Q; The Autobiography of Quincy Jones [2001, Doubleday Publishing]. This sprawling, thoroughly engaging memoir by one of Chicago’s golden sons covers the inside of decades of popular music from a perfect perspective. What makes the book so electric is that before Jones ever got behind a recording studio console he seemed to be blessed, musically as well as for a talent for being at the right place at the right time [he met life-long friend Ray Charles at the age of 14 while he was sneaking a listen outside of a roadhouse he was to young to get into.]. There is an awful lot to enjoy here as Jones recounts his schooling [he went to Seattle University where he met fellow music major Clint Eastwood, then Berklee College of Music on a scholarship] before being whisked on tour with bandleader Lional Hampton. From there Jones gained a reputation as a musician, arranger, producer, and composer with a client list featuring the likes of Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Horne, Peggy Lee, and Billy Eckstine. But that’s not all, his work for Lesley Gore landed him at the top of the pop charts [he produced “You Don’t Own Me”] and a standing gig with Frank Sinatra [as arranger, band leader, and producer on Sinatra’s celebrated Reprise Recordings], as well as a side career as a film composer [among the films he composed for are The Pawnbroker, In Cold Blood, The Anderson Tapes, and In the Heat of the Night].
Then there were his own successful recordings [The Dude, Stuff Like That, Smackwater Jack] as well as his film and television productions [The Color Purple on screen and In the House, Madtv, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on television]. Yes, there is a meaty chunk on Sinatra and his work with Michael Jackson, the heady success and casualties of Thriller, and the recording of “We Are the World” as well as his marriage to actress Peggy Lipton [of The Mod Squad] among others and his fear of his own mother [who was diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was a teenager and would re-appear in his life ranting and raving at the most inopportune times]. There are also his observations on the civil rights movement from both the in and outside, as well as the shifts in popular music. In short, Q is written in such a personal style that it offers an intimacy with one of the most successful and fascinating people on the planet.
Black by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir by Pauline Black [2012, Profile Books] A delightfully rich memoir chronicling the fascinating life of Black who is best known in America as the front-woman of The Selector, one of the three top 2-Tone bands from the late 70s/early 80s Brit scene(the other two were Madness and The Specials] Black, after being adopted by a white middle class family at a young age was haunted by not knowing who her birth parents were but still kept her head long enough to grab a degree in radiology before landing a side gig as a”rude girl.” As expected, Black by Design is unique primarily because Black has an incredibly unique perspective; as a vocalist/front person of a musical movement that did not feature women and as a person of color plopped into an Anglo-Saxon world built on class and privilege. Her observations on America from The Selector’s only U.S. tour from the perspective of a tour bus are still fresh as are her stories of the disintegration of her volatile band, branching out onstage to become a celebrated actress, and later becoming a television show host. Threaded throughout the book is Black’s pursuit of knowledge of her birth parents and a knowing feeling of disconnect [I don’t have the heart to give away the surprise ending.]. For anyone who is a fan of the British new wave scene [the era of Stiff Records and Malcolm McLaren] Black by Design is an essential chunk of history.
See a Little Light, The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould [2011, Little, Brown and Co. publishing]. Despite a title for a rock and roll memoir that promises all kinds of exotic mayhem, Mould’s book is surprisingly candid and personal. What emerges in these pages is a story of a man who tumbled through a tumultuous era while influencing said era while it affected him. This is Mould’s take on his supposedly legendary feud with bandmate Grant Hart, his memories of navigating through the Midwest punk scene, the lack of blow back to his coming out as gay, the formation of his killer bands Husker Du and Sugar, his investigation of electronic dance music, and his emergence as a high priest of alternative rock by way of a wagon load of solo albums. Sure, Mould is guilty of all kinds of shitty behavior but there isn’t much here that would surprise a fan. What the book does do is gentle expose his personality while keeping abreast of the currency of the times.
It wouldn’t be much to recount his victories or defeats, but See a Little Light delves into his growth as an individual and his acceptance of the past [okay, okay… he apologizes and takes responsibility for said shitty behavior.]. Still, it’s a meaty book that’s constantly engaging while revealing all kinds of amusing asides [his take on the sudden impact of Minnesota’s other favorite son Prince, his surprise at finding out that Husker Du’s reputation influenced legions.] and the fact that “Loud Bob” is something of a big teddy bear.