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.

Advertisements

Book Review: We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler

we were feminists onceI’ve always considered myself a feminist, ever since I was a little girl. I’ve seen feminism evolve over time, having most of my feminism honed by the third wave of feminism when my fellow Generation X-ers began to make their mark in the early 1990s. This was a time of Riot Grrrl, ‘zines, girls picking up instruments and kicking out the jams in bands like Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy and Bikini Kill. Young women read books like Backlash and The Beauty Myth, and realized when it came to feminism, we still had a lot of work to do. A new teen magazine called Sassy celebrated feminism and soon two other magazines, both which can be found at any major bookstore in 2016, emerged. One magazine named Bust and the other named Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture.

And that brings us to Andi Zeisler’s latest book We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. Zeisler is a founding member of Bitch. And boy (um, grrrrl) does she have a lot to say about the current state of feminism, and how it has evolved and devolved in the last twenty-odd years.

Yes, women today definitely have more rights than they had as little as a hundred years ago. We can vote, run for office, get an education, run a company, compete in a sport, get credit in our own names, make reproductive choices and so many other things our foremothers couldn’t even comprehend. But for all the rights feminism has gained, these hard won rights are being contested and chipped away on a daily basis, one being our access to proper reproductive health services. And still others scoff over our concerns regarding rape, sexual harassment, equal pay for equal work, and domestic violence. To make sure we don’t lose these rights we have a lot of nitty-gritty work to do, which includes everything from contacting our political representatives to raising funds for our favorite female-friendly causes.

And believe me, none of this is easy, fun or pretty. It’s a lot of hard work and can be very frustrating. So why worry about doing any of hard work of feminism when we can justify our feminist street cred by using market place feminism to become empowered women? And we become empowered not by voting or writing an op-ed in favor of feminism, but by purchasing the right yogurt, underpants or following celebrities via social media, many who seem to use feminism as a way to further publicize their “brand.”

We Were Feminists Once is divided into two wonderfully written and well-researched parts. Part One, The New Embrace, focuses on how feminism is seen through the lens of Hollywood, celebrity worship, the products we buy, and various forms of pop culture. Part Two, The Same Old Normal, revisits the waves of feminism and how all this market place empowerment is harming women in the long run even though it’s supposed to make feminism look fun and cool because apparently wearing a pair of panties with the word Feminist on them is more empowering than maintaining my access to birth control.

Still, Zeisler is quick to point out, marketplace feminism isn’t exactly something new. It’s been around since the advent of Madison Avenue and furthered sharpened by unfettered capitalism and neo-liberal thinking. Several decades ago market place feminism was expressed by Virginia Slim cigarettes telling us “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” and perfume ads for Charlie and Enjoli. Today we have Dove soap’s “Real Beauty” ad campaigns, Sheryl Sandberg’s admonishments to “Lean-In” and Beyoncé, Emma Watson and Lena Dunham’s embracing feminism as the thing all the cool girls are doing,. Yea, it’s great so many celebrities identify as feminists, but feminism goes much deeper than the fame, wealth and privilege these ladies all share. Feminism also encompasses the intricacies of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation none of which market place feminism examines.

Zeisler writes in a way that is audience-friendly, but not dumbed down. She writes in a way that is never preachy but explains in depth the harm of market place feminism and how it impedes the actual hard work of feminism. Zeisler doesn’t offer any clear cut solutions but recognizing there is a problem is a first step, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who read this book and said, “I thought I was the only one bothered by market place feminism!”

In the end We Were Feminists Once fully exposes how marketplace feminism is nothing but “you go, girl” advertisements, a collection of hashtags and sound bites, celebrity worship, pop culture slim pickings and more power at the cash register than at the voting booth. Feminism, women and society as a whole deserve so much more.

Book Review: Girls to the Front-The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus

girls to the frontMention the term “riot grrrl” and you’ll probably get a lot of different responses. ‘Zines, Doc Martens, punk bands, feminism, baby barrettes, Kathleen Hanna, and writing “slut” on one’s stomach are just a few words that may come to mind. But to write a history of the riot grrrl movement and how it shaped a generation is one hell of an intimidating task. Thankfully, writer Sara Marcus has the ovaries to do just that in her book Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s young women and girls were sick and tired of the sexism they found in their beloved punk music scene. Girls were to be seen, not heard. They were also furious about a country that seemed to be eroding the rights their feminist foremothers fought for. But instead of withdrawing, these brave women and girls decided to fight back through music, activism, ‘zines and support groups. And they called themselves riot grrrls.

In Girls to the Front, Marcus writes how the riot grrrl movement got its start in the Pacific Northwest and the Washington, DC area and soon grew throughout the country uniting like-minded girls (and some guys, too). Some of them of these riot grrrls became well-known names and were considered the leaders of the riot grrrl movement.

But many were just young girls who finally found something they could believe in, themselves.

Marcus doesn’t solely focus on riot grrls as a whole movement; she focuses mostly on the grrrls themselves the most famous probably being Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail and Erin Smith. She describes in vivid detail how a lot of young women formed their own bands and many produced their own zines. And there were riot grrrl meetings where budding young feminists discussed abusive families, rape and the sexism they dealt with on a daily basis, often for the very first time.

Though the riot grrrl movement turned out to be a positive thing for most involved, it did have its share of problems, and Marcus isn’t afraid to discuss them. The riot grrrl movement was often looked upon as too white and middle-class. The sexism the bands had to deal with at shows was beyond appalling. When the mainstream press finally decided to examine the riot grrrl movement, it simplified it to a bunch of silly girls in vintage frocks and Doc Martens, writing slogans on their bellies and boobs.

But most disheartening was the infighting among the women in the riot grrrl movement. I must admit I cringed when Marcus described how Bratmobile broke up at a gig while playing on stage. And sadly, by the mid -1990s the riot grrrl movement as it was known splintered and imploded.

However, in a follow-up, Marcus tells us what the women profiled in the book are doing with their lives. Some continue to play music. Some are professors, writers and artists. Many are activists. As short-lived as the riot grrrl movement may have been, it turned out to have a long lasting effect on countless women.

Girls to the Front is tirelessly researched, empathetic to its core and brutally honest. At times it can be a daunting read, but it’s also empowering and enlightening whether you were a riot grrrl or not.