After six months without proper concerts and no relief in sight, musicians and music lovers have been going especially stir-crazy during quarantine.
Drive-in shows and livestreams can’t replace the joy of good old-fashioned live music, but thankfully, there are other ways we can try to get our fix: movies and books.
The music world provides an endless stream of memoirs, criticism, and oral histories for a deeper understanding of our heroes; It seems music books are being released nearly daily these days. But, since the industry has historically left women underappreciated, we’ve decided to focus this reading list specifically on women in rock.
Below, check out our must-reads for the rock lover and feminist in all of us.
Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
As a founding member of Sonic Youth, one of the most influential bands of the ’80s and ’90s, Kim Gordon has become inextricably linked with the no-wave and grunge movements in rock. Her memoir Girl in a Band follows her upbringing in Los Angeles through the trajectory of Sonic Youth, name-dropping countless fellow icons who inspired Gordon along the way. The book also details her divorce from bandmate Thurston Moore—which led to Sonic Youth’s demise—making it a poignant tale of overcoming heartbreak, as well.
The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
Chicago-based music journalist Jessica Hopper has often been deemed one of the most influential writers in her class. In The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, a compilation of just some of her best work over the past two decades, Hopper chronicles how the culture shifts throughout landmark events in music history, such as the rise of assault allegations against R. Kelly and the death of Michael Jackson. As she tells it all, she forces readers to reckon with their relationship to an industry that has so often left women out.
I, Tina by Tina Turner
Tina Turner has long been regarded as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, having risen to prominence alongside her then-husband Ike Turner before kicking off her whirlwind solo career. Turner delineates her most formative moments in I, Tina, a gut-wrenching autobiography that provides a deeper understanding of the show business icon and living legend. The book’s success upon release went on to prompt a film adaptation called What’s Love Got to Do With It, starring Angela Bassett.
Rock She Wrote
Those who have read a lot of music journalism know far too well that the industry is heavily saturated with men. Rock She Wrote compiles writing from over 60 women in a delightfully broad compilation of criticism, fan stories, and first-person accounts from female performers on stage. With writing spanning from the psych and blues era of the 1960s to the hip-hop and riot grrrl movements of the ’90s, Rock She Wrote is a near-flawless ode to the female pioneers of some of America’s greatest eras in music.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
In the 1990s, the punk scene was shaken to its core by the riot grrrl movement—a radical feminist subgenre that angrily fought the patriarchy in the music world and beyond. Taking its title from Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna’s trademark battle cry, Girls to the Front chronicles the beginning of riot grrrl, pioneered by the young women in bands like Bratmobile, L7, and Heavens to Betsy. Sparked by events like the first Iraq War and Roe v. Wade, women were pissed off—and their rebellious legacy lives on.
Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s by Sherrie Tucker
Before there were girls in rock bands, there were “all girl” bands of the ’40s—a largely forgotten era where all-female jazz bands exploded. Though these groups had existed for a couple of decades at this point, the tragedy of World War II ushered in a heightened interest in feel-good music. Swing Shift analyzes the history of these women in jazz and dance music, compiling first-hand accounts by over a hundred women. The book provides a much-needed spotlight on an era that’s often overlooked; these women weren’t simply stand-ins for the men away at war. They were building a movement all by themselves.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Just Kids isn’t entirely a “music book,” but it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the punk rock movement of 1970s New York City. Patti Smith’s first memoir follows her young adult years as a starving artist trying to make a living in New York, creating poetry and being swept into music alongside her then-partner, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The idyllic beauty of Smith’s poetry is evident even in her nonfiction writing, making Just Kids a poignant memoir for anybody paving their own way as an artist themselves.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Before Carrie Brownstein rose to prominence as a comedian alongside Fred Armisen in their irreverent sitcom Portlandia, she was a leading figure in feminist rock as a member of Sleater-Kinney. Sleater-Kinney’s music brought together the best of riot grrrl’s feminist ideals with the melodic brilliance of Pacific Northwest indie rock, and in Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, she offers a close look at her experience navigating it all.