we don’t need you

Earlier this week, Pitchfork published a list of their 60 favorite music books. It is pretty wide-ranging and there are many good books on the list. (And some I really hated.) But only one was written by a woman, and two had lady coauthors. Come the fuck on.

This pissed plenty of people off, and lists have been sprouting up. This amazon list has 50 music books by women, but it’s a straight-up list with no commentary and some books I do not think are very good. Flavorwire’s ten great books about music by female writers does a more thorough job, and includes many of the books on my own list (and one I hated). Their list of 33 female music critics you need to read is also pretty good.

So I also made a list! You can find it below. Min was kind enough to write a few sentences about the books she loved, and I did the rest. There are a few books on here that neither of us has read but which have come highly recommended by several people I trust; in those cases, I have provided a synopsis, but they’re not blind recs. Her paragraphs are marked with [asd] and mine with [pez].

that happen to have been written by ladies
or at least co-written in a few cases

Just Kids, Patti Smith
about Smith’s drive to create and her refusal to simply act as a static muse for the men in her life, particularly her symbiotic relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and his own artistic paths, this made me stand a little taller and walk a little more proudly because she’s so amazing. Won the National Book Award for very, very good reason; it was the best book I read in 2010. [asd]

Rat Girl: A Memoir, Kristin Hersh
this made me cry like a baby. It is a stunning dreamscape of a book about a woman trying to escape the bounds of a life through music, and the way it can be shaped by relationships and love and children. Hersh’s language is simply lovely, sharp and biting and sweet and sad. [asd]

Faithfull: An Autobiography, Marianne Faithfull & David Dalton
to be 100 percent brutally honest, I think what I like most about the Rolling Stones has always been Marianne Faithfull, and her memoir of living fast and hard with the Stones has been on my list for a while but every time I go to the library, someone else has it. But my Stones-freak friend who loved this book assures me of its awesomeness, that it’s full of “insane anecdotes” and is very personal in the way I enjoy. It may not all be true, but it’s entertaining and well-written in that conversational way, so who cares about the truth? Not me. [pez]

Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story, Cherie Currie
oh, Cherie Currie. She was the lead singer of the Runaways, Joan Jett’s first band, and in some ways her story is very predictable: She was so young, you know, and it was the 70s, so of course there was drug abuse and sexual assault and experiments with other women and much older men, sex drugs rock & roll etc. What’s surprising about this is that it’s actually… pretty good. The writing can be uneven, but it can also be funny and heartbreaking and poignant, and the overall effect is that this is a very hard book to put down. Oh, and the other overall effect is a pure loathing of Kim Fowley (if you didn’t already feel that way (which I did)). It’s pretty dark and ugly, and so if you think it might be a little much, maybe try Belinda Carlisle’s Lips Unsealed instead. [pez]

I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, Pamela des Barres
sometimes I feel like the best books about music are not written by musicians, or by critics. They’re written by people who just fucking love music. And, in this case, by a woman who just fucking loves music, musicians, fucking the musicians, and a lot of other things besides. But that’s really neither here nor there. This is fun and fast and absolutely trashy, but not as trashy as you’re probably thinking. [pez]

Stand By Your Man, Tammy Wynette
this one, on the other hand, is exactly as trashy as you think. I don’t even care, okay, I loved it. It’s basically a soap opera, and kind of a trainwreck, but not the kind that leaves you depressed and despairing for the world and, you know, listening to country music. [pez]

Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin, Alice Echols
there are about a zillion books about Janis Joplin out there, and I picked this one because Echols goes out of her way to place Joplin into a larger cultural context and to really explore her influences and her experiences and her art, and she doesn’t get all hagiographic about it. It’s very even-handed and well-written. If you want something a little more salacious (and don’t we all?) try Love, Janis by Janis’ sister, Laura, or Buried Alive by Myra Friedman. [pez]

