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reading tiger

Reading Wednesday Makes Music History

"The title of this book is not entirely accurate. There's Ellen Willis' Beginning to See the Light, though it wasn't all music writing, and then her posthumous collection that was. Of course Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia from 1969, Caroline Coon's crucial 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion and the collective, life-changing Rock She Wrote. We should be able to list a few dozen more -- but those books don't exist. Yet.

The title of this book is about planting a flag; it is for those whose dreams (and manuscripts) languished due to lack of formal precedence, support and permission. This title is not meant to erase our history but rather to help mark the path.

This book is dedicated to those that came before, those that should of been first, and all the ones that will come after."

Ladies and gentlemen, Jessica Hopper.

I am 3/4 through the gilt-edged pages of this book. (I know I mentioned this last week, but again: gilt edges! One of the things I like about this book is that it's making a bold statement not just in its title but right down to its design, which is why I included a picture of the cover.) It opens, after a short essay from 2002 that stands as an introduction, with the essay that turned me into a Jessica Hopper fangirl, "Emo: Where the Girls Aren't." Then we get several intriguing sections titled geographically ("Chicago," "California) and thematically ("Real/Fake," "Bad Reviews," "Faith," "Strictly Business"). I like that they are organized this way rather than, say, chronologically, because the added interest from, say, following up the emo article with a profile of Chance the Rapper (in the first section, "Chicago") is tasty and worthwhile.

One of the things I like most about Hopper is her casual style. It's not sloppy exactly; but it is strikingly warm. There's been a lot of talk swirling around this book (see above as to how this book, published by a small press, is designed -- literally -- to provoke a lot of talk) in regards to the fact that women music writers do not get to do gonzo Lester Bangs-style self-centered hangin' with the band writing, because among other things, girls hanging with the band are groupies not writers, amirite? All of which is just to say that Hopper manages to have a loose, warm, casual tone (some of my favorite pieces here are from her blog tinyluckygenius, see also the Tumblr version) while still maintaining critical rigor. A lot of ladycritics, myself probably included insofar as I get to be considered in the same sentence as La Hopper, tend more toward a detached analytic tone because being cool and detached and analytic shows that we're serious, see?* It's a way of claiming authority. "Fuck you, I'm no groupie, I am a braniac who just happens to love pop music in that postmodern 'everything is a text so here's my book report on the latest vinyl reissue' way. I am too cool for school, and I mean that in the emotional barometer way -- I'm no screaming fangirl and my pulse is always steady, Freddy."

I like that Hopper manages to claim authority just by showing up and not even bothering to hear that maybe she shouldn't be there, much less why. And I like even more that she's now doing so in explicit solidarity with other women writing about popular music. We all belong here, she says. This might be the first book, maybe, kinda, sorta, by a living female rock critic, but now that the door's open, let's get this party started.

Also I think she wrote the Lana del Rey article that I kept trying and failing to pitch a while ago there.

And she wrote the very best non best-of article in existence, "Old Year's End," which should really be required reading for aspirational music writers everywhere. "This year, almost all of the money I made writing was in blurbs, charticles and show previews that are between 300 and 80 words instead of essays. I had to write way more stuff, but with not much space to extrapolate on big ideas (if the band even has them) or theories (if I can even conjure them)., and what I write is more about the "good vs. bad," interesting vs. not, and then make a joke or two."

P.S. Once upon a time an editor said to me, "you come across more like a fan than a critic [in this particular column]. Can you rewrite?" No.

* Just to be clear, this style is also for me personally my native tongue. I am a grammarific nerd who has learned to speak the vernacular when needed; for me Hopperesque styling would be a put-on. I am not cool.


I have never read music writing and don't really have any interest in it, but this post is so fantastic that it makes me want to get a copy of Hopper's book. Thanks for the super solid write-up!