There’s something special about an artist’s journey when the story of it comes directly from the source. When a musician relays the stroke of inspiration that shaped the lyrics you know by heart, or the mad dash to an instrument to write a melody, we’re included in a bit of magic. The best memoirs are able to show us both sides of the artist — the creative genius and the ordinary human — at the same time, and 2022 had an array of incredible books by musicians from all different eras and genres. On this list, you’ll find pop superstars, rap pioneers, and even a classical composer. They’ll take you from the crime-ridden streets of Los Angeles and the Bronx, to the industrial side of small-town England, to the legendary honky-tonks of Nashville. In no particular order, here are SPIN’s best music memoirs of 2022.
Bono’s life story is expansive. In his beautifully written memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, the U2 singer introduces the part of him we never get to see: the lost kid from Dublin who found solace in words and poetry, who never imagined he’d be selling out stadiums the world over as the lead singer of one of the biggest rock bands in history. At age 14, Bono lost his mother to a brain aneurysm. He writes movingly about how that profound loss began the deterioration of his relationship with his father, and how Bono filled those emotional voids with art. That creative journey brought light into his life, as Bono wound up forming U2 during the same week he met his future wife, Ali.
As U2’s success grew, Bono saw more opportunities to use his and the band’s influence to do humanitarian work. Because Bono grew up amid Ireland’s political unrest, he felt personally motivated to aid other parts of the world experiencing devastation. It’s U2’s unwavering faith in a spirituality that guides them to seek justice. And songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are a resounding call to action.
The highlights of the book are Bono’s reflections on songwriting, staying true to the members of his band, on marriage and becoming a father, and ultimately on letting go of inner turmoil. Bono learns, and teaches us, to forge a pathway to forgiveness — and simply surrender.
Bonus tip: do yourself a favor and listen to this one via audiobook. Bono’s writing feels even more immersive and poetic when narrated by his Irish brogue. The audiobook is a true concert experience, with each chapter leading to excerpts of the songs he discusses.
For those of us who grew up in the Union Jack cloud of girl power that was the Spice Girls, this author needs no introduction. For everyone else, Melanie Chisholm, known as Sporty Spice, was the singer in the best girl group of the ’90s (sorry, All Saints!) Despite the flashy glamour associated with Spice Girls stardom, The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl is a surprisingly subdued, heartfelt portrayal of the immense pressure that shadows fame. Following her journey from a small town in northwest England, the book details Chisholm’s transformation from a football-loving, track pant-wearing kid who learned independence from a young age into one-fifth of a global pop music juggernaut.
Chisholm writes with impressive vulnerability about how a group of young women, bonded through music, dancing, and living their wildest dreams, became completely detached from one another. Part of the Spice Girls’ genius was that there was no lead singer in the group. Each of the five women (Baby, Scary, Ginger, Posh, and Sporty) represented a different kind of girl that their young girl-dominated audience saw in themselves. That ethos is embodied by their biggest hit, “Wannabe,” a song about female friendship and empowerment. But all of that stoked the media to break them apart. Those tensions culminated in a devastating incident after the 1996 BRIT Awards. Mel C was chastised by her bandmates for being cruel in a moment she struggled to remember, and they threatened to dismiss her from the group. From then on, she decided her opinion was no longer worth sharing. Her lack of control in her outer world manifested instead into an intense need to control herself through body dysmorphia and anxiety. These inner struggles were her refusal to show emotional vulnerability because of how greatly she feared rejection.
25 years later, after building her career as a solo singer and experiencing motherhood, Mel C has become an advocate for the wounded. Her memoir is like an encouraging hug that reminds us to value our self-worth as we care for our own physical and mental wellbeing. It’s a story of actual girl power (accompanied with a peace sign, of course), and how reclaiming yourself is worth it in the end.
With the amount of times Fat Joe has narrowly avoided death, we’re lucky to even have the opportunity to read this book. The Book of Jose is an adrenaline rush, a survival-of-the-fittest tale of growing up in the South Bronx, where gangs, drugs, and violence ran rampant in the borough Fat Joe called home.
Born Joseph Cartagena in 1970 to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, Joe learned self-defense long before music came into the picture. To say his childhood was dangerous is a severe understatement, and Joe does not shy away from discussing these darker parts of his life. He reveals harrowing moments that resulted in the death of his friends, and others that nearly ended it all for him. Joe’s answer to years of brutal bullying was creating the Terror Squad, which became the top drug dealing enterprise in the Bronx, and eventually, Joe’s business comrades once he left the streets behind. When Fat Joe made his connection to music — dropping beats instead of bullets — his entire life began to shift. Even so, the harsh lessons he learned on the street serve him well in the cutthroat music industry.
