Book Review:Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E Smith

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to take things so literally. When picked up Ms. Smith’s book, I truly thought it would be about collecting records (or musical downloads considering it’s the 21st century), with intelligent and knowledgeable essays about various musical genres, musicians, singers, songwriters and how they can affect you as a woman and a lover of music.

After reading Record Collecting for girls, I now realize why we are told “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

On paper Smith seems like the coolest girl in the universe. She honed her love of music while in college. For nearly a decade she was the music programmer and manager of label relations at MTV. She chose videos for 20 of MTV’s musical platforms. Reading about her tenure and her multitude of accomplishments truly excited me as a reader…and to be honest, kind of intimidated me.

But Smith’s time with MTV was the only thing that impressed me as I kept on reading and discovered her experience with music has all of the depth of a 12 inch extended re-mix of Duran Duran’s classic song “Hungry Like the Wolf.” I was hoping for a younger version of one of my favorite music journalists Lisa Robinson. Sadly, Smith is just another “Becky,” more boy crazy than a true connoisseur of music.

Record Collecting for Girls is more of a memoir of Smith’s various boyfriends; for the most part music is secondary. After a while, I started thinking, “Okay, I get it, Courtney. Guys think you’re hot. Now will you please write more on why music is such an important part of your life?”

For someone who spends a lot of time discussing her boyfriends, Smith has all the charm of a constantly skipping vinyl record while teaching us on the difference between “groupies” and “wives.” And she wastes no time ripping apart one of the most famous groupies of all time, the lovely Pamela Des Barres (who was married to rocker Michael Des Barres for quite a long time). To Smith, Des Barres is nothing but an airheaded twit who allowed herself be exploited by rock and roll greats. To Miss Pamela’s credit, she is quite forthcoming when it comes to the good, the bad and ugly of being a woman and a fan in the world of rock and roll. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s also a vastly superior writer to Smith. Smith’s derision towards other female rock fans is truly “mean girl.”

When it comes to women who play music, most of her wasted ink is on both the Bangles and the Go-Gos. There is nearly zilch on other lady music luminaries like Debbie Harry, Patty Smith, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Annie Lennox, Joan Jett, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Nina Simone or Janis Joplin. Other bands with a strong female presence like Heart, Sonic Youth, The Talking Heads, The Runaways, The Velvet Underground or The Breeders also don’t get much of a mention. Also pretty much ignored? Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Jewel, Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrisette and any band related to the Riot Grrrl era.

Smith also ignores the positive female icons of hip hop like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliott, Salt n’ Pepa, and TLC.

As for well-known female millennial artists like Taylor Swift, Kesha, Katy Perry, Rihanna, or Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj or Janelle Monae? Forget about it.

Smith does go on forever when it comes to Madonna, but who hasn’t? And she does have a love for the Pussycat Dolls. I won’t hold that against her; for there is a place in my heart for both Bananarama and the Spice Girls.

Now what about the men of rock and roll? Smith has a particular dislike for the Smiths because guys who like the Smiths also are fans of serial killers. Gee, I’m not exactly a fan of someone who spells Morrissey’s first name wrong. It’s Steven, not Stephen.

And FYI Courtney. It’s Berry Gordy, not Barry Gordy and it’s “Jennifer Juniper,” not “Jennifer Jupiter.”

Now that I’ve written that sentence I am several IQ points stupider. Or should I say “stupiter?”

Her chapter on The Beatles vs. The Stones hardly breaks new ground. And her chapter on the various songs couples choose as “our song,” break up songs, and songs for making out won’t keep Rob Sheffield up at night.

There are some highlights. She provides lists of songs at the end of each chapter that might help you pick out new music to listen to and she writes well when writing about some of her favorite artists, which include REM, Fiona Apple, Elvis Costello, Stevie Nicks, and Sleater-Kinney.

But other than those few crumbs, Record Collecting for Girls is a waste of time. Smith’s writing is both hollow and pretentious. You’re better off reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, or at least renting the John Cusack movie of the same name.

