October was a good month for music books. Not only is Neil Young’s second autobiographical work being released (not exactly mind-blowing, but it’s Neil Young, so it’s at least lively and mostly entertaining), but there are also memoirs by Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, George Clinton and Bruce Cockburn, as well as biographies of Jerry Lee Lewis (Rick Bragg) and Aretha Franklin (David Ritz’s Respect). Not exactly a series of lightweights.
The Santana, Hancock and Clinton memoirs are particularly significant for me, as those musicians served as vital signposts in the development of my love for jazz, rock, soul and funk, all of which I truly began to cherish in college and throughout my 20s. Hancock taught me that jazz wasn’t just about Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the other towers of bebop; it could be funky, futuristic, even psychedelic. And you can’t mention either funk or psychedelics without talking about the Grandfather of P-Funk, Clinton, the mad scientist who did more for funk m usic than anyone outside of James Brown or Sly Stone.
Certainly, there are plenty of paint-by-the-numbers moments in all of their memoirs. However, for true fans, both Hancock (Kirkus: “warm, inspiring book by a man who seems to have little ego despite a career spent near the peak of his art”) and Santana (“appreciative and unpretentious chronicle”) prove as soulful and searching on the page as on the stage. And despite its somewhat limp second half, Clinton’s book features frequent demonstrations of his far-out personality and musical experimentation (one need only check the title: Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?). For music fans, especially of the groundbreaking music being made during the 1960s and ’70s, this fall provides a rich harvest. –E.L.Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor at Kirkus Reviews.