The Alt’s Bookshelf: Vol. 5

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The Alt’s Bookshelf is a series where our staff highlights some of their favorite books and zines related to music. For our fifth volume, Jordan shares new reads including Cult Musicians by Robert Dimery, Total F*cking Godhead: The Biography of Chris Cornell by Corbin Reiffand Glitter Up the Dark How Pop Music Broke the Binary by Sasha Geffen.

Cult Musicians by Robert Dimery and illustrated by Kristelle Rodeia

Disregarding the term cult – because what’s considered a cult musician is up for debate – I guarantee that even the most hardcore music fans will leave Cult Musicians with new knowledge. The author, Robert Dimery, has worked on an abundance of music publications including being the general editor for books 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die and 1001 Songs to Hear Before You Die.

At first glance, there are obvious choices like Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Betty Davis, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Marley, but what captured my attention were the ones that are a little more obscure.

Moondog (1916-1999) was a street performer who for thirty years, occupied Manhattan street corners dressed as a Viking and playing music on homemade instruments. Dimery dubbed Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) the ‘Godmother of Electronica’ and as an electronic lover, I’m kicking myself for never having heard of her before. 

Showcasing 50 progressive performers, each entry gives enough detail that you learn about the artist and their story but has just enough brevity to pique your interest and not overwhelm. I found myself looking up the musicians and deep-diving into some of their musical catalogs. 

Total F*cking Godhead: The Biography of Chris Cornell by Corbin Reiff

On May 17, 2017, after performing a show for about 5,000 people at the Fox Theatre in Detriot, Soundgarden lead vocalist Chris Cornell died by suicide. He was 52, and the news of his death came as a shock to family, friends, and fans alike. As with many suicides, those close to Cornell said they had no idea why Cornell would do such a thing. He seemed fine on the days leading up to May 17, and showed no warning signs. 

In Total F*cking Godhead, a biography from Corbin Reiff, readers get a comprehensive look into the life of the founding singer-guitarist of Soundgarden, to his beginnings with that pioneering Seattle grunge band, to Cornell’s time with Audioslave, Temple of Dog, and beyond. 

The book is extremely well researched and Reiff’s writing comes off like a chat with a friend. But while Total F*cking Godhead chronicles albums and concerts and gives outstanding information on Cornell’s musical endeavors, don’t expect to learn too much about Cornell’s creative process, mental health, or the events surrounding his death. 

Glitter Up the Dark How Pop Music Broke the Binary by Sasha Geffen

Part of the American Music Series from University of Texas Press, Glitter Up The Dark looks into the voices in music history that blurred gender lines. Over the years, icons like Prince, The Beatles, David Bowie, and Missy Elliot has brought gender fluidity into the mainstream culture through their music, dress, and more. 

Part music criticism, part culture commendatory, Sarah Geffen dives into major moments in pop music history, while demonstrating the role music has had in bridging gender and sexuality. 

“Music supplies the perfect alibi: you can sing the truth about yourself as many times as you like but it’ll stay in the realm of the imaginary. It’s the perfect place to say something without saying it, to dance between genders without having to confront the material reality of transition. Inside a song, every singer is exactly who she says she is in the moment her voices passes through her throat. The voice makes reality, even if that reality evaporates like a dream the second the tape stops rolling.”

You can check out past volumes of this column here:


Jordan Snowden // @snowden_jordan

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