You have to applaud Fat Joe for holding on to his authenticity — the book reads almost like a transcription of his voice. There are also many unique stylistic choices he makes in his writing, from frequent italics to adding extra letters to words (smalllllll) for dramatic emphasis, which make reading the book extra entertaining. He’s honest, but maintains a wall against all of the pain he’s faced. Who could blame him? He has lost siblings, best friends, and partners in the industry. He has been cheated out of money by people he trusted, and even served time in jail due to a crooked accountant’s mistakes.
But the standout sections of the memoir are the heartfelt ones. He includes tributes to his love of and brotherhood with Big Pun, the legendary artist who passed away far too young, and his kinship with DJ Khaled. With age comes greater wisdom and maturity, and we see that in Fat Joe as well. He resolves old beefs, finds a way to bounce back after major financial loss, and becomes an incredible husband and father. The message is clear: embrace change, follow loyalty, and create from your heart. This one is a wild ride, so buckle up and “Lean Back.”
Back in the early aughts, there was a sudden emergence of teenagers wearing eyeliner, grown-out side bangs, and skinny jeans. It was a turning of musical tides, and the birth of bands like Fall Out Boy. In None of This Rocks, Fall Out Boy co-founder and lead guitarist Joe Trohman writes about how he and his bandmates found themselves at the center of the pop-punk youthquake.
Trohman’s distinct writing voice leans toward stream of consciousness, with vivid, absurdist commentary that trails off – almost like JD’s daydreams in Scrubs. Trohman delves into more serious matter when talking about his strained relationship with his mother, who suffered permanent brain damage after radiation treatments for cancer. Luckily, he had an incredibly kind-hearted father who supported his love for music and bought him his first guitar.
Trohman’s youth was filled with multiple moves, many to cities riddled with anti-semitic microaggressions, bullying from peers that led to a suicide attempt, and the introduction of therapy and SSRIs into his life. It wasn’t until Trohman’s family relocated to the suburbs of Chicago that he felt a sense of home and found his people during nightly commutes into the gritty underground punk scene of Chicago. That’s where he met Pete Wentz.
The success of Fall Out Boy came with hardships for Trohman, including substance abuse, multiple back surgeries, an identity crisis, and burnout. The band took a four-year hiatus and when it returned, Trohman had to learn how to reach out and ask for help when his toxic thoughts become too intrusive. The memoir sheds light on how Trohman uses self-deprecating humor to shield him from anxiety, and that makes it all the more relatable.
It’s clear Trohman still finds himself trapped inside his own head, needing the support of others to resolve some of those paralyzing thoughts. As an older and wiser human who has settled on healthier coping mechanisms, and created a family with a wife and two daughters he adores, Trohman has achieved a genuine wholesomeness through his growth (even as he continues making butthole jokes at our expense).
In 1980, AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning at age 33. Brian Johnson, then the singer for a glam rock band, became Scott’s replacement and promptly played a crucial role in what would become one of the best selling albums of all-time: Back in Black. This period covers only about two years of Johnson’s unbelievable six-plus decades in rock and roll. His memoir, fittingly titled The Lives of Brian, also happens to be laugh-out-loud hilarious, written from the vantage point of someone who clearly still can’t believe these fantastical lives are, in fact, all part of the same story.
Johnson brings us back to the small working-class town in England where he was raised by a British father and an Italian mother, who instilled a hardworking demeanor to which he attributes his success as a songwriter. To this day, Johnson’s signature look is the newsboy cap he wears onstage in a nod to his blue collar root. But it was in this same small town that he heard Little Richard for the first time through a neighbor’s window, and he was unable to consider any other vocation for himself except for performing. He joined his community church choir and kept sniffing out opportunities to sing in local bands until he was on tour with the aforementioned glam band, Geordie.
Johnson bookends his memoir with his recent struggles with hearing loss (in 2016, he was forced to leave an AC/DC tour after doctors told him that if he continued to perform, he risked losing his hearing completely). Johnson claims that experience was “the darkest day of my professional life,” and he writes candidly about the devastating diagnosis and eventual recovery. But just like the greatest AC/DC songs, Johnson takes his own tragic circumstances and turns them into a song of grit and victory for our benefit — and maybe for his, too.
A piano prodigy by age 6, Jeremy Denk’s childhood was far from traditional. In his debut memoir, Every Good Boy Does Fine, the MacArthur “Genius” Fellow weaves together a witty, emotionally riveting account of his life that has as many crescendos as one of his scores. Raised in New Mexico, Denk feels the pressure from parents who spout constant critiques and set high expectations for their son. It isn’t until Denk leaves home at 16 to attend college that we see him begin to develop into a person beyond the piano. As he strives for musical mastery, he has a charming way of calling out his own shortcomings with humor. At first, his relationship with the piano is complicated and tedious — the drudgery of endless repetition, the rituals of understanding music at its base level in order to elevate it. And as he praises the classical masterminds who shift his perspective (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms), Denk cleverly includes images of sheet music, diagrams, and sketches of his own studies to help those of us who are not as classically trained to follow his thought processes. Organized into different sections of melody, harmony, and rhythm, Denk’s narrative ultimately asks the reader to consider, or re-consider, the composition of their lives.
