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Music books: A round-up of reads for literate listeners

Peter Frampton, Steven Hyden, Ronen Givony, Stephen Morris, Brian Eno and Jeff Tweedy

Anyone with an interest in 1960s Britpop music will know the name of Peter Frampton. As a member of The Herd, he was selected by teen magazine Rave as "the face of '68", but pop stardom didn't suit him. His scream-teen fanbase dropped him like a hot potato when he co-founded boogie-rock act, Humble Pie, but when Frampton left the group to go solo little did he realise that success would go from moderate to stratospheric. The full story is shared in Do You Feel Like I Do? – A Memoir by Peter Frampton, with Alan Light (Hachette Books, £22.99), and it reads like a dream come true, albeit with a sting in the tail.

Frampton was born in Beckenham, Kent. His father was head of the art department at Bromley Technical High School where, also attending three years ahead, was David Jones (soon to be Bowie). And so began a lifelong friendship that ran in parallel for decades.

Frampton’s story is told well: from being ripped off as a teenage pop sensation in The Herd (“a pop band being screamed at . . . that’s fun for three weeks and then it becomes boring”) to being introduced to hard drugs at the start of his solo career (“I decided to try everything at that point”), from playing a version of himself on The Simpsons (“the old, crusty, been-there, done-that rock star”) to confronting his drink problems (“nights when one was too many and a thousand wasn’t enough”), and his diagnosis of a progressive muscle disorder, he tells his story truthfully.

Radiohead

Similarly lacking self-pity are Radiohead, who this year celebrate (although perhaps not?) the 20th anniversary of the release of Kid A, an album that, to say the least, divided critics and fans. This Isn't Happening, by Steven Hyden (Hachette Books, £22.99), pitches Kid A as nothing less than "an overture for the chaos and confusion of the 21st century", which might be overstating the case somewhat.

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And yet what else to say about the game-changing album than that it certainly created some kind of future for anxious musicians concerned with how to break out of creative straitjackets? Prefaced by quotes from Thomas Pynchon (“held hostage to the future we must live in now forever”) and Francis Ford Coppola (talking about the making of Apocalypse Now, “little by little, we went insane”), Hyden delineates how Kid A was, at its most simplistic, a puzzle for a profoundly fretful time. “Even if you didn’t get the how of Kid A,” he writes, “you intuitively understood the why.”

The book is sectioned into three parts (Before… During… After Kid A), and there’s an underlying air of a passionate fan turning in an end-of-term thesis, what with highlighting some tracks as “the choice headphone cut, especially after smoking a bowl” and the album’s detractors as “clueless fuddy-duddies”. But overall it’s a perceptive read.

Pearl Jam

Fandom comes in all forms, of course. Admitting to having seen a specific music act half-a-dozen times suggests firm loyalty; more than 10, enduring commitment; over 30, a worrying compulsion, perhaps. Not for You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense (Bloomsbury, £17.99) is an insightful work for many reasons, not least its temperate analysis of fandom.

Author Ronen Givony never forgets the whys and wherefores of the Seattle outfit and of how from their early days in the 1990s, despite their status as one of the most popular US bands, they sidelined traditional commercial channels in favour of servicing their fans through setting a cap on ticket prices and taking an antitrust lawsuit against Ticketmaster.

Givony incisively reflects on these and more, but the primary selling point is what the band have meant to their fans across the years and the often profound and unbreakable bonds that can be made. Pearl Jam, he posits, presented an artistic platform that “couched itself, without embarrassment, in emotional honesty” and aspired “to change people’s lives”. Now, he concludes, pop music is “a retreat to our respective corners: an industry of algorithms and playlists”.

Joy Division/New Order

Joy Division and New Order have been fixtures for more than 40 years, each fusing together to become an industry for fans of a certain age. Drummer Stephen Morris has been an unlikely chronicler of both UK bands, initially with his first memoir, Record Play Pause. The book’s dry wit balanced out the more esoteric grudge matches played by his colleagues in their respective memoirs.

There is more of the same affable recall in Fast Forward: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist, Volume II (Constable, £20), in which New Order attempt to bury their past (spoiler: they fail) as they create music and forge a career that will, like their previous incarnation, stand the test of time.

From the first New Order management meeting suggesting the inclusion of a woman (Gillian Gilbert, Morris’s girlfriend) and the financial intricacies of buying the Hacienda nightclub (“it would turn out to be another costly mistake”) to Morris and Gilbert forming their own music unit (The Other Two) and New Order fracturing, Morris details the very readable ups (“music is magical”) and downs (“energy runs out”) in characteristically stoical fashion.

Brian Eno

If you're looking for stoicism and humdrum with a major difference, look towards A Year with Swollen Appendices, by Brian Eno (Faber & Faber, £20), originally published in 1996 and now reissued as a remarkably handsome 25th-anniversary edition. With the exception of a new introduction by Eno, little has changed. And yet, as he asks what has happened in those 25 years, it's obvious that so much has.

A major part of the fresh introduction focuses on not only a list of words that didn’t exist in the mid-1990s (TikTok, gaslighting, cisgender, bitcoin, mansplain, clickbait) but also what didn’t occupy Eno’s thoughts then but do now: climate change, pandemics and many people’s “insatiable appetite for constant conversation”.

Intro over, it’s down to the original day-by-day diary, which covers 1995: working with David Bowie and U2, creating generative music, jotting down random banal thoughts (September 21st: “my mind – empty”). And yet throughout is an almost hypnotic passing of time and a person in full engagement with it.

Wilco and songwriting

A book written by a musician that doesn’t relay autobiographical details in some form of (even loose) chronology is unusual; they typically have their own story to tell and that’s it, good or bad. Writing a book that goes some way to explaining the process behind their songwriting is something else, altogether.

Jeff Tweedy, in How to Write One Song (Faber & Faber, £10.99), achieves this as he guides readers into the mystery zone ("You'll be surprised how good it feels to hear yourself sing your own song") and back out again ("Now that you wrote a song, what are you going to do about it?"). Segmented into four parts across 150 pages, Tweedy (no mean songwriter himself as a constituent part of US group Wilco for more than 25 years) starts by outlining some of the obstacles involved (lack of confidence, subject matter) before moving on to songwriting exercises (verbs and nouns, playing with rhymes, steal).

This is a slim book packed with instructive ideas for amateur and professional alike.