Patsy: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline, Margaret Jones
I think the trick to writing about country music is navigating your ~feelings~ about the Nashville establishment, and Jones’ bio of Cline manages, somehow, to be pretty apolitical about it. Which is good, because that shit colors everything. I think there are three Cline bios out there, and this one is the best one. [pez]

Fall to Pieces: A Memoir of Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Mental Illness, Mary Forsberg Weiland and Larkin Warren
yeah, I know, if I am going to write a list of awesome music books, perhaps I should be a little more circumspect and not just include a zillion addiction memoirs, but this one stands out, because now there is mental illness! …okay, whatever, I am as interested in hearing from the people around musicians as I am in hearing from the musicians themselves (Weiland was married to Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland), and I feel like this is one of the more compelling examples out there. [pez]

The Importance of Music to Girls, Lavinia Greenlaws
rather than being a book about music, Greenlaw’s memoir of her early years is a memoir of listening; of quiet nights with headphones and the songs that soundtrack our lives. As someone who operates with a 24 hour soundtrack and feels the power of memory most strongly through old songs, I remember this as a little strange, but very resonating. [asd]

The Road to Woodstock, Michael Lang & Holly George-Warren
I actually wasn’t sure which of George-Warren’s books to include on my list (other listmakers made different choices), because she’s written a ton of them, including biographies of Jerry Garcia and Gene Autry, but in the end I picked this one because it interests me the most. Lang is the guy who dreamed up Woodstock, and this is the story of how he made it happen. I don’t care how you feel about hippies and the 60s counterculture; we’ve all got roots, and Woodstock is one of ‘em. [pez]

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, Sara Marcus
this book made me want to go out and kick ass, both literally and metaphorically. The women of the riot grrrl movement took no prisoners and tried to brook no shit, and though portions of the movement collapsed under their own weight, they re-wrote history in the ’90s for teenage girls like me. Sleater-Kinney taught me that I could do anything I wanted to. Part oral history and part love letter, Marcus writes about Riot Grrrl with affection and exactly the right mix of objectivity and subjectivity. [asd]

if you’re into riot grrrl, I’d also check out Melissa Melzer’s Girl Power, and A Girl’s Guide To Taking Over The World, which is a compilation of zine articles edited by Karen Green. [pez]

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon–And the Journey of a Generation, Sheila Weller
I’m only about 100 pages into this one, but it’s going so much faster than it did the first time I tried, and failed, to read it; like the Riot Grrrls later, Weller delves into the ways that King, Mitchell, and Simon deviated from the societal norms and followed their passions and their talents through both grief and happiness. [asd]

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music, Ellen Willis
collection of rock writing — feature stories and reviews — from one of the pioneers of the genre. Willis was the New Yorker’s first pop music critic, a contemporary of Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus, except she’s far less well-known. There is too much Bob Dylan here for my taste, but the articles I loved, I loved so much that the ones I liked less were overshadowed. She’s smart, she’s funny, she puts on records in her bedroom to see if she can dance to them before she decides whether she likes them. Her commentary on feminism made me sad (so little has changed) and her good-natured sarcasm made me smile. I think I would have liked Ellen Willis very much. [pez]

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day, Jack Boulware & Silke Tudor
I lumped these together because they are both highly enjoyable oral histories of punk rock scenes that were co-written by women. Please Kill Me is the classic, and for good reason: Its players are more legendary, it was one of the first, and it has a surprisingly cohesive narrative. It is undeniably excellent. However, Gimme Something Better was about music closer to my heart, and so I enjoyed it a bit more. I feel like Please Kill Me is required reading for any fan of music, let alone punk rock; Gimme Something Better readers should probably have some familiarity with the subject before diving in. [pez]

