Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Jay-Z’s rise to fame has as many lessons for would-be moguls as for budding rappers:
Turn yourself into a brand. Take risks. Take more risks. Work insanely hard. Have boundless self-belief. Always look for the most realistic way to maximize profit.
Jay-Z might add: Become boss of Def Jam records. Set up Roc-A-Fella records. Marry Beyonce.
All these lessons are clear from “Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office” by Zack O’Malley Greenburg (Portfolio, $25.95), one of the year’s best rock books.
The performer, whose real name is Shawn Carter, started as a Brooklyn kid who shot his brother in the shoulder for stealing his jewelry. He then tried selling crack cocaine. He missed few street-smart tricks on his way to a fortune estimated by Forbes at $450 million. As he fliply rapped, “I’m not a businessman: I’m a business, man.”
His biggest lesson, both in music and money, is to broadcast only success and ignore failures -- such as the few singles that failed to chart (“Hovi Baby”) or the Jay-Z-branded Jeep that failed to make it into production.
The book tells us rather more about Jay-Z than his own work, “Decoded” (Spiegel & Grau, $25), a fragmented memoir and picture-heavy scrapbook that has been reissued with 16 pages meant to explain his newer lyrics.
Lady Gaga reclines in the bath, holding a bottle and spitting out beer. On another page she’s posing in that infamous meat dress worn for the MTV Video awards. Elsewhere, she’s trying a little half-naked yoga.
These are three of the 450 striking images in the heavyweight “Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson” (Grand Central, $50).
Gaga allowed photographer Richardson to follow her as she toured, partied and recorded “Born This Way.” He shot 100,000 frames. The most telling portraits show the singer relaxed offstage, such as the one of her lying in bed, dressed down in glasses, with a plate of food as her only company.
Lady Gaga’s quiet night in is a far cry from the time when rock stars used to trash hotels as a matter of course. Joe Walsh, the crazed guitarist of the Eagles, tried to outdo the Who and Led Zeppelin’s television-throwing antics.
Abetted by manager Irving Azoff, Walsh would destroy rooms and furnishings, “often with the help of a chainsaw that Walsh carried on tour for that very purpose,” according to the entertaining “Eagles: Taking It to the Limit” by Ben Fong-Torres (Running Press, $30). The unauthorized bio marks the band’s 40th anniversary with glossy photos and a brisk account of how the best-selling group gorged on drink, drugs, groupies and private jets before rivalries and legal spats set in.
David Bowie fans can seek insights from Paul Trynka’s exhaustive biography, “David Bowie: Starman” (Little, Brown, $25.99), featuring more than 250 interviews with Bowie’s friends, family and colleagues.
While Trynka has no answers on whether Bowie will make music again -- it’s been eight years since the last studio album -- he goes beyond sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll shock value to show exactly how the pimpled schoolboy David Jones became Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke.
Bowie gets called “the Picasso of rock” in “Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny” (Spiegel & Grau, $27), an entertaining autobiography by Nile Rodgers, the brains behind Chic. The producer, who has been playing emotional concerts after a cancer scare, drops in anecdotes about Madonna, Michael Jackson and more.
Fans of George Harrison, the quiet Beatle who died in 2001, will lap up “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” (Abrams, $40), by his second wife, Olivia. The memoir, padded out with personal archive material, ties in with a Martin Scorsese TV documentary.
“The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years” (PublicAffairs, $21.99), by Greil Marcus, analyzes about 15 songs word by word. It’s likely to encourage fans to play the tracks all over again to appreciate his insights.
“Pearl Jam Twenty” (Simon & Schuster, $40) covers the band’s first two decades, with hundreds of unseen pictures and quotes from interviews conducted by Cameron Crowe and others.
The masterful “Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge,” by Mark Yarm (Crown Archetype, $25), shows how over five years Seattle became the birthplace of grunge, with Pearl Jam being joined by Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice in Chains.
Even better is “Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever” by Will Hermes (Faber & Faber, $30), an account of the Big Apple’s punk scene from 1973 to ‘77. One particularly jaw-dropping picture shows four musicians playing at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club in 1976: John Cale, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and David Byrne. Oh, to have been at that show.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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