It’s a big year for music books, from Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney tome, The Life, to high-profile upcoming memoirs by Bruce Springsteen and Brian Wilson, Metallica’s Master of Puppets history, Rob Sheffield’s book of Bowie meditations and even a Stooges tell-all by Iggy Pop. Read on for a rundown of some more niche titles, still very much worth your attention.
Dylan’s Guitar Hero
Michael Bloomfield’s last major public performance almost didn’t happen. According to Ed Ward’s pioneering biography, Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero, the Chicago-born blues guitarist was a decade past his late-Sixties fame, living in a drug-and-TV haze outside San Francisco, when his former employer Bob Dylan turned up at his home in November 1980. Dylan wanted Bloomfield to sit in during the singer’s local shows that month. Bloomfield’s response: “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not playing much these days.” But Bloomfield showed up one night, in a leather jacket and slippers, and unleashed the same searing-treble guitar he contributed to Dylan’s 1965 single “Like a Rolling Stone.” Three months later, he died of an overdose. He was 37.
Bloomfield was rock’s first modern guitar hero, a ferociously gifted improviser whose incandescent playing in the mid-Sixties with Dylan and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band transformed the future of the blues he loved, paving the way forward for peers and fans such as Eric Clapton. But Bloomfield repeatedly turned away from that renown and the commercial rewards that came with it. After a five-year run of masterful recordings, including Super Session, the 1968 jamming classic on which he was joined by Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, among others, Bloomfield spent the Seventies veering between halfhearted comebacks and career-suicide seclusion, battling chronic insomnia with drug use and playing most of his gigs far from the limelight.
Propelled by eyewitness testimony from those closest to Bloomfield and his music, Ward’s account, first published in 1983 and now revised and expanded, is a riveting tale of a restless spirit – born to privilege, in the Jewish faith – who reinvented himself through the blues’ fire and poetry, but then struggled to reconcile his purist devotion with a success that his idols never enjoyed.
The book also doubles as a locomotive primer through the scenes and adventures that formed Bloomfield as an artist and legend: Chicago’s South Side in the Fifties and Sixties; Dylan’s landmark 1965 set at the Newport Folk Festival; psychedelic San Francisco. A key addition to this edition is the full text of Bloomfield’s exuberant, opinionated 1968 interview with Rolling Stone founder-editor Jann S. Wenner. There is also a thorough discography – the real canon of reasons why Bloomfield remains an American hero.
The Lawyer Who Kept John and Yoko in America
In early 1972, a 39-year-old attorney named Leon Wildes told his wife about two high-profile clients he’d just met who were facing deportation. “Let’s see,” he said when asked for their names. “I think it was Jack Lemmon and Yoko Moto.” His wife stared incredulously: “Do you mean John Lennon and Yoko Ono?” Wildes may have known nothing about pop music, but he was an expert on immigration cases, and he’d just stumbled into one of the biggest ever. President Nixon was looking for an excuse to kick the most famous war protester out of the U.S., and Lennon’s previous drug arrest made that easier. In his new book, John Lennon vs. the USA, Wildes tells the story of the four-year battle to secure permanent residence for Lennon. He fills the gaps left by Lennon biographers, like the parade of witnesses at the deportation trial that included Geraldo Rivera and silent-film actress Gloria Swanson. Ultimately, Wildes was so successful that he set new legal precedent. “Thanks to [Lennon’s] willingness to fight…” he writes, “we managed to discover and helped create a remedy for impossible cases.”
Inside the Darkest Days of a Pioneering Rapper
By 2003, two decades after he changed hip-hop forever with Run-DMC, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels was desperate. He was battling alcoholism, near-crippling depression (fueled in part by learning, at 36, that he was adopted) and a vocal-cord disorder. Worst of all, bandmate Jam Master Jay had just been murdered. “I contemplated killing myself almost daily,” McDaniels writes in his candid new memoir, Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide. Thankfully, McDaniels recovered after a successful stint in rehab. But just as gripping as his struggle is the story of the internal politics of Run-DMC. According to McDaniels, Joseph “Run” Simmons (whose brother Russell managed the group) treated DMC like an employee. “I felt like I was isolated in an artistic jail,” McDaniels writes. It’s a rare peek behind the curtain at a group that made an indelible mark, then faded away.