Best music books of 2009: After the excess comes the time for sober reflection...

Live fast, slow down a bit, write your memoirs. As rock'n'roll slogans go, it may not pack the same punch as the old beautiful-corpse chestnut, but at least this year's crop of music books proves that the thoughtful ruminations of survivors can hold their own against the army of picking-over-the-bones biographers.

Better still, specialist musical knowledge is not necessarily required. Is Luke Haines' Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in its Downfall (Heinemann, £12.99) a better read if you own all of Haines' records? Possibly, but what sets the book apart is the author's couldn't-give-a-toss attitude that spares no one, least of all himself. Haines charts his part in the 1990s British music scene that culminated in "annoying" Blur versus "crap new comedy band" Oasis. Haines is perfectly placed to sneer: his band, the Auteurs, along with Suede, had been clever forerunners of the scene he can't (aside from the subtitle) bring himself to name, and he can only look down on an era in which "art is replaced by popular culture".

Less embittered but equally at odds with the modern world, Jah Wobble gives a heartfelt account of himself in Memoirs of a Geezer (Serpent's Tale, £12.99), a beautifully observed record of much more than his time in the post-punk spotlight with John Lydon's PiL. Wobble and Lydon meet at college and are drawn together by a mutual love of Hawkwind. When the Pistols collapse, Lydon turns to his old friend, but theirs is an uneasy and short-lived musical alliance. Which is just as well for the reader, for Wobble's memoirs are at their most revealing when dealing with the end of another era, working-class life in east London, and at their most moving when he muses on how he can give his children the sense of "coming from somewhere" he grew up with.

Sombre reflections are also to be found in Ozzy Osbourne's I Am Ozzy (Little Brown, £20), the story of another working-class lad who dragged himself up by the rock'n'roll bootstraps. And though the years of textbook heavy-metal excess have taken their toll, the former Black Sabbath frontman can still, mostly, recount the drug-fuelled debauchery with a wry twinkle.

Peter Hook's The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club (Simon & Schuster, £18.99) forgoes the personal touch to tell the story of how an iconic nightclub came to encapsulate a time and place. In light of the films Control and 24 Hour Party People, Hook, the Joy Division and New Order bass player, is free to focus on the legendary Northern nightclub and the part it played in turning the post-punk rockers into ravers. Along the way, there are miserable gigs, gangs and run-ins with the police. What there isn't is anyone with any idea of how to run a business. Still, as Hook concludes, "If you're going to waste an opportunity there are a few important things to remember. Do it in style. Do it in public. And, above all, do it in Manchester."

While such "I was there" books dominate, the year threw up other titles worthy of mention. Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and his Cosmic American Music by David N Meyer (Bloomsbury, £12.99) proved that if the subject matter is strong enough, much can still be done with the standard biographic form. For all its writerly conventions, Twenty Thousand Roads is, at last, the biography its subject deserved: a sweeping and insightful look at a troubled star whose work gains in stature with every passing year.

And while we're on the subject of country, Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, The List, and the Spirit of Southern Music by Johnny Cash's biographer Michael Streissguth (Da Capo Press, £13.99) elegantly tells the story of how, 35 years after her father gave her a list of "100 songs she ought to know", Roseanne Cash whittled it down to an album's worth of material as an exercise in "song preservation".

Gazing through the microscope at one album to tell the wider picture of musicians at work is also the modus operandi of Route 19 Revisited: The Clash and London Calling by Marcus Gray (Jonathan Cape, £20). Gray, who has already offered up the definitive Clash biography, The Last Gang in Town, this time turns his gaze to the sprawling album the band made in 1979. Unlike many of the books on this list, Route 19 is aimed squarely at those keen on obsessive details.

Classic Ephemera: A Musical Miscellany by Darren Henley and Tim Lihoreau (Elliott & Thompson, £9.99), on the other hand, is a Schott-like take on the world of Sibelius. Mixing user-friendly lists ("Famous Operas: What is Actually Going On") with short guides to composers, the book is an ideal primer and also provides some perfect cistern-side asides ("I thought Goldberg Variations were something Mr and Mrs Goldberg tried on their wedding night" – Woody Allen).

The idea to give readers something to listen to as well as read is taken to its logical conclusion in Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux (WW Norton, £27.99). This triumph for novice and aficionado alike is intended to be read alongside a four-CD collection. As the story lurches from New Orleans to New York and beyond, the authors offer up not so much a guide to jazz as an extended lesson in how to listen to it. It is an enthralling journey, and though it is littered with musicians whose lifestyle never allowed them to slow down and write their memoirs, the authors, for once, shun such detail in favour of an appreciation of what they left behind.

What was the most memorable arts event of 2009? In the comments form below (or via email to arts@independent.co.uk) nominate your favourite - in film, music, theatre, comedy, dance or visual arts - with a brief explanation as to why it tops your list and we'll print a selection in The Independent Readers' Review of 2009.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory