The best books on what drives an artist

Julia Crowe Author Of My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 70 Legendary Musicians
By Julia Crowe

Who am I?

I am an author, film composer, guitarist, multimedia artist, and perfumer. As a music journalist, I’ve written extensively for many major U.S. and international guitar publications before launching the website, The Guitar. My music has been featured on National Public Radio and worldwide at major U.S. and international art and design museum festivals. Part of being a writer is about expressing one’s curiosity through constant delving and engaging in the ongoing process of discovery. What compels me is the attempt to understand the inspiration that drives an artist to create a distinctively beautiful melody, fragrance, or artwork—one that grabs your attention with a mesmerizing, transfixing, and soulful quality. 

I wrote...

My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 70 Legendary Musicians

By Julia Crowe,

Book cover of My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords from 70 Legendary Musicians

What is my book about?

My First Guitar: Tales of True Love and Lost Chords features interviews with over 70 of the world’s most well-known guitarists from different musical genres (rock, classical, flamenco, jazz, blues, country) about how they obtained their start as a professional musician. In each interview, the artist tells their own indelible story in their own words about their early recollections of obtaining their instruments and performing, along with early foibles and hard-won triumphs. Woven in between is the author’s own story of how she came to collect the interviews. 

The books I picked & why

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

By Joan Didion,

Book cover of Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

Why this book?

I’ve lived in California and feel that this is the most eloquent book that describes the Golden State from the perspective of a transplanted New Yorker. Though written in the 1960s, many of her observations are still cogent and on the mark, yet, at the same time, they are also revealing about the author. In her essay, “Goodbye to All That,” she wrote, “For a lot of the time I was in New York, I used a perfume called Fleurs de Rocaille, and then L’Air du Temps, and not the trace of either can short-circuit my connections for the rest of the day.”

Touched by Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley

By Gary Lucas,

Book cover of Touched by Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley

Why this book?

Gary Lucas is best known for his guitar wizardry in Captain Beefheart and for his dazzling guitar riffs that create the spine for Jeff Buckley’s hits, “Grace” and “Mojo Pin,” but I know him personally as an intelligent, highly-observant raconteur who has a mordant way of conveying the absurdity that exists within the music business. He deftly captures the lifeblood and pulse that comes with writing, collaborating creating music, which, itself, is always the joy. Touched by Grace offers a glimpse into his unforgettable collaboration with the charismatic singer Jeff Buckley in his band Gods & Monsters, from their first performance together in 1991 on through the stunning news of the singer’s tragic drowning in Memphis in 1997.

Monet's Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet

By Claire Joyes,

Book cover of Monet's Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet

Why this book?

A famous painter’s cookbook? If you didn’t think artists eat, think again, and start by Googling images of Monet’s kitchen at his house in Giverny. (I said eat, not cook.) Written by the wife of Madame Monet’s great-grandson, this book offers you beautiful photographs of this artwork along with diary accounts of his family life and an opportunity to understand one of the great Impressionist artists through the dishes that his wife and family prepared, including his favorite, richly green-hued pistachio cake. 

Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life

By Julia Frey,

Book cover of Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life

Why this book?

Frey’s book is a vivid account of the fin-de-siecle French painter who was born into aristocracy but did not fit in, due to hereditary dwarfism. Lautrec devoted himself to studying painting in Paris, where he fell in with the cabaret theatre and dancehall crowd, along with its contingent, shadier side of sundry misfits, whom he embraced wholly. In the milieu that permitted a laundress (La Goulue) to become a can-can star, Lautrec put himself on the map with his spectacular cabaret posters. I chose this book because though I do not draw portraits, I can relate to my enjoyment of capturing artistic photographs of musicians.

The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume

By Tilar J. Mazzeo,

Book cover of The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume

Why this book?

Mazzeo’s book provides fascinating insight into a perfume that has enjoyed insane sales longevity when most tend to fade from the market. The book offers a portrait of the orphaned young woman’s convent upbringing to her days as a chanteuse and milliner to her rise in society as a fashion designer. Some say Chanel No. 5 resulted from a happy fluke of dumping too much aliphatic aldehydes into the juice, yet it became instantly iconic as the first clean, modern perfume, one that did not fall into the established vamp/ingenue fragrance categories of the day.  It reached iconic status during WWII as a tax-free product sold in military commissaries around the world. Not all smells sweet: Coco proved to be a Nazi sympathizer in a failed attempt to regain control of her business.    

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