Originally, I wanted to be a music journalist. Obviously, it didn’t pan out that way, but music has always been important to me- especially female musicians. My personal idols are pretty wide-ranging, in terms of genre: Dusty Springfield, Tori Amos, Gwen Stefani, Shirley Manson, Ronnie Spector, Courtney Love, Kylie in her indie phase, Amy Winehouse. Each of these women has had a huge effect on me and my life, and I like listening to them and talking about them. It’s this premise that shapes this collection of essays.
There are representatives from every musical genre here: Laurie Anderson to Taylor Swift, Poly Styrene to June Carter Cash. Every essay comes from a personal point of the writer’s life and, as with any collection, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of success. One of the stand out essays is about Patti Smith and racism; how the author struggled as a female punk fan of colour in 1970s New York- and her reaction to Smith using racial slurs as a badge of being an ‘outsider’ was particularly powerful for me. Another essay, in which the writer tracks her parents’ relationship with that of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, had me searching for old videos on Youtube (and humming ‘Jackson’ for about a week afterwards.)
For me, the least successful essays tended to be written by men- PJ Harvey’s essay seemed like a love letter to Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze (seriously, I counted the word ‘sexy’ five times in TWO PAGES.) I was much more interested in the connection that women had to the singers and musician- I feel like I still read more male music writers than female. Saying that, the essay about Poly Styrene of X-Ray Specs (written by a bloke) was great and well worth a read; a love letter to the awkwardness of being a teenager and the release that discovering music can bring.
Because of this collection, I went away and tried to find music of the artists I was unfamiliar with- I heard Judee Sill’s pure voice, that hid a tragic life; I finally understood why people rave about Bjork’s first album; I discovered that I’d never really *get* Laurie Anderson. If you want to discover a range of music, or read about how it can transform lives, this book is a great place to start.