6 Music Icons Top Book Picks

By: Sam Fletcher, April 11th, 2024 11:04 am.

Words and music cross over more than we realize. From Kerouac speaking Jazz, to Morrissey never letting us forget how much he enjoys the classics, music and literature have always been tight. We could go on at length about genres like fantasy and Lord of the Rings inspiring endless prog-rock riffs…

But we won’t.

Like any avid reader, I appreciate some background tunes (as long as Spotify doesn’t skip to something wildly inappropriate). So, let’s just keep it simple and listen in on six famous artists and their favorite books.

Kurt Cobain: PerfumePatrick Süskind (1985)

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It’s no secret Nirvana’s leading frontman loved this novel. In fact, it never left his side on tour, reportedly reading it over ten times. He even dedicated ‘Scentless Apprentice’ to its protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, on his 1993 album ‘In Utero.’

The story focuses on Grenouille, a perfumer with an exquisite sense of smell. Navigating 18th century France, he soon becomes obsessed with crafting the perfect scent. And, losing his mind, his obsession inevitably leads to murder and depravity.

A story like this just screams goth, inspiring artists like Rammstein and Marilyn Manson. Yet, it’s Cobain’s dedication, dare we say ‘obsession,’ that truly stands out. Jean-Baptiste’s ‘disgust for humanity’ echoes through Cobain’s anguished lyrics and thrashing riffs.

Yeah, artists on the fringes are definitely going to be a theme here…

Nas: Pryor Convictions: and Other Life SentencesRichard Pryor (1995)

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Nobody could accuse Pryor of insincerity. And the same goes for Nas’ work (Illmatic retains its impact). So it’s no wonder Nasir Jones mentioned Richard Pryor’s autobiography in his Reddit AMA.

The biography, much like Pryor’s stand-up, deep dives into his challenging life, from being raised in a brothel to battling drug addiction. Sparing no detail, he clearly suffered countless hardships, facing numerous obstacles.

So, from one wordsmith to another, Nasir’s work, especially his early albums, is equally uncompromising. Both stand-up and rap rely on pacing, phrasing, and stage presence, making their crossover only natural.

As Nas himself observes, the voice is but another instrument, naturally melding words with rhythm.

Taylor Swift: The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

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Fitzgerald’s great American novel has clearly inspired Taylor over the years. A fan of literary classics, she often infuses her lyrics with allusions. And it’s The Great Gatsby she so frequently returns to.

With its grand tale of disillusionment with the American Dream, it’s a staple of Roaring 1920s hedonism—and no, I will not be including the Leo fireworks toasting gif here. The book, through its heartbroken protagonist, Jay Gatsby, is often cited for its exploration of spurned love amidst endless parties.

Taylor not only adopts its aesthetic in her videos but also directly references the work in songs like ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.’ Singing ‘feeling so Gatsby,’ the book’s themes of living in the moment clearly resonate. She is particularly interested in Jay Gatsby’s unreciprocated love for Daisy Buchanan, often drawing parallels.

Anyway, let’s just have fun like there’s no tomorrow.

Jay-Z: The Seat of the SoulGary Zukav (1989)

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While I’ve personally never been big on self-help, I can see why Zukav’s text has had such staying power. It’s also clear how it influences Shawn Carter’s dedication to his craft and business sense.

In-depth and persuasive, it melds spirituality and philosophy into a guide for becoming more capable and well-rounded. Through metaphor and guidance, Zukav steers readers towards their full potential.

Familiar to Oprah fans, it’s still leading within its genre. So it’s no wonder that Carter, operating in a profession where on-stage confidence can make or break you, also finds it essential. While he has previously mentioned The Celestine Prophecy as well, he finds Zukav’s book far more direct.

Toni Braxton: Are You There God? It’s Me, MargaretJudy Blume (1970)

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A cultural touchstone for many, Braxton is definitely not alone in relating to this children’s classic. Discussing biological changes and faith openly, its themes resonate with women growing up.

In this seventies classic, eleven-year-old Margaret Simon moves to New Jersey’s suburbs. With a Christian mother and Jewish father, she feels disconnected from both religions. All this as she grapples with the onset of adolescence. Cue soul-searching handled in a tactful, sensitive, and realistic manner.

There’s little to say about Toni’s connection to the book, given its universality since release. Singing from the heart, its intimacy clearly left a mark on her. Frequently hailed as the quintessential middle-grade coming-of-age novel — with a recent film adaptation to boot — it continues to captivate with its timeless nature.

Because growing up is never easy.

David Bowie: Interviews with Francis BaconDavid Sylvester (1988)

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Bowie, a musician inspired deeply by the art world—be it Andy Warhol (‘It’s War-hole actually’) or Francis Bacon—fashioned his own image as an art piece. So the fact he cited Bacon’s interviews as a favorite read is unsurprising.

Curated by art writer David Sylvester, the book (originally ‘The Brutality of Fact’) covers twenty-five years of Sylvester and Bacon’s one-to-one chats. Discussing art, expression, creativity, and everything in-between, it’s essential for those exploring the creative process. An artistic genius (seeing his triptych of ‘Three Studies at the Base of a Crucifixion’ was evidence enough for me), Bacon really does bare all.

Francis’s impact on Bowie is undeniable (you only need to look at the ‘Blackstar’ imagery to see it). Yet, inspiration among artists is age-old, with both creating impactful work that remains strong.

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The Little Man
The Little Man
1 month ago

Love it. Would love to see this as a series 🙂 I’ve read a number of musician biographies over the years, but I never thought to note what books they mention as influential!

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