Book Review: Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? The Tale of a Teen Rock Wannabe Who Almost Was by Craig A. Williams

51yhw2yai-l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Many a teen boy has dreamed of strapping on an electric guitar, joining a band, playing to cheering crowds, getting it on with groupies and achieving both fame and fortune. For most of them, this is just a dream. But for Craig A. Williams, this dream was nearly a reality, and he documents his experiences in his book, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants?

While still in his teens, Williams played lead guitar in an LA-based heavy metal band, Onyxx (later, Onyxxx). Originally called Onyx, the band added the extra xx-s to avoid copyright infringement due to a hip-hop group also named Onyx. And perhaps because their band was just too much rock for one measly X. Managed by a Loni Anderson look-alike, Onyxxx journeyed from small school gigs to the hottest clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

Williams first embraced his musical dreams when he wrote a song using his Casio keyboard. The seeds of musical greatness were sown, but Williams knew making music on a Casio keyboard was too dorky for words, so he picked up an electric guitar. Soon he joined forces with some high school chums — lead singer Tyler, bassist Sunil and drummer Kyle — and formed Onyxxx.

Laying the groundwork for rock and roll stardom, Onyxxx went from playing for their classmates in suburban LA to less than enthusiastic audiences at seedy dives. Despite these humble beginnings, Onyxxx’s manager believed they could make it big, and be the New Kids on the Block of glam heavy metal. It was the pre-grunge days where Guns ‘n Roses, Poison and Motley Crue were MTV staples. Before long Onyxxx were playing shows at such notable venues like the Troubadour and the Roxy. Their shows garnered them a sizable fan-base, including some very willing groupies. Williams thought he had reached the pinnacle of rock and roll paradise when he autographed a girl’s breast for the very first time.

But like lots of other rock bands on the verge of fame, Onyxxx had to deal with their share of problems. Tyler, though a charismatic frontman, was often a total jerk to those who crossed his path. Sunil was frequently bullied due to his East Indian heritage. And despite being a drummer, Kyle didn’t have the best sense of rhythm. Onyxxx also dealt with trials familiar to anyone who has seen at least one episode of VH-1′s “Behind the Music,” including rampant drug use, unsavory club managers, psycho fans and fighting among band members.

But Williams had other issues that probably weren’t bothering Axl Rose or Tommy Lee at the time: the life of a teenaged boy. When he wasn’t rockin’ out on-stage, Williams argued with his parents about doing his chores and his homework, studied for exams, and tried to maneuver the halls of his high school. Williams lived in two very different worlds, which kind of made him the Hannah Montana of glam heavy metal (egad, remember a time when Miley Cyrus was known as Hannah Montana and not a girl who uses a foam finger the way the inventor never intended?).

Sadly, Onyxxx was not meant to be. Even without the drug use, mismanagement and squabbles among the band members, glam heavy metal was about to be toppled by flannel-clad grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. By their senior year, Onyxxx was on the verge of breaking up. They were also on the verge of adulthood, which included college, jobs and other not exactly glamorous responsibilities.

Onyxxx’s loss is our gain. Williams proves himself to be an entertaining writer. He is able to look at his rock and roll past with both insight and humor. He’s self-deprecating and at the same time he is truly proud of almost grabbing the brass ring of stardom. Any rock fan who treasures his or her copy of Appetite for Destruction will get misty-eyed over days gone by. And kids who think of Bret Michaels as a reality TV star, not the lead singer of Poison, will be able to relate to a teenage Williams’ desire for freedom and fun. Williams is a fresh new voice, and has written a very honest book about the music industry. Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? is a head bangin’ good time.

Book Review: Let’s Spend the Night Together-Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

bookpdblstnt

“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”-unknown

Years ago, when I was starry-eyed girl in a vintage frock and a pair of Doc Martens, I picked up a unassuming paperback book. That book was I’m With the Band written by Pamela Des Barres. I completely devoured Ms. Des Barres lusty tales of backstage romance. I couldn’t so much relate to the debauchery and drugs, but I could relate to being consumed by rock music and wanting to be close to the people who created it. Apparently Des Barres and I are not alone. And “Miss Pamela” has written about this in her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

Say the word groupie and what do you think? Slut? Golddigger? Bimbo? Des Barres looks beyond that damning word and gets to heart of several women’s (and one man’s) rock and roll confessionals. And in an odd way, I found many of these women to be strong feminists, eschewing the “lifescript” and striking out on their own unique paths.

