WAGING HEAVY PEACE: A Hippie Dream, by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press). Forced to slow down after breaking a toe, Neil Young traded his guitar for a computer and spun this charismatic autobiography that, like Young, has little use for conventional rules. The revered artist who did stints in Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and Crazy Horse uses the phrase “OMG” and devotes as many pages to new audio technology and his train sets as to rock-history lore. At 66, Young shows little signs of fading out or burning away.
UNTOUCHABLE: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson, by Randall Sullivan (Grove). What is there to say about the King of Pop that hasn’t already been said? Nearly 800 pages worth, in this tome. Among the revelations: Jackson recorded a soundtrack for “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” hoping to land the title role. Though Warner Bros. was so impressed they offered Jackson the highest fee ever for a soundtrack, the molestation charges against him destroyed any chance that he’d appear in the movie. Such tumult was never-ending, and Rolling Stone contributing editor Randall Sullivan meticulously delves into one scandal after the next.
BRUCE, by Peter Ames Carlin (Touchstone). Though this Springsteen bio was written with the subject’s cooperation, author Carlin doesn’t fill its pages with only sanctioned praise. He posits that Springsteen’s obsessive drive for fame and artistic achievement is due to a childhood spent in the shadow of his father, a man who sat in the dark and drank. Terrified of a similar fate, Springsteen willed himself to become the Boss. Fans looking for an unequivocally noble portrait of the working-class hero of Freehold, N.J., instead get candid quotes from E Street Band members and former associates describing a man who “can be selfless and selfish in equal measures.”
ROLL ME UP AND SMOKE ME WHEN I DIE: Musings from the Road, by Willie Nelson (William Morrow). Willie Nelson’s lovingly told mishmash includes his reflections as well as those of his sister, wife, and friends — all of whom reinforce his outlaw reputation. Whether recalling the wild times of his youth, supporting Occupy Wall Street or sharing dirty jokes, Nelson is always eager to stir the pot (no pun intended).
WHO I AM, by Pete Townshend (Harper). Pete Townshend’s autobiography is a plunge into the psyche of a man simultaneously consumed by self-doubt and his own extremely healthy ego. The windmilling, guitar-smasher of The Who confesses his insecurities and deconstructs his own reflection at length -- these are seemingly more compelling subjects to the author than the making of “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia.” Fans will no doubt be awed by Townshend’s candor, for better or for worse.
Pete Townshend of The Who
CYNDI LAUPER: A Memoir, by Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn (Atria). The pride and joy of Ozone Park, Queens, Lauper rose to fame in the early ’80s with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and became a staple on MTV, flaunting a colorful, carefree kookiness. But in her memoir, Lauper unloads details of a life that was dotted with trauma and aggravation, both at home and in the public eye. An ardent feminist and gay-rights champion, Lauper writes, “I had always struggled to live in a world whose language I couldn’t speak and didn’t want to know.” Time after time, she triumphs.
HELLO, GORGEOUS: Becoming Barbra Streisand, by William J. Mann (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Brooklyn native Streisand moved to Manhattan when she was 17, with no connections and just enough money to get by. Less than five years later, she was a Broadway star in “Funny Girl” and the top-selling female recording artist in the country. Mann’s book reconstructs Babs’s earliest years and reveals how childhood misfortune (the death of her father, a strained relationship with her mother) led to insecurities, then full-blown neuroticism.
I DREAMED I WAS A VERY CLEAN TRAMP, by Richard Hell (Ecco). Co-founder of three formative New York punk bands — Television, the Heartbreakers, and the Voidoids — Richard Hell (né Meyers) was a key figure in shaping the CBGB scene of the mid to late ’70s. Hell has the remarkable ability to impart the cultural and personal significance of those years without sounding sanctimonious or bloated with nostalgia. Whether fondly recalling his derelict peers and the songs they wrote together, or describing the “adult” feeling that heroin gave him, Hell makes the grit gleam.
I’M YOUR MAN: The Life of Leonard Cohen, by Sylvie Simmons (Ecco). Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen was born in 1934 to one of the most prominent Jewish families in Montreal and became an iconoclastic figure of cool, whose albums made him a worldwide success. But when he returned from a monastic retreat in the late ’90s to discover his longtime manager screwed him out of his life savings and publishing rights, Cohen was forced to go back to work. Sylvie Simmons’s diligent research and interviews with Cohen trace the artist’s journey right up to the release of his remarkable 2012 album, “Old Ideas.”
98% FUNKY STUFF: My Life in Music, by Maceo Parker (Chicago Review Press). Growing up in pre-Civil Rights-era North Carolina, sax legend Maceo Parker was a self-described “good boy” who landed in the band of one of entertainment’s bad boys. When James Brown decreed “I just want you to blow, Maceo!” on “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” Parker became a household name, and his life changed forever, leading to odysseys with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and his own band, All the King’s Men. A humble, genial man who had little interest in the excesses of stardom, Parker is a refreshing figure with funky stuff to spare.
KICKING AND DREAMING: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll, by Ann and Nancy Wilson with Charles R. Cross (It Books). There was a time in the ’70s and ’80s when sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson ruled the rock and roll kingdom, a place usually reserved for dudes -- something they were constantly reminded of by piggish promoters, newspaper reporters, record executives and fellow musicians (including then-up-and-coming Johnny Cougar). Offstage, battles with addiction and heartbreak did a number on them, but the Wilsons’ passion for music and dedication to one another sustained them through four awesome decades of rock.
Ann Wilson, left, and Nancy Wilson of the band Heart.
LED ZEPPELIN: An Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band, by Barney Hoskyns (Wiley). Music journalist Barney Hoskyns brings readers the story of how Led Zeppelin became the band, the myth, the legend. Culled from more than 200 interviews with band members, roadies, groupies, fellow musicians, label executives and others, the Zep-on-Zep action contained here is as gnarly and enchanting as the music itself. The human sides of Plant, Page, Jones and the late Bonham are exposed, but by all accounts (and this book has plenty), their rock and roll animal nature was very real.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: A Memoir, by Shawn Colvin (William Morrow). At the 1998 Grammys, singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin’s hit “Sunny Came Home” won the two most coveted awards: record and song of the year. Bob Dylan went to kiss her hand and accidentally brushed his nose on it instead. Such thrills! But those were hardly Colvin’s greatest moments. Her memoir dwells more on the personal achievements: tackling anxiety, anorexia and alcoholism, as well as getting over the heartache of numerous failed relationships, marriages and crushes. Colvin tells her stories -- especially the embarrassing stuff -- with charming abandon.
MARY WELLS: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar, by Peter Benjaminson (Chicago Review Press). At age 17, Mary Wells hounded Motown president Berry Gordy Jr. for an audition. He told her to sing on the spot -- she sang “Bye Bye Baby” (a song she wrote herself), and Gordy signed her to his label the next day. Four years later, “My Guy” pushed Wells to the top of the charts, but her rapid decline came shortly after, when she severed ties with Motown. Wells continued with her career, but addiction, violence, and illness plagued her. Still, this bio celebrates one of pop’s most vibrant stars.
UNKNOWN PLEASURES: Inside Joy Division, by Peter Hook (It Books). Joy Division, England’s massively influential post-punk band of the late ’70s, was known for its brooding darkness. Yet bassist Peter Hook delivers a sprightly, often funny account of the young quartet, interspersed with tales of his later years in New Order. Plenty of intoxication, fights and amusing calamities are juxtaposed with impending doom: the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis on the eve of the band’s first-ever American tour. “I don’t remember anything for a long time after that,” Hook writes.