In the mood for drugs and debauchery? John Doe co-founded the band X, so he has firsthand knowledge of the birth of the Los Angeles punk scene. In his book, Under the Big Black Sun, members of X, the Minutemen and the Go-Go's tell the true story. Rich Cohen also has plenty of parties to recount in his new book, The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones, since he was there with the Stones on tour. And if you need to prove a point to a know-it-all friend who's arguing why Kanye and Taylor Swift have an ongoing beef, Steven Hyden's Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me has all the details.
American punk may have been born in New York, but it came of age in L.A., where it reinvented itself – like everyone does in California. Queerer, freakier and rootsier than its East Coast counterpart, the West Coast scene was more playful and, in some ways, more dangerous. "The L.A. scene was crazier," says John Doe, who co-founded the groundbreaking band X. "New York was darker; it was inspired by the Velvet Underground and art galleries. L.A. came from automobiles … from beer and speed, and 'let's get on the fucking highway and drive.'"
These are take-aways from Under the Big Black Sun, a set of vivid personal essays curated by Doe with writer Tom DeSavia; its contributors include Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go's, Exene Cervenka, Henry Rollins and other forebears. It's not the first corrective to punk scholarship's New York-London bias (see We've Got the Neutron Bomb, by Marc Spitz with Brendan Mullen). But Doe's book is the most artist-centered look yet at a scene that helped define the future of a music whose rallying cry was "no future."
There's plenty of drugs and debauchery. "As dedicated bohemians, it was practically our duty to seek and find the other side of consciousness," Doe maintains, while Wiedlin and writer Pleasant Gehman wax nostalgic on BDSM adventures. But Caffey's unpacking of her songwriting process is equally compelling; ditto the spirit of camaraderie many writers cite. Dope, death, knucklehead "fans" and money (or lack thereof) took the predictable tolls. But Under the Big Black Sun is ultimately about punk as tribal continuum. Its most poignant passage might be Minutemen bassist Mike Watt's account of his final jam with comrade D. Boon, who died in 1985 at 27: a cover of "See No Evil," by New York punk avatars Television, played in North Carolina with punk-inspired tourmates R.E.M. "Damn if me and D. Boon weren't both on guitar," Watt writes, "laughing at the whole trip." –Will Hermes
Got beef? In his highly entertaining new book, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life, Steven Hyden – of the late sports-and-culture site Grantland – analyzes classic standoffs with a sportscaster's breathlessness: Beatles vs. Stones, Biggie vs. Tupac, Kanye vs. Taylor. His impulse is less to pick winners than to figure out why we care. "It's about sympathizing with a particular worldview represented by an artist over a different worldview represented by an 'opposing' artist," Hyden writes. "You are what you love – and also what you choose not to love."
The historical data is fun to sift through – did Scott Stapp really challenge Fred Durst to a charity boxing match? – and Hyden's adjudication is fast and furious. "The Black Keys are successful, but the White Stripes are legendary," he writes. It's also nice that he has personal skin in the game. The Prince vs. Michael Jackson chapter tilts into an exploration of Hyden's high school social struggles and the myth of geekiness, while the Miley Cyrus-Sinéad O'Connor conflict becomes a meditation on aging in pop's cult of youth. Whatever side you take in these endless debates, Hyden's a dude worth arguing with. –Will Hermes
Growing up in the Eighties, Rich Cohen was obsessed with the Rolling Stones. "It's my Hemingway, Dickens, Homer," he writes. So he jumped at the chance, as a 26-year-old freelancer for Rolling Stone, to spend two weeks with the band as it launched 1994's Voodoo Lounge tour. Cohen was with the Stones on several later tours as well, first as a writer for RS, then as Mick Jagger's screenwriting partner on a project that eventually became HBO's Vinyl. Cohen's new book, The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones, draws on those experiences while providing a fresh take on dusty topics like Altamont and the Stones' relationship with the Beatles (who, it seems, understood the Stones before the Stones did, which was partly why Lennon and McCartney wrote their first big hit). Cohen takes pilgrimages to places like Nellcôte, the French mansion where the Stones made Exile on Main Street, and recounts fascinating moments from his time on tour: He sees Jagger debate with his publicist if he should have his photo taken with Steven Tyler, and parties with Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Steve Winwood in a Four Seasons hotel. "I'd always sensed there were people somewhere having more fun than me," Cohen writes. "I'd always believed there was a better party. And I'd found it!" –Patrick Doyle