How does the saying go? "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Overquoted, tossed off and attributed to the likes of Elvis Costello, Steve Martin and Frank Zappa, there might be some truth to those damning words, whose author remains unknown. After all, what makes music so powerful? It's the music, of course, not necessarily words about it.
But sometimes dancing about architecture is the best way to make sense of something that doesn't inherently make sense. Words can provide context and illuminate the unknown, and in 2011, our favorite books about music were mostly revealing biographies and wide-spanning analyses. Chosen by the NPR Music staff (and one of NPR's music librarians), these books are interpretations of a rich history written by the people who made the music and those who it affected, from a young, rogue music video network and a crumbling city producing radical music to the man who invented the modern album cover and a metal fanboy caught in the middle of a murder trial.
Honorable Mentions:Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside AC/DC by Mark Evans
Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones by Papa Jo Jones with Paul Devlin
My Infamous Life: The Autobiography of Mobb Deep's Prodigy by Albert "Prodigy" Johnson with Laura Checkoway
Dirty South: Outkast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop by Ben Westhoff
New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans by John Swenson
Keystone Korner: Portrait of Jazz Club by Kathy Sloane
Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice by Tad Hershorn
I Listen to the Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music in Vernacular Photographs 1880-1955 by Steve Roden