I still vividly remember the first time I heard “Bad Reputation.” Thirty seconds into Joan Jett’s rally cry, I was hooked — her powerful guitar interludes, unrelenting attitude and self-professing badass-ery were nothing short of a manifesto for girls who weren’t content to sit and watch life go by. A gateway drug, I soon discovered Patti Smith, Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, Sleater-Kinney, Tsunami Bomb… the list goes on and on. During the time of Girl Power pop-royalty, these women were taking the movement by the horns and creating a squad of icons for girls ready to rock.
Music and reading go hand in hand; great lyrics, like great books, can inspire and define you in ways you’d never imagined possible. You can’t make it as a punk-rock goddess if you like life sugar-coated and quiet, and the beauty of these books is that none of them glaze over the nitty-gritty truth of what it takes to dominate in a hyper-aggressive and violent music culture.
While we watch a new generation ladies take the reign of the rock revolution, our previous regime is beginning to release memoirs about what it took to carve the way. As fun as they books are to read, what’s even better is that they're ushering in an era of great music memoirs by women. Not just any women — the women who originally sparked fires in their fields are now laying claim to telling their stories.
You may pick up their books because of their names and legacies, but you'll keep reading because of their unflinching accounts of music history. Read on. Rock on.
M Train by Patti Smith
This book really needs no introduction as any reader of Smith’s Just Kids can attest to. Whether you’re familiar with Smith’s music, poems or memoirs, you know how stealthily she wields the English language. Unlike the sense of order and purpose that rooted Just Kids, Smith’s new book, M Train, will be a wild ride through past, present, aspirations, inspirations, hope, failures and consolations. From Frida Kahlo to Rockaway Beach, poems by Rimbaud and more, Smith offers a unique look at what spurs her creative genius. Once you’ve got this book in your possession, plan on stockpiling snacks and mugs of tea — because you won’t want to put it down.
The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
The field of music criticism is littered with the tobacco-stuffed pipes of old white men. Lucky for us, Jessica Hopper isn’t just busting through that glass ceiling, she’s shattering it with a Riot Grrrl attitude and punk rock soundtrack. The First Collection is more than just a selection of Hopper’s best essays from over the past 20 years, really it is a chronology of American music culture, creation and consumption from one of the most relentlessly passionate critics of our generation. The albums and historical music moments throughout the book are sure to have you digging through your record collection to revisit the music you love with a fresh perspective and a nostalgic yearning.
There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson
You won’t make it more than a single breath into any conversation about influential rock journalists without bringing up Lisa Robinson. From Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and The Clash to Kanye West, Jay Z, Eminem and Lady Gaga — this original rock goddess has partied with and interviewed them all. Robinson merges together cultural commentary (OK, gossip) and in-depth insights into the world of musicians whose massive followings fall just shy of cult status all while vividly illustrating a world that exudes extravagance.
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Much like its creator, Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band has been nothing short of controversial and headline making. Gordon, who has been the ultimate cool chick since her days heading up Sonic Youth, lays it all out on the table in her first memoir. The beauty of this book lies in Gordon’s ability to look beyond her own experiences and to instead explore the writers, movements and musicians who helped shape her art. From the burgeoning New York punk scene of the '80s, across the country to the Riot Grrrl movement on the West Coast and everywhere in between, Girl in a Band is grit and glamour at its best.
Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Before Portlandia, before we began putting a bird on it, even before the city became a hipster hub for up-and-coming art, there was Sleater-Kinney. Born in the Riot Grrrl era but of slightly different DNA, Sleater-Kinney was a band at the forefront of redefining the notion of gender in punk rock. Few reign power and femininity like Brownstein whose haunting vocals and soul punching lyrics leave listeners rattled, in a good way, the way only truly great music can — something Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is bound to do as well.
Reckless by Chrissie Hynde
I remember the first time I heard “rock survivor”: a term for the generation of rock ‘n' roll disrupters who watched the tearing asunder of New York and London during the 1970s and raised hell during the 1980s. To be sure, you can count Chrissie Hynde amongst them. Dripping with swagger and armed with words that cut like a knife, Hynde brings a gripping, honest portrayal to the ups and down of her life, from skyrocketing stardom to utter heartbreak. With no stone left unturned in Hynde’s life, the intimateness of Reckless will leave you mesmerized; it’s no wonder this book is the “Talk of the Town.”
Out of the Vinyl Deeps by Ellen Willis
Music criticism changed when the New Yorker hired Ellen Willis as its first popular music critic in 1968. The depths of her music fandom also meant that she gave the musicians she was following little room for error; she expected them to live up to their fans expectations and vociferously criticized everything from sophomoric albums to ticket prices for lackluster shows. Out of the Vinyl Deeps is more than just a requiem to the great work Willis did for the genre, but a fresh perspective on a rare breed of writing – in depth analysis of the pop-culture in the late '60s to mid-'70s by a woman. Any reader who fancies herself a lover of the Age of Aquarius is sure to appreciate the nostalgia of this book.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine
Not many women can claim to have toured with the Clash, dated Mick Jones, played with Sid Vicious or inspired the classic punk song, “Train in Vain.” Even less woman (OK, maybe just this one) can not only claim all of that but also wildly successful punk career in her own right. That woman is Viv Albertine. Albertine’s frank discussion of the sex (including blunt discussion of an abortion she had), drugs, the tour scene, music creation and fashion during the most in-your-face days of the punk movement run parallel to her recounting of the post-punk movement, her battle with cancer and what it’s like to make music again 25 years later.
In one fell swoop on February 21, 2012, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevitch made sure the world knew their name and their cause. After a 45-second performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, their “Punk Prayer” was heard around the world. They were soon arrested for hooliganism and faced a sentence of up to 7 years. What unfolded next was political and celebrity support from the likes of Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney and Madonna, petitions that circulated worldwide and calls to action to support the three young activists. Pussy Riot responded to the trial with composure and articulation and their respond served to stoke the fires that blazed in the hearts of their supporters. This call for freedom of expression, the end of economic and gender oppression and separation of church and state continues to be the rally cry for the movement and the center of this pulse raising book.
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