Denk’s philosophies are a tribute to every piano teacher whose lessons went beyond the scales. Denk points out some of these for us: pay attention to what’s in between the notes, focus on the rests, find the emotion behind the keystroke. Discovering parallels helped Denk accept himself and fall deeper in love with music. As we watch him transform from student to teacher, he overcomes many of his own insecurities. Even when Denk’s musical abilities continue to flourish, and he’s not sure of his next step, he manages to hit the right notes. It’s clear that as a renowned concert pianist, frequent Carnegie Hall performer, and Billboard classical chart topper, Denk has certainly found a way to do better than just fine.
Willie Nelson is no stranger to telling his story — he has at least three other memoirs, including his 2016 autobiography. This one is dedicated to his best friend and drummer, Paul English, who passed away at age 87 in early 2020, and Me and Paul: Untold Stories of a Fabled Friendship is rooted in the power of lifelong friendship and loyalty.
It all began simply enough: Paul’s brother introduced them. Willie paints Paul as an otherworldly superhero, able to swoop in and save him from quite a few physical altercations just on gut instinct. One time, Paul burst through the door of a hotel room in the nick of time with a shotgun handy, as Willie was about to be pummeled by a much larger man over a case of infidelity. There’s a magical realism to their friendship that elevates their trust and inexplicable connection to one another. But their brotherhood extended far beyond getting into mischief and settling physical altercations as young men. Paul was Willie’s biggest fan, pushing him to become a better musician and forge the industry connections that would give him opportunities. He even paid for Willie’s first professional recording session.
When Willie finally began to see success, he brought along Paul, who learned to play drums on a ragtag kit. His style complemented Willie’s offbeat, wandering musicianship with an almost ethereal precision. The decision to make Paul his permanent drummer was an easy one, Willie said. It meant that Paul could be by Willie’s side through every part of life’s adventure. The memoir is an honest, entertaining read, about how these two friends supported one another through all of life’s joys and tragedies. Buy this one for yourself. Or better yet, gift it to a loved one.
Long before he became the gruff sergeant Odafin “Fin” Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Ice-T grew up in South Central Los Angeles, aligning himself with the other side of the law. Born in New Jersey, and orphaned by age 13, Ice-T was sent across the country to live with his indifferent aunt. He quickly learned to be self-sufficient, befriending notorious gangs by showing off his skills for “toasting” (rapping), and his knack for lyricism became a form of “self-defense.” After high school, Ice-T enlisted in the military. But when he returned home, he found himself back in the game of robbing jewelry stores. During this time, he made a lifelong friend in Spike, helping them see the potential for greatness in each other beyond crime. For one of them, life eventually took a cruel turn.
Split Decision alternates between Ice-T and Spike’s perspectives. There is no softening the truth: one friend was discovered at a barber shop and became the godfather of gangsta rap. The other was involved in a robbery that resulted in the death of an innocent bystander and decades spent in prison.
Loyalty and commitment win out in the end. Ice-T takes us on the journey of his career in both rap and metal — a testament to his artistic versatility — and his desire to constantly challenge himself in music. In 2021, his band Body Count won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Spike — finally released from prison — was by his side, ready to embark on a new life. Split Decision is a thrilling read. It’s also a reminder that our choices determine the type of person we can become, but we also have the ability to change. No one deserves a permanent label if they’re willing to put in the work.
Maybe We’ll Make It is a beautiful, soul-bearing memoir, rich with the vivid imagery of a young woman who left behind the burdens of small town farm life to move to the big city. Margo Price arrived in Nashville with empty pockets but an immense dream of making it as a singer, after dropping out of college at 19. For the next decade, Price spent every free moment working odd jobs and busking to make ends meet while developing her music. Despite her elegant prose, Price does not hold back any of the ugly details of her starving artist lifestyle. Eventually, the mountain of rejection from the music industry became too much to bear. So Price ran away to find herself again.
Price traversed the country as a kind of nomad. In the book, she reflects on the love and loss required for a creative life. Her unabashed commentary on the sexist undertones of the country music industry, and the grueling need to prove herself to record labels that are only too eager to cast her aside, reveal her fighter spirit. Beyond every brutal rejection is still the desire to write, to sing, to play her guitar. To her, it was as natural as breathing.
As Price finally edged closer to success, she faced challenges while becoming a new mother that loomed around her. But even in her darkest moments, Price writes with crushing honesty and humility. Her story serves as a poignant reflection on finding courage in chaos and leaning on a support system when life is too difficult to shoulder alone. But above all, this is a memoir about having faith. While the road may be a long one, you will make it. It just may not happen overnight.
All products featured on SPIN are independently selected by our editors and writers. When you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.