Book Reviews

The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic (Featherproof Books)

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The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic
Jessica Hopper
Featherproof Books

As the title declares, these are eleven years of letters one woman sends out to and about music and the music industry. The question Jessica Hopper asks in a 2003 article (and pretty much is still asking in the 2014 ones) is how can she love rock so much when rock does not love her (as a woman who is a real human being and not a muse and/or bitch) and when so many music men beat and statutory rape her kind? I suppose most women just figure: well, that’s men in general. What are you gonna do? Not listen to music? And so we dismiss the dilemma. Hopper can’t, because 1. it’s her job, and 2. she loves rock (and rap and pop and metal) SO MUCH and she is SUCH a feminist. So she is placed in a position of irritation that creates keen observation and discernment. She doesn’t answer the question; she IS the answer. She—a woman—is the observer, not the observed; the feeler, not there for the real poet to feel something about.

And yet, after going to see bands three nights a week for ten years straight and earning her living by nothing but writing about it, still a guy dancing next to her at a concert wants to argue her down. “I heard you’re writing a column about how emo is sexist. How are songs about breaking up sexist? Everyone breaks up. If you have a problem with emo, you have a problem with all of rock history!”

She responds simply, “I know. I do.”

This is from Hopper’s column on emo that somehow managed to survive the intrusive dancer’s devastating logic-blow: “Girls in emo songs today do not have names. We are not identified beyond our absence, our shape drawn by the pain we’ve caused.”

So why does Hopper stick around the music world? Simple. “I want it. I need it. Because all these records, they give me a language to decipher just how fucked I am. Because there is a void in my guts which can only be filled by songs.”

And by “all these records,” she means ALL these records. I didn’t even know chillwave—which she mentioned in a 2011 article—happened, and now maybe it’s too late for me to go see it. I better read Hopper’s stuff as it comes out from now on instead of waiting for the next compendium.

The good side of Hopper’s success as a critic—writing regularly for SPIN, Village Voice, Chicago Reader—is she gets access to stars like Chance The Rapper or Courtney Love. The bad thing is too much access to stars. Because the music rags that actually pay want her to cover Coachella and Lollapalooza, she does. And that’s a pretty bad job to have. She gets sidetracked in criticism of the critic’s life. The hurrying about and empty confusion of festivals, dealing with publicists, BEING a publicist, the internet speeding up the slow death of content and word count, the triumph of the advertisers, licensing, artists who try to control what you print, eavesdropping on other journalists who just want to brag about the most famous person they talked to so far. I found myself fantasizing what if Hopper shot herself in the foot and, you know, followed her heart. Instead of racing from tent to tent, if she found one interesting band and glued herself to them, got into their van, kept her recorder on the whole time, and… um… maybe they brought up stalking charges and she spent the night in jail. Well… at least she’d get out of the last couple days of the festival! And that horrid arguing guy who has a problem with anyone who has a problem with emo! Alas, all my fantasies are destructive. This book is called The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic because it is (though Hopper does cite a few possible contenders, but technically I’m sticking with her), and you get to have that title by doing your job, and she does.

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