Rock She Wrote

A review of the book Rock She Wrote, edited by Ann Powers and Evelyn McDonnell, which chronicles women of many musical worlds.

I’m your wild girl.

“The crater is gone. The dark hole in my soul is filled with the screams of the mob. I don’t need my mother…I’ve got rock and roll authority now!” What is so remarkable about hers and other pieces is that they manage to meld the mythology of the rock star and the ideology of female subjugation into some weird world of Franksteinettes – women who haphazardly hack at their socially assigned identities until they cobble together something new, frightening, and magnetic.

Whether you’re a fan hailing from a dingy mosh pit or a bass-sodden club, you know what a groupie looks like. She prowls the limits of the stage, reverent eyes and breasts upturned towards the objects of her affection. She might love the music, but it’s the star – ringleader of some imaginary backstage tornado of sin – that really interests her. The groupie is a hanger-on, a dim-bulbed disciple, a predator who ends up being prey.

Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers, editors of Rock She Wrote, are sick of that bullshit. Here they attempt to dismantle and examine the groupie myth as well as explicate the woman fan’s relationship to her musical idols. They have combed through endless archives of pop music magazines, journals, and anthologies in order to compile the best snapshots of rock, pop, punk, and rap from a female perspective. Though its wide variety of pieces is held together somewhat loosely by the theme, it stands as an important collection in the sense that it exposes a neglected history and also makes abundantly clear the power of self-reflexive critique. Here women, commonly posited as sexual objects in pop music, attack from that very position and give great nuance to the misogynist systems so common in rock, punk, and other genres. “The most heightened state of being female is watching people watch you,” smirks Kim Gordon, bassist for Sonic Youth. “I like being in a weak position and making it strong.”

Standout pieces include Gretchen Phillips’ “I Moshed at Mich”, a frank and riotous description of her experience at the lesbian-drenched Michigan Women’s Festival. While others pontificate more academically about the function of “women’s music”, Phillips positively hoots with joy about fans “rubbing all over each other” as they grope her band’s “two go-go dancers with costume changes and strap-on dildos.” Cherie Currie of The Runaways poignantly illustrates the significance of assuming the role of angry punk revolutionary as a woman: “The crater is gone. The dark hole in my soul is filled with the screams of the mob. I don’t need my mother…I’ve got rock and roll authority now!” What is so remarkable about hers and other pieces is that they manage to meld the mythology of the rock star and the ideology of female subjugation into some weird world of Franksteinettes – women who haphazardly hack at their socially assigned identities until they cobble together something new, frightening, and magnetic.

It is within the women fans, musicians, even groupies of the world to seize power, to sing about Lighting Their Fire and tasting Brown Sugar if they damn well want to; that is the insistent cry of Rock She Wrote. This book provocatively illustrates that when the object forces its way into the realm of the subject, the rules of pop break down because there were never rules, only unspoken rituals, expectations. Patti Smith, in her gentle and lyrical prose, notes the gradual emergence of that complex musical utopia. “rock n roll is being reinvented. just like truth,” she preaches in an urgent lower-case whisper. “it’s not for me but its there. its fresh fruit. its dream soup.” An elixir of identities, soft questions, shouted answers. Here in this collection, those voices rise up together, seizing what has always been rightfully theirs to taste.

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