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 Marks

bookmarks obamaLovely tributes to Alison Parker, reporter and Adam Ward, photojournalist.

Author Joseph Stiglitz discusses growing income inequality issues.

Yes, please do this. Oh, wait. Don’t.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Wrote a Book. Hmm, Morrissey is writing a novel.

Just what is JK Rowling’s favorite Harry Potter fan theory? She’s happy to tell us!

Male writers hide their gender to gain female readers.

Beyond the standard book shelf. Really cool and unique ways to store your books!

Toronto Libraries lets patrons check-out humans as well as books. I love this idea, so clever!

Words of wisdom from Judy Blume.

Librarians on bicycles are bringing books to under-served children.

Book Review: How Soon Is Never by Marc Spitz

how-soon-is-never-marc-spitzThere are music fans, and then there are music fans. And in Marc Spitz’s engrossing novel How Soon is Never one such music fan is Joe Green, a music journalist who has been obsessed with the British band the Smiths since high school.

Working as a music journalist for the magazine Headphones) Joe joins forces with his co-worker, Miki, to reunite the Smiths whose break up he never quite got over. He does this not just because he’s a huge fan of the seminal band, but to also give his life meaning. And maybe, just maybe, Joe will get closer to Miki, who he has fallen for big time.

The book begins in the 1980s. Joe is a teen-ager growing up on Long Island. His parents’ marriage busted up ages ago, and Joe is feeling alienated at his private school. He finds solace hanging out with the other outsiders in the school’s art room and listening to the alternative radio station WLIR. Needing to believe in anything, Joe is soon drawn to the Smiths whose moody and melancholic music matches Joe’s moody and melancholic adolescence. Lead singer Morrisey’s pain is Joe’s pain.

The Smiths become Joe’s sole reason for existing, making him new friends and expanding his horizons. Joe often finds himself in Manhattan, perusing record stores and clubs, and finally getting to see the Smiths in concert, which not surprisingly, is a highlight of Joe’s existence. But sadly, all good things come to an end. The Smiths break up, and the friendships Joe made in school don’t survive past graduation.

Now it’s years after high school and Joe is about to turn 30. After kicking a horrible smack habit, and wandering through life, Joe has carved out a niche at Headphones. And he has never quite gotten over the Smiths breaking up. It’s at Headphones where Joe meets Miki, the editor’s assistant. Not only do Joe and Miki share the same birthday, they are also huge fans of the Smiths. How cool would it be if they could get the Smiths back together even if it was for just one gig?

Headphones’ editor is very intrigued by this idea, and gives Joe and Miki the green light to pursue this venture. Of course, this is not going to be easy. There is a lot of bad blood among the members of the Smiths and a lot of legal baggage. But Joe and Miki are not to be deterred. And they begin their musical journey with Joe handling the interviews and Miki handling the logistics of getting them from point A to point B.

Our fearless duo is able to finagle interviews with Mike Joyce, Andy Rourke and Johnny Marr. Joe gets each one of them to say “yes” on record, they would reunite the Smiths if possible. And Mike, Andy and Johnny also do a bit of flirting with Miki, which rattles Joe a wee bit.

But it is former Smiths’ lead singer who evades Joe and Miki, and Joe begins to wonder if reuniting the Smiths is even worth it if he can’t have Miki. And as the story culminates outside of Morrisey’s gated house in LA, Joe spills his guts to Miki claiming his love for her and his desire to spend his life with her.

Joe may not get the girl, but he might finally get some hard-won maturity. Later Joe claims, “I couldn’t even enjoy a Smiths reunion, Miki. I can’t even enjoy the songs anymore. It used to remind me too much of the band breaking up. Now it reminds me too much of you. There’s too much pain there! Those songs…they’re fucking ruined! And that’s why the Smiths don’t reunite. That’s why they can’t reunite! That’s why they shouldn’t fucking reunite! That’s why we can’t fucking unite! There’s too much pain here now!”

How Soon is Never is one of those books that grabs and pretty much doesn’t let you go ‘til you read the last sentence. You probably don’t have to be a huge Smiths fan to relate to Joe, but it does help. After I finished How Soon is Never I dusted off my old Smiths’ tapes, and listened to them over and over again. Yep, so many years later, their music still holds up.

Any Gen X-ers will relate to the spot-on 80s references. I thought using song titles and lyrics as chapter titles was a clever touch. And I have to admit I laughed (and cringed) when one of Joe’s high school chums got absolutely indignant when he found out the popular kids in school had discovered the Smiths, “Do not do that,” he (John) screamed, shaking the guy. “They are not for you! You fuckers already took U2!”

Most of all How Soon is Never captures how music gets us through the difficult times both as an adolescent and as an adult, and gives our lives meaning even when things don’t quite according to plan.