Don't Suck, Don't Die
This year's Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, Amy, and the success of HBO's Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck last year (which has a print companion worth browsing) had us thinking about some other musicians whose careers were cut tragically short, and the stories behind their struggles and successes.
1. Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh
Hersh (of the band Throwing Muses and her own solo work) writes a touching tribute to her good friend and fellow musician, Vic Chesnutt, who died of suicide in 2009. Chesnutt was injured in a car accident in his teens and was quadriplegic, struggling under the weight of medical bills at the time of his death. Hersh writes, “We all tried to keep you talking, because shutting up is shutting down, and we were already a little lonely knowing how close you were to checking out.”
2. Dream Boogie: the Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick
Guralnick, also a biographer for Elvis Presley, delves into Cooke's childhood, widespread musical appeal and influence, troubled personal life, and involvement in the Civil Rights Era, culminating in the posthumous release of "A Change Is Gonna Come." Cooke died of a single gunshot wound to the chest in 1964 at the age of only 33.
"It's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die / I don't know what's up there beyond the sky / It's been a long time coming but I know, yes, I know, a change is gonna come."
3. Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul by Mark Ribowsky
Only 26 when he died in a plane crash, Otis Redding's short career influenced a generation. Ribowsky offers a history of Redding's quick rise in Memphis starting when he was 21, his vitality as the face of Stax Records, as well as context for the political and social upheaval at the time.
4. Elliott Smith by Autumn de Wilde; forward by Beck Hansen and Chris Walla
Part photo album, part biography, part memorial, photographer Autumn de Wilde remembers her friend Elliott in pictures and interviews with those who knew him well. Wilde photographed Smith over many years, including for his Figure 8 album cover. The mural in Los Angeles he was pictured standing in front of became a makeshift memorial after Smith's suicide in October 2003.
5. Little Girl Blue: the Life of Karen Carpenter by Randy L. Schmidt; foreword by Dionne Warwick
Only 32 when she died of complications due to anorexia nervosa, Karen Carpenter had a short but huge career with The Carpenters, the top-selling American group of the 1970s. Schmidt interviews more than 100 of those who knew her the best.
Extra Credit Reading:
6. Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones
7. Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped by Cissy Houston with Lisa Dickey; with a foreword by Dionne Warwick
8. Searching for Robert Johnson by Peter Guralnik
9. Unbelievable: the Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G. by Cheo Hodari Coker
10. Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook