Coming up on the 20th Anniversary of Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought)
By Kathleen Krull
Lives of the Musicians would never have come about if I hadn’t known Kathryn Hewitt, the artist. She was painting these amazing caricatures of people she admired– famous philosophers, writers, artists. We started brainstorming on how to bring her caricatures to print in a way that young readers would most appreciate. Several years passed and things finally clicked. With almost every other book I have worked on, the text has come first. But this is a case where the art came first– her caricatures inspired me to write equally eccentric biographies.
We chose musicians because we are both music-fiends. I minored in music in college, and I think music is one of those things that gives life meaning. Poking around in the library, I found musical biographies then to be dated, not much fun, nothing a present-day kid would read. We saw a need.
I started research with charismatic Beethoven– everyone who ever met him wrote a book about it–and one day I read that his favorite meal was macaroni and cheese. This homely tidbit gave me my focus: concrete details that kids ages 8 to 12 could relate to, anecdotes that would humanize these iconic figures, what you would have noticed about these eccentrics if you’d been their neighbor. What did they wear? What did they do in the middle of the night? How weird was their family life? What did they crave? What about girlfriends and boyfriends? And what about their hair?
Our gossipy approach was new in 1993, and if I’m reading the numbers right, the book is in its 14th printing, newly reissued with an action-packed new cover. It also kept me and Kathy busy with sequels– seven “Lives of” books so far and at least two more to come.
The most important activity for this book is listening to each composer’s music– here are some links to get you started. There are plenty of other ways to use the book, and I look forward to sharing more in Anaheim — along with the first mention of what the next two books in the “Lives of” series will be.
It’s no secret that Beethoven went deaf, that Mozart had constant money problems, and that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote musicals. But what were these people—and other famous musicians—really like? What did they eat? What did they wear? How did they spend their time? What were they like as children? What were their phobias, obsessions, and bad habits? And what did their neighbors think of it all?
Here are the fascinating and often humorous stories of twenty famous musicians—people of all shapes, sizes, temperaments, and lifestyles, from various countries and historical periods, beginning with Vivaldi and ending with Woody Guthrie. Accompanied by brilliant caricatures, Lives of the Musicians will appeal to those who love music, to those who like to hear the story behind a famous name, and to just about everyone else.
Save the date! June 23, 2012 Nonfiction Book Blast 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.