Rock ‘n’ roll and feminism make a beautiful combination. During the 2010’s there has been a rise of the female rock memoir. A lot of the voices being heard are from the latter half of the twentieth-century. As we have praised male musicians for opening up about their careers, it is time to listen to the women of rock and the powerful stories they have to tell the world. I have selected three of my favourite female rock memoirs to inspire you to pick one up.
1. Just Kids – Patti Smith.
Smith’s memoir is a coming-of-age story showing how difficult it is to make a living as an artist. Just Kids is Smith’s recollection of her time with Robert Mapplethorpe in 1970s New York. Photographs chosen by Patti Smith decorate the entire book, which transports the reader to the Chelsea Hotel and the bohemian lifestyle which came with it.
The thing I love about Just Kids is it’s a social commentary of the era, to an extent. Comparing it to what Andy Warhol writes in Popism and America, Smith’s account of Greenwich Village is life is much grittier and certainly a product of a Warhol world. A passage I find particularly interesting is when she cuts her hair and is asked if she is androgynous. The mid-twentieth -century was a time to explore sexuality and to break down gender binaries. Smith captures this shift in opinions perfectly through this book.
2. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl – Carrie Brownstein.
If you are in your teens or in your twenties, read this now. I read this when it was released last year and it perfectly summed up how I have felt for the last eight years of my life.
In Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein discusses: anxiety, depression, not feeling like you belong and the rollercoaster ride of doing something you love. Even if you are not familiar with Brownstein’s band, Sleater-Kinney, or the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90’s, it is still a story of feminism in a male-dominated environment which is empowering to read. Although there are some issues with punk/post-punk music and diversity, which I would love to talk about in a separate post in the future, it is still an educational read on a major movement in America.
I love Carrie Brownstein, okay?
3. Girl in a Band – Kim Gordon.
The name of this memoir perfectly sums up what it is like to be a female rock musician. It is so easy for critics to dismiss a woman’s work to just being ‘the girl’ in a band made up predominantly of males. Why should female musicians receive different questions to male musicians? Why ask what it’s like to be a mother in rock? Why is that the only thing that matters?
I did not know that much about Kim Gordon before reading Girl in a Band. I was a casual listener of Sonic Youth but I didn’t know much about them.
Towards the end of the memoir there is a chapter commenting on music performance and the relationship between audience and band in a pre-internet world. This was definitely the highlight of the book and raised some interesting ideas about the musician as an artist in more aspects than just performing songs.
However I found some aspects of this memoir slightly problematic. There was a lot of name-dropping of other musicians which I found uncomfortable to read. That is the only problem I had with this memoir. If Kim didn’t drag some people in her book, I would appreciate it more.
There are more female music memoirs out there, but the three listed above are personal favourites of mine. Only last year I started reading female rock memoirs and I am confident many more will appear on my book shelves in the future.
The Washington Post published an article in 2015 title’Rise of the female rock memoir and stated,”[t]here is […] generally a different way that women rockers tell stories — with more humility and vulnerability than their male counterparts”. That vulnerability is what makes these books so moving.
To read The Washington Post article in full, follow this link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/rise-of-the-female-rock-memoir/2015/09/04/64db029e-5097-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html