One notable super groupie portrayed in Let’s Spend the Night Together is former burlesque dancer, Tura Satana. Exotic Satana (known as Miss Japan Beautiful) met a young Elvis Presley and claims to have taught the King of Rock and Roll how to move on the stage and in bed. To me, anyone who taught Elvis how to dance and how to give head deserves to be canonized. According to Satana, Elvis even proposed to her. Of course, we all know Elvis ended up marrying Priscilla, but that hasn’t stopped Satana from wearing his diamond engagement ring to this day.

You’ve probably heard of Cynthia Plaster Caster. She gained notoriety for casting the erect penises of famous rock stars, most notable being Jimi Hendrix. We even get a photograph of “recovering groupie” Plaster Caster holding the rock legend’s casted member also known as the “Penis de Milo.” In this chapter, Plaster Caster tells how as a shy artistic girl, she came up with her unique art form and how they were nearly stolen by Frank Zappa’s former manager.

Bebe Buell may be best known as actress Liv Tyler’s mom. But back in the day, she was also the alluring arm candy of such rock notables as Rick Nielson, Todd Rundgren and Liv’s daddy, Steven Tyler. Buell much prefers the term “muse” to “groupie.” And though that might sound pretentious, Buell does have a point. Many of these women aren’t necessarily easily disposable objects. Look at your music collection. Many of your favorite songs were probably inspired by girlfriends, lovers and wives.

I was very intrigued by Lexa Vonn. Ms. Vonn founded the LA-based publicity machine the Plastics. Vonn and her fellow glam-goth lovelies do a lot more than hang around backstage offering sexual favors. They are very instrumental in promoting up and coming rock acts. Ms. Vonn also works as a burlesque dancer and rock journalist, and confesses to having a very strong friendship with Marilyn Manson.

There are other notable groupies in Let’s Spend the Night Together. Cassandra Peterson, who you probably better as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, spent some time in the groupie trenches. So did belly dancer extraordinaire, Princess Farhana (born Pleasant Gehman). Actress Patti D’Arbanville shares her stories as does Gail Zappa, the widow of Frank Zappa. And boy groupie Pleather gives rock and roll girls what they’ve got coming. And yes, “sweet, sweet” Connie Hamzy, celebrated in the   Grand Funk Railroad’s song “We’re an American Band” (“Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act/ She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact.”) also has a chapter. I’ll spare you the details on her shenanigans. You have to read it to believe it.

However, not all groupie stories are created equal. I found heavy metal groupies Patty and Lisa tiring and tedious, but that could be because heavy metal is not my thing. And somehow I couldn’t share Tina King’s pride and joy in giving Kid Rock a blow job. Kid Rock, people!

Let’s Spend the Night Together also gives intimate glimpses of the men who play the devil’s music. Apparently Kurt Cobain liked to dress up in women’s clothing, and Billy Idol likes to have stuff shoved up his butt. Who knew? However, I’m still trying to understand the appeal of Faster, Pussycat’s Taime Downe. He is name-dropped quite a bit in the book.

In the end, I found Let’s Spend the Night Together to be a fun, juicy read. I often stayed up way past my bedtime going from chapter to chapter. Des Barres gives her subjects a great deal of dignity and respect, and writes in a wonderfully breezy “just between us girls” style. You’ve got another hit, Miss Pamela!

Book Marks

bookmarkHarper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird will finally be digitalized in e-book form.

Musings on whey we love eight of Judy Blume’s books. And the books that shaped us as women (including one iconic Judy Blume book).

Douglas Coupland, author of the Gen X classic Generation X, claims what people said about Generation X-ers is now being said about Millennials. In other words, same shit, different generation.

When I was a teen, I the only way to be a part of rock and roll was to become a groupie. Sure, if I had any musical talent I could have taken up guitar and become the next Joan Jett. Sadly, I thought I would have to rely on other, ahem talents, to get close to rock and roll greats. Thank goodness I found out about rock critic Lisa Robinson who wrote about the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and U2. I learned you can hang out with the boys who rock and not wear your panties around your ankles. Now Ms. Robinson has chronicled her rock and roll adventures in her memoir, There Goes Gravity. I so have to read this book.

