While listicles can sometimes feel like lazy writing, the book “101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die” from Spanish illustrator and music lover Ricardo Cavolo is anything but. Inside, he dedicates two pages to each artist who has had an impact on his life. On the left, Cavolo hand writes anecdotes and entangled thoughts on why he admires them; on the adjoining page lies a vividly painted portrait in his signature style. It’s not a reference book but an intimate diary bursting with color and fervor. Cavolo’s frank reflections get to the very core of why we love music.
Born in Salamanca, Spain, Cavolo was raised to be curious about music by his father, also a working artist. Music was always played in the studio and at home, Cavolo tells CH, because music is perfect for drawing and painting. “No records—we were poor—so we just had pirate cassettes, loads of them, played on a car cassette player: Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Muddy Waters, Easy Rider OST, Chuck Berry… That was my musical baptism.” He continues, “There are no Spanish musicians [in the book] because all the music I was raised with was specially from USA or UK. So Anglo-Saxon music became my music at some point.” Music knows no artificially drawn borderlines, indeed.
There are some bands that stay with you for years and years, and that means something, right?
In rough chronological order of when the artists were active, the book starts with Bach and ends with Chief Keef, touching many different genres (and musical icons) along the way. “The first list I did was about 250 musicians, and it took a while to reduce it until the final 101,” says Cavolo of the selection process. “My personal criteria was just based on my life and the music I listen to everyday: the bands that I need while I’m working, or while I’m traveling, or falling in love, or being sad… the musicians I use for my life. There are some bands that stay with you for years and years, and that means something, right? That was my system.”
Today, Cavolo tells us that he enjoys rap at work. “It gives me a funny and a very lively spirit,” he says. “If not rap, probably I’m listening to country: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Roscoe Holcomb. Or primitive blues: Leadbelly, Son House, Charlie Patton, Skip James, Robert Johnson.”
Though the book is translated into English by Sophie Hughes, Cavolo hand wrote all of the English text himself. “The book is some kind of my own personal diary,” he says. “To speak about myself, it has to be done with my own handwriting. So you can feel this is very personal, close, warm.”
By isolating musicians from the usual descriptions that shadow them in writing today (album sales, flowery reviews, music videos, public Twitter feuds) and focusing on his personal experiences with their live shows and recordings, Cavolo reminds us of how music can make you feel. Ultimately, what he accomplishes with this book is quite marvelous: rekindling a passion for artists that you’ve loved for years, but maybe let slide to the back burner. And he leaves you with an incredible urge to start your own music journal.
Cavolo has a few more books in the works: “a sort of illustrated encyclopedia about weird and outsider things in life” as well as another music-related book with Nobrow. He’ll also be launching a personal clothing brand this December in Miami during Art Basel. “101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die” is available for $23 from Nobrow’s online shop as well as Amazon. For more suggestions, check out our recent feature on what music books we’re reading now.
Images courtesy of Nobrow