In what is definitely the biggest music book of the year, Sir Elton John follows the release of his biopic Rocketman with Me (Holt, $30), his first and only official autobiography. Elton John does not need an introduction, but this book is a cathartic, no-holds-barred memoir. There are dark years of addiction and recovery, losses of friends, and a battle with cancer. The memoir was written with the help of British music critic Alexis Petridis, but John’s voice comes through clearly in the final version. He is a candid and warm narrator of his own struggles and actions, good and bad, and his passion for life, his friends, and his music shines throughout the volume. Ultimately, Me is about hardearned wisdom and life changes, and while many of us might not carry on such a star-studded dramatic existence, we can definitely appreciate recognition of mistakes and coming to face the darkest parts of our lives. This is a wonderful account of an incredible life.
High School (MCD, $27), perhaps unsurprisingly, is like one of Tegan and Sara’s songs in book form: intimate yet vivid, urgent and animated. Yet their memoir is not only about music, although it does culminate with the duo landing their first record deal, which would lead to nine full-length albums. The twins tell their stories of growing up in ‘90s Calgary in alternating chapters, narrating their teenage confl icts, coming out, fi nding allies, having unrequited crushes, and discovering music. The songwriters’ candid prose style perfectly evokes that time in life when everything was too much, when every moment seemed like a crisis, but also when one desperately needed to know that they were not alone. High School is a queer coming-out-of-age story, a messy journey of adolescence, and a book I wish my teenage self had read.
2016, the lunar Year of the Monkey (Knopf, $24.95), began for Patti Smith with a west coast concert tour, during which she saw her friend of forty years, Sandy Pearlman, succumb to a cerebral hemorrhage. She later watched the decline of another old friend, Sam Shepherd, and felt the acceleration of time as she turned seventy, couldn’t sleep, and took up walking at night. Smith survived all this and, exhibiting no symptoms of “dried-up poet syndrome,” recounts it with the same matter-of-fact yet slightly bemused tone that made her previous memoirs so engaging. Taking what comes, Smith turns it all into remarkable language; whether describing a deserted café that has “a J. G. Ballard kind of gone,” or a patch of blue wildflowers looking “as if it had been seeded by sky,” she is our great poet of ambience. Fittingly for a time permeated by “an atmosphere of artificial brightness with corrosive edges…[and] an avalanche of toxicity,” Smith moves frequently and without warning between daily life, memories, and dreams, intermittently receiving “transmissions” from a neon Dream Inn sign. Between dreams, she references a wide range of films, music, and books; makes the rounds of cafés; and snaps many of the Polaroids that complement this vivid, poignant, and deeply satisfying narrative.