Today begins the three day event of “We Need Diverse Books” campaign, which brings up the need to validate our diverse culture and heritage through books and other literary means.

Retro Review: I’m With the Band-Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres

I'm With the BandBefore Pamela Des Barres was known as a writer and the now ex-wife of rocker Michael Des Barres, she was a Pamela Miller, a girl from Reseda, California. She lived for rock and roll and wanted to be around all of that musical energy. However, she didn’t just go to concerts and hang up posters of the Beatles on her bedroom wall. “Miss Pamela,” as she was later nicknamed, actually met many of her favorite rock stars, had relationships with them, and lived to tell the tale.

Pamela got hooked on rock and roll at a very young age. She loved singer Dion, the Beatles and later became a fan of the Rolling Stones, which made her a bit of pariah among her friends who found the Stones dirty and repugnant. Before long Pamela ditched her bouffant for long hippie goddess tendrils and fully embraced the counter-culture lifestyle of the 1960s.

Whereas Pamela’s high school classmates went off to college or to the work place after graduation, Pamela hightailed it to Hollywood and joined the scene. Getting close to musicians was a lot easier back then and it wasn’t long before Pamela started meeting musicians like the Doors (she made out with Jim Morrison), Frank Zappa, and the Byrds.

Macking on Jim Morrison was a fleeting moment, but Frank Zappa and the Byrds truly became a part of Pamela’s life. Pamela befriended Frank’s wife Gail and later acted as a nanny to the Zappa’s young children. Blown away by Pamela and her friends’ unique style and energy, Frank turned them into the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). The GTOs weren’t so much a band as they were a living and breathing piece of performance art.

As for the Byrds, Pamela fell hard for bass player Chris Hillman. Pamela and Chris struck up an on-and-off again romantic relationship, and Pamela later followed Chris when he formed after the Flying Burrito Brothers after the Byrds broke up.

Pamela had romances, dalliances and hook-ups with other musicians and famous folks. Among them included Keith Moon, Mick Jagger and Waylon Jennings. She loses her virginity to Nick St. Nicholas from Steppenwolf. And has her first orgasm with Noel Redding who was in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And she also nearly gets her hands on the King himself, Elvis Presley!

Pamela falls hard for Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and he flies her all over the United States until dumping her for Lori Maddox who was all of 13 at the time. Poor Pamela, who must have been in her early twenties at the time, felt ancient against the pubescent Maddox. How could she possibly compete?

Pamela also has a romance with a pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson who later takes up with a very young Melanie Griffith (damn, what is up with men and their obsession with adolescent tail?). Interestingly, enough Pamela remains friendly with Mr. Johnson and she and Melanie have become total besties. Pamela doesn’t allow bitterness to get the best of her.

When Pamela wasn’t indulging in carnal delights, she tried her hand at acting, traveled all over the United States and Europe and pretty much tried to find herself during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. She admits to experimenting with drugs. Fortunately for her, drugs never took the toll they did on others and she escaped being a casualty.

As Pamela approaches her thirties she begins to embrace maturity. She marries rocker Michael Des Barres and they have a son, Nicholas. Though the marriage doesn’t last (Pamela covers this in her follow-up Take Another Piece of My Heart), she and Michael remain friends. Pamela continues to write, teaches creative writing and is considered quite an inspiration to groupies and rock fans everywhere.

What I love about I’m With the Band is how it gives me a front row seat to a time I can only imagine. Pamela doesn’t just give the reader a sneak peek; she flings the curtain wide open and nearly shouts, “Take a look, dolls!” We get a glimpse of the good, bad and ugly of rock and roll excess. Plus, in an age where reality show starlets think sex tapes are the road to fame and politicians text their junk, Pamela’s sexual exploits are downright quaint!

But what truly makes I’m With the Band work is Pamela’s lively and distinctive writing voice. It’s honest and descriptive, with a fun, gossipy flair. And Pamela’s never afraid to show her real self, sharing her personal journal entries, which could be quite cringe-inducing. And despite heartbreak and the loss of friends, Pamela remains an optimist and a total sweetie. She’s a lover of men, a supporter of women and still believes in the power of rock and roll.