She Bop II: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul, Lucy O’Brien
updated and expanded from the original 1995 version. I am not very good at reading this sort of book — I am good at buying them and keeping them on my shelves as excellent references, but I am not good at reading them cover-to-cover. Synopsis: She Bop II refuses to look at women artists simply as personalities, problems or victims. From Dream Babes to rock chicks, Riot Grrrls and ragamuffins, Girlpower, Lilith Fair rock, and the rise of the corporate Diva, She Bop II is the uncompromising story of women as creators and innovators. [pez]

Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000, Mary Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann
1800-2000! Hot damn. This is the second edition, I believe — it was originally published in 1993 — and this is another one I am better at paging through and longing for more time in my life and a better attention span. Comes highly recommended from a country-loving friend. Synopsis: From country’s earliest pioneers to its greatest legends, Finding Her Voice documents the lives of the female artists who have shaped the music for over two hundred years. [pez]

Jazzwomen: Conversations With Twenty-One Musicians, Wayne Enstice & Janis Stockhouse
interviews with 21 jazz vocalists and instrumentalists, representing a surprisingly broad range of perspectives and philosophies on music, innovation, sexism, and a zillion other things. Each interview is a fascinating and multifaceted look at a unique musician, and this is a book well worth reading, even if the words “smooth jazz” make you curl into the fetal position and whimper. [pez]

Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock, Amy Raphael
published in the US as Grrrls: Viva Rock Divas, but I sort of hate that title and prefer the UK version. It’s a collection of interviews/monologues with some ladies in rock you don’t hear from all that often. Some of the pieces are much stronger than others, but it’s worth it for Kristin Hersh alone (can you tell we think she’s awesome? Because she is.), and for women you don’t hear from much saying things they don’t get to say too often. The interview with Courtney Love is also really interesting so many years after the fact — the things we say when we’re young, you know? You know. [pez]

The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock’N’Roll, Simon Reynolds & Joy Press
really interesting reading on masculinity, rock & roll, rebellion, archetypes, and the ways women carve out space for themselves within that sphere. I haven’t finished it, but only because I am always reading 17 books at once and sometimes, those jerks at the library want them back. You should finish it instead, and then tell me all about it. [pez]

Girls Rock! 50 Years of Women Making Music, Mina Carson, Tisa Lewis, Susan Shaw
I waffled about this one, because it’s quite academic, and so if you do not think academic texts are awesome, you will find this one pretty dry. It’s also more of a feminist book than a music book, but sometimes those lines are not worth drawing. Synopsis: Combining interviews with dozens of women in rock, observation of live performances, and research in social, developmental, and feminist theory, the authors celebrate what female musicians have come to understand about their experiences as women, artists, and rock musicians and how they have influenced broader trends in rock ‘n’ roll. [pez]

The Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop–and Why It Matters, Tricia Rose
much in the way I think it’s very difficult to write a book about Women In Rock that isn’t a book about feminism, I think it’s difficult to write a book about hip-hop that isn’t as much about racism and misogyny as it is about the music itself. This is basically an introduction to those issues, and to the opinions on both sides of the battle that surrounds hip-hop. [pez]

Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere, Gwendolyn Pough
another rec from a friend, who assures me that this is a well-researched and very thought-provoking book about feminism in hip-hop culture that she found totally impossible to put down. Synopsis: Examining a wide range of genres, including rap music, novels, spoken word poetry, hip-hop cinema, and hip-hop soul music, [Pough] traces the rhetoric of black women “bringing wreck.” Pough demonstrates how influential women rappers such as Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, and Lil’ Kim are building on the legacy of earlier generations of women — from Sojourner Truth to sisters of the black power and civil rights movements — to disrupt and break into the dominant patriarchal public sphere. [pez]

Music In Everyday Life, Tia DeNora
another academic book, but one I am assured is fun and interesting. It’s a [western-focused] look at how people use music to shape their lives and construct their identities. The actual synopsis of it sounds way less cool, so I am leaving you with that. [pez]

…okay, what’d we miss? There are some pretty gaping genre holes here that I’d love to have filled in.

ETA: Here are like 30 more.




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