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: There Goes Gravity-A Life in Rock and Roll by Lisa Robinson

lisarobinson-theregoesgravity-bookcoverartwork-e1411324831412“…Whether I was on a private plane with Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones…or standing in two inches of beer on the floor of CBGB’s, it was exactly where I wanted to be.”-Lisa Robinson

Simply put—Lisa Robinson just might be one of the coolest dames in the universe, and one of most enviable. She was a rock journalist when rock journalism was barely a thing. She has covered everyone from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga. And now Ms. Robinson is sharing her experience in her exhaustive and entertaining memoir There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll.

Robinson didn’t plan on being a rock journalist, but it wasn’t some she just happened to “fall” into either. A music fan since her youth (she used to sneak out of her parents’ NYC home to attend Thelonious Monk shows), Robinson found herself working for radio DJ, music producer and newspaper columnist, Richard Robinson. When Richard (soon to be Lisa’s lucky hubby) got busy producing an album, he asked Robinson if she’d be interested in taking over his newspaper column. Though a bit hesitant at first, Robinson decided to go for it and hasn’t stopped since.

One of the first bands Robinson cover were the bad boys of rock, Led Zeppelin. Robinson was fully aware of Led Zeppelin’s reputation for debauched antics, but it didn’t deter her. She knew they were just mere mortals who put their trousers on one leg at a time (theoretically speaking—Zeppelin and those surrounding them weren’t exactly known for keeping their trousers on). Robinson goal was on getting the scoop, not sex.

It was Robinson’s professionalism, smarts, and innate talent as a writer that managed her to sustain a notable career in fields not exactly known for treating women particularly well—music and journalism. Robinson wrote for publications like Hit Parader, Creem, New Musical Express (NME), the New York Post, Rock Scene, and currently contributes to Vanity Fair.

Since those crazy Led Zeppelin days and nights, Robinson has covered The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Patti Smith, The Ramones, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, U2, Lou Reed, Television, The New York Dolls, Madonna, Jay Z, Queen, Lady Gaga, Kiss, the Sex Pistols and Kanye West.

With a mixture of both humor and warmth, Robinson was able to get these artists to open up that often belied their public images and sometimes confirmed them. While reading There Goes Gravity I could totally understand why so many musicians felt comfortable with Robinson. Her warmth and wit are inviting. She never came across “too cool for school” nor did she behave like a drooling sycophant.

According to Robinson the late Michael Jackson, well-known for his whispery speaking voice, could sound rather assertive and commanding while talking to lawyers and executives. Lou Reed and David Bowie often had dinner at Lisa and her husband’s apartment. Bono is at turns achingly earnest and overtly self-confident. But you can thank Robinson for convincing the former Paul David Hewson to stop dying his hair black.

Robinson admits what Madonna lacks in vocal talent, she makes up in drive and business savvy. She is also humorless and haughty. And though Lady Gaga gets compared to Madonna, she can actually sing and truly connects with others especially her fans. In one passage, Robinson describes enjoy a plate of pasta made by Lady Gaga while hanging out at Gaga’s parents’ apartment.

For Robinson, Kanye West gives a powerful voice to views most people are too meek to admit. We meet a domesticated John Lennon just years before his sad assassination. Robinson describes how Patti Smith can go from performing on stage to rocking out in the audience. She questions why the iconic New York Dolls are still not in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And she candidly conveys Eminem’s journey from an angry young man known for his misogynistic, homophobic and violent lyrics to a thoughtful and inquisitive man who is fiercely protective of his daughter Hailie. Eminiem’s childhood was rough and he is determined to give Hailie everything he lacked.

I’m sure to some people will find There Goes Gravity filled with bragging and name-dropping, but so what. If it’s true, Robinson is not bragging. And as for the namedropping, well, don’t you talk about the people you deal with from work? Well, just as you might talk about Dave from Marketing or Becky from HR, Robinson talks about Joey Ramone from the Ramones or Tom Verlaine from Television.

While reading There Goes Gravity I was amazed how much information from the major to the tiniest moments Robinson was able to capture so much. Most of this was due to Robinson’s keeping and storing decades of tapes, notes and photographs.

There Goes Gravity is one of the most enlightening books I have ever read about rock and roll history and also one of the most fun, probably because Robinson never saw her vocation as a mere job, it was a calling. I am utterly grateful as a diehard music fan for Robinson catching decades of musical fabulousness. Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson, thank you from the bottom of my rock and roll heart.

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.