer for Nirvana; through his grief and losses; to the incarnation and growth of his band Foo Fighters and beyond.
His funny, self-effacing, thoughtful, sensitive, music-obsessed tone makes for captivating listening, and he recaptures his encounters--many feel to him like lucky flukes--with many of his musical idols in a way that feels genuine and appealing.
He relates with starry-eyed enthusiasm his brushes with countless musicians he admires--and his collaborations with many of them. His excitement is contagious, and his many superlative descriptions of big events, pivotal moments, and people are endearing.
For my full review, check out The Storyteller.
06 Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story by Jewel
I'm a longtime fan of the television show Alaska: The Last Frontier, which is about the Kilcher family--of which Jewel is a part. She only occasionally appears on the show, but she comes on occasionally to yodel (her grandparents came to Alaska from Switzerland around World War II) with her extended family, which I love to see.
Anyhoo, in this memoir, the singer-songwriter traces her Alaskan origins, her first singing performances (at age 3 alongside her parents), how she began to write songs to express herself, and the now-famous story of a DJ airing her bootleg song and beginning her rise to fame when she was 18 and homeless, living out of her car.
In Never Broken, Jewel shows really lovely extensive introspection and a detailed account of the fascinating-disturbing story of her youth.
She shares her ongoing, active commitment to personal and emotional growth, bettering the world, being true to herself, and evolving through hardships. She seems like a good egg, and I really liked spending time with her through this memoir.