As prep for my new young adult novel about riot grrrl vampires (and because each book looked incredibly interesting), I got my hands on copies of music critic Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (what an amazing title) and Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl. Both were amazing, for their writing, the stories shared, and the insight provided into what it means to be women working in historically male-dominated fields (rock music and music criticism).
Within the first chapter of reading Brownstein’s Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl, I thought about how unfair it is that she can be so good at music, acting/comedy, and writing. Being so seemingly good at everything always makes me want to hate a person just a little, but on top of all her many talents, Carrie Brownstein seems like a genuinely good, caring, and humble person. Okay, she’s near perfect, and I accept it. Back to the book: while most of it focuses on the evolution of her band, Sleater-Kinney, the opening chapters detail a childhood marred by an anorexic mother and a closeted father. The book also shows her life after Sleater-Kinney’s 2005 hiatus with a surprisingly poignant chapter about her pets.
The book is a way for her fans to feel a connection with her beyond her music. I felt this the most through our shared geography–she grew up in Redmond, Washington and most of her life (when not on tour) was lived in Seattle or Portland. When someone you admire has a life that travels a similar map as yours, I think you feel especially close to them. Our writing has been inspired by the same location, the PNW, and even as I crossed the country to New York and she travels the world for her music, the PNW is still us at our cores.
Hopper’s collection covers an expansive career in music journalism, from standard reviews to profiles of up-and-coming rappers to in-depth articles on the ever-changing music industry. My favorite pieces are when she turns her sharp eye on gender in the music industry–from sexism in emo music to the harsh lens through which we view female pop stars.
My favorite essay, “You Know What?” is a look at feminism in music, the Riot Grrrl movement, and older female rockers who lament that feminism is gone from female-made music, which Jessica disagrees with–quite passionately. “Riot-grrrl wasn’t the end result, it was the catalyst. That’s what it was supposed to be, that’s what it was meant as–not a static thing,” she explains. All movements change shape with time. Bands like Bikini Kill give way to new bands like Perfect Pussy–both valuable and both making important political statements. Just as the younger generation looks to the older one for inspiration, motivation, and guidance, so the older generation needs the younger one to carry the torch. I suspect that Jessica Hopper, icon of rock criticism, will inspire another generation of young female rock critics to carry the torch and use it to spotlight gender injustice within the music industry–and to celebrate our victories as well.
Jessica and Carrie are the patron saints of my new manuscript, but I’ll get into that more in an upcoming post about book inspiration. For now, I’ll end with wise words from Jessica Hopper in “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t”: “Us girls deserve more than one song. We deserve more than one pledge of solidarity. We deserve better songs than any boy will ever write about us.” I believe this applies to books as well, which is why I’m thankful both Carrie and Jessica wrote their own, and why I want to do the same.