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Summertime Rocks, and Rolls

Thinking about my teenage summertime always brings back memories of hiding inside on too hot summer days watching the bright, poppy, candy-colored, wild-eyed, music videos on MTV of the late 1980s and 90s. It brings back memories of David Lee Roth, leading tourists to a beach full of highly tanned bikini girls, and draining out whatever last tiny bit of innocence that the Beach Boys had put into their hit song, California Girls. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t hate it at the time and I still kind of dig his monochromatic tangerine suit, I mean, isn’t summer for taking things lightly and having fun after all? Or at least it was back then. From Ed Lover and Yo MTV Raps to Alternative Nation to those beachfront summer specials where our favorite indoor VJ’s were thrown weirdly into the white-hot sun and always looked so out of place. But for landlocked me, those rolling waves as seen on TV, had me yearning for my own staked out ocean view, with a blaring radio, sunscreen scented everything, and a good summer book. If summer music holds a special place for all of us, then so too is magic in our favorite summer reads. With this year’s summer reading theme, Libraries Rock, what better time than now to explore some of our favorite books that are either by or about our favorite musicians, thus rolling up two of my summertime favorites (books and music) all into one!  


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Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

As a teen Sonic Youth was my favorite band and bassist/singer, Kim Gordon was one of my first female role models. Not only was she the only woman in my favorite band but she was also one of my first accessible (accessible here meaning I could buy her albums and see her play live in front of me) female artist icon. Not only was she in a band, but she painted, had her own clothing line at one point, and was a creative force to be reckoned with. She was my first girl crush and her relationship with fellow band mate, Thurston Moore was just the type of starry eyed romance my puppy love teen soul needed to make me believe and daydream about big time couples. And to be honest, as I grew up, the end of their relationship and the end of sonic Youth was a crushing jolt right into adulthood and this book was just what I needed, the closure to end those teenage dreams and to try to become who we were really meant to be, just like Kim had to.


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The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano

If you missed Shea Serrano at the Downtown library a few months back, then you really missed out and like me, you should be kicking yourself. You can make up for that by following him on twitter and reading his books, starting with this one, The Rap Yearbook. This book is a comprehensive look at the major rap players and the most important rap songs year by year, starting out with the song Rappers Delight by The Sugarhill Gang in 1979 and ending with Lifestyle by Rich Gang (feat Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan). This book spans rap since close to the beginning, giving a breakdown into each song, why it was and is important, and what each song is about. Some of the songs are broken down by verse, others have colorful timelines, and each is represented with an illustration by the talented, Arturo Torres. This book is a summer time special because not only is it music plus books, it also adds in some incredible art!


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They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us: Essays by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

This amazing book opens with a positive charged essay on Chance the Rapper (he even mentions Chances 2016 summer anthem album, Coloring Book) and optimism that will leave you (or at least left me) in tears. This book is a series of short essays about different topics all relating to music in some way and will easily go on my list of favorite books I’ve read for this year. Granted I have not read all of them yet, but I am very impressed by the ones I have read so far and cannot wait to finish these up. Here’s a few that I have read so far: An essay on being black (or female or any other type of “outcast”) in the punk rock scene and how the author was let down, yet how that journey led him down a road to the more inclusive scene of Afropunk. An essay on the wrestler Ric Flair commenting on how he is actually the greatest rapper of all time, not in a literal sense but in his actions. An essay that blends Johnny Cash and the rap group Migos, on how their true backgrounds sometimes feel fake (Johnny cash never shot a man in Reno and Migos being from the suburbs and not Atlanta proper), yet they made their backgrounds into what they needed them to be in order to be successful and who is to say if that is right or wrong? All of these essays are smart, and maybe controversial, but all are intelligent, truthful, and a beautiful yet tragic look at the world we live in.


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Hit So Hard by Patty Schemel

As many of you probably know Patty Schemel was the drummer for the band Hole, led by the ever infamous Courtney Love. As a teenager I loved the band HOLE and even as an adult I hold the unpopular opinion of liking Courtney (and no I do not think she killed Kurt). I was so excited to read this book and it did not disappoint. Patty talks of her time growing up, her time in the Pacific Northwest, her time with HOLE, her drug addictions, and yes she even talks quite a bit about her friendship with Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. For anyone who grew up in the 90s and loved the music scene of the time, this book is well worth the read. Fortunately for us Patty was able to survive beyond her addiction with heroine (unlike many of her friends) to tell us her story of music, drugs, sexuality, and survival. There is also a documentary out there by the same name that follows Patty and records her life during these same time periods.


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Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

You can’t have summer reads without some fiction thrown in, so here’s my fiction pick for this post and let’s start with all of the reasons that I just knew I was going to love this book before I even opened it. First, the cover is really cool. It reminds me of a fuzzy indie movie dream sequence, where a 20 something girl looks out the open car window as she drives down an old highway lined with cornfields and bright white washed out skies, her long hair repeatedly whipping in and out of the frame. Except replace the bright sky with a drippy, slow trip, purple hazed, oil slick. Second, the author is the writer, guitarist and vocalist for the band The Mountain Goats (please also check them out if you never have). Lastly, the book takes place in the 1990s in that strange little window of time when VHS tapes were on their way out, soon to make way for more modern devices, that last little moment in time (that I was lucky enough to be a part of) before the internet hit and the world gave way to a whole new type of place, the last bits of mystery and dreams still clinging to unsuspecting people of what was to come. This last reason holds this book together for me. The story is sudden and jumpy, moving from one character story to the next, in a somewhat disjointed fashion much like a spliced together VHS or cassette tape. It is an eerie little tale that spans through strangely overlapping characters that make the timeline a bit hard to follow. I liked the story concept but was expecting it to be more horror than it was, I wanted a cross between children of the corn and a Blair witch/VHS hybrid, but instead the story was much different from that. A farmhouse setting, the days when emergency phones were stuck to roadside street posts, and the story of generations of families, lost but not